The Biblical Feasts of Israel – 03 (“Second Feast – Pentecost”)
The previous two weeks we looked at the first major festival of the people of Israel, viz. Passover or Easter (“Pesach”). We also discussed the two sub-festivals during the Passover – “The Feast of the Unleavened Bread” (“Chag HaMatzah”) and “The Feast of the First Fruits” (“Reishit Katzir” = Jesus’s resurrection).
The second main festival that was also held in Israel, was Pentecost (“The Feast of Weeks” – “Shavu’ot”).
There was also a third main festival which we will look at during the next week or so. This third feast was called “The Feast of Tabernacles” (“Sukkot”), it had two sub-festivals, viz.:
– “The Feast of Trumpets” (New Year – “Rosh Hashanah”);
– “The Day of Atonement” (“Yom Kippur”).
Pentecost was held in the sixth month – the month Sivan that is between May and June. This is also the month during which the wheat harvest was completed (also known as the Feast of Weeks – Hebrew = Sjevu’ot; English = “The Feast of the Weeks / Harvest”).
Let’s turn to Lev.23 and read about the institution of Pentecost.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Lev.23:15-21 (ESV) ~ “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord. 18 And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 19 And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21 And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.”
3. THE FESTIVAL OF THE WEEKS:
Pentecost lasted seven weeks and as we have seen from our Scripture reading, there were a lot of sacrifices during this time. The “Move Sacrifice”, was the most important (vs.20). This offering was made of fine flour with yeast – the only time that leavened bread was offered to God. The flour had to be sifted thoroughly to remove any coarse parts. This was a sacrifice of gratitude. It has once again highlighted the nation’s dependence for their daily bread from the Lord.
Later, when the Jews were scattered all over the world, due to the first and later diasporas (the captives or the Jews of the Dispersion), Pentecost lost its primary purpose as Harvest Festival. During “the Diaspora” there were very few Jews who were involved in farming and there was not much cause for celebration.
The Jews claim that God gave the Law to Moses during the Pentecost and they support their assertion based on careful calculations. We read in Ex.19:1 that during the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews arrived at Sinai in the third month (“Sivan”) and possibly on the third day. Three days later on the sixth “Sivan” God gave the Law to Moses (vs.11). This time was also known by the people as “The Season of the giving of the Torah (the Act)”. This event can be seen as the emergence of Judaism (the Jewish religion), because Judaism mainly revolves around the Law of Moses.
We read about the two loaves which were waved during this feast. The first bread represented the people of God, while the second bread was representative of the nations. Why is there a second bread used in the offering process? As early as Sinai, God told the people of Israel that they were not the exclusive property of God and that He also included other nations under His covenant of grace.
The Jews however, were blind to this facet of God’s grace – so much so that even the Jews who became Christians struggled during the first century AD with the Gentiles. They struggled to such an extent that God in Acts 10 and 11 appeared to Peter in a vision and showed him, a cloth that descended from heaven, but pulled back up again. The meaning of this was that all nations have a place in the Kingdom of God, Peter and the other apostles should extend their ministry and preach the Word amongst the Gentiles as well. The command in Matthew 28: 19-20, was therefore not only applicable to the Jews, but to all people – even the Gentiles ~ “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
While Moses received the Law of God and the Jewish religion (Judaism) was born, something tragic occurred amongst the people. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai, he found that the people had fallen into sin. They made a golden calf and started to worship a pagan image instead of serving and worshipping God. On that day, 3,000 Israelites died because of their image worship (Ex.32:28) – this number is very important to remember, I will refer back to it shortly.
Another interesting ritual around this festival was that the Jews (to the present time), read the story of Ruth. They did this for a few reasons:
¥ First, this story formed a beautiful backdrop for the harvest that takes place in the month of Sivan. Ruth experienced this harvest and it is a very appropriate narrative.
¥ Secondly it is a story of the pagan woman Ruth, who learned to love the God of Israel and her mother-in-law (Naomi). The Jews therefore looked forward to the day when Jew and Gentile together, would worship God through the Messiah-Saviour. Boaz, who is a “type-Christ”, married the pagan woman Ruth and trough this act of love, Gentile nations were also included into the “sacred line.”
¥ Ruth, the Gentile woman was not only included in the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also became part of the family of David. Eventually Jesus Christ the Saviour would be born from this sacred linage, and yet the Jews did not see and realised this wonderful fact – even to this day!
