What do a harvest festival, 49 days, and a passionate love story have in common?
Shavuot means ‘weeks’. God said,
“Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you” (Deuteronomy 16:9-10).
Offerings of barley and wheat are made, and the ‘seven species’: pomegranate, grapes, olives, wheat, barley, figs and date honey are celebrated. It’s a thanksgiving time for the goodness of the land. It’s a time of ‘bikurim’ or firstfruits. It’s the time that the Torah was given to Israel and they agreed to follow it, making them a covenant community, and it’s also the time that the church or body of Messiah was born at Pentecost. New birth… First fruits.
Traditionally, the book of Ruth is read during the feast, because the story is set at the time of the barley harvest, and Shavuot occurs between the barley and wheat harvests. Also, it is in the instructions for how to celebrate Shavuot that God includes this commandment:
“when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22). This was the set up for the love story. Well – part of the love story…
The word Pentecost comes from the 50 days that are counted from Passover to Shavuot – seven weeks is 49 days, and 50 days if you count the feast itself. The parallel events of the Torah being given at Sinai and the Holy Spirit being given in Jerusalem are no coincidence. Both signified a birth of the two religions, if we may call them that, and both were from the hand of God. One happened seven weeks after the Passover and liberation from Egypt, and the other seven weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of our Passover lamb, Yeshua the Messiah. Both catapulted faith communities into action.
Giving Thanks To Our Generous God
Shavuot is a time of appreciating the generosity of God. And we see his generosity not only in the seven species, in the giving of his Word at Sinai, the Holy Spirit poured out on the early church, but also in the story of Ruth, where we can see the message of his the coming Messiah, generously given to the world.
Not only was Yeshua a descendent of the protagonists in the Ruth love story (King David being their grandson) but their very match speaks of God’s heart for the nations, and his desire to redeem and include all peoples in his family. Boaz was Jewish and Ruth a gentile – from Moab, an idolatrous neighbouring country, dependent on the gleanings of Boaz’s field, left for the poor and the sojourner, according to the law of Leviticus.
Right from the beginning, God told Abraham that the whole earth would be blessed through him and his descendents. The gospel was in motion long before Yeshua let out his first scream as a baby. We see God’s desire to include all the peoples of the world peppered throughout the scriptures and the first covenant with Israel, we see his eye on those who were far away, who did not know him. But he knew them, and he loved them.
A Beautiful Union
As Ruth and Boaz became one flesh, so God wants to draw Jew and Gentile together as ‘One New Man’:
Just as in being united in marriage Boaz remained a man and Ruth remained a woman, so we keep our identities as Jew and gentile in the body of Yeshua. Instead of bland uniformity, God loves diversity – and he brings us together in unity. At Shavuot, God commands that two loaves of bread are given as a wave offering, which represents his fellowship with us – both Jew and Gentile. Yeshua says in Revelation 3:10,
As we celebrate Pentecost, why not spend some time praying for God’s Spirit to be poured out upon the nation of Israel – for Jewish people to welcome their Messiah and the wonderful global family that the nation of Israel has helped to bring about. Pray for a great harvest in Israel. Pray for labourers in the harvest, and for more firstfruits! Pray for Israelis to become united with the one who loves them – their kinsman redeemer – and to become gloriously united with his children from every nation. The beautiful bride of Messiah.