Hearing Voices on Shavuot

I just finished observing Chag HaShavuot (The Festival of Shavuot, or Festival of Weeks) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) about two weeks ago, and I returned from Yerushalayim on Wednesday of last week.  The Hebrew term "chag" essentially means "Festival" and is translated in older translations as "Feast", but that doesn't give the full sense of it.  It refers to not just any religious festival, but a Pilgrimage Festival, one in which a command is issued to go to a specific place at a specific time, and observe the Festival at that place according to the instructions given.  In other words, it's a qodesh appointment, a time and place which Elohim sets apart, a conference in a sense.  The practices we are asked to perform on these days operate on at least two levels: as reminders of events that have already happened in the past, and as rehearsals for events that haven't happened yet but are promised to occur. The command to observe these Chagim can be found here:
"Three times a year all your males appear before YHWH your Elohim in the place which He chooses: at Chag HaMatzah (Festival of Unleavened Bread), Chag HaShavuot (Festival of Weeks), and Chag HaSukkoth (Festival of Tabernacles or Booths)." (Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:16).
Shavuot is, as you can see in that segment of the Torah, the second of the three Pilgrimage Festivals which YHWH required the men among His people to observe.  The Festivals of Matzah and Sukkoth, the first and last in that list, are observed on specific days of specific months, but not so with Shavuot, which is not earmarked on a specific day of a specific month.  It is calculated by counting weeks, specifically seven weeks, starting from the day after the First Day of Matzah (for First Day of Unleavenened Bread, which is when the first omer of barley, also called the "wavesheaf", is offered), and taking the next day after the last day of the seventh week to be the Festival day.  You can read these instructions here:
"And from the day after the Shabbat, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, you shall count for yourselves: seven completed Shabbatoth.  Until the day after the seventh Shabbat, you count fifty days, then you shall bring a new grain offering to YHWH." (Wayyiqra / Leviticus 23:15-16).
"Count seven weeks for yourself.  Begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain.  And you shall perform the Festival of Shavuot to YHWH your Elohim, according to the voluntary offering from your hand, which you give as YHWH your Elohim barak (blesses) you." (Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:8-10).
The Torah says to observe these "in the place which He chooses", and thus intentionally mentions no specific place, because that place was destined to change over the centuries.  It is essentially the place where the Mishkan (Tabernacle) would rest and contain the Ark of the Covenant, as that is the place where YHWH places His Presence and His Name.  After the children of Yisrael entered the land many years later under Yahushua ben Nun (Joshua son of Nun), it moved from place to place.  Eventually it settled in the time of the Shofetim (Judges) in a place called Shiloh, which is in the territory of Ephraim, the land allotment for the youngest of the two sons of Yosef (Joseph).  There it remained for 400+ years, until David became King of Yahudah.  He moved it initially to Hebron, the city which contains the burial cave for Abraham, Sarah, Yitshaq (Isaac), Rivkah (Rebeccah), Yaakov (Jacob), and Leah.  Finally he moved the place to Yerushalayim, and became King over the united tribes of Yisrael and Yahudah.  This was to be its permanent home, as David's son Shlomo (Solomon) built a permanent House, the Heykal (Temple), to replace the Mishkan, and provided what he intended to be a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant.  As a result, Yerushalayim became the permanent location for these Pilgrimage Festivals.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I made a commitment to observe the Chagim in Yerushalayim for as long as I am able to do so, as that is the last place they were observed, and as the nevi'im (prophets) clearly state, this is where they will be observed again in the Olam HaBa (world to come).  And so, I went to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) on that pilgrimage to observe this Festival.  I was able to relax more this trip than on similar trips of the past, praying regularly, and pondering the purpose of Shavuot.  I had it in mind to write something on Shavuot, and so I started writing this blog post just before I left for Yerushalayim.  I had no idea it would be so difficult to write, and I really didn't expect it to go in the direction it has.  I wanted the blog post to examine how the Festival seems to be celebrating and rehearsing not only historic moments of revelation of new information from Elohim to those who have ears to hear, but also the method of these revelations, and how these methods are themselves a revelation of sorts.  Elohim reveals very different yet unopposing aspects of Himself through His contrasting voices over the ages.

In many ways that's what the blog post is indeed about, but I came to realize there's a lesson in that examination that was timely for me and many others I know, many of whom also observe the Chagim in Yerushalayim with me.  Though Shavuot does indeed seem to celebrate revelation of Elohim's will by the words themselves and also of His character through the manner and tone of their delivery, we will see that revelation isn't always about apocalyptic events, and in fact usually is not.  Revelation is about how to behave in the here and now as much as it is about the ultimate outcome at the end of days.  Shavuot serves as a stark yet joyous reminder of keeping perspective on our roles in the plan of Elohim, of waiting on him as we number our days.  YHWH's time tables are beyond our ability to fully grasp.  Without faith in Him to accomplish His purpose in His own time, even when we don't fully understand what is going on, we can easily find ourselves going from being useful instruments in His service to being replaced by others who will serve in such a manner.

