The Shavuot Connection by Jennifer Caracelo

You may or may not have heard the controversy swirling around a prominent pastor who recently taught a sermon series in which he basically said that we need to set aside Exodus through Malachi – that it was an old covenant that was replaced by Jesus. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why this is wrong, since better Biblical scholars have covered his errors and the dangers of flirting with Marcionism.

Photo May 17, 11 24 46 PM

What I will say is that when Paul wrote these words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, he had one thing in mind – the Tanakh. If we toss that aside, we discard the testimony of thousands of years of G-d’s faithfulness. We lose the succinct wisdom of Proverbs. We reject the Psalms that breathe praise and speak of the majesty and holiness of our creator. We erase the words of prophecy that define who the true Messiah would be. We reject the framework of a holy G-d who requires a sacrifice so that our sinful uncleanliness is purified and we are able to be in his presence. Without the words that define sin, there is no need for a savior.

As Messianic Jews, we have the awesome understanding of the full breadth of Scripture.  Shavuot is just one of those times where our understanding as believers in Yeshua gives greater meaning to our observance.  The giving of the Torah at Sinai on tablets of stone foreshadowed the giving of the Ruach who would dwell within our hearts – a transition from a written commandment on stone to the commandments alive and at work within us – rote observance to heartfelt obedience.  Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel foretold of the day when the physical giving of the Word would be translated to an indwelling of the Word.

“’The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.  ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord.  ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”  Jeremiah 31:31-34

“Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.  They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols.  I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God.’”  Ezekiel 11:17-20

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.   I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do [them].  Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.’”  Ezekiel 36:24-28

While G-d always desired for his Word to be deeply ingrained in our hearts (Deut. 6:6; Deut. 11:18; Deut. 26:16; Deut. 30: 14; Prov 3:1-3, Prov 7:2-3), It was clear that we failed to do that on our own and so G-d sent the Ruach HaKodesh.  The prophecies set out in Jeremiah and Ezekiel have the distinction of being prophecies that have been partially fulfilled.  We have yet to see the complete fulfillment of them, but the beginning happened on that day that is spoken of in Acts 2.

Photo May 18, 12 38 21 AM

Thousands of years later, we have the distinct disadvantage of only being able to “view” these two momentous times through the lens of the short descriptions afforded us in ancient texts.  But if we look clearly at the nuances of the texts and the specific words used, we can begin to appreciate the similarities of a momentous day in history that was mirrored almost 2000 years later.  The parallels between the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19-20; Deut 4-5; Heb 12:18-21) and the giving of the Ruach (Acts 2), in conjunction with the Haftarah reading for Shavuot (Ez 1:1-28 & 3:12 – another time when G-d’s presence comes to meet the people) give us a clear picture of the connections between these events where G-d came to meet the people.

  • Both events occurred on Shavuot:
    • According to the sages, the Torah was given on the sixth of Sivan  – “On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai.” Ex. 19:1
    • The disciples were in Jerusalem on Shavuot – “Now when the day of Shavuot had come, they were all with one accord in one place.” Acts 2:1
  • The giving of the Torah in two versions:
    • Torah on stone – “When the L-RD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of G-d. “ Ex. 31:18 & Ex. 4:13
    • The believers themselves are the very example of the Torah written on the heart  a fulfillment of the prophecies – “being revealed that you are a letter of Messiah, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Ruach of the living G-d; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh.” 2 Cor. 3:3
  • A mixed multitude was in attendance at both events:
    • “A mixed multitude” left Egypt with the Israelites and were there with them at Sinai – not just Egyptians, but ostensibly people from many nations Ex. 12:37-38 (covenant was reaffirmed in Deut 29:10-15 where it specifically includes the sojourner)
    • “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” Acts 2:5-11 – some representative nations are listed (even Arabs)

We often talk in our Messianic synagogues about the similarites or parallels between a Torah event and its fulfillment by Yeshua.  What is even more amazing when you look at the texts related to Shavuot, you can seen the similarities in setting.  Unfortunately, we have given little time to these connections in our teachings on the subject and we miss the amazing threads that G-d has woven.  Hold onto your hats, people….welcome to Literary Analysis 101!

The_Ten_Commandments_(Bible_Card)

Take a look at this picture.  It’s probably one of the most accurate ones that I could find online of the giving of the Torah at Sinai – minus the cheery, blue sky and puffy white clouds peeking through the background.  What we know from the texts of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Hebrews, is that this day was an awe-inspiring, if not downright terrifying occasion.  This instance, and the one in Ezekiel, of G-d’s appearance to the people is characterized by a certain atmosphere.  There is lightening, thunder, a thick cloud of smoke, fire, earthquakes, and the loud sounds of shofar blasts from the heavens.  When I imagine this, I can only believe that what the earth and sky are like during a tornado is just a fraction of what it was like at Mount Sinai.  No wonder the people were so quick to agree to whatever G-d asked of them!

