The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the Festival of Shavu’ot in 33 CE. Since Shavu’ot occurs 50 days after Passover, the Hellenistic Jews who spoke Greek as their first language called the feast Pentecost, which is Greek for fiftieth day. Shavu’ot is the second of the three major Jewish festivals with both historical and agricultural significance. The first is Passover and the third is Sukkot.
- Agriculturally, Shavu’ot commemorates the in-gathering of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. (Passover commemorates the first in-gathering of the barley harvest and Sukkot commemorates the autumn in-gathering of all the fruits of the growing season.)
- Historically, Shavu’ot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. In a sense, it is the birthday of the Jewish religion. The Christian Pentecost, which celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 2), is similarly the birthday of the Christian religion. Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament – i.e., Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Christians usually call it the Pentateuch, which is Greek for five books.
The Pentateuch refers to Shavu’ot as the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10), the Festival of Reaping (Exodus 23:16), and the Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). It also says that Shavu’ot should always land on a Sunday.
You shall count for yourselves — from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days… You shall convoke on this very day — there shall be a holy convocation for yourselves — you shall do no laborious work; it is an eternal decree in your dwelling places for your generations. – Leviticus 21:15-16, 21
I don’t know why, but the current Jewish practice does not use the Leviticus count; instead it starts the fifty days on the second day of Passover, which puts Shavu’ot on Sivan 6. Maybe the change was in response to Christianity hijacking their holy day. If that was the reason, it’s a major bit of irony, since the date of the day the Holy Spirit actually descended in 33 CE was Sivan 6. God has a wicked sense of humor; I am reminded of Balaam’s ass and Jonah’s whale.
According to the Jew Faq website, “The book of Ruth is read at this time. Again, there are varying reasons given for this custom, and none seems to be definitive.” For Jews, the reason for Ruth may be opaque; however, if you consider that God designated Shavu’ot to be the birthdays of both the Old Testament and New Testament churches, then the significant of Ruth becomes crystal clear.
The Book of Ruth tells the story of the Moabite (GENTILE) widow, Ruth, who committed herself to the Israelite people by an oath to her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi. Later, she married BOAZ OF BETHLEHEM with whom she had a son, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of KING DAVID, who was an ancestor of JESUS THE MESSIAH. (Matthew 1:1-17)
The story of Shavu’ot 33 CE is recorded in Acts 2. On this day, God opened up salvation to all – both Jew and Gentile – who would make a commitment to Jesus Christ. This year, consider preparing for Pentecost Sunday by reading Leviticus 21, the Book of Ruth, Matthew 1 and Acts 2. Then meditate on how the birthday of the Old and the New Covenants is on the same feast, Shavu’ot, which is also called the Festival of Reaping (Exodus 23:16), and Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26).
Click on graphic to embiggen for easier reading of eensy-weensy text.