The Voice of the Shofar

For Jews and many others who have made a commitment to learn and live by the Torah, this day has some incredible traditional importance.  This is because, for many, not only is it commanded to be observed in the Torah, but it is by tradition believed to be the celebration of the giving of the Torah.  As Shraga Bar-on states in his article How Shavuot became the festival of the giving of the Torah, that tradition isn't quite accurate.  The Torah was gradually revealed over the 40 years that the children of Yisrael spent in the wilderness, not all at once.  Much more credible is the notion that Shavuot is the day when YHWH Elohim descended onto Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, and spoke some of the most important and foundational words of the Covenant and the Torah, known to many as the "Ten Commandments", to the Children of Yisrael in an incredible spectacle.  I believe that a close examination of the Scriptures shows this to be highly likely.

First some background is in order.  After decades living as a fugitive from Mitsrayim (Egypt) in the Land of Midyan, Mosheh (Moses) moved the flocks of sheep he was shepherding to the vicinity of Mount Sinai. There on that mountain he saw something he could not explain, a bush that was clearly on fire yet didn't appear to be consumed.  As he attempted to look closer and examine the phenomenon, he heard a voice speaking out of this burning bush.  The voice was from YHWH, the Elohim of the people Mosheh had left behind in Mitsrayim when he fled years before.

YHWH then proceeded to give Mosheh no small errand.  He sent Mosheh back to Mitsrayim to free the people of Yisrael from the harsh slavery that Pharoah, the ruler of Mitsrayim, had imposed upon them,  He told Mosheh that He would deliver His people with great power, and that after doing this, Mosheh must return with those people to this very mountain to worship Him.  This was the first time Mosheh heard the voice of YHWH speaking to him from a fire, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.  Mosheh reluctantly returned to Mistrayim to do what he was commanded to do.

When Mosheh arrived there, by his hand Elohim issued a series of plagues and miraculous wonders that devastated the land, government, and people of Mitstrayim.  The nation was left in shambles for the refusal of Pharoah to release the children of Yisrael from their forced servitude.  After finally departing the land of Mitsrayim for good, he led the people back to Mount Sinai where he first encountered YHWH.  The journey witnesses another miraculous path through a divided sea and a witness to the destruction of the Army of the Mitstrayim, after which they traveled through that wilderness for several weeks.  In that time, YHWH tested them with a lack of food and water, to determine how they would behave when faced with trials and to demonstrate to them that He is the source of their sustenance.  They ran out of food and grumbled to Mosheh and Aharon in the manner of high drama, to which YHWH responded by raining down "manna" to them, and giving them some early instructions on the observance of the Shabbat. (Shemot / Exodus 16).  YHWH tried them with a lack of water at several points, at each point of which they also grumbled in a highly dramatic way.  In one instance, YHWH made undrinkable waters drinkable through an act of putting trees into them.  In another instance, the complaining was so bad that they began accusing Mosheh and Aharon of bringing them into the wilderness to die, among other things.  It's important to realize that these grumblings were not just complaints, they were in the spirit and force of threats; the congregation was behaving in a way that gave Mosheh some concern for his life.  YHWH responded by telling Mosheh to strike a particular rock with his staff, and when he did so, water sprang forth plentifully from that rock.

Several days after these events, YHWH proposed a covenant between Himself and the children of Yisrael, one in which He would take them as His nation, His special people on the Earth, who would serve as a Kingdom for Him, a qadosh (set-apart) nation of Kohenim (priests), and they in turn would take Him as their Elohim.  This covenant is often likened to a marriage in Scripture, and YHWH often likens the people of Yisrael collectively as His bride and Himself as her Husband, so in a sense this was a marriage proposal.  Mosheh (Moses) is acting as the mediator of this proposal, the mediator of the Covenant which was to be made between YHWH and Yisrael.  And the people, all of them, accept this proposal wholeheartedly.  We read all of this here:
"In the third month after the children of Yisrael had come out of the land of Mitsrayim (Egypt), on this day they came to the Wilderness of Sinai... So Yisrael camped there before the mountain.  And Mosheh went up to Elohim, and YHWH called to him from the mountain, saying, 'This is what you are to say to the house of Ya'aqov, and declare to the children of Yisrael: "You have seen what I did to the Mitsrites (Egyptians), and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself.  And now, if you diligently obey My voice, and shall guard My Covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession above all the peoples - for all the earth is Mine - and you shall be to Me a kingdom of kohenim and a qodesh nation."  Those are the words which you are to speak to the children of Yisrael.'  And Mosheh came and called for the elders of the people, and put before them all these words which YHWH commanded him.  And all the people answered together and said, 'All that YHWH has spoken we shall do.'  So Mosheh brought back the words of the people to YHWH." (Shemot / Exodus 19:1-8).
One of the first things we notice, indicated in the first verse, Shemot / Exodus 19:1, is that this proposal occurred during the third month on the Hebrew calendar, which is the month in which Shavuot occurs.  Since the first day of Unleavened Bread is on the 15th day of the first Hebrew month, called "the month of Aviv" in Torah, counting seven weeks or 50 days from that point should bring us to either the fifth, sixth or seventh day of the third month on that same calendar.  The variance is due to the fact that lunar months as used in the Torah vary between 28 and 30 days (there can even be 31 day months in some extremely rare instances), and so two intervening month endings, that of the first and second month, can vary up to three days each.  So when counting 50 days from the day after the First Day of Unleavened Bread, the fiftieth day should be on the fifth, sixth, or seventh day of the third month.  The fact that this proposal was made, and the acceptance made, at some unnamed point during that month means that the tradition that Shavuot is the day of the actual appearance of YHWH to Yisrael on Mount Sinai could very well be true.  But does the Torah mention a specific day of His appearance?  Sort of... we read further:
"And YHWH said to Mosheh, 'Go to the people and qadosh them today and tomorrow.  And they shall wash their garments, and shall be prepared by the third day.  For on the third day YHWH shall come down upon Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people.'" (Shemot / Exodus 19:10-11).
So YHWH told Mosheh to get the people ready, for them to wash themselves and their clothes, and avoid activities which will make them unclean, so that they will be prepared to meet with Elohim on the "third day".  We are tempted to think this is the third day of the month, which would mean it was not in fact Shavuot, but it is more likely to be referring to the third day of the week, which would make it again ambiguous at least at face value, but would also not disqualify it from being in the range of Shavuot.  It seems more than a coincidence to me that the day which YHWH here states that he will appear to the children of Yisrael occurs more than likely in the month in which Shavuot occurs.  While none of this proves that this was Shavuot, it seems a pretty good indication that Shavuot is very likely the day when YHWH met with the people, and as we shall see, delivered to them by his own voice the foundation of the Torah to which they would forever be enjoined.

