What is Shavuot?
Shavuot—or the Festival of Weeks; Festival of Reaping; the Day of Firstfruits; or even Pentecost in the Greek—is a harvest festival first found in Exodus. Observed 50 days after Passover, Shavuot was ordained by God in the Word, and is one of three pilgrimage feasts…
Yet, there are many ways the question of ‘What is Shavuot?’ can be answered. From statistics, facts, traditions, and, of course, Scripture.
While there are seemingly endless answers to this question, each have their season of importance—though their truth never diminishes—and in this season there are two that stand out…
The first, is looking at how Shavuot is commonly celebrated in modern times—by the reading of the Torah and the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
“…do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.”—Proverbs 3:1-2
The second, involves looking at what Shavuot originally related to—harvest, and the giving of firstfruits to God.
“Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.”—Proverbs 3:9-10
How can Shavuot have changed so much? What does harvest time and the giving of firstfruits have to do with reading the Torah and remembering God’s laws?
Firstly, the Torah and God’s laws were given by God as a harvest for mankind. A source of food and life that bears fruit in us and in all we do. Further still, it is believed by many that Moses received the law from God during Shavuot. Thus, to focus on that gift of harvest—giving God our time and appreciating the gift—we are, in essence, giving God the firstfruits of His gift to us.
Additionally, there is also a more prosaic reasoning…
If we stood on the Mount of Olives, looking out toward the Old City of Jerusalem today, we would see the Dome of the Rock instead of a Temple to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
No one can bring firstfruits to a Temple not currently existing—so, HOW Shavuot is celebrated was adjusted. Yet, Shavuot is not as altered as it may first appear…
For, aside from the modern custom of reading the laws given to Moses, the story of Ruth is often read… and this is where the thread between harvest and the law truly comes alive. This is where we understand that God’s ordinances have not been ignored.
Shavuot and the Story of Ruth:
It is interesting to realize that many Jews choose to read the book of Ruth during Shavuot—in addition to the laws—even though Ruth was not a Jew by birth. In fact, it is traditionally told that Ruth was a high-ranking Moabitess, and that she prayed to and worshiped another god for many years. Ruth could have potentially even worshiped the Moab god after marrying Naomi’s son, Mahlon, as many Jews believe Ruth’s entreaty to her mother-in-law—after their husbands died—was her conversion declaration.
“…Entreat me not to leave you,
or to turn back from following after you;
for wherever you go, I will go;
and wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
if anything but death parts you and me.”
So, why do Jews read a story of a converted Gentile woman on one of their three pilgrim feasts?
The answer lies in the two primary reasons why Shavuot is celebrated…
First—the more modern day reason is that the Jews, having not fully embraced the gift of the law in the past, today put forth a special effort to be thankful for that gift. Ruth, therefore, being a Gentile who not only came to cherish the laws, but put them into practice so completely—altering every aspect of her life—is a wonderful example of joyfully embracing the laws the Jewish people, now, so cherish.
“And Boaz answered and said to her, ‘It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before.’”—Ruth 2:11
Second—Shavuot was, and is, a holiday focused on harvest and firstfruits. Today, this is largely acknowledged through the types of foods eaten, and the bringing of plants into the home. Yet, harvest and firstfruits are still important to Shavuot, and the book of Ruth focuses on many points related to this theme…
“…wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor…”—Ruth 3:3
Further still, this theme of harvest is not found in one chapter or one section of Ruth alone, but throughout the text of the book of Ruth.
Ruth meets Boaz in his field while gleaning barley—a preparatory time for her. This may even have been during the Counting of the Omer—the fifty days of self-examination and preparation between Passover and Shavuot.
Then, soon after, during what is traditionally believed to be Shavuot—the time of firstfruits—the harvest festival arrives, as does Ruth’s destiny. This is a time when the harvest is brought in. But further still, God brings us into position as we, in turn, give a portion of our increase.
At this time, Ruth, under the guidance of her mother-in-law, went to Boaz at his threshing floor during Shavuot with the expectation of his redeeming her according to the law.
Ruth went expecting and was rewarded.
Boaz redeemed Ruth at the time of the harvest and firstfruits… her purpose was fulfilled, and she, through her obedience, brought blessing to herself, Naomi, and those to come—for Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David, and is in the lineage of Jesus.
“…‘You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day.’”—Ruth 4:9-10
What is Shavuot to Us today?
It is a time where we are brought fully into our purpose and increase. Where God’s Word comes forth to bring us life, and a harvest by which to give our firstfruits.
It is a time of joy, where we, like Ruth are redeemed and drawn into the fullness of who God has created us to be!
Where we are able to say to our Father, just as Ruth said in Ruth 1:16, “…for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
We have been grafted into the Jewish root of promise as Ruth was, and are able, by the precious Blood of Jesus, to enjoy the benefits of all the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
We are able to enjoy the harvest and the blessing of giving the firstfruits of our increase—our financial blessings, time, and even joy!
“The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”—Ruth 2:12
For us, Shavuot is a time of expectation, a time of blessing, and a time of harvest! Therefore, let us say this Shavuot: ‘Baruch atah Adonai, ve chag Shavuot sameach!’ or ‘Blessed be the Lord, and happy Shavuot!’