Friday, August 4, 2017

‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ - Lesson 2 Draft

LESSON 2: Feast of Weeks

חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot, Feast of Weeks)
CELEBRATED: Fifty days (seven weeks and a day) after First Fruits, in Sivan
PURPOSE: Commemorates God’s gift of the Torah, and is associated with the wheat harvest.
LEGISLATED: Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12 & 16-17
NOTE: The second holy convocation came in the summer. Seven weeks and a day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, all the Israelite men congregated to sacrifice again. This was חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot, Feast of Weeks) in Hebrew, and Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē, “fiftieth [day]”) in Greek. This time the bread was required to be baked with leaven, and the first fruits of the wheat harvest were offered to the Lord. As a feast, there were the same prohibitions associated with the seven-day spring feast.
          The festival had another name: חג מתן תורה (Chag Mattan Torah, Feast of the Giving of the Torah). It was known as the anniversary of when Yahweh gave His laws to the Israelite people. Their identity was closely linked to this religious code, which set them apart from all the other nations of the world (Leviticus 20:22-26). Even today, archeologists distinguish between Jewish and Canaanite sites based on whether or not they find pig remains, show how important following these laws were to the ancient Israelites.
          The association with the summer wheat harvest led to the Feast of Weeks coming to be known as the “Feast of First Fruit” (Exodus 34:22). As Passover’s popularity surpassed that of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the accompanying Feast of First Fruit, associated with the spring barley harvest, disappeared from the Jewish calendars. As a result, Christians are often unaware of the significance of the day on which Christ rose from the dead.

CITATION: Acts 1-2
OBSERVANCE: The resurrected Jesus appeared to His followers and promised they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, through Whom He had commanded them. After Jesus’ ascension, His 120 disciples waited for the promise to be fulfilled. Mentioned are the twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot’s replacement Matthias; Jesus’ brothers; Jesus’ mother Mary; and other female followers, probably including Mary Magdala, Mary of Bethany, her sister Martha, Joanna, Salome, and the four daughters of Philip “the evangelist.” By tradition, those present included all of the men sent out by Jesus earlier, later known as the “Seventy Elders” (Luke 10:1-20).
          Jesus’ disciples waited until the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and gave them the ability to speak in foreign languages. This caught the attention of the masses that had come to Jerusalem to celebrate. Simon bar-Jonah, called Peter, took the opportunity to enlighten them as to what had taken place. The prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled before their very eyes. They had rejected and killed their Messiah, the Christ. Now that He was made Lord, they needed to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Many people were skeptical of his message, but many believed and were saved. As the assembly of new disciples grew, their works through the Holy Spirit continued with more miraculous signs and healings.
REINTERPRETATION: During the Feast of Weeks, the gift of the Torah was replaced with the gift of God’s Spirit, enabling those called “Christians” to transform the lives of others. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit clearly set Jesus Christ’s followers apart from those around them. This new identifying factor distinguished them from the followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7), and it forced them to put racial prejudice behind them and accept non-Jewish persons into their assembly (Acts 10:44-48).

Food for Thought
  • In what ways does the giving of the Holy Spirit mirror the giving of the Mosaic Law?
  • Is Christian identity linked to the Holy Spirit the way Jewish identity is linked to the Mosaic Law?
  • What distinguishes “gifts of the Spirit” from natural abilities Christians may have?
Further Study
The Book of Ruth is often read during Shavuot. The wheat harvest figures prominently in the story about the Moabitess who leaves her people to live with her mother-in-law among the tribe of Judah. Ruth has been interpreted by both Jews and Christians alike as an example of how racially inclusive God’s law could be. In addition, Jewish tradition dates the birth and death of King David, who descended from Boaz and Ruth, to the festival.

Note: This draft lesson was presented at the women’s Bible study meeting held on Saturday, July 1, 2017 at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California).