Now we can move from background to foreground and enjoy the meat of this story.  The people prepared themselves as commanded, and Mosheh brought them to the foot of the mountain to meet YHWH on the "third day".  As promised, YHWH appears, in a great and apparently terrifying spectacle:
"And it came to be, on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain.  And the voice of the shofar (ram's horn) was very loud, and all the people who were in the camp trembled.  And Mosheh brought the people out of the camp to meet with Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  And Mount Sinai was in smoke, all of it, because YHWH had descended upon it in fire. And the smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all the mountain trembled exceedingly.  And when the blast of the shofar sounded long and became very strong, Mosheh spoke, and Elohim answered him by voice.  And YHWH came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain.  And YHWH called Mosheh to the top of the mountain, and Mosheh went up." (Shemot / Exodus 19:16-20).
So we see here that there were several components of this spectacle:
  • The mountain was covered by a storm cloud which emitted thunder and lightning.
  • A very loud, strong, and long-winded shofar sound blasted not once but several times.
  • Mount Sinai itself was in smoke, as if it was on fire, and the smoke poured into the skies.
  • There was an extended earthquake, as the mountain "trembled exceedingly".
  • The voice of YHWH spoke and commanded Mosheh to ascend to the mountain.
It was in this midst of this spectacle that Elohim spoke to the people the foundational terms of the Covenant He was entering into with his new bride, the nation He took for Himself, Yisrael.  Many know these words as the "Ten Commandments" or the "Ten Words".  It was part of the Ketuvah, or "marriage contract", a statement of some basic things He expected from this marriage.  This Ketuvah was initially spoken by Elohim Himself, and likewise, He would eventually write down these words with His own finger onto tablets which He had hewn Himself,   Within this Ketuvah He stated that He expected Yisrael to do all of the following:
  1. To avoid spiritual adultery by worshipping no other elohim (gods).
  2. To avoid spiritual adultery by neither making nor worshipping idols.
  3. To avoid forgetting, swearing falsely by, failing to properly use, or marginalizing His name (that name being YHWH),
  4. To set His Shabbat day, the memorial of His creation, apart as a day of complete rest.
  5. To respect and honor one's parents.
  6. Never to commit murder.
  7. Never to commit adultery (this time, adultery within a human husband and wife relationship).
  8. Never to steal.
  9. Never to make statements of false witness against a neighbor, which can be inferred as a mitzvah (commandment) against lying in general.
  10. Never to yearn to have or possess anything that belongs exclusively to your neighbor.
This revelation was not apocalyptic, even though it was delivered in the manner that one might imagine an apocalyptic event occurring.  Rather, it was a statement of an expectation of ethics -- a set of statements on how He expected the children of Yisrael to live.  The reaction to these words and the incredible way they were delivered was one of intense fear.  We read this here:
"And all the people saw the thunders, the lightning flashes, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking.  And the people saw it, and they trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Mosheh, 'You speak with us and we hear, but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die.'... So the people stood at a distance, but Mosheh drew near the dense cloud where Elohim was.  And YHWH said to Mosheh, 'Say this to the children of Yisrael: "You have yourselves seen that I have spoken to you from the shamayim (skies or heavens).  You do not make besides Me elohim of silver, and you do not make elohim of gold for yourselves."'" (Shemot / Exodus 20:18-19, 21-23). 
So Elohim gave even more words of the Covenant to Yisrael, but this time, he delivered them through Mosheh, as they requested.  Mosheh became even more firmly the mediator of this Covenant.  Now while this foundational part of the Torah and foundational part of the Ketuvah was delivered very likely on Shavuot, it was not the day the Covenant was finalized.  That was the next day.  After telling Mosheh all the new words of the Covenant, the Torah continues the account of the Covenant process as follows:
