Jewish Themes in the Book of Acts – Festival of Pentecost

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Holy Spirit

Photo: “The seven Species of the Land of Israel are listed in the biblical verse Deuteronomy 8:8: a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and [date] honey.” WikiMedia Commons רוליג

Often when we hear the word “Pentecost” we immediately jump to the episode with the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2. Pentecost, however, was a Jewish festival before it was a Christian event.

Leviticus 23:15-22 describes the appointed festival: 15 And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. 16 You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord. 18 You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, along with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. 19 You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being. 20 The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation offering before the Lord, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21 On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute forever in all your settlements throughout your generations. 22 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish festival known as Shavuot. Shavuot was “one of the three pilgrimage festivals (along with Pesach [Passover] and Sukkot [Booths]) that attracted many Jews to Jerusalem” (Gary Gilbert, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 201). Shavuot, also called the Feast of Weeks because you had to count seven weeks, took place 50 days after Passover and was a celebration for the wheat harvest. Later it came to be associated with the giving of God’s covenants: the covenant with Noah, but especially the Torah as given through Moses.

Here is an description of how some Jews celebrate the feast of Shavuot today:

How is God doing both a new thing and continuing an old thing in the Pentecost scene of Acts 2? Similar to how Jesus reinterprets Passover at the last supper in the gospel of Luke, now Peter is reinterpreting Shavuot for the church. Shavuot was meant to foster an attitude of thanksgiving at the time of harvest. “Then you shall keep the festival of weeks to the Lord your God, contributing a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 16:10). The gratitude for harvest was meant to overflow to the most vulnerable members of Israel’s society (see Leviticus 23:22 above). Prompted by Peter’s speech at Pentecost, the new converts fulfill the purpose of Shavuot: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). Everyone had enough because of the just and equitable distribution of goods.

The scene in Acts 2 can also be interpreted in another way connected with the history of Israel: the reversal of the curse of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). At Babel God confused the language of the people because of pride in their technological advancements. In Acts 2 the people that God scattered are reunited and able to understand in their own languages. God was doing a new thing connected to a very old thing.

Here is a reenactment of Shavuot from a Jewish group in Jerusalem:

For further study check out:

 

 

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Weekly Worship Thought – Pentecost

Orans1This Sunday is Pentecost. We hear the fascinating story from Acts 2 where, “each one was bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language.” It is generally accepted that most inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time would be able to speak and understand Greek. Even a diverse group of pilgrims would have knowledge of the Greek language and be able to understand it. So why did the Holy Spirit cause this translation to occur? I would suggest two reasons. One, Pentecost is a reversal/redemption of the curse of Babel. Two, God wants us to worship in our heart language. The pilgrims could have understood the disciples if they had proclaimed the marvels of God in Greek. But God wants to be intimately near us, as someone who speaks in the tongue of our homeland, our mother’s language.

Philosophy of Worship, part 3


Philosophy of Worship3. Worship should seek diversity and encourage it.

God is diverse in taste. God loves spicy Latin worship. God loves chicken fried Southern worship. God loves fancy-shmancy upper class worship. And the diversity represented in the world also represents the diversity of worship styles and forms. Biblical case for God’s love of a diversity of styles of worship:

Acts 2:1-12

The majority of participants in the Pentecost experience could have communicated in and understood Greek. But, God wanted them to hear the words in their own language. God wants to speak and communicate with us in our most native and heart-felt tongues. God wants us not only to hear and understand, but to feel and know. And I think just as God spoke through them in a variety of languages, God desires to be spoken to and worshiped through a variety of languages both verbally and musically/stylisticly.

Don’t forget though that worship is not dependent on style. We should be able to reach a place of authentic worship despite the style of music/form being used. If you say that you can’t worship without a certain style/form, then you’re really confessing to the weakest type of spirituality…one that is completely limited to our own desires.

A diversity of styles should be encouraged in worship in order to teach people to adapt in worship. What if we were all forced to worship in a culture other than our own? Would you be lost spiritually, not able to find a way to connect with God? Or would you be able to adapt?