What We Missed About Pentecost
Here are some things that seldom come together in the same sentence: genealogy, Israel’s tribes, Apostle Paul, Moses and Aaron, Ruth and Boaz, the Holy Spirit, and Torah. What could these all have in common? They all come together in the Feast of Weeks, known in Hebrew as Shavuot, and in Greek as Pentecost. Together they reveal to us is God’s plan to bless every family and nation on earth.
Shavuot/Pentecost in 2014, according to biblical reckoning, is on Sunday, June 8. As with so much concerning the reckoning of time, controversy surrounds the date of the feast. Here is how the Lord explained the feast to Moses:
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. And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bull, and two rams. They shall be as a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the Lord. Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats as a sin offering, and two male lambs of the first year as a sacrifice of a peace offering. The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lordfor the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. (Leviticus 23:15-21 NKJV, emphasis added)
This passage explains that Shavuot/Pentecost occurs on the fiftieth day after the Feast of Firstfruits, which is when the “sheaf of the wave offering”, or omer is brought before the Lord. This is how we get the names of the feast. Since it happens seven weeks and one day after Firstfruits, it is called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, which means “weeks”. And since it occurs on the fiftieth day after Firstfruits, it is called Pentecost, which means “fifty”. This period of fifty days between the two feasts is called the Counting of the Omer. The number of days is fifty, which is the meaning of Pentecost.
Everyone agrees on these points. Where the controversy occurs is in designating when Firstfruits occurs, the day on which the Counting of the Omer begins. Most of the Jewish world keeps the feast according to the reckoning of the Pharisees, which became the method of rabbinical Judaism. They consider the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the day when the Counting of the Omer begins. That position requires some scriptural gymnastics to justify since it doesn’t quite fit the instructions of Leviticus 23. The other method of reckoning is that of the Sadducees, who consider the Feast of Firstfruits and the beginning of the Omer count to occur on the day after the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In other words, the Sunday which occurs after Passover and during the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread is the Feast of Firstfruits. (For more complete explanations of the Shavuot/Pentecost reckoning issue, see “Counting the Omer”, by Monte Judah in Yavoh! He Is Coming, Vol 13, No. 5, May 2007; and “The Truth About Shavuot”, by Nehemia Gordon, on Nehemia’s Wall, June 3, 2014.)
Although the Sadducees probably would not see it this way, we know their method of counting the Omer is correct because it was on a Sunday at Firstfruits that Yeshua rose from the grave. By that method, Shavuot/Pentecost always falls on a Sunday exactly seven weeks and one day later. However, the controversy over the reckoning was raging even in Yeshua’s day, which is why in the book of Acts Luke had to specify that Shavuot/Pentecost had arrived by everyone’s method of counting. He begins his account of the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles by saying, “When the day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1 NKJV).
The gift of the Holy Spirit was the second great event marked by Shavuot. The first event was God’s gift of Torah to the nation of Israel. Exodus 19 explains how the people arrived at Mount Sinai in the third month after they left Egypt. Three days later, God came down on the mountain and delivered the Ten Commandments, which was His marriage proposal to the nation. Jewish tradition holds that this occurred on Shavuot. That makes sense; it is logical to conclude that God would designate the same day (Shavuot/Pentecost) to give His written Word (Torah) to His people, and to give His Holy Spirit, Who would write that Word on the hearts of His people according to His New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12; Ezekiel 36:22-32).
But what does this have to do with genealogy, or Israel’s tribes, or Paul, or Ruth and Boaz, or Moses and Aaron? It has everything to do with them. The linkage begins with Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would bless all the families of the earth through him (Genesis 12:1-3), and would bless all the nations of the earth through his seed (descendants) (Genesis 18:17-19, 22:15-18). Abraham’s seed is the nation of Israel, which consists now both of physical and spiritual descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is how it has always been. Even in Abraham’s day, the covenant God made with him included not only his physical descendants (Ishmael and Isaac), but also the people in his household who were not necessarily related by blood (Genesis 17:1-27). Four centuries later, the people of Israel who left Egypt in the Exodus included not only the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but a “mixed multitude” as well (Exodus 12:37-38). That means the 600,000 men who left Egypt with their families were not only Israelites, but also Egyptians, Nubians, Libyans, Greeks, Philistines, Canaanites, Mesopotamians, Hittites, and anyone else who chose to attach themselves to Israel and Israel’s God. In time, all of these foreigners and strangers became full-fledged members of Israel’s tribes. The event is recorded in the book of Numbers:
Then Moses and Aaron took these men who had been mentioned by name, and they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month; and they recited their ancestry by families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, each one individually. As the Lord commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the Wilderness of Sinai. (Numbers 1:17-19 NKJV)
Notice when this census of the people of Israel occurred: on the first day of the second month of the second year of the Exodus. In that previous 13 months, God had directed that Israel take care of higher priorities. Specifically, they had to learn how to receive His provision of food (manna and quail) and water out in the wilderness where there was no other source of provision except God Himself. Then they had to receive His instructions (Torah) through Moses and learn how to live as His people. As they did that, He directed them to build the Tabernacle so He would have a place to meet with them, and organize the Levitical priesthood to mediate between Him and them and teach the people His Torah. Once that was done, God directed Moses and Aaron to take a census of the people and organize them by tribes and tribal camps. It was only then that the “mixed multitude” affiliated with the tribes. By that time, they had enjoyed a full year of association with the physical Israelites, giving them plenty of opportunity to learn the culture of the various tribes and forge relationships among them. Although I cannot say for certain, it seems reasonable to conclude that on that day of the great census, when each man recited his ancestry, he declared his tribal affiliation as well.