"And Mosheh wrote down all the Words of YHWH, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve standing columns for the twelve tribes of Yisrael.  And he sent young men of the children of Yisrael, and they offered burnt offerings and slaughtered peace slaughterings of bulls to YHWH.  And Mosheh took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  And he took the Sefer (scroll) of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, 'All that YHWH has spoken we shall do, and obey.'  And Mosheh took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, 'See, the Covenant which YHWH has made with you concerning all these words.'" (Shemot / Exodus 24:4-8).
And so the Covenant was made with the people of Yisrael, who willingly entered into it, the day after Elohim showed such an amazing and terrifying display before the people.  We know from the rest of the story that it did not take long for Yisrael to break this Covenant.  The rest of the story can be summarized as follows:
  • Mosheh ascended the Mountain to meet with Elohim.  Mosheh fasted for 40 days and 40 nights on that mountain, and Elohim delivered to him the tablets containing the words He had spoken directly to Yisrael, the mitzvot (commandments). (Shemot / Exodus 24:12-18).
  • While Mosheh was gone, the people lost patience and perspective, and demanded of Aharon to build an el ("god") for them from gold, the exact thing Elohim had commanded them never to do in the first and second of his mitzvot (commandments) to them, both the ones he delivered directly and the ones he delivered through Mosheh and which Mosheh had written on a sefer (scroll).  (Shemot / Exodus 32:1)
  • Aharon gave in, perhaps out of fear of the people, who had gotten out of control in their demanding of an idol.  They made a golden calf, and worshipped it, even going so far as to call it "YHWH, who brought us out of the land of Mitsrayim (Egypt)".  (Shemot / Exodus 32:2-6)
  • YHWH informed Mosheh about the issue.  Mosheh goes down to see, and upon witnessing the sins that were being committed, he broke the tablets.  He ground up the golden idol and made the people drink the dust of it in from a stream.  As the people were apparently enraged at the acts of Mosheh, a fight ensued, leading to the slaughter of a large number, likely those most responsible. (Shemot / Exodus 32:7-8, 15-35)
  • Mosheh makes a plea to YHWH twice on behalf of the people, first after hearing of the sin of the Golden Calf (Shemoth / Exodus 32:9-14), and then after witnessing the sin himself and acting upon it.  In the second plea he even offers himself in place of Yisrael, an attempt to mediate their sin, and in both cases YHWH relents in acting fatally upon their sin. (Shemot / Exodus 33:12-17).
  • Mosheh ascends the mountain a second time, and fasts another 40 days and 40 nights.  This time he hews two new tablets, as YHWH commanded him to do, and he brings them with him on his ascent.  YHWH again writes the words of the covenant on these two tablets.  In a very real sense here, Mosheh is a mediator of a new, or rather renewed, covenant. (Shemot / Exodus 34:1-4, 9-28)
  • Mosheh requests to see YHWH.  He is told that he cannot see His face, but he is allowed to go into a cave on the side of the mountain, and see YHWH from behind as he passes by. (Shemot / Exodus 33:18-23).  As YHWH passes by, He utters a statement of His own character to Mosheh.  (Shemot / Exodus 34:5-8).  Mosheh's face glowed, apparently for the rest of his life, after this encounter. (Shemot / Exodus 34:29-35).
YHWH made a Covenant like a marriage with Yisrael, and they broke that Covenant on what could be termed effectively their honeymoon.  There are a lot of reasons why Yisrael might have done what they did, such as believing that Mosheh had abandoned them or perhaps that he had died on the mountain, but the bottom line is that they lacked the important faith and perspective on the revelation that had been delivered to them from that mountain by Elohim Himself.  They were stubborn, whiny, and impatient, and as a result, Elohim almost refused to travel with them.

