What do a harvest festival, 49 days, and a passionate love story have in common?
They are all major components of the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot! (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”: (pomegranates, grapes, olives, wheat, barley, figs and date honey) are celebrated. It’s a thanksgiving time for the goodness of the land. This is the harvest festival component.
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. 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 (this is the love story bit), 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. That’s where the 49 days comes from.
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 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”:
Remember that you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:12-18)
Paul wrote this from prison. He was accused of taking Timothy into the temple courts, beyond the wall where gentiles were not permitted to go. Paul knew that Yeshua’s death and resurrection brought in a new covenant that allowed all to draw near to God – both Jew and gentile. Now all peoples of the earth could be included and brought near by the blood of Yeshua. Just as Joel prophesied, the Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh! Together, Jews and gentiles can be one new man, reconciled to each other and to God. And we can all have access to God, our father by the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost. 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 3:20,
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
As we celebrate, why not spend some time praying for God’s Spirit to be poured out upon the nation of Israel and 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 laborers 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.