Most Christians know the story of Pentecost: the mighty wind, the tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit, and the apostles speaking in every language. Most, however, are unaware of the significant background behind the story. The church holiday known as Pentecost was not originally a church holiday at all; the festival goes back to the days of Moses.
Christianity celebrates Pentecost as the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in tongues of fire:
When the day of Pentecost 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)
The first Pentecost happened at Mount Sinai. Long before the tongues of fire fell upon the believers in Jerusalem, the fire fell upon Mount Sinai. The children of Israel arrived in the desert of Sinai in the third month, as the Torah says. On the sixth day of the third month, God descended onto Mount Sinai to give Israel the Torah. He came in blazing fire heralded by the loud blast of the shofar.
Just as Passover memorializes the exodus from Egypt, Pentecost memorializes the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. For that reason, Pentecost is called the festival of Mattan Torah (מתן תורה), the “Giving of the Torah.”
To commemorate the day that He gave His Torah to Israel, the LORD commanded the children of Israel to observe the day of Shavuot as an appointed time.
Pentecost means “fifty.” The festival is called Pentecost because it comes fifty days after the first day of Passover. The Torah refers to it as the Festival of Weeks (Shavu’ot, שבעות) because it occurs seven weeks after the first day of Passover. Henceforth we will use the Hebrew name of the festival: Shavuot.
Our Torah portion this week tells the story. On the first Shavuot, a thick, dark cloud covered Mount Sinai. The whole mountain shook and trembled as the sound of a loud ram’s horn trumpet, a shofar, split the air. God spoke and all Israel heard His voice.
As the disciples of the risen Messiah gathered to celebrate Shavuot in Jerusalem, they gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the giving of the Torah. The festival already carried heightened significance for the disciples of Yeshua because it came fifty days after the day of their Master’s resurrection. The Shavuot-miracles that accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 allude to the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The mighty wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in other languages commemorate Mattan Torah.
ShavuotTorah : Exodus19:1-20:23; Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17;Haftarah : Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12; Habakkuk 2:20-3:19Gospel : Acts 2