And Elohim could have reacted by destroying Yisrael and starting all over again with Mosheh, as He seems to have been intent to do.  In other words, they could have been replaced, entirely, with a people who would serve Him in the way He desired.  But Mosheh interceded successfully on their behalf and mediated a renewal of the covenant with Yisrael.  This became a pattern that would be repeated in Scripture time and time again.  This is essentially the story of the first directly recorded Shavuot and its aftermath.

But it isn't just the pattern of renewal that is exposed here, even though it's a primary one.  It's also a pattern of YHWH's children, even some of his most trusted servants, losing perspective on their roles in His work, and thus being less useful to Him in that purpose.  We will look at two other instances where similar events occurred.

A Still Small Voice

One of the more fascinating stories in all the Scriptures takes place in the the Nevi'im Reshonim (Former Prophets), specifically Sefer Melachim I (I Kings), in chapters 17-19, the story of Eliyahu (Elijah), the King of the Northern Kingdom of Yisrael, Ahav (Ahab), his wife Izevel (Jezebel), and the sin of the Children of Yisrael in worshipping Baal.

The background of the time in which this occurs is one in which the united Kingdom of Yisrael under David and then Shlomo (Solomon) has now been long divided into two Kingdoms.  Yarov'am (Jeroboam) is made King over the ten Northern Tribes of Yisrael, called collectively the "House of Yisrael", and he is made promises of an everlasting Kingdom by YHWH just as YHWH made to David.  These promises were predicated on his diligence in remaining dedicated to, and leading the people to, YHWH and His Torah.  Despite being made these incredible promises, Yarov'am lacks faith and perspective and as a result becomes concerned that Yisrael will reunite and depose him if the tribes now under his authority go up for the three Chagim in Yerushalayim to worship YHWH, which the Torah commands.  His fear is that when his subjects go into the territory of the southern Kingdom, known as the "House of Yahudah (Judah)", to worship in Yerushalayim, their hearts will be turned back to David's dynasty and the reigning king Rehav'am (Rehoboam).  His fears are unfounded of course, as YHWH had made specific promises to him, but his lack of faith in the promises of YHWH blinds him, and he chose to follow his fears and not believe in those promises.  He leads Yisrael into sin by erecting two Golden Calves, one in Beit El (Bethel) and one far north in the territory of Dan.  He directs the tribes under his authority to worship these two calves in those locations instead of going to Yerushalayim to worship there.  He also changes the times of some of the Chagim, moving Sukkoth from the seventh month to the eight month.  He even goes as far as to call the calves made at his command by the name "YHWH", strengthening his sin and the sin of the people who follow his directive.  It's almost exactly the same sin committed by the sons of Yisrael near Mt. Sinai after the first Shavuot.

Because of his sin, the conditional promises he was issued were forfeit, and his dynasty does not in fact last forever.  His line eventually ends, and new dynasties take its place. (Melachim I / I Kings 14:1-18, 15:25-30).   Most of the kings of these succeeding dynasties do not attempt to reverse the sin of Yarov'am.  They continue in it, and a few of them even expand upon it.  One of the worst offenders among these is a king known as Ahav (Ahab).  Ahav not only allows the sin of Yarov'am to continue in the land, but he also takes as a wife the daughter of the King of Tsidon (Sidon), who convinces him to abandon YHWH and instead to worship Baal and Asherah.  That wife's name is Izevel (Jezebel).  We read about this here:
"In the thirty-eighth year of Asa sovereign of Yahudah, Ahav ben (son of) Omri reigned over Yisrael in Shomeron (Samaria) twenty-two years.  And Ahav ben Omri did evil in the eyes of YHWH, more than all those before him.  And it came to be, as though it had been a light matter for him to walk in the sins of Yarov'am ben Nevat, that he took as wife Izevel bat (daughter of) Ethbaal, sovereign of the Tsidonians.  And he went and served Baal, and bowed himself to it, and raised up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Shomeron.  And Ahav made an Asherah.  And Ahav did more to provoke YHWH Elohim of Yisrael than all the sovereigns of Yisrael before him." (Melachim I / I Kings 16:29-33)
Izevel didn't stop at replacing YHWH in the heart of the King, but also in the hearts of the people, and she began a campaign to murder every navi (prophet) of YHWH, one that was almost completely successful. (Melachim I / I Kings 18:13).  These sins were deemed much greater than that of even the two Golden Calves of Yerov'am.  Eventually YHWH sent Eliyahu (Elijah) to announce a famine as punishment for these sins:
"And Eliyahu the Tishbite, of the inahbitants of Gil'ad, said to Ahav, 'As YHWH Elohim of Yisrael lives, before whom I stand, there shall be no dew or rain these years, except at my word.'" (Melachim I / I Kings 17:1)
Then YHWH sent Eliyahu into hiding, first among Arabs near the Yarden (Jordan) River (this is often read as 'ravens' feeding him, but the word can also read as 'Arabs' without the niqqud or vowel markings, which were added later, and thus I feel 'Arabs' is the more accurate reading), and then with a widow and her son who are sustained with him through miracles. (Melachim I /  I Kings 17:2-24).

The important thing to note here is that this famine is both a lack of food and a lack of water.  The rain and dew stops, which then leads to the failure of the crops, indeed even a failure of the grass.  Another important aspect is that, just as the plagues in Mitstrayim (Egypt) in the time of the Exodus were "judgements" on the elohim ("gods") of Mitstrayim, this famine was a judgement on Baal and Asherah.  These were a typical male sky "god" (Baal) paired with a typical female land "goddess" (Asherah), and it was in their "sexual" union of rain and sun from the male that the female would bear the fruit of the land.  When Eliyahu shut up the skies as he did at the Word of YHWH, he was demonstrating that YHWH was in fact the Elohim in control of these elements, not these false elohim.

