Friday, May 17, 2013

A Lesson in Gratitude: Thoughts on Shavuot

You must accept my sincerest apologies.

I am late in writing to you about the most recent biblical feast because I was in the middle of learning a very important lesson about it - the hard way of course!

You see, my lifelong struggle - and I suspect many of you can relate - is finding contentment in circumstances I don't like. My husband used an illustration in a lesson I heard him teach once about a little girl who's father wanted to pry her away from her Barbie Dream House because they were late getting somewhere. "But Daddy, it's not fair! I love my dolls, I don't want to leave!" Little does the petulant little girl know that her Father has bought her surprise tickets to the Barbie on Ice show with a special backstage pass, and she will actually get to meet the real deal, Barbie, herself...if she would just be obedient. But little girl can't see all that. All she sees is she's being pulled away from what she wants. She can't imagine that her father would have something better in mind for her. And so she cries, she resists, she disobeys.

Can you relate with that story or what?

So, this week I found myself in a conversation with the Lord we've had many times. "Why is X the way it is?" I ask. "Because this is my plan and you are my vessel, beloved. Remember?" "Well," I respond indignantly, "If that's the way you want to do it, fine. But I think I could make a much better plan. And by the way, don't expect me to be happy about this."

Yikes! Reading that as I'm writing it makes cringe. But, you see, the lesson that I've been learning, and I suspect will continue learning for many years to come, is the art of releasing, trusting and obeying - and being content about it. My obedience and joy cannot be conditional upon my getting my way. I'm just like that spoiled little girl, wanting her Barbie Dream House, what else can I say?

So, due to my personal spiritual crisis, I am late in sharing Shavuot with you. But recently our ever-so long-suffering Father has righted my heart. And now, in spite of my little temper tantrum, I feel as though through that process I have come to the other side of it better equipped to tell you what Shavuot is all about. How you ask? Read on!

So what is Shavuot, anyway? You might have heard it called Pentecost, but it has many names, including the Feast of Weeks, the day of the marriage of God to His people, the season of the giving of the Torah, and more. Let's rewind a moment to something I've shared before about these feasts: each one of the seven honors an agricultural event. Each also commemorates important events that took place between God and Israel, celebrated to remind them continually who they were and Who made it that way. Finally, each serves as a prophetic shadow, divine revelation of events in God's plan for mankind and the world-a kind of blueprint for how everything has and will play out.


An Agricultural Event

Every year, beginning at the Festival of First Fruits, the people of Israel began counting 50 days to Shavuot. First fruits, as we have already discussed, was a time when the barley harvest was brought forth, the first part brought to the Lord in gratitude. Now other crops would be ripening - wheat, pomegranates, grapes, dates and more. During the 50 days between First fruits and Shavuot, called 'the counting of the omer,' when the plants yielded fruit, families would tie ribbons around the earliest crops, collecting them to the side to offer to the Lord at Shavuot. People were continually reminded, in this way, that God provides.

When the day arrived, families would take their collections of their first fruit crops in a basket and travel to the temple. There, they would come in before the priest and declare these words, found in the book of Deuteronomy:

A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground which you, Oh Lord, have given me.

The sacrificer would then set his basket down there before the Lord, a great act of worship and gratitude for God's great faithfulness, abundance and provision.

A God Intervention: Israel Receives the Law

Not only is Shavuot an agricultural celebration, but also it is known as the anniversary of the day God gathered Israel at Sinai and gave them the law. This is how this appointed festival became known as the day of the marriage between God and His people. If Passover was the proposal, then this would be the actual wedding ceremony, the day the God and Israel said yes to one another.

You may not know a lot about Jewish weddings, but they are beautiful events which involve a great deal of symbolism. Imagine the huge, towering mountain over the heads of Israel as the 3 million people gathered together with expectant hearts, ready to see God Himself! Then upon the mountain's summit descends the very presence of God in a thick cloud. It loomed over them as if it were a chuppah, the structure that is built underneath which the bride and groom stand when they pledge their love and faithfulness to one another.