When we picture the account of Acts 2, very often the scene is much different from this dark, smoke-filled encounter at Sinai.  We tend to think of people serenely gathered inPentecost_58-227 prayer as a wind blows through and tiny wisps of fire alight on their heads.  Perhaps you imagined it much like this with these serene, robed men.  Not a lock of hair is out of place and they look as though they were just startled.  This couldn’t be more wrong.  I believe the Acts 2 event more closely mirrored Sinai and the haftarah portion for Shavuot from Ezekiel that we spoke of earlier.  Like those two other events, there was fire in Acts 2:3, which I can hardly believe was the glowing nightlights on their heads.

Wind

While the Sinai account doesn’t specifically mention “wind,” the amount of natural events like smoke, fire, and earthquakes would most likely be accompanied by some sort of wind.  What is interesting is that in Ezekiel 1:4, as the Ruach of G-d approaches it is described thus:

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.

The Hebrew for “stormy wind” is  “ruach seh-ah-rah” (wordpress doesn’t like Hebrew fonts or I would include it).  This is a contraction of the words “storm/whirlwind” and “ruach/spirit.”  This is the only time that this contraction occurs in the Hebrew.  It is as if it is a whirlwind that is created from the Ruach itself.

If we look at the wording in Acts 2:2, we find something very similar:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house (temple) where they were sitting.

The three Greek words translated in the ESV as “mighty rushing wind” break down in an interesting way.  The word for “mighty” is generally translated as “mighty” or “violent” – definitely not a correlation with that serene Acts 2 depiction above.  The Greek word translated here as “rushing” is a verb that is most often translated as “bearing” – pertaining to carrying something – as the “wind” here carried the Ruach into the room. 

The last of the three words that is translated as “wind” is only translated as “wind” in this verse and in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Tanakh) in Job 37:9.  In all the other instances in which it is found (Genesis 2:7; Proverbs 24:12; Acts 17:25; and in non-canonical ancient literature) it is translated as “breath, breath of life.”  In fact, the Septuagint uses this specific Greek word in place of the Hebrew word, “neshama,” which is the breath of life or soul that emanates from G-d.  Both the instances of “wind” that we see in Ezekiel and Acts are the very Ruach of G-d in a tangible, powerful wind.

Sound

Both Exodus 19:16 and Exodus 20:18 record that the people heard the sound of the shofar at Sinai as the Torah was given.  In Hebrews 12:18-19 TLV, the writer refers readers back to the Sinai experience using words and phrases that are identical to those used in the Torah account:

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched, and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and storm, and to the blast of a shofar and a voice whose words made those who heard it beg that not another word be spoken to them.

The Greek word used for “blast” (or “sound” in most translations) is the same root word that is used again only in Acts 2:2 and Luke 21:25( where it is translated to describe the roar of the sea’s waves).  Though the word for “shofar” is not used in Acts 2:2, I believe that there is a connection with this word between these verses.  If it was not the sound of heavenly shofarot that they heard, it was definitely something deafening and mighty!

Voice

The last connection between these two Shavuot experiences that I want to touch on is that of the Voice of G-d that is present.  We know that G-d speaks directly to the people at Mt Sinai (Deut. 4:112; Deut 5:4, 22-27; Heb 12:19, 26).  We also know that once they were filled with the Ruach, the believers on Shavuot began to speak in numerous languages so that people who were in the Temple from the diaspora were able to understand them in their native language (Acts 2:4-11). Can we form a connection between these two instances?

When we look at the words that are used in the text, we see the standard word “kol” used in Deuteronomy.  It is used in the singular form.  But a close look at Exodus 19:16 & 20:18 reveals something very interesting:

Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. (Ex 19:16)

Now all the people saw the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. (Ex 20:18)

The word that is translated in these two verses as “thunderings” is the word “kohl-oht” – which can also be translated as “voices.”  Perhaps this is why, according to Talmud: “And all the people witnessed the thunderings” (Exodus 20:15). Note that it does not say “the thunder,” but “the thunderings”; wherefore R. Johanan said that God’s voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in seventy languages, so that all the nations should understand.” (Shemot Midrash Rabbah 5:9)  What is even more interesting is that according to the Midrash: “On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel not only heard the L-RD’s Voice, but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the L-RD’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the L-RD’s mouth traveled around the entire camp and then came back to every Jew individually.(Midrash Chazit)

These teachings of the rabbinic sages, passed down through the generations, give us a direct connection from Sinai to Acts 2.  But without the Sinai experience, the events of Acts 2 lose their impact and significance.  It is within these connections that we find deeper meanings and understanding.  As we eagerly await Shavuot, let us affirm that the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai and the giving of the Ruach at Shavuot were mirror events – a complete story that cannot be torn apart.

 

Jen CircleJennifer Caracelo serves alongside her husband, Rabbi Jude Caracelo, as the rebbetzin and Graphic Designer and Media Coordinator for Keren Ohr Messianic Synagogue in Savannah, Georgia.  Deciding to put her degree in English Literature and Judaic Studies to work, Jennifer founded Neshama in June 2017 to create an online community for Messianic women. As a recovering craft addict, she tries to fit time into her busy schedule to knit, sew, and read. She has passed on her love of period drama movies and Bollywood films to most of her six children and even her husband.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s