After the famine has ravaged Yisrael for two years, at the point when even the King must trudge out over the land in search of enough surviving grass to feed his cattle, YHWH sent Eliyahu back to Ahav to announce the end of the famine. (Melachim I / I Kings 18:1-2). This is essentially where our story exits the background that led to it, and into its core telling.  Just as the children of Yisrael before him blamed Mosheh for their lack of food and water at the wilderness of Sinai, Ahav blames Eliyahu for the lack of rain rather than admit the sin into which he has led the people of Yisrael:
"And it came to be, when Ahav saw Eliyahu, that Ahav said to him, 'Is that you, O disturber of Yisrael.'  And he answered, 'I have not disturbed Yisrael, but you and your father's house, in that you have forsaken the mitzvot (commandments) of YHWH, and you have followed the Baals.'" (Melachim I / I Kings 18:17-18)
Eliyahu then demands a showdown with the nevi'im (prophets) of Baal and Asherah and gives instructions and criteria for a contest between YHWH and Baal, to which the people all agree:
"'And now, send and gather all Yisrael to me on Mount Karmel, the four hundred and fifty nevi'im (prophets) of Baal, and the four hundred nevi'im of Asherah, who eat at Izevel's table.'  Ahav then sent for all the children of Yisrael, and gathered the nevi'im on Mount Karmel.  And Eliyahu came to all the people, and said, 'How long would you keep hopping between two opinions?  If YHWH is Elohim, follow Him: and if Baal, follow him.'  But the people answered him not a word.  And Eliyahu said to the people, 'I alone am left a navi of YHWH, but the nevi'im of Baal are four hundred and fifty men.  Now let them give us two bulls.  And let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but light no fire.  And I, I prepare the other bull, and shall lay it on the wood, but light no fire.  And you shall call on the name of your el ("god"), and I, I call on the name of YHWH.  And the elohim who answers by fire, He is Elohim.'  So all the people answered and said, 'The word is good.'" (Melachim I / I Kings 18:19-24)
Eliyahu was preparing to demonstrate the impotence of the false elohim of Izevel which Ahav and Yisrael had adopted.  We read further in this account:
"So they took the bull which was given to them, and prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, 'O, Baal, answer us!'  But there was no voice and no one answered.  And they leaped about the altar which they had made.  And it came to be at noon, that Eliyahu taunted them and said, 'Cry aloud, for he is an el ("god"); he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or it could be that he is asleep and has to be awakened!'  And they cried aloud, and cut themselves, according to their ruling, with knives and spears, until the blood gushed out on them.  And it came to be when midday was past, that they prophesied until the time of bringing the offering.  But there was no voice and no one answered, and no one was paying attention." (Melachim I / I Kings 18:25-29)
Then Eliyahu took his turn, and the people recognized the impotency of Baal and Asherah, and that YHWH is the only true Elohim:
"Then Eliyahu said to all the people, 'Come closer to me.' And all the people came closer to him.  And he repaired the altar of YHWH that was broken down.  And Eliyahu took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Yaakov, to whom the word of YHWH had come, saying, 'Yisrael is your name.'  And with the stones he built an altar in the Name of YHWH.  And he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two se'im of seed.  And he arranged the wood, and cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, "Fill four jars wth water, and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.'  Then he said, 'Do it a second time,' and they did it a second time.  And he said, 'Do it a third time,' and they did it a third time.  And the water flowed around the altar, and he filled the trench with water too.  And it came to be, at the time of bringing the offering, that Eliyahu the navi came near and said, 'YHWH Elohim of Abraham, Yitshaq (Isaac), and Yisrael, let it be known today: You are Elohim in Yisrael, and I Your servant, have done these matters by Your word.  Answer me, O YHWH, answer me, and let this people know that you are YHWH Elohim, and You shall turn their hearts back to You again.'  Then the fire of YHWH fell and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.   And all the people saw, and fell on their faces, and said, 'YHWH, He is the Elohim! YHWH, he is the Elohim!' And Eliyahu said to them, 'Seize the nevi'im of Baal!  Do not let one of them escape!' So they seized them, and Eliyahu brought them down to the wadi Qishon and slew them there.  And Eliyahu said to Ahav, 'Go up, eat and drink, because of the sound of the noise of rain.'" (Melachim I / I Kings 18:30-40)
The rain did come in a very heavy storm.  Ahav rushed to Yizreel, and Eliyahu, overtaken with the Ruach (Spirit) of YHWH ran ahead of him.  Izevel, upon hearing the news of what Eliyahu had done, was not happy to say the least.  She immediately planned to kill Eliyahu as she had so many other nevi'im of YHWH:
"And when Ahav reported to Izevel all that Eliyahu had done, also how he slew all the nevi'im with the sword, Izevel sent a messenger to Eliyahu, saying, 'So let the elohim ("gods") do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.'  And he feared, and rose up and ran for his life, and went to Beersheva, which belongs to Yahudah, and left his servant there.  But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree, and prayed that he might die, and said 'It is enough!  Now YHWH, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!'" (Melachim I / I Kings 19:1-4).
We can now summarize some important parts of the story:
  • Ahav tells Izevel what Eliyahu had done, including the killing of the nevi'im of Baal.  Izevel takes an oath to do the same to Eliyahu within a day's time, and sends him notice of this. (Melachim I / I Kings 19:1-2)
  • Eliyahu fears for his life, and takes flight.  He goes to the territory of Yahudah, leaves his servant in Beersheva, and then runs into the wilderness, likely the Negev, where he sits down under a broom tree, prays to die, and then goes to sleep. (Melachim I / I Kings 19:3-5)
  • A malak (messenger or "angel") appears to him, and feeds him with a cake and a jar of water. He goes back to sleep after eating and drinking. The malak wakes him up again and feeds him a second cake and jar of water. (Melachim I / I Kings 19:5-7)
  • After Eliyahu eats the second meal, he goes on a journey to none other than the wilderness of Sinai, specifically to Mount Sinai, the Mountain of Elohim.  The journey takes him 40 days and 40 nights, and he fasts the entire length of the journey. (Melachim I / I Kings 19:8)

