“You shall count seven weeks for yourself…” (Deut 16:9)
“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49 NASB)
Well, I thought I was going to wrap up my series on Divine Appointments: Insights from God’s Calendar. But the topic is still very fresh for me, so I decided to keep going! The Feasts of the Lord both commemorate key events in Israel’s journey and miraculously prefigure the Lord’s redemptive plan for our own. This knowledge has been largely lost to today’s church, but it’s deeply prophetic and fascinating.
This graphic lays out the Feasts. If we were to put in a “You Are Here” marker, it would go to the right of the third branch, First Fruits. We’re in what you could accurately call a “pregnant pause” between First Fruits and the wheat-harvest celebration the Jewish people call Shavuot (“Weeks”). We know that feast today by its Greek name, Pentecost. This is the first of two posts on Shavuot. You’ll find the second one here.
“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain [i.e., the day of the waving of the sheaf—the Feast of Firstfruits during the Feast of Unleavened Bread]. 10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God…” (Deut 16:9)
Shavuot was one of the three “pilgrim feasts.” Three times a year, all Jewish men were required to journey to Jerusalem to present their sacrifices. So it was a big deal—in fact, observant Jews people take the command to count down the days (seven times seven days) between First Fruits and Shavuot very literally. (“Today is 33 days, which is four weeks and five days of the omer.”)
This phrase “you shall count… for yourselves” intrigues me. How many times in the Torah does God specifically tell His people to count a period of time? Very few.
Can you imagine the anticipation slaves would feel as they counted the years toward the Jubilee, when they would be released from bondage and given back their ancestral land?
Can you imagine how much a person deemed ritually unclean would long for the day he or she would be considered clean again?
The distinctive wording seems to indicate that God expects His people to look forward to Shavuot with the same sort of breathless anticipation.
Rabbinical Judaism makes a big deal about another countdown: the forty days of repentance that precede the Day of Atonement. A period of introspection and repentance is certainly a beneficial thing, but a countdown there isn’t specifically commanded in scripture. This one is.
So what’s the big deal about Shavuot? There’s a traditional Jewish answer to this question.
The Lord rescued His people from Pharaoh’s brickyards dramatically—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Deut 4:34)—by the blood of an unblemished lamb. When He did that, He had an end game. He purposed to make them “a people for His own possession” (Ex 19:5). (The Complete Word Study Bible renders this “a peculiar treasure unto Me.” Isn’t that lovely?)
Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine. Lev 20:26
The purpose of Israel’s redemption was “set-apartness.” Holiness.
But in order to be God’s holy people, they had to receive the Law (Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures), as Torah would show them how to live out their new position as God’s covenant people. (“Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Ex 25:8) How to atone for sin via blood sacrifice and how to live “set-apart” lives. “Set-apartness” involves making distinctions between what is acceptable to the Lord and what is not. (The purpose of the dietary laws, for example: “You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean…” Lev 20:25)
By tradition, Shavuot commemorates the day God revealed His law to His people and they covenanted to obey it. (Ex 24:7) To be set apart for Him. In the ancient Talmud,
But as always, these shadows and copies in the Hebrew Scriptures find deeper expression in the new covenant!
Please excuse me while my engineer shows for a minute.
Aren’t these parallels amazing? To me, God’s Feasts always demonstrate how unquestionably He is God!
But the point I’m coming around to is this. God’s provision of the Torah was indeed essential groundwork, but
I think the deeper reason for the sense of breathless anticipation for Shavuot was to prefigure an even greater work. The unveiling of the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s law written on our hearts. And the redemption of the world through Messiah’s New Covenant!
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:33-34)
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things…” (John 14:26)
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable [i.e., the Torah], and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Heb 2:1-2)
The covenant given at Sinai involved a long list of elaborate rules. We get a better deal. For followers of Yeshua, the rules of faith are quite simple. Receive the free gift of salvation through Yeshua’s atoning death. Walk by the Holy Spirit.
What does that look like?
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh…. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Gal 5:16-24
Does our culture look more like the deeds-of-the-flesh list, or like the fruit-of-the-spirit list? What about our churches?
A respected research group recently conducted a national survey of a thousand adults. Here are a few of the study’s conclusions:
Another study, by LifeWay Research, concludes that 60% of millenials do not believe in moral absolutes. Hardly surprising when the church doesn’t believe in them either!
We’re serving a “be-ye-holy” God in the midst of an “anything-goes” culture! And that’s a challenge. Are we transforming the culture? Or is it transforming us?
Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the prudent answered, “No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”
And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open up for us.” But he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matt 25:1-12)
I think about this parable quite a bit. Here are a few things that strike me:
“I do not know you.”
For me, this is truly a cautionary tale. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is one engagement I don’t want to miss! And yet this parable seems to indicate that many who expect to be there… won’t. The deciding factor? A lamp filled with oil.
There was plenty of light inside, I’m sure, but each virgin had to have her own lamp producing a little point of light out there in the darkness if she wanted to go in.
In “this present darkness” (Eph 6:12), does my faith produce a point of light?
In these “perilous times” (2 Tim 3:1), does my faith help illumine the narrow path?
And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. Rev 19:14
John’s Jewish audience would have recognized the white linen immediately as priestly garb. What a glorious picture! At our Lord’s return, He will be accompanied by that “nation of priests” Peter spoke of.
Without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Heb 12:14
To join that army, you’ll have to be in uniform! Where do I get one? Will it even fit me?
I advise you to buy from Me… white garments so that you may clothe yourself… (Rev 3:18)
Only one outfitter!
I won’t kid you. I’m in no position to judge anyone. At times I’ve undergone severe discipline over sin issues. I never doubted for a second I was saved, but there was a point when someone watching me might well have wondered. So… which virgin was I?
I wouldn’t go back there for anything.
I don’t claim any special prophetic gift, but now and then the Lord speaks to me in a particularly pointed way. I fasted and prayed through most of Yom Kippur last fall. That night I had a vivid dream. I’ll spare you the details, but the dream ended with a poignant image of a door irrevocably closing—and me playing the part of the foolish virgin, trapped on the wrong side (Matt 25:1-13). Knowing I’d blown it because I wasn’t ready and there was no way I could make it right.
Trust me, I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone. Can you picture how happy I was to wake up? I felt like Scrooge after his sobering visit from The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! When he woke up and realized the dream had passed and redemption was still an option.
When God’s people awaited His revelation at Sinai, they were to consecrate themselves.
“Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people…. The blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder…. Then the Lord came down…” (Ex 19:10-11,19-20)
Are we hearing the opening blasts of God’s trumpet now?
Are your linens washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Brothers and sisters, time is short. Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that door!
What are some ways you’ve found to resist the tide of our culture?
PS: I’ve also written a follow-on post on Shavuot. If you’re interested, you’ll find it here.
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.