Shavuot blessings in Messiah!
Shavuot: The Feast of Weeks
Shavuot is the second of the three Pilgrim Feasts, the Shalosh Regalim (Sh’LOSH Reh-gah- LEEM) that the children of Israel were commanded to observe in Jerusalem in Temple times. These are The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesach), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) (Lev. 23:15-18). The Hebrew word for weeks is shavuot (shah-voo-OAT). God told the Israelites to count 7 weeks from the day after the sabbath of Passover and then present a new grain offering (wheat) to the Lord. “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. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you” (Deut. 16:9-10). This offering is also called a firstfruits offering.
Count seven weeks, which is 49 days, and the day after you finish your count is Shavuot, the 50th day. Leviticus 23:16 says, “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath,” hence the English name for this feast of the Lord: Pentecost, (from the Greek pentekoste, meaning fiftieth).
The counting is still done today, as Jews around the world count the days from Passover to Shavuot (called counting the “Omer,” a measure of grain). They anticipate with joy and expectation the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Why? Because the traditional Jewish belief is that God married Israel at Sinai. The Law is Israel’s ketubah (keh-TOO-bah) or marriage contact, given in love to the people that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob purchased for Himself in Egypt (see Ps. 74:2).
In Sephardic synagogues, the Torah scrolls are covered in white and adorned with bridal veils, symbolizing God’s marriage covenant with His people. Synagogues are usually decorated with greenery and roses. This always reminds me of the surprise 70th birthday party that we had for my husband, Neil, which fell that year on Shavuot. I arranged for a net filled with red rose petals to be hung above the pulpit. When Neil came up to preach that night, a rope was pulled and rose petals descended upon him. Not everyone understood what was going on, but Neil did. For years I had been telling him about a custom in the Middle Ages, where churches in Europe had “Holy Ghost Holes” cut into their roofs so that rose petals could be poured through them on Pentecost. This was to symbolize the tongues of fire mentioned in Acts 2. Neil was hoping, of course, that I hadn’t had a hole cut in the roof of the temple! (Some memories still bring laughter and joy. Neil did not preach that night since our son Jonathan came home from college to give the Shavuot message in honor of his father.)
The Law: True Meaning
The term “Law,” when thinking in terms of the Bible, is often considered a negative term. For example, a Christian might say, “We’re no longer UNDER the law,” insinuating that the Law is something bad. To clarify, the English word Law in Hebrew is Torah, pronounced either TOE-rah or Toe-RAH. The term comes from the Hebrew word yarah (yah-RAH) which means to throw, cast, or shoot. It is related to the noun moreh (mo-REH) meaning teacher. Torah more accurately means instruction or teaching rather than law.
As Dr. Louis Goldberg explains in his excellent, scholarly book God, Torah, Messiah, a good teacher “throws” or “casts” instruction at his or her disciples. A wise mother instructs her son from the Word as she imparts Torah: “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law (torah) of your mother” (Prov. 1:8). As parents, we want our teaching to “hit the mark.” God wants His Torah to do the same thing.
The real meaning of Torah in the Scriptures has nothing to do with legalism, though what man does with the Scriptures can be legalistic. Since the term “Word” (davar) and “Law” (Torah) are often used interchangeably in Scripture, our view of Torah should be extremely positive. God’s Word is good. The Torah is good. It is “perfect; reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7). An entire psalm in the Bible is dedicated to the Torah (Psalm 119). “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (vs. 34). “Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight” (vs. 77). “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (vs. 97). “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth” (vs 142). “I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight” (vs. 174).