It's at this point that we see more than passive connections between this story and the story of the Shavuot of the Exodus in the wilderness which we previously explored on this blog post, one that directly deals with the revelation of the Covenant, which occurred at that very Mountain, by the voice of Elohim.  We read about what happens here:
"And he rose up... and went... as far as Mount Horev, the mountain of Elohim.  And there he went into a cave and spent the night there.  And see, the Word of YHWH came to him, and said to him, 'What are you doing here, Eliyahu?'  And he said, 'I have been very ardent for YHWH Elohim of hosts, for the children of Yisrael have forsaken Your Covenant.  They have thrown down Your altars, and they have slain Your nevi'im with the sword, and I am left, I alone, and they seek my life, to take it.'  And He (YHWH) said, 'Go out, and stand on the mountain before YHWH.'  And see, YHWH passed by, and a great and strong wind appeared, tearing the mountains and breaking the rocks in pieces before YHWH, yet YHWH was not in the wind.  And after the wind, an earthquake occurred, yet YHWH was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake, a fire appeared, yet YHWH was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a still small voice.  And it came to be, when Eliyahu heard it, he wrapped his face in his robe and went out and stood at the cave opening." (Melachim I / I Kings 19:8-13)
This table marks some really interesting contrasts between the events we recounted when YHWH made his Covenant with Yisrael, and this story with Eliyahu at the center:

YHWH tests the children of Yisrael with a lack of food and water, and then provides food from the Shamayim and water from a rock through the hand of Mosheh when they essentially fail those tests. Due to the worship of Baal, Eliyahu stops the rain, which creates a drought and a famine. He then restores the rain, demonstrating that YHWH is in control of these elements, not Baal or Asherah.

Eliyahu is himself provided food and water from the shamayim (Heavens) by the hand of a malak (messenger or "angel") of Elohim.
Mosheh ascends Mount Sinai and fasts 40 days and 40 nights. Eliyahu travels on a journey to Mount Sinai, a journey which takes 40 days and 40 nights, the entire time of which he fasts.
Mosheh confronts the children of Yisrael for their sin, destroys the golden calf, and requires the lives of several thousand, very likely those who were most responsible for the calf. Eliyahu demonstrates by a miraculous sign the primacy of YHWH over Baal and Asherah, and requires the lives of all of the priests of Baal. The people who witnessed this are convinced, at least for now, that YHWH is Elohim.
YHWH's display to the children of Yisrael on this mountain hundreds of years earlier was in a great storm, and earthquake, fire, and a booming loud voice of a shofar, and YHWH was clearly in all of them. YHWH's display to Eliyahu included almost all of the same components, except instead of the voice of a shofar there is a still small voice. This time, YHWH is not in the fierce components, but is in the still small voice.
Mosheh makes intercession for the children of Yisrael in their sin, by twice pleading for forgiveness, asking that YHWH will continue to dwell in their midst as they travel to the land of promise. He even offers his own future in its entirety in exchange for this. Rather than make intercession for Yisrael, Eliyahu himself seems to have reached the end of his patience and also seems to want out of this service as a navi. He almost seems to ask for YHWH's judgement against Yisrael, or at the very least, he seems to be asking why that judgement isn't forthcoming. He also does this twice.  While Mosheh offered his life for Yisrael, Eliyahu simply prays to die.
YHWH agrees to Mosheh's plea for mercy and instructs him to move forward with the children of Yisrael, promising that He will be in their midst. YHWH gives Eliyahu instructions on whom to seek out and anoint as agents of YHWH's judgement, while also reserving a number of children of Yisrael to Himself, 7000 total, who have not defiled themselves in idolatry. One of those he is told to seek out is a replacement, Elisha, allowing Eliyahu to move on from his service.
Mosheh asks to see Elohim, and is granted that privilege, but is only allowed to see Him from behind as He passes by. He does this from a cave in the mountain. After hearing the still small voice within the cave he is inhabiting, which could very well be the same cave that Mosheh inhabited, Eliyahu covers his face and walks out to continue the dialog, perhaps as a sign of humility, and perhaps also to avoid seeing Elohim's face outside the cave.

Despite occurring in a different sequence, these events seem to be counterparts to each other, sometimes mirroring with slight change of detail, and sometimes almost seeming to be opposites. The incident with the still small voice is particularly interesting to me. The visitation Mosheh witnessed was one of incredible power, with YHWH's presence demonstrated by the elements of that display. His call for mercy was met with mercy despite that terrifying display.

Eliyahu on the other hand seems to call for judgement.  Eliyahu went to Mount Sinai, it seems, as a symbolic act of complaint against Yisrael and its violation of the Covenant made on that very mountain, and also to request that YHWH's judgement against Yisrael be a more zealous judgement.  Eliyahu's concern really seems to be that His judgement is not coming quickly enough.  Only a few days before YHWH sent fire at Eliyahu's request to demonstrate that He is Elohim Alone, and that ultimately only put Eliyahu in more danger.  It's not hard to understand why Eliyahu might be wondering "Where is your fire?"  But as we come to see here, Eliyahu's vision is much too short.

