Shavuot and Pentecost: Tongues of Fire and 70 Languages
Considering that these days are biblical, we know there must be a strong connection between Shavuot and Pentecost. What do we know about these holidays, how are they similar and how are they different?
Seven weeks after the Feast of Unleavened Bread God commanded His people to celebrate Shavuot – the “Feast of Weeks.” (the Hebrew word Shavuot literally means “weeks”). But what is there to celebrate?
The Feast of Weeks is the day when the Torah was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It commemorates when God gave His commandments to His people. For 430 years the Israelites lived in bondage and slavery in Egypt. There, they had been surrounded by a pantheistic religion that knew little of and cared little for, the God of the Israelites.
At last, God lead the Israelites out of Egypt, which is what the story of Passover is all about. And then, on Mount Sinai, Moses brings to the people specific instructions on how to love God, worship Him, and walk with Him. All this law Moses received through personal encounters with the Creator.
The Book of Acts says that the Jewish people gathered. in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. If you pause for a moment, you may start to wonder, is Pentecost… Jewish? Think about the word itself. What does Pentecost mean? In the Christian world we got so used to it, thanks to the Pentecostal Church, that we probably think it means “something about the Holy Spirit”. Right? Well, not quite.
Pentecost comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth”, referring to the fiftieth day after Passover. As mentioned above, on that day, the Jewish people celebrate the Feast of Weeks.
Shavuot and Pentecost
In theory, the Church celebrates today the feast of Shavuot. Nevertheless, they do it remembering the Book of Acts, rather than what happened on Mt. Sinai.
On that memorable day, God poured out His Holy Spirit on all those gathered together in Jerusalem. Through that, He changed the history of mankind forever. Tongues of fire, rushing wind, speaking in many languages! Now that’s what you call a FEAST!
“When the day of Pentecost [or Shavuot] came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Tongues of fire and 70 languages
There’s a purposeful connection between what happened on Mt. Sinai and in Acts 2. The two “miracles” from Acts 2 that we always affiliate with Pentecost are the tongues of fire resting on the people and the speaking of many languages (or tongues). Is this the first time that fire had rested on people and other tongues been spoken?
A well-known Midrash, or Jewish commentary on Scripture, may cause us think twice about saying, “yes,” to this question. Shemot Rabbah, which is Hebrew for “Great Exodus”, records in 5:9,
“On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel not only heard the LORD’s Voice but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the LORD’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the LORD’s mouth traveled around the entire camp and then came back to every Jew individually.”
It goes on to record Rabbi Yochanan saying, “God’s voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in 70 languages, so that all the nations should understand.” The number 70 in Scripture is usually associated with “the nations.”
How incredible is it that rabbinic literature records the voice of God appearing like fire and the speaking of 70 languages being present at the first Shavuot?
Is Shavuot the same as Pentecost?
Pentecost, the fiftieth day since Passover, as well as fiftieth day since Jesus’ death and resurrection, remains significant for Jews and Christians alike. We are grateful for God’s commandments and we are grateful for His Spirit.
During this season of Shavuot or Pentecost (whichever you prefer), reflect on God’s Word. Reflect on the first Shavuot when God revealed Himself to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. And then, the Shavuot centuries later, when the Spirit of God equipped 120 disciples of Yeshua to speak the Gospel to the nations of the earth.
The apostle Peter quoted words of the Jewish prophet Joel who literally foretold this happening: “It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17).
How beautiful is that. So now, let us celebrate! Happy Shavuot!
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