Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks
Fifty days after the Feast of Passover, we celebrate Shavuot (Sha-voo-OAT), the Feast of Weeks. It is another of the Lord’s moadim (moe-ah-DEEM), or appointed times, known also as Pentecost and Yom HaBikkurim, the Feast of Firstfruits (of the wheat harvest). “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:16). Two loaves of leavened bread were offered to the Lord on this feast. As Messianic Jews, we see these leavened loaves as all the people of the world, Jews and non-Jews, with a sin nature, in need of redemption.
Erev Shavuot this year is Saturday night, May 19, 2018. Unlike Passover, many Jewish people “pass over” this holy day. Those who do celebrate Shavuot hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on the first day of the holiday, May 20, 2018. It is traditionally believed that the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus, arriving at the mountain on the sixth day of the Hebrew month Sivan, Yom HaBikkurim. God gave His people the Law on this special Pilgrim Feast, earning it yet another name: Z’man Matan Torateinu (Z’MAHN mah-TAHN TOE-rah-TEY-nu), the Season of the Giving of the Law.
It is fascinating to note that the events of Acts Chapter 2 occur on the Feast of Shavuot. The Holy Spirit was given on the exact day that the Law had been given. Coincidence? Absolutely not! The giving of the Spirit made it possible for the Law to move from the outside (tablets of stone) to the inside (the human heart).
The Perfect Ten
The Ten Commandments are known in Hebrew as the Ten Words or Ten Sayings (Aseret HaD’vareem). These Commandments are a special set of spiritual imperatives written by God with His finger on two stone tablets and given to Moses. We prayerfully decided to focus on Commandment #1 this month, believing that if we can get #1 correct, we can get them all right!
“And God spoke all these words saying: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:1-3).
Right from the beginning, God identifies Himself as a God of action. He delivered His people from slavery. He acted on their behalf. He then revealed Himself as a God who desires relationship, stressing the importance of having an exclusive love relationship with the people He had redeemed. Action, then relationship—a cornerstone of Hebrew thinking—which begins with God Himself.
“I” and “You,” God and Israel, the Lord and us, indicates intimacy and a personal relationship that has been on the heart of God since the Garden of Eden. This is His perfect will for His people. In English we read, “I am the LORD your God…,” but the Hebrew is, “Anokhi יהוה Elohekha.” The sacred tetragrammaton is translated in various ways, often as Adonai, since no one is certain how it is pronounced. What we do know in this saying is that the more common word for “I” is “ani” (ah-NEE), and here the Lord says, אנכי Anokhi to emphasize exclusiveness: I alone am God, as in Isaiah 44:6, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First, and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.’”
In all the commandments, God addresses Israel in the second person singular as if speaking to only one individual. The sayings of Sinai are for each one of us, a personal message from the God of the Universe, who is also our Father. The word Torah in Hebrew actually has the connotation of parental teaching or instruction, like that of a good parent for his child. “…and do not forsake the law (Torah) of your mother” (Proverbs 6:20).
The Only One True God
“I am the Lord your God…” (Adonai Elohim, ah-doe-NYE Eh-low-HEEM). Believing in His existence is the basis of everything that follows in the Ten Sayings. The Lord expresses Who He is, His character. This God is the One who made Himself known to Moses at the burning bush. “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM,’” in Hebrew, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” (Exodus 3:14). Yeshua the Messiah identified Himself with this God when He said to some who were seeking to kill Him, “Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
The God of Saying #1 is the One True God, the Creator, the source of life. He is not an impersonal force nor an “It.” He is awe-inspiring in His omnipotence and omnipresence. He is the God whose first attribute, as revealed to Moses, is mercy: “And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…’” (Exodus 34:6).
There is only one God whose nature is so complex that it takes many names to describe Him. “Adonai” in Saying #1 implies a type of master/servant relationship, since adon (ah-DOAN) in Hebrew means lord or master. The God who redeemed us from physical and spiritual bondage is rightfully our Lord and Master.
There is no other god in the history of the world that has taken an entire nation out of slavery into freedom. The God of Israel is totally different, Holy, set-apart, worthy of worship. He is not like the gods of Egypt and the ancient world where the forces of nature were worshipped as gods that controlled man’s destiny.
A Jealous God
“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Yes, the God of the Ten Commandments is a jealous God. He says in Exodus 20:5, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” This is not a negative aspect of God, but rather a sign of His passionate love for His people. The Lord cautioned His people about making covenants with the heathen nations, and demanded that they destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images. “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
“Jealous” is actually one of God’s names, יהוה קנא Adonai-Kannah (Ah-doe-NYE Kah-NAH). He is the Initiator of love, and desires love in return. Our response to His love must be faithfulness.
A Monogamous Relationship
While some traditional Jewish scholars see the Giving of the Law as the “Birthday of Judaism,” others consider it to be the Wedding Anniversary of God and His People. The God of Israel, in Commandment #1, is speaking as a Bridegroom. There are certainly parallels between the Covenant at Sinai and the ancient Jewish wedding customs.
