Shavuot - The Feast of Pentecost

by Joseph Hunting

Pentecost is the fourth of the seven great holy convocations which the Lord required Israel to observe each year, and with the feast of Passover and Tabernacles was obligatory on all the males of the people to celebrate in Jerusalem itself: "Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the LORD God" (Exodus 23:17). The Feast of Pentecost is known to the Jewish people as Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks.

The first of these holy convocations is Passover which includes the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and one of the important aspects of the original Passover observance was that it was to be observed on a specific day designation by the Lord. This important day was the 14th day of the first month in the Jewish calendar, which usually corresponds with our late March or early April. And from thereon each of these holy convocations was to be observed on a specific day. In other words, ALL the Feasts commanded by God were locked into the starting date, the 14th of Nisan, the first month.

It is important that we take note of that because one of the great truths in the Word of God is that He works ALL things after the counsel of His own will. The Apostle Paul emphasizes this truth when he said that ALL things work together for good to them that love God and are being called according to His purpose. Sometimes this may be hard to accept by faith, but that's how it is with God in His dealings with those who love Him.

Before we come to the Feast of Pentecost, the fourth feast, I want to mention briefly the third feast, the Feast of Firstfruits, and again God designated the precise day for its observance, which was to be immediately following the Passover, "on the day after the Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:11), which is the first day of the week, now known as Sunday.

The festival took place before the harvest was reaped. The High Priest went into the field of barley, which was the first crop to be reaped, and he took one sweep only of the sickle and then took this sheaf of the harvest and waved it before the Lord. Only after the first of the harvest was presented to God was the rest of the harvest reaped and it was accepted by Him. This third feast was symbolic of the Messiah being the firstfruit unto God of those who are to be resurrected, as He rose from the dead "on the day after the Sabbath".


There was a considerable interval, namely seven weeks, after the first three holy convocations which were very close together (only three days separated all three) before the Feast of Pentecost. It is also very interesting to observe how Israel enacted the timing of these festivals.

Passover is observed on the 14th of Nisan, Unleavened Bread on the 15th and that was the day when Israel began their march to freedom, which took three days and brought them to the Red Sea, the 17th of Nisan. That three days represents the three days and nights the Messiah was in the tomb before His resurrection on the first day of the week.

After Israel was totally delivered from Egypt and when they had passed through the waters of the Red Sea they began their march to Sinai. God had commanded that seven weeks were to elapse before the people observed Shavuot or the Feast of Pentecost -- seven weeks following the day they waved the sheaf of firstfruit to God, this totalling in all fifty days.

Israel arrived at Mount Sinai on the forty-seventh day after their deliverance from Egypt, and God spoke to Moses from the Mount and commanded that the people sanctify themselves for three days. On the fiftieth day Moses went up into the Mount to receive the Law.


As we read the Scripture concerning the original observance of the Feast of Pentecost we find it is a kind of prologue which we will find is followed by an epilogue in the New Testament.

"And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring from your habitations two wave loaves ... they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD" (Leviticus 23:15-17).

That was a most interesting command that the Lord gave to the people of Israel because it is the only offering in which God commanded leaven to be used. Also, there were to be two wave loaves. In every instance that leaven is used in Scripture as a type, it is symbolic of sin. And yet God commanded that leaven, a type of sin, be mixed with the offering!

Then the next symbolic act was that the loaves were to be baked, loaves in which already the leaven would have been working. Indeed, the leaven would have continued to work until the fire arrested its action. So now we can understand that God was illustrating to Israel that the two loaves with leaven representing sin had to have the fire to arrest the leaven before they were presented to God.


At the giving of the Law "Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people; for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."' So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, 'All that the LORD has spoken we will do'" (Exodus 19:3-7).

It is important to note that the Law was conditional. God said to Israel: "IF you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, THEN you shall be a special treasure to me above all people ..." Oh, what majestic words and what a promise! If only the people had heeded God's offer!


But now we read the events of the fiftieth day. "Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled ... and when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder, Moses spoke, and God answered by voice. Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up" (Exodus 19:16,19,20). So the Law was given to Moses.

In spite of the awesome demonstration of Divine power upon Mount Sinai and Israel's acceptance of God's conditions which would result in so much blessing, the amazing thing happened. Whilst Moses was in the Mount they worshipped the Golden Calf that Aaron had made for them. The Lord's anger was terrible indeed. "Now therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation" (Exodus 32:10).

Moses pleaded with the Lord to forgive them, saying, "Turn from your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self ..." That was Moses' trump card. That covenant was an unconditional covenant and God couldn't break His word.

When Moses came down from the Mount and saw what the people had done, he smashed the tablets of the Law, thus breaking what had already been broken by their act. Then he called for the Levites to go in and through the camp and slay the rebels . "So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day" (32:28). On that day three thousand names were struck out of the Book of Life; as the Apostle Paul tells that the Law brought with it the ministration of death (2 Corinthians 3:7).


Now we turn to the New Testament for the epilogue. Historically about 1,500 years had run their course, and the Lord Jesus had just spent forty days after His resurrection ministering the Word to His disciples "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Is it any wonder that their last question to Him before He was taken up from their presence was "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" We may read the whole account in Acts chapter 2.

"Now when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place (in Jerusalem). And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them forked tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

This was the anniversary of the very day when Moses had gone up into Mount Sinai to receive the Law. And what happened on that day nearly two thousand years ago was a one-off demonstration of God's power that had never happened before and has never happened since. Just as the giving of the Law was a one-off demonstration of Divine power when God gave Israel the Law, so on the day of Pentecost as recorded above it was another unique experience of Divine power.

On that day there were Jews in Jerusalem from every nation in the then-known world. It is estimated that probably two million may have come to Jerusalem for the feast. "Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven ... then they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another ... 'How is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?'"

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit then preached his first sermon: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know ..." and then he proceeded to preach God's message to them. So powerful was this message that "they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.'

"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them." What an awesome event occurred on that day! On Mount Zion three thousand were saved and had their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life, God thereby balancing His books from that day of judgement on the first day of Pentecost when three thousand perished at Mount Sinai.

Has Pentecost lost its effectiveness over the centuries? Hear again the words of Scripture: "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, AS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL."