By GARY ALLEY
Last month, Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks (Ex 34:22; Deut 16:10), was celebrated here in Israel. According to the Bible, the feast of Shavuot completes the counting of seven “weeks” from Passover to the time of the new grain offering to the Lord (Lev 23:15-16). This offering was a way to thank God for His abundant blessing during the completion of the wheat harvest. Even more, the people were to demonstrate their gratefulness by allowing the poor and foreign immigrants to glean from the outskirts of their fields (Lev 23:22-23).
In Jewish tradition, the book of Ruth is read every year during the Feast of Weeks. Ruth is a Moabite woman who has immigrated to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, after both of their husbands have died. Ruth has chosen by faith to leave her family, culture, and religion, to join the people and God of Israel. The two women return to Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem, seeking to survive during these depressing and dangerous days for widows. To make ends meet, Ruth begins picking up leftover grain in the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s kin, during the barley harvest, and she continues through the wheat harvest (Ruth 1:22; 2:23). The story happily ends with Boaz, an Israelite, and Ruth, a Moabitess, marrying and birthing a son, Obed. The crux of the story of Ruth, is that this son, Obed, from this most unlikely, unorthodox union is the grandfather of King David. In later biblical and Jewish history, all messianic ideas for the ideal and perfect ruler who would usher in the latter days, are rooted in this David, a once and yet, future king.
For Christians, Shavuot is probably the most fundamental of the biblical feasts for our faith. Besides the Hebrew name, Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks is known in Greek as Pentecost, which is based on the “fifty days” of counting from Passover to Shavuot. Pentecost or Shavuot is when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Jewish disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2). That day around three thousand, probably all Jews, accepted the good news of Jesus. These Jewish believers demonstrated their gratefulness to God on this “new Shavuot” by sharing their possessions and giving to those in need (Acts 2:41-45).
As the book of Acts continues, we watch God’s salvation spread to all nations and ethnicities, first when Peter preaches to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and his entire Gentile house is filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-46). Later, Paul travels into Asia Minor and Europe finding many non-Jews who are hungry for and receptive to the things of God. On his last journey, Paul returns to Jerusalem one final time to celebrate Shavuot (Acts 20:16). At this point in his ministry, Paul has come to be known as the missionary to the Gentiles and because of this, he is suspected of having compromised and denied his Jewishness (Acts 21:20-26). In order to refute these rumors, Paul enters the Temple area to pay for purification rites according to the Jewish Law. But with his entrance to the Temple he is attacked by a mob, arrested, and ultimately shipped off to Rome for trial.
Shavuot in the book of Acts is a fitting summation of God’s good news to humanity. Beginning with the first Shavuot in Acts 2, we see the Holy Spirit working initially among God’s people, the Jews. As Acts continues, the Holy Spirit spreads to the other nations—the Gentiles. Paul’s last Shavuot in Jerusalem is a testimony to the universality of the gospel for both Jew and Gentile. The birth of the Church on Shavuot, where Jew and Gentile are mysteriously and ultimately united in Christ through the Holy Spirit, reminds us of the union of Ruth, the Moabitess, and Boaz, the Israelite, which would bring forth this reconciling Redeemer.