First of all, brides were selected or chosen. God chose Israel (Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 7:6-8) because He loved her. Brides were purchased. A bride price (mohar, MOE-har) was paid. The God of Israel purchased His bride at the Exodus, with the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. “Remember Your congregation which You have purchased of old, the tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed…” (Psalm 74:2). Israel gave her consent to the marriage when she said, “We will do” (Exodus 19:8). She then became consecrated, m’kudeshet (m’koo-de-SHET), unto God in a monogamous relationship. Only one husband. God, the Bridegroom, gave the bride, Israel, a marriage contract or ketubah (keh-TOO-bah): the Torah (Exodus 19:5). They entered into covenant, b’rit (b’reet), a marriage covenant (Ezekiel 16:8). This marriage covenant would be renewed in a deeper, more powerful way many years later through the Messiah, as prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
“You shall have no other gods before Me” can mean “You shall not commit spiritual adultery.” “We are bound together by covenant.” “Flee idolatry.” But the unfortunate, and perhaps inevitable happened. Less than two months after witnessing a love-inspired, miraculous deliverance from slavery, the Israelites worshipped another god in the form of a golden calf. This pattern of idol worship continued for many years following the Exodus. Prophets such as Hosea experienced the sorrow, grief, disappointment, and anger of God, a betrayed Husband. “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and committing adultery, just like the love of the LORD for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans” (Hosea 3:1).
The very good news is that, although Commandment #1 is being violated today, and many in Israel still worship other gods, there will be an end-time return to the Beloved. “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days” (Hosea 3:5).
God in Our Own Image
Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), but man tends to create God in his image. So often we hear people say, “My god would never do that.” “I believe in a god who does not let anyone go to hell.” “I believe in a god who is in each one of us.” “My god sees everyone as basically good.” We reply: “You can believe that if you wish, but your god is not the God of the Bible.” He is not the God of Commandment #1 who says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). “Before Me” in the Hebrew literally means “Before My Presence or Before My Face,” and includes the idea of forever. It is a permanent injunction against idolatry.
What idols do we have today? We believe the biggest one is the mind. We are proud of how intelligent we are, of our accomplishments, discoveries, creations, etc. We become our own gods. We invent god according to our own imaginations. J.I. Packer in Keeping the 10 Commandments makes an interesting comment concerning imagining God: “When Israelites worship God under the form of a golden bull-calf, they were using their imagination to conceive him in terms of power without purity; this was their basic sin. And if imagination leads our thoughts about God, we too shall go astray. No statement starting, ‘This is how I like to think of God’ should ever be trusted. An imagined God will always be quite imaginary and unreal.”
Mr. Packer continues by saying, “Your god is what you love, seek, worship, serve, and allow to control you.” It can be money, success, possessions, or status. Other gods are sex, pleasures, sports, work, and food. What is our #1 priority, our #1 love? Ultimately, the other god we tend to serve instead of our Father God is the god of self. We become our own gods, doing what is right in our own eyes. (See Judges 17:5-6.) We see some verses from 2 Timothy 3 becoming reality in our day: “But know this that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” In other words, people who worship other gods.
The Danger of Silver and Gold
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves”‘” (Exodus 20:22-23). It is not that silver and gold are intrinsically bad. Moses had instructed the children of Israel to ask the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold as they left Egypt. And they had plenty of them! Today, those of us in the U.S. have plenty of money compared with the rest of the world. The question is: What do we do with our “silver and gold”? God was entrusting the Israelites with the precious metals necessary for worship in the Tabernacle. They used the gold instead to make an idol. If we, like Israel, have been purchased (Ephesians 1:14), our gold and silver are not our own. They belong to God, to be used at His discretion.
Idolatry, the worship of other gods than the God of Israel, can easily be passed down through the generations. Consider King Jeroboam of Israel. Motivated by pride, fear, envy, and ambition, he, like Aaron, the brother of Moses, used gold to fashion idols. “‘Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan” (1 Kings 12:28-29). This provoked God to anger. (See 1 Kings 14:9.)
Love—The Proper Response
It was love that rescued Israel from Egypt. Love that opened up the Sea. It was love that fed us manna in the desert and love that gave us the Ten Words or Sayings. Our response to being redeemed (both from Egypt and from the bondage of sin) should be love and gratitude. Loyalty. Receiving the Lord as our King and only God. Without God’s Law, we wouldn’t be truly free, because we wouldn’t know how to live. Freedom without rules is anarchy. Love sets standards and gives rules.
A God of creation and covenant has lovingly redeemed us, in יהוה , His covenant name, by the blood of Passover lambs and The Passover Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-19). He deserves to sit on the throne of our hearts. Irene Lipson in The Greatest Commandment makes an interesting comment connecting Saying #1 with Judaism’s primary confession, the Sh’ma. “The first sentence of the Sh’ma sums up the teaching of the first two commandments. These words are the nearest Judaism gets to a credal statement. There are some variations in the way they are translated. Rashbam, the twelfth century Bible exegete, favored, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.’ Hertz preferred, ‘Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.’ Hertz’s version is more commonly accepted today.” “The Lord alone” certainly reinforces the idea of “no other gods.” The Sh’ma continues with, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
When Yeshua was asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” He answered, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30).
The message in both the Tanach and the New Covenant is basically the same: Loving God because of who He is and what He has done for us is our primary duty. He is the Sovereign of the Universe, worthy of love, worship, and obedience. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
One last thought from Irene Lipson’s book: “The crunch comes when I am alone, in privacy. I am a forgiven sinner; God’s love has touched and changed my heart. How much, though, do I cultivate that love, give it space to grow? How high on my list of priorities is the development of that relationship with him, which finds expression in the words ‘My Lord and my God’? What price am I prepared to pay in response to him who first loved me and gave himself for me?”
Loving the One True God,