You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LordAnd you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to theLord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations" (Leviticus 23:18-21). .

Shavuot: The Feast of Firstfruits: The Birthday of Judaism and the Birthday of the Church


 The Meaning of Shavuot from Scripture

A name in the Hebrew culture reflected the significant character, history, or meaning of that to which they were attached. Four separate names used by the Hebrew Scriptures for the feast of Shavuot (“shah-voo-OHT,” “weeks”)

  • Most common – Chahg   hah-shah-voo-OHT   “the Feast of Weeks” (Ex. 34:22; Deut. 16:10; 2 Chr. 8:13)
  • yohm   hah-bee-koo-REEM – “the Day of Firstfruits” (Num. 28:26), since Shavuot was the day on which the firstfruit offerings of the summer wheat crop were brought to the Temple.  This feast marked the beginning of the summer wheat harvest just as the earlier Feast of Firstfruits marked the beginning of the spring barley harvest. 
  • yohm   hah-kaht-zeer – “the Feast of Harvest” (Ex. 23:16), according to the Talmud and Josephus, the name is aht-ZE-ret, meaning “solemn assembly” since this feast was the conclusion of the Passover season and of the seven-week spring harvest since there are no other major Jewish holy days until the autumn (see Talmud, Pesachim 42b).
  • Pentecost – according to the Greek language (Acts 2:1; 2 Macc. 12:32), meaning “fiftieth,” since it was celebrated on the 50th day from the Feast of Firstfruits. 


The Time of Shavuot

Shavuot is usually celebrated in late spring, late May or early June. In the modern Hebrew calendar it’s celebrated on the  6th day of the month of Sivan.

The Record of Shavuot

Three Scripture passages outline the biblical observance for Shavuot:

(1) Lev. 23:15-21 and Num. 28:26-31 – Temple offerings described

(2) Deut. 16:9-12 – the requirements for individual worshippers outlined in which they were instructed to offer a freewill offering, to rejoice before the Lord, and to remember that the Lord had freed them from Egyptian bondage. 


The Importance of Shavuot

This was one of the three divinely appointed feasts (called “she-LOHSH   re-gah-LEEM”) decreed by the Lord as “solemn fasts” (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16; 2 Chr. 8:13; cf. Ex. 34:22-23) during which the Israelite men were obligated to present themselves at the Temple.  Shavuot, Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles are the three. 

Shavuot, like the Sabbath and many of the other feast days,  was a holy convocation or rest day (Lev. 23:21; Num. 28:26).  Therefore, no work was permitted. 

(1) It marked the beginning of the grain harvest in Israel

(2) It marked the countdown to the Feast of Weeks, the 4th of Israel’s annual feasts.  Beginning with Firstfruits, 49 days (seven sevens) were counted, and on the 50th day, the Feast of Weeks was celebrated.  See Lev. 23:15-16.

(3) This period of time was, and still is, known as “seh-feer-AHT   hah-OH-mer,” meaning, “the Counting of the Omer” because of the ritual of counting the days from the “OH-mer” (Heb. “sheaf, measure”) to the Feast of Weeks. 

Giving of Torah

(1) After the Bar Kochba revolt ending in 135 A.D. (50 fortresses and 985 villages lay in ruins, the death toll in Jewish life from the war topped 580,000) the Sanhedrin convened in A.D. 140 in the village of Usha near the modern city of Haifa. 

(2) They decided to divert the focus of Shavuot observance away from agriculture and instead associate it with a historical event to keep the holiday alive.  This was also became the Jews had become an urban people so Shavuot as a purely agricultural holiday had lost its significance. 

(3) Jewish tradition states that God offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, but only one nation would accept its stringent demands – Israel.  Along with the written Torah, it is taught that God also gave the oral Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

(4) The rabbis suggested that Shavuot was the day that the Torah (Mosaic law) was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (see the Talmud, Pesachim 68b).  This was not done arbitrarily.  Although the Bible never associated Shavuot with Sinai, this theme was chosen because the giving of the law had also occurred in the 3rd month (Ex. 19:1). 

(5) Thus, the idea of the giving of the Law and the birthday of Judaism quickly caught on (as evidenced in ancient Jewish literature Shabbat 86b and Jubilees 6:19) and became the dominant motif of the modern Shavuot.

(6) And so Shavuot became known as ze-mahn   mah-TAHN   toh-rah-TAY-noo  (“the Time of the Giving of Our Law”). 


Observance in the Synagogue

It is customary to decorate synagogues with greenery and beautiful floral arrangements for Shavuot.  Synagogues do a wide variety of things on Shavuot, among them:

(1) Some hang an embroidered green curtain over the ark (where the scrolls are stored)

(2) Some braid a crown of branches and flowers for the Torah scrolls

(3) Some weave a canopy of flowers over the reading area

The reason for all of these decorations is Shavuot’s emphasis as a harvest  festival. According to tradition, these are also a reminder that Mt. Sinai was at one time covered with green trees and grass. 

Ancient Scripture readings for Shavuot include Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12; Habakkuk 2:20-3:19.

After Shavuot was refocused to the giving of the Law, Exodus 19-20 was included in the Shavuot Scripture readings. It is also customary to read the book of Ruth for several reasons:

(1) The story of Ruth took place during the spring barley harvest; Shavuot is the celebration of the conclusion of the barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest

(2) Ruth the Moabitess willingly embraced the God of Israel and His Law (the Torah). 