During the “Feast of Weeks”, seven male lambs without blemish were also sacrificed, as well as a young bull and two rams. In order to demonstrate the nation’s dependence on God, the two loaves and two lambs were given to the priest to be sacrificed and used as a “Move Sacrifice”. This sacrifice was called a “Move Sacrifice” because the priest, just before the offer, waved or moved parts of the meat and grain back and forth in the air (Ex.29: 24, 26, 27; Lev.7: 20-34; 8:27; 9:21; 10: 14,15, etc.). This was symbolic of the people’s commitment to God. It was therefore an acceptable sacrifice to God, because He accepted the offer and blessed the harvested food. He also forgave the people’s sins. Another reason why the priest had to wave the meat and grain around, was that people could see that the meat and grain was indeed offered. The remaining meat and grain were taken by the priests as food for them and their families.
Apart from the fact that the people had to refrain from working on the day that the sacrifices were offered, every farmer had to leave the grain on their headlands (Afrikaans = wenakker – the end section of the grain fields where the oxen turned when ploughing the land) for the poor and foreigners to pick up grain for themselves. This is exactly the headlands where Boaz saw Ruth.
By following the instructions given for the “Move Sacrifice”, provision was also made for the material needs of the priests, the poor and the strangers.
4. CHRIST FULFILLED THE FESTIVAL OF THE WEEK:
How did Jesus fulfil this festival? In Joh.12:23-24 Jesus says ~ “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus speaks of Himself as a human seed that died for the sins of the world. As we heard last week, Jesus was fully justified (without sin and in a perfectly holy relationship with God) and because He is perfect and was without sin, death and hell had no hold on Him (Rev.1:18 ~ “When I saw him, – that is John speaking here after being in the presence of the Lord – I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”). The amazing fact is that Jesus as firstborn was raised from the dead and exactly fifty days after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit was poured out – which is exactly at the same time the Jews were assembled in Jerusalem for Pentecost, or rather the Feast of Weeks!
We read the following in Acts 2:1-8 ~ “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place on the same day the Jews sacrificed the two loaves.
On that day, 3,000 Jews under the preaching of Peter repented! Instead of the 3,000 who died in the desert due to their sin, the Lord now saved 3,000 on this day!
We also saw that these events in Sinai was the birth of Judaism, but during Pentecost, when Peter preached, the birth of the New Covenant and that of the New Testament Church took place! The Old Covenant with its festivals and ceremonies ended. Judaism that was based on the law of Moses, was replaced – replaced by faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning death and of God the Father’s covenant of grace.
The fulfilment of the “Move Sacrifice” where two loaves of bread represented both Jews and Gentiles, was that both Jewish and Gentile believers were included through the Holy Spirit into the Bride of Christ – the New Testament Church.
These two loaves in this specific sacrifice were not unleavened bread, but bread with leaven. The significance of this is that the Church is not impeccable – actually it is sinful. We see this in Lev.2:11 ~ “No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as a food offering to the Lord.” The New Testament Church will only be without sin after Christ’s second coming ~ “…so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph.5:27).
In the Old Testament “Feast of the Weeks”, several meat offerings were made together with the bread. All these sacrifices were fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross.
If Jesus was not crucified; did not rose again from the dead and did not ascend into heaven, the Holy Spirit would not have been poured out.
Let’s turn to Hebr.10:1-18 and then we see how Christ fulfilled these festivals ~ “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
5. CLOSURE AND APPLICATION:
Jesus Christ came to fulfil all these rituals through His perfect sacrifice offered once and for all.
We don’t have to celebrate all these festivals anymore because Christ fulfilled everything on our behalf. He also simplified everything by abolishing and replacing these rituals with two sacraments, viz. the Holy Communion and the Baptism of believers. The question is whether we appreciate it – are we really grateful to Christ for the fact that he fulfilled these festivals and rituals and simplified it on our behalf?
How can we apply the truths of Pentecost in our own lives? God wants us to know Jesus Christ personally. Not only as crucified Lamb of God who died for our sins, but also as the living Glorified Lord.
The Israelites did not realise that the kingdom of God is also meant for other nations – for the Gentiles. The question today is, whether we are just as blind and disobedient as the Jews when it comes to other sinners and the heathen? God wants to use ordinary people like us to preach and proclaim the Kingdom with zeal. We cannot proclaim God’s Kingdom if we do not have a thorough knowledge of God and don’t have a new and fresh dedication. We should be enthusiastic followers of Jesus Christ!