“Your law” in Hebrew is toratecha (toe-rah-TEH-kha). God’s Law, in today’s understanding, has several narrower meanings. It refers, first of all, to the Torah of Moses, the Mosaic Covenant, given on Shavuot at Mt. Sinai. The first five books of Moses are designated as Torah. This includes Genesis (B’resheet, B’ray-SHEET), Exodus (Sh’mot, Sh-MOHT), Leviticus (Vayikra, Va-yeek-RAH), Numbers (B’midbar, B’meed-BAR) and Deuteronomy (D’varim, D’va-REEM). These books are also known
as the Pentateuch. Many traditional Jews speak of the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole—Moses, the Prophets, the Writings—as Torah. This is the written law, Torah she-bikhtav, commonly called the “Old Testament” by most Christians. It is also known by the acronym Tanakh (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim).
There is also something known as the “Oral Law” which includes the teaching of the rabbis, which for
them, has equal weight with the written Word. It is NOT authoritative for us as Messianic believers.
The “Perfect Ten”
The Torah is a document in which God revealed Himself to a people who had been slaves for over 400 years. They did not know how to live as free people. They did not know the standards of a Righteous Holy God who is passionate about justice, honesty, and morality. Amidst shofar blasts, a thick cloud, thunder, and flashes of lightening, God spoke “Ten Words” (Aseret Hadibrot, Ah-SAIR-et Hah-dee-BROAT), known as the Ten Commandments. The term “Decalogue” comes from the Greek words meaning “ten words.”
Keren Hannah Pryor, in A Taste of Torah, A Devotional Study Through the Five Books of Moses, comments on the opening of God’s revelation to His people: “The first word that God speaks; Anochi YHVH Eloheicha, ‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ (Ex. 20:2) is a proclamation that presents the basis upon which the further statements are made. God declares who He is—YHVH, the LORD who freed them from slavery. He has wooed them into deeper relationship with Himself.” God is also proclaiming His ownership of His people. He purchased them; they are His.
- I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me (We must acknowledge the existence and Sovereignty of God, the God of freedom).
- You shall not worship false (This is idolatry, whether a graven image or anything or anyone that takes God’s rightful place in our lives, as the recipient of our love and obedience.)
- You shall not take God’s name in (His name refers to His character, His holiness, and Who He is. He deserves honor.)
- Keep the sabbath day (A day devoted to God. Shabbat means rest. God rested—so should we. God is Lord of time. The seventh day of the week was Saturday and still is. Modern man has a problem keeping this one.)
- Honor your father and (Esteeming others, beginning with parents and teachers, showing respect, obedience, and love honors God.)
- You shall not (Life is precious. Only God has the authority to say when it ends. This especially applies today to the child in the womb. Abortion is murder.)
- You shall not commit (Marriage is a sacred covenant, holy matrimony in God’s eyes. It also involves one man and one woman. Moses, Paul, and Jesus all said the same thing. See Gen. 2:24, Eph. 5:31, Matt. 19:4-6.)
- You shall not (When we take what does not belong to us, we are aligning ourselves with God’s enemy hasatan (satan) who He identifies as a “thief.”)
- You shall not (God is the One True God, a God of truth, who loves truth (emet) and hates lying (Pro. 6:17, 12:22). His enemy is also the Father of lies (Jn. 8:44).
- You shall not want (covet) what belongs to (Khamad in Hebrew means to lust, have strong, envious, desire and is a sign of discontent. “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Our Messiah said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
The “Ten Words” appear in the ceiling of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. They are there as both a religious document central to Jewish and Christian faiths and a primary source of American law. The principles contained in the Ten Commandments are fundamental to Western legal tradition, testifying to what is right and what is wrong—according to the God of the Bible who has an ultimate moral standard.
Most of you would agree, as I do, with Dr. Goldberg when he states: “We live in a generation that resists loudly any mention of an ultimate morality given by a holy and righteous divine being; people have no fear of God or His holiness.” How true. For years I have felt that the fear of the Lord is key
to our nation’s return to God and His standards. Yirat HaShem is the Hebrew for fear of the Lord. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Ps. 111:10). God is a God of love, but He is also a just God. The Ten Words should remind us that every one of us falls short of God’s standards. We all sin,
either by commission or omission. Sin ultimately leads to death and eternal separation from God. That should elicit a healthy fear, awe, and respect for a Holy God who is a Righteous Judge.