Many synagogues (especially Reform synagogues) hold Shavuot confirmation services (for older children, boys and girls, 13-16 years old) (this began in the early 19th century) for their teenage youth to recognize their childhood studies and confirm their commitment to live according to the Mosaic Law. 


Traditional Foods Eaten

One of the most popular Shavuot traditions is eating of dairy foods.  The Rabbis have suggested that this widespread practice is a reminder of the Law, since the words of Scripture are like milk and honey to the soul.  1 Peter 2:2 – Scripture is described as “the milk of the word.”

Among them are: cheesecakes, cheese blintzes -- made of cheese rolled in pancakes and fried in a skillet; similar to ravioli noodles, only triangular in shape.  The 3 corners of the dumplings are said to recall the statement of the ancient rabbis:  “Blessed be the Merciful One who gave the threefold law [Law, Prophets, and Writings] to a people made of three classes [priests, Levites, and Israelites], through a third-born child [Moses was born after Miriam and Aaron] in the third month [Sivan]” (Shabbat 88a).  Another tradition food is the cheese kreplach -- dough pockets which are stuffed with cheese for Shavuot.

It is also customary to bake two loaves of challah bread on Shavuot.  These represent the two loaves of bread offered in the Temple and the two tablets of the Law received on Mt. Sinai.  A seven-rung ladder design is traditionally formed on the top of the loaves symbolizing the ascent of Moses to receive the 10 Commandments.      

As believers, these two loaves represent the Jews and Gentiles becoming one body.  God is gathering out from Jew and Gentile, a people for Himself (Rom. 3:2; 9:14; Eph. 2:12-18, 3:6; 1 Cor. 12:13).


Stay Up All Night

It is customary for observant Jews to stay up the entire night of Shavuot studying and discussing Torah. 

Traditionally, they study the opening and closing verses of each Sabbath reading, the opening and closing verses of each book of the Bible, and the entire book of Ruth. 

Throughout the night there are periodic breaks for coffee and cheesecake. 

Here is an explanation of this custom – God made Himself manifest on Mt. Sinai at noon.  It happened that the Jews were still asleep at the time and Moses had to go to their quarters to wake them.  Therefore, Jews keep awake all of Shavuot eve to show that at present there would be no need to wake them to receive the Torah. 

The Jewish Book of Why says that the kabbalists were first to introduce this practice.  He says that this practice is based on an old legend stating that thunder and lightning kept the Children of Israel awake during the time Moses was on Mt. Sinai waiting to receive the Torah (p. 216).

This practice is called “tee-KOON   shah-voo-OHT” (“preparing [perfecting oneself] for Shavuot”). 


The Fulfillment

The fulfillment of Shavuot is the giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 (15 different regions are represented in this chapter).

The reversal of Acts 2 will take place before the 7 year Tribulation when the Restrainer (believed to be the Holy Spirit) will be removed  (see 2 Thess. 2:7).  When this happens, Jesus will come back to take His Bride home (the Rapture).

Hebrew Blessings 

Counting of the Omer on the 2nd night of Passover, at the 2nd Seder

bah-ROOCH     ah-TAH     ah-doh-NAI     eh-loh-HAY-noo     MEH-lech     hah-oh-LAHM,     ah-SHER     keed-SHAH-noo     beh-meets-voh-TAHV     veh-tsee-VAH-noo     ahl     sfee-RAHT     hah-OH-mer

Blessed are You, O lord our God, King of the universe, who has set us apart by Your commandments and has commanded us concerning the counting of the sheaf. 


Erev Shavuot

bah-ROOCH     ah-TAH     ah-doh-NAI     eh-loh-HAY-noo     MEH-lech     hah-oh-LAHM,     ah-SHER     keed-SHAH-noo     beh-meets-voh-TAHV     lee-YOHT     ohr     leh-goh-YEEM     veh-nah-TAHN    lah-NOO     yeh-SHOO-ah     meh-shee-CHAY-noo     hah-OHR     lah-oh-LAHM

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has set us apart by Your commandments and commanded us to be a light to the nations (Gentiles) and has given us Yeshua, our Messiah, the Light of the World.


Sources Used:

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Fuchs, Daniel.  Israel’s Holy Days In Type and Prophecy.  Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1985.

Howard, Kevin and Marvin Rosenthal.  The Feasts of the Lord: God’s Prophetic Calendar from Calvary to the  Kingdom.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997.

Kasdan, Barney.  God’s Appointed Times: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Celebrating the Biblical Holidays.  Baltimore: Lederer Publications, 1993. 

Kolatch, Rabbi Alfred J.  The Jewish Book of Why.  Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1981.

Ritchie, John.  Feasts of Jehovah.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1982. 

Schauss, Hayyim.  The Jewish Festivals: History & Observance.  New York: Schocken Books, 1938.

Scott, Bruce.  The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah.  Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1997.

Shepherd, Coulson.  Jewish Holy Days: Their Prophetic and Christian Significance, 4th edition.  Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1977 (originally published 1961).

Zimmerman, Martha.  Celebrate the Feasts.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1981.