Time to Celebrate

At the sound of Joshua’s shofar and the breathtaking touch of Yahweh’s hand, the walls of Jericho fall. But dire trouble rises from the ruins.

Trouble in the Ruins chronicles a period just over fifty days, spanning the spring grain harvests of Canaan. The Israelites are eager to celebrate their new life in the Promised Land, and God has already provided instructions for the harvest festivals in the covenant law.

The Biblical Grain Festivals

The nations who worshipped fertility gods also celebrated harvest festivals, but the biblical holidays were vastly different. Instead of trying to manipulate the gods through lavish sacrifices in order to ensure abundant crops and personal wealth, the Israelites were to bring their sacrifices humbly, in awe of the God who had made a covenant with his children.

Each harvest festival was a reality check—a time to rejoice after an abundant harvest or pray for a better one after a lean year. Either way, the Israelites acknowledged dependence on Yahweh with faith, hope, and thankfulness. Each family brought a “fellowship offering” sometimes translated as a “peace offering” to the priests. The largest part of the animal was to be enjoyed as a thanksgiving feast, but designated parts were burned on the altar as God’s portion. Another portion was given to the priests and Levites who had no flocks and herds of their own. All the poor, the widows, and foreigners were invited to join one of the family feasts so no one was left out. The smoky fragrance rising from the altar throughout the feast day was a reminder that God was celebrating with them.

Measuring Time

Passover or Pesach marks the beginning of the barley harvest, the first crop of the agricultural year. In fact, this holiday set the calendar for the new year. Just as we add a day every four years to keep our year aligned with the sun, Israelites added an extra month if the barley was not ready for harvest. So, in a year made up of twelve months marked by the cycles of the moon, they added a thirteenth month as necessary to allow the barley to finish ripening.

The Passover meal was celebrated on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month, the first full moon of a new year. The next day was a “sabbath,” a required day of rest with the family and God. On the day following the Passover “sabbath,” the high priest cut the first barley sheaf of the season, an ancient measure of grain known as an omer. He brought the sheaf, sometimes referred to as the Omer, to the Tabernacle and formally waved it before the Lord in gratitude. Now the people could begin the barley harvest, followed in quick succession by the wheat harvest, all the time counting the forty-nine days to the wheat-harvest festival. This seven-week countdown is known as the Counting of the Omer.

Excitement for the festival grew as the people marked off the days, much as counting the days on an advent calendar builds excitement for Christmas. On the fiftieth day, everyone enjoyed another big feast, bringing the first loaves of wheat bread to wave before the Lord along with their sacrificial animal. English translations of the Bible call this wheat festival the Feast of Weeks. In Hebrew it is known as Shavuot (Weeks), and that is the term I use in my book. The Greek New Testament uses the term Pentecost (based on the Greek word for fifty).

Marking History

Each of these harvest celebrations also marked momentous events in Israelite salvation history. Passover commemorates the Exodus, and Shavuot, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. The forty-nine day Counting of the Omer underscores the spiritual link between the two events. Redemption from slavery was not complete until the people made a covenant with their Redeemer to live by principles that would help them remain free.

Traveling to the tabernacle (and later the temple) for these feasts was not optional. Joyful participation was required for all able-bodied Israelite men. Their families were to go along if they were physically able to make the journey. God knew a “remembering” break would be as necessary for national and spiritual health as a break from work is for mental and physical health.

A Glimpse of the Future Christ

Christians see these ancient festivals as symbols foreshadowing the salvation history of the world. Jesus died on Passover, the ultimate Passover Lamb, freeing humanity from slavery to sin. After resting on the Sabbath, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. He was the wave sheaf—the firstfruits of the resurrection harvest. Fifty days later, the Holy Spirit was poured out in unprecedented power exactly on Shavuot or Pentecost.

The parallels between the birth of the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai and the birth of the Church on Pentecost are fascinating. Fifty days after the historical Passover and Exodus, God appeared to his people at Mount Sinai with thunder and flames of fire. Fifty days after the Resurrection, the little group of believers heard the sound of a mighty rushing wind and flames of fire lit the room.

According to Jewish teaching, the Lord thundered his covenant code of love on Mount Sinai in the seventy languages of the world. Acts 2 describes the setting of the extraordinary day of Pentecost. “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. At the loud roaring of the wind, they rushed to the streets where they heard voices praising and preaching in their own languages. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s message that day and were baptized.

The law given on Mount Sinai was a gift intended to shape a people ruled by love, and they in turn would bless all nations on earth. On a day marked by thundering wind and flames of fire, the Holy Spirit gave the gift of tongues to the first believers. His church began telling the story of Jesus, God’s greatest love gift to the world, taking the gospel to every nation in their own languages. Truly a day to celebrate!