Celebrating Bikkurim and Shavuot
The first tour I hosted to Israel in 1994 was life changing. On that trip, Scripture became three-dimensional as we toured the ancient homeland of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Likewise, the context rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures has the potential to ignite our passion for the Feasts of the Lord.
Shavuot (Pentecost) as described in the New Testament book of Acts marks the birthday of the church. Without the historical background, however, you may be surprised to learn that the feast was inaugurated by Moses and is still joyfully celebrated in Israel some 3,500 years later. (Lev. 23:15-22; Acts 2:1-4).
As Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land from the east side of the Jordan River, Moses addressed the congregation for the last time. Through Moses, God assured that the their eternal homeland was a rich and bountiful, “land flowing with milk and honey” (Dt. 31:20). With God’s blessing, however, came responsibility.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.
He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it . . . And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed.
Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.
You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord’” (Lev. 23:9-11, 15-17).
In the list of the Feasts of the Lord or appointed set times for the nation of Israel, Shavuot marks a joyful ingathering. The festival is a jubilant celebration of God’s bountiful provision and recognizes the obligation to honor the Lord first with expressions of gratitude.
BIKKURIM – First Fruits
The book of Leviticus provides instruction for the institution of the Feast of Bikkurim (Firstfruits) occurring on the first day of the week following Passover. Coinciding with the beginning of the barley harvest, the people of Israel are required to come to Jerusalem with the first and best of that year’s produce. In biblical times, the nation did not eat or sell any of the new crops until the priests waved a representative sheaf of green barley before the Lord (23:14).
SHAVUOT – Pentecost
On the first day of the week 50 days later, the season of Firstfruits came to an end with the celebration of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) at the beginning of the wheat harvest. The people of Israel offered their first and best of seven types of crops to the Lord: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and (date) honey (Dt. 8:6-10 cf. Ex. 34:22).
Shavuot is the yearly feast of thanksgiving and praise to God for bringing Israel into a bountiful land (Lev. 26:3-10). Today in Israel, Shavuot is celebrated with music festivals and parades displaying produce grown on kibbutzim, moshavim and private farms.
In a tradition reminiscent of biblical celebrations, farmers bring samples of their produce to the president’s residence in Jerusalem—a highlight in the agricultural community. Because the Bible describes the Promised Land as “the land of milk and honey,” the Jewish community celebrates with dairy products—especially ice cream, blintzes and cheesecake!
Tradition also states that God gave the Law on Shavuot. Water is a prominent feature of the celebration because the Law is often likened to water. For that reason, many families choose to spend the day enjoying a water feature as part of their celebration.
All over the world Jewish people remember the giving of the Law by gathering in synagogues and community centers for all-night sessions to read the book of Ruth and study Torah. In Jerusalem, the study sessions traditionally end around 5:00 a.m. by walking to the Western Wall for morning prayers.
I can think of no better way to celebrate God’s goodness and the giving of the Law than by watching the sun rise over the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The tradition began in 1967 following the Six-Day War when the army opened the Western Wall to visitors on Shavuot.
The celebration has grown over the millennia. Shavuot endures as an expression of gratitude and great joy for God’s goodness. Today as in ancient times, Israel joyfully acknowledges God as the source of both material abundance in the harvest and spiritual bounty in the Torah.
God used the feast of Shavuot as a reminder that He is the source of all that is good in life.
Should Christians celebrate Shavuot? Absolutely! When we grasp the context, a profound connection to our new life in Christ becomes apparent. Given the fact that the church was born on Shavuot when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, why not celebrate the day with much joy? (Acts 2).
1) Shavuot in Israel, Shibulim Field. (Photo credit, By yaki zimmerman Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Harvesting Israel wheat field. (Photo courtesy, Pixabay [Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) The Shavuot holiday in Israel: Children sit on a pile of hay in a wheat field. (Photo credit, By Government Press Office (Israel)/[CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) Bikkurim offerings on Shavuot holiday in Nahalal, the first workers’ cooperative agricultural settlement in Israel. (Photo credit, By Sharon Ben-Arie/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
5) Barley Still Life (Used for illustrative purposes/Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
6) A girl from Gatish kindergarten in Jerusalem holds a fruit offering (Bikkurim) on Shavuot holiday. (Photo credit: By Government Press Office (Israel)/[CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
7) Figs and Fig Jam. (Used for illustrative purposes.) (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
8) Pomegranate Fruit in Israel. (Photo credit: By Chenspec/[CC-BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
9) Olive Harvest in Ofra. (Photo credit: By יעקב/[CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
10) Date clusters, Eshkol Park in the Negev. (Photo credit: By מצילומי יהודית גרעין-כל/[CC BY 2.5]/Wikimedia)
11) Shavuot holiday parade of agricultural vehicles, Moshav Betzet, Israel. (Photo credit: By PMATAS/[CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikimedia)
12) Shavuot Parade at Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel. (Photo credit: By Photographer Amos Gil/[CC BY 2.5]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
13) First fruits ceremony in the Garden of Samuel (Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. (Photo credit: By Photographer Amos Gil/[CC BY 2.5]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
14) Teddy Kolleck Park Musical Fountain, Jerusalem. (Photo credit: By Dror Feitelson/Pikiwiki Israel/[CC BY 2.5]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
15) Western Wall at sunrise on Shavuot. (Photo credit: By Daniel Majewski (Own work)/[CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2017 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.