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Tongues of Fire at Shavuot/ Pentecost

Besides the wheat harvest, there is another aspect to the feast of Pentecost which really captures the heart – it is the beautiful love story between God and Israel, that was sealed with the giving of the Torah.

Esther Piekarski, in her article “The Ten Commandments of Marriage” says,

“The concept of marriage does not apply only between men and women in Judaism; our entire relationship with our Creator is considered a marriage. Our wedding anniversary is the holiday of Shavuot, the day we received the Torah.”

Throughout the Scriptures, we read of God’s relationship with Israel described as that of a husband and his wife. Isaiah 54:5 says,

“For your Maker is your Husband, the Lord of Hosts is His Name.”

The book of Hosea concentrates on the theme of Jehovah’s unfailing love for His wife Israel, and how he woos her back despite her idolatry.

There are three stages to a traditional Hebrew marriage, dating back to ancient times. For the sake of brevity, I will only look at the first stage, called the Erusin – or Betrothal in English. The giving of the Torah, on the 6th of the Hebrew month of Sivan, is recognized to be the time when God betrothed Himself to His bride, Israel. Amidst “thunderings and lightnings”, God presented Israel with His marriage contract – the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 19:17-20 describes this momentous event,

“Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”

Dr Richard Booker, in his book, “Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts”, writes:

“Jewish scholars believe that the people actually “saw the voice of God” coming out of the mountain in tongues of fire. The mixed multitude that came out of Egypt saw the tongues of fire and heard the one voice of God speak in their different languages so they could understand His words.”

I find this quite amazing, when we look back to what happened 2,000 years ago, in an upper room as described in the Book of Acts, in the New Testament! After Yeshua (Jesus) had been crucified at Passover, He appeared to His disciples and told them to wait in Jerusalem until He would send the Promise of the Father – the Person of the Holy Spirit. Exactly 50 days after Yeshua’s resurrection, he sent His Ruach (wind) upon them. Acts chapter 2, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit using the same powerful imagery of fire, as seen on the mountain top.

“When the Day of Pentecost (Shavuot) had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

These two events are obviously linked – one being a foreshadow of the other. Some scholars even see the event on Mount Sinai as the first Pentecost. Why then did God bring another Pentecost?

It was because the Israelites were unable, in their own strength, to stay faithful to the “wedding contract”. For this reason, God promised His People a future new covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, where He would write His laws on the fleshly tablets of their hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My Law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they will be My People.”

God fulfilled this Word, approximately 600 years later. On the Day of Pentecost, Jewish pilgrims, who had come to Jerusalem to keep the feast, overhead a loud noise coming from the upper room. Seeing the disciples speaking in other languages, some thought the disciples were drunk - but others took the apostle Peter’s message to heart, when he said:

“For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only 9 o’clock in the morning. But this is what was spoke by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…”

(Acts 2:15-17)

The Scriptures say that three thousand were cut to the heart that day and became followers of Yeshua. The good news is, that it wasn’t only the Jewish people who experienced the power of God through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at that time. We read of other visitors to Jerusalem who also responded to Peter’s message of salvation.

In Leviticus 23:15-21, God instructed the Israelites to offer two loaves of bread, baked with leaven, at Shavuot. Why two loaves and why leaven? Leaven, in the Scriptures, is a common symbol of sin. The two wave offerings are representative of Jew and Gentile - both sinners and both needing the wonderful blessing of God’s Spirit.

At the first Pentecost at Mount Sinai, and at the second Pentecost in the upper room, God sent down fire. Fire is one of the symbols for the Holy Spirit and points to power and purity. God is looking for people who are “on fire” for Him – those who love Him with a deep and enduring passion; a spiritual bride who is pure – not running after the gods of this world. At this desperate time in history, we need the Spirit of Yeshua to bring hope and love to a hurting world.

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