A Call to Give God Our Best: A Biblical Study on Shavuot
by Joseph Shulam
There are three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah: Passover, Shavuot, and Succoth (which is the Feast of Tabernacles). On these feasts, Jews and non-Jews from all around the world would gather in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The Feast of Shavuot was very special because it ended 50 days of harvest and gathering of God’s wealth in the provisions of the land. One of the main aspects of this Feast of Shavuot was the bringing of the firstfruits to the Lord’s house in Jerusalem, and presenting them to the priests and Levites in a very colorful ceremony.
The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai is also associated with this feast, and of course this is the reason why the good Lord chose this very day to manifest His Holy Spirit on the apostles, and on the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) is the occasion of bringing the first fruit that has grown and ripened for the season, the spring season. Deuteronomy chapter 26 is of great importance here, because it is the only chapter that reveals to the reader what the worshiper, who comes to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, must say in front of the priest (the Cohen) who serves the Lord in his day.
This text is important because it gives us a glimpse of what was going on inside the Temple. The worshiper comes with his gifts to God through the auspices of the priest. The priest receives the gift (sacrifice) and the worshiper says the following strange things:
“The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.’ Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” – Deuteronomy 26:4-11 [NKJV]
Here in this grand occasion, when the Israelite worshiper comes to Jerusalem, in his hands are the firstfruits of his labor, the best of the best of his fields and orchards. He hands the basket of the first fruits to the priest and this is what he says: “My father was a wandering (lost) Aramian (Syrian).”
This worshiper is speaking about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are the fathers of the nation of Israel and he calls Abraham a wandering (lost) Aramian (Syrian). Is this Israelite worshiper minimizing the importance of of Abraham by calling him a lost Syrian? Yes, and no!
Let us look at another document from a period close to the appearance of Book of Deuteronomy on the scene:
“Look down from heaven, And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained? Doubtless You are our Father, Though Abraham was ignorant of us, And Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” – Isaiah 63:15,16 [NKJV]
Here in Isaiah, the worshiper claims the Lord God as the father of Israel, not Abraham. With all of Abraham’s greatness, both in this passage in Isaiah and in Deuteronomy 26, Abraham is not the father of the nation, or the savior of the nation of Israel, or the deliverer of Israel from Egyptian slavery. God Himself is the Savior of Israel, “Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name”!
Here are some of the implications of this short text that allows to look into the words that were spoken by the worshiper during the highest moment of his yearly encounter with the Lord, through the priest and the gift of firstfruits to the Lord:
- The worshiper approaches worship with great humility. He is not the benefactor of the Lord. He is the recipient of God’s goodness and mercy. He confesses both his own and his father’s total dependence on God. King David did the same in his last prayer: “Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.’” – 1 Chronicles 29:10–14 [NKJV]
- The worshiper brings to the Lord the first fruit, the best fruit, and not the leftover fruit of the field and from the fruit trees.
- After giving God the best of the best, the worshiper is invited to thank God for the good things that God has given him. This phrase is worded in a special way. The worshiper is not invited to thank God for everything that has happened in his life during the past year. He is invited to thank God for all the good things that happened in his life. The not-so-good-things that happen in our lives have many sources and causes. The good things that happen to us and to our households are all from God and His goodness.
There is a question that I am sure many will ask, “What are the other sources in our lives that cause us some hardships and grief?” I will answer this question in brief:
- Our own stupidity and mistakes. This is probably one of the main sources of grief and sometimes suffering in our own lives. There is no one else that we can blame other than our mistakes and stupidity. If we drive too fast around a curve and the physics of the centrifugal forces throw us off the road and we have a bad accident – it is not the devil, it is not a demon, it is our own stupidity and lack of foresight and wisdom that has caused the accident.
- Sin in our lives can have painful consequences that can cause pain and grief and even illness.
- Nature – the very nature of all flesh is to grow old and decay.
- God at times wants to educate us and equip us for a higher challenge, and like a boot camp, He takes us through a series of obstacle courses in order to build our abilities, train our minds, and prepare us through suffering for a greater task and success in life.
This last one is one of the most difficult for us to understand, and at times we think that our whole world is collapsing and we can’t take it even one more day. The sun comes up the next day, and we understand that, despite the great hardships and difficulties, in the end it is like what the apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 8: “all thing work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”
Paul is basing this statement on several passages in the Psalms and in the prophets. The main passage is from Psalm 145:14-20:
“The Lord upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy.” – Psalms 145:14–20 [NKJV]
The Key phrase is in Psalm 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” In other words, if you separate one of God’s actions (in the Bible, or in history, or in your own life) you might think that He is unrighteous, but if you look at the big picture you will see that He is righteous and all His ways are righteous.
About Joseph Shulam
Joseph Shulam was born in Bulgaria in 1946 to a Sephardic Jewish Family. In 1948 his family immigrated to Israel. In 1981, Joseph and the small fellowship that was started in his house established one of the first official non-profit organizations of Jewish Disciples of Yeshua in Israel – Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry. Joseph has lectured extensively and has assisted in encouraging disciples around the world. He and his wife Marcia have two children and two grandchildren.