With the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza it’s hard for me to stop and meditate on the Word despite it being Pentecost. I talked to a childhood friend yesterday who told me that a rocket hit buildings just one block away from the house where I grew up. When the sirens went off they had only 90 seconds to get everyone into bomb shelters. A neighbor was killed. Though there is much greater impact of the violence elsewhere I was still shocked to know how vulnerable we are. We grieve with our friends who are trying to build unity, not only between Arab and Jew, but between believers in the land whom this conflict divides. Truly our hearts are torn.
Because of the coronavirus only a handful of our students remain in Jerusalem while there are 100 more studying from around the globe through the Whole Word Institute extension program. One thing we learn together is about Pentecost and the deeper understanding we gain about it through the Hebrew (OT) Bible. This week “Shavuot” (Pentecost) was celebrated in the biblical tradition as the festival of first fruits. While agriculturally Pentecost marks the beginning of the summer harvest, spiritually it commemorates the receiving of the Torah, the Law of God, or the Word. Leviticus 23 instructs the high priest to bake two loaves for a wave offering before the Lord. In Hebrew tradition those two loaves symbolize the tablets of the law given at Mt Sinai. So, besides being the festival of first fruits, Shavuot is also the festival of the Word, and the priestly practice of the loaves symbolizes the Word as the bread of life.
Deuteronomy 26 & 31 instruct that the first fruits are to be shared and celebrated with Levites, children, fatherless, servants, strangers, widows, and also foreigners. At Shavuot it is traditional to read the book of Ruth since at the time of Shavuot, Ruth, a gentile, was engrafted to the house of Israel and became part of the royal line. Think about Acts 2:1-31—who was gathered in Jerusalem at Shavuot? People gathered from every nation, not only Jews but gentiles as well.
Such rich meaning can be gleaned when the light of the Holy Spirit is shed upon the WHOLE Word of God. How much the nations (every tongue) need the whole Bible to understand the full significance of what we have received and our roles in God’s plan.
You are already a part of the Shavuot/Pentecost story as you give the Word to others who are in need. Pray with us for a greater outpouring of the Word and sharing of first fruits throughout the world. And pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for revival upon this land.
David Swarr, PhD
Institute for Biblical Languages & Translation
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