The Messiah Yeshua rectified man’s sin problem when He became the final sacrifice for the sin of the world at Passover. He did not, however, do away with the Law nor the Commandments. Yeshua said in His great Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). “Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah—not until everything that must happen has happened” (Matt. 5:18, CJB). The Greek word for fulfill, pleroo, means to fill, complete, accomplish, or carry out. Yeshua fulfilled salvation, history, and the promises of the Law and the prophets. What did Messiah mean by “destroy?” When rabbis of Yeshua’s time misinterpreted a passage of Torah or added demands and burdens that God never intended, they were said to be “destroying the law.”
Messiah’s death on the tree of sacrifice moved the Law from the outside (on tablets of stone) to the inside (on the human heart.) “…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall by My people” (Jer. 31:33). This New Covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah, would be initiated by the indwelling of the Ruach HaKodesh in the followers of Yeshua. This happened amazingly on the anniversary of the Giving of the Law, Shavuot. When the Lord sent His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, He sent the power for those who love God to:
- acknowledge and accept the sovereignty of God above all else
- make God #1 in our lives
- not take God’s name in vain (not to swear at all)
- follow God in His day of rest
- honor parents
- not murder (nor be angry without a cause nor hate another person)
- not commit adultery (in person or in the heart through lusting)
- not steal
- not lie
- not covet
The first five represent our relationship with God, and the second five, our relationship with others.
Rather than doing away with the Torah, the Messiah lifted it to an even higher standard, focusing on the “heart” of the matter. Nothing in the “Perfect Ten” ended. Rather, it was expanded and deepened through the Messiah. Rabbi Saul (Paul) summed up what Yeshua taught concerning the Law in his statement in Romans 13:10, “…love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love—the true meaning of the Law. Yeshua brought out a deeper meaning, a fullness of expression of the Law. As the Living Torah, He is the model for New Covenant believers.
Messiah, the “end of the law for righteousness”
“For Messiah is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believers” (Rom. 10:4). The word for “end” in Greek is telos, which actually refers to a “goal” to be realized. The Torah goals of justification and sanctification were realized in Yeshua. “Messiah did not and does not bring the Torah to an end. Rather, attention to and faith in the Messiah is the goal and purpose toward which the Torah aims, the logical consequences, result and consummation of observing the Torah out of genuine faith, as opposed to trying to observe it out of legalism” [God, Torah, Messiah].
We, as Messianic believers, have come to the end of any attempt to be righteous by our good works and instead experience and enjoy the imputed righteousness of Yeshua. Like the Apostle Paul, we are “…found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Yeshua was the final goal of all the Old Testament sacrifices. His blood atoned for sin, once and for all.
Are We “Under the Law?”
I have always thought that the writing of the tablets of the Law twice, because of the sin of the “Golden Calf” (see Deut. 9:10, 15-17; Deut. 10:1-5), was a foreshadowing of the New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31. The Law would one day be given again, in an expanded form, to include not just our actions, but our heart’s intent. With Messiah it is all about the heart. Are believers in Messiah “under” an undesirable legalistic regimen? What are we to think about the Greek phrase “under the law” that occurs eleven times in the books of Romans, 1 Corinthians and Galatians? For example, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14) and “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).
Professor Goldberg’s explanation: “It is not the Law itself that is heresy for the believer today. Sha’ul himself emphasized that ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good’ (Rom. 7:12) but rather, it was the misuse of the Law in which it becomes a system of legalistic observances that is not desirable.” Dr. David Stern and others have seen the New Covenant as a “New Torah,” “For this covenant has been given as Torah on the basis of better promises” (Heb. 8:6 JNT). If we are “under” anything, it is that we are under a holy obligation: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).
May we all fulfill the Law in Yeshua’s Name and tremble at His Word (Ex. 19:16; Is. 66:5).
Love in Him,
P.S. For expanded teachings, see our archived newsletters: “Ten Commandments” and “Shavuot.”