Thus we see that inclusion of non-native Israelites has always been God’s plan – even if those non-natives were of nations who merited God’s particular displeasure. Consider the case of Moab. In his farewell speech to Israel, Moses commanded this:
“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NKJV)
This presented a problem for people like Ruth, the Moabitess who married Boaz of the tribe of Judah. Jewish tradition is to read the book of Ruth at Shavuot. There are many good reasons for this tradition, but in this study the most important is the fact that Ruth of Moab chose to identify herself with Israel and Israel’s God. She made her choice even before she left her native Moab, long before she even met Boaz. Her marriage to Boaz, the Kinsman Redeemer, consummated her membership in the commonwealth of Israel and completed her identification as an Israelite. Because of that, her grandson Jesse and great-grandson David could be considered Israelites, not Moabites, and could enter the assembly (congregation, church) of Israel.
God is still in the business of grafting people into the commonwealth of Israel. Today, the only identifiable physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the Jewish people. Jews for the most part are descended from the royal tribes of Judah and Benjamin and the priestly tribe of Levi, but there are remnants of the other tribes among them. God has promised in many places to restore all of Israel – with all the tribes – in the land of Israel. How He will sort out the tribes is still unclear, but it is certain that there will be a vast mixed multitude of “Gentiles”, or non-Jews, among them. Ezekiel explains it this way:
“Thus you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 47:21-23 NKJV)
Ezekiel’s prophecy concerns the Millennial Kingdom, when Yeshua reigns from Jerusalem and organizes the tribes in the land. However, God began reassembling the nation soon after Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension. In fact, He began at Pentecost. Consider what Luke recorded about that remarkable event when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers in Yeshua. As soon as they were filled with the Spirit, they rushed out to the Temple and began to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the people assembled there for the feast:
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Acts 2:5-11 NKJV)
Christian teachers for two millennia have labelled this Pentecost event as the birth of the church. In truth, it was the beginning of the restoration of Israel through the work of Israel’s King, Messiah Yeshua. This assembly included both native born (Jews) and foreigners, or Gentiles (proselytes), all of whom were residents of many nations. Luke tells us that 3,000 people believed on Yeshua and were added to the assembly (congregation, church) on that day (Acts 2:41). All of them, whether Jews or Gentiles, were grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel. That is exactly what Paul wrote about in his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians:
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13 NKJV)
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:9-11 NKJV, emphasis added)
And this brings us to the question of what all this has to do with Moses and Aaron. They gave the Law (Torah) to Israel, but what do they have to do with Pentecost and the grafting in of Gentiles to join with Jews in the commonwealth of Israel? Again, they have everything to do with these things. Paul explains to us that one of the many blessings given to the Jews is the adoption (Romans 9:1-5). In other words, even though Jews are native-born Israelites, salvation comes first to and through them. Through Yeshua (Whose Name means salvation), Jews lead the way for all the nations of the earth to be joined to Israel. But how exactly does this adoption work? The first step is belief in Messiah and His work of redemption on the cross, but what happens after that? How does this relationship with the God of Israel develop?
It should not be a surprise that the answer to these questions is available from a Jew who knows Torah. Rabbi David Forhman of AlephBeta Academy presents another excellent teaching on the question of adoption and genealogy in his Parsha on Bamidbar (Numbers). As you watch this short video, consider these words from the apostles:
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13 NKJV)
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:14-17 NKJV)
For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. (Romans 11:13-18 NKJV)