It was here that God offered the terms of their covenant. In Jewish weddings this is also done, and the marriage covenant, the ketubah, is drawn up. You can see one pictured below. Both husband and wife would sign this during the ceremony. So it is in the 10 Commandments and following laws, statutes and ordinances that we find Israel's marriage covenant, where the assurance of protection, life, abundance and health was declared for obedience to the terms. And Israel eagerly accepted.

So not only is this a celebration of God's giving physical needs, but here now we also see that it is a day to celebrate the giving of our spiritual needs as well - in this case the giving of His very word and the blueprint for life to us.

A Heavenly Principle: God's Redemptive Plan 

It is not at all coincidence that the faithful followers of Jesus found themselves in the feast of Shavuot (called Pentecost) on the day that the long-awaited Holy Spirit was poured out on them (which is the part of Pentecost that most of us are more familiar with). Isn't that fascinating? Fifty days after the passover lamb was sacrificed and the first fruit offering was made, Shavuot was celebrated to commemorate the giving of the Law. Then we find that fifty days following the resurrection of Christ came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a direct connection, a fulfilling of what God was revealing to us through the shadow of His appointed times. The Holy Spirit is, after all, the promised guide who would come after Christ left the disciples. And still to those entering covenant with YHWH, the Holy Spirit's indwelling us is the sign of our authentic relationship with God. But what we have not probably considered is that He serves as our living ketubah, relaying the terms of our marriage covenant with God by granting us understanding to apply God's laws every day.

This event of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on mankind was the day that God spoke of in Jeremiah when He said,

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

and through Isaiah the prophet when He said

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

We have long made the assumption that this new covenant was solely a New Testament thing. But He reveals the end from the beginning, Beloved. He spoke of it centuries before it actually came. The heavenly principle behind Shavuot is the giving of the Law and the marriage covenant between God and spiritual Israel (you and me) through the giving of the Holy Spirit. That is what all of Shavuot has always pointed to from the beginning. And just like those Hebrew people long ago, in this covenant we have everything we need - provision, protection, joy and security. And that is something to celebrate!

A Lesson Learned

So to finish the story I began in this entry, I found myself in the middle of the Shavuot holiday not having really done my reading and study. I had been so busy fixating on what I wasn't getting that I wanted, that I lost my focus on the Word and and God's appointed times. When all the while, gratitude and a remembrance of the great harvest God has done in my life was exactly what I needed. What a humbling lesson.

So now, I find myself back on track - bringing my basket before my High Priest, Jesus, and saying, "I was no one, I was lost, I was broken and an enemy. But you sought me out, you rescued me, and you brought me into a life and a joy that I never could have imagined for myself. conclusion...Thank you so much for giving me exactly what I need and abundantly fulfilling all that you have promised in our covenant. I need to get focused again on honoring my part of this I think I'll take your plan Lord. I think I can hang on in faithfulness a little bit longer. And I'll do it gratefully!"


Do you need a perspective check like I did? Or are you looking for a way to make Shavuot practical in your life? What can you bring before the High Priest, to show for God's provision in your life? My first fruit offering consisted of listing off all the ways God has provided for me and my family in this last year. For example, I was given opportunities to minister and do His work, I started this blog, which I adore, I was handed the opportunity to purchase a home from a trusted friend, which has now become my safe haven, and many more. Once I started thinking about it, I realized there is a lot more He had done than I realized. And it left my heart so full (not to mention repentant for my previous ingratitude!).

Recall, as a family and individually your blessings and milestones. Acknowledge to God that it is He who has granted that increase. What is the fruit God has given to you? If you can think of nothing else, know that the air you are currently breathing, the device on which you read this blog, and just having access to His holy scriptures are great blessings in your life. But I doubt you will be able to stop there...what are you waiting for? Go enjoy your stroll down memory lane with the Lord.


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