Elohim attempts to give Eliyahu some perspective on His character in His desire to show mercy before judgement.  The display is also a pyrotechnic marvel, just as the Shavuot with Mosheh was, but this time YHWH is not represented by the elements of that spectacle.  This is of course intentional by YHWH, and its meaning is not lost on Eliyahu.  The still small voice, which can also be translated "a soft murmuring sound", which comes at the end of this display is both an indication of YHWH's disposition to Eliyahu, and an indication of His disposition to Yisrael.  YHWH is clearly showing that He is capable of such a fiery and cataclysmic judgement, but that He has chosen not to take that approach at this time, as He once threatened to do.  He accepted Mosheh's terms long ago, and now He is no longer in the wrathful display, but is working toward an ultimate solution, one that Eliyahu doesn't seem to have the foresight to understand.

When Eliyahu doesn't accept this statement by YHWH, or at the very least, rejects that explanation and repeats his complaint after hearing this still small voice, YHWH gives him leave by naming his replacement, along with several other more political replacements, all to execute His purposes, including an ultimate judgement, and He sends him on a mission to find and empower his replacement, a man named Elisha, along with the others.   He shows Eliyahu several things in this, the first being that He still has work to do within his plan, and He will do it with or without Eliyahu.  Second, He shows Eliyahu that not everyone in Yisrael is worthy of such a judgement, that Eliyahu is not the only one left who isn't worthy of a judgement, there being 7000 in Yisrael who have not defiled themselves by bowing to Baal.

Later, after Eliyahu has found and passed his mantle on to his replacement Elisha, Eliyahu is whisked away to another place by a fiery chariot in the sight of Elisha himself.  (Melachim II / II Kings 2:11-12).  I think there's some irony in that incident: Eliyahu seems to call for a judgement of fire, and fire turns out to be the implement of his departure.  In a sense, fire goes from being the implement of YHWH's wrath to being the implement of His mercy.

It's not uncommon for me to hear some who have been walking with YHWH for a long period of time, and who have had a very rough time of it, expressing similar things to what Eliyahu expresses to YHWH here.  They hope for judgement to come and wonder at Elohim's delay.  They often don't consider that Elohim could be delaying for the purpose of extending His mercy.  Should we be like Mosheh and hope and pray for that extension, or should we take the tact of hoping and praying for a swift and fiery judgement?  I know which one I hope for.

We all must realize that to be useful to Elohim, we must work within His time, and not within ours.  We should recognize that judgement is not the only part of His character that has been revealed to us, but also a strong desire to show mercy, one that is frankly responsible for even our existence, let alone our ability to walk with Him today.  If He had rendered judgement at the numerous points in the past when so many have called for it in desperation, those of us alive today would never have experienced the mercy He has extended to us, as many of us would never have existed.

Eliyahu is not excluded from this either: after all, he was a descendent of Yisrael, but he was not a descendent of Mosheh.  If YHWH had not heard Mosheh's prayer for mercy, if He had wiped out all Yisrael except Mosheh and started over with him as He seems to have intended to do, Eliyahu's ancestors would have been wiped out in fury, and he would never have been born to know YHWH at all, let alone serve Him in the way he was privileged to do.  It is because YHWH extended mercy that Eliyahu is a name we know today.  Eliyahu was a man of Elohim, one that Elohim entrusted with much duty and much power, but like us, he was not a perfect man, and like us he was not always a patient man.  We need the same kind of perspective YHWH revealed to him on that mountain if we hope to continue to be useful to Him and His work.  If not, Elohim will move on to others who will be useful in that purpose.

While I have no hard evidence for this, I strongly believe that the visitation which Eliyahu received from Elohim on Mount Sinai occurred on the day of Shavuot. The visitations are just too similar to dismiss that likelihood, mirroring each other and revealing different aspects of YHWH's character by juxtaposing His judgement with His desire to show mercy.  Certainly, they both emphasize the importance of persevering with the Elohim who is so dedicated to persevering with us.

Many Voices in Many Tongues

Shavuot is known to readers of the Ketuvim Netzarim (The New Testament) as "Pentecost", a term used for it in the opening chapters of Sefer Ma'aseh (the Book of Acts).  That name actually comes from an attempt by Hellenized Jews at the time to translate the concept described in the Hebrew of the Torah, which requires the counting of seven weeks of seven days each, into terms that would be more understandable to those from the language and culture of the Greeks.  The Greek term, "Pentecost" literally means "count 50", which indicates that this count of seven weeks plus one day consists of counting 50 days in total to the Festival.  In reality, the Torah requires that we simultaneously count both the number of weeks (again seven in total, taking the day after these weeks) and the number of days (50 in total, counting the day after seven weeks), not just one or the other (Wayyiqra / Leviticus 23:15-16; Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:8-10), so both names actually have very strong significance for the computation of the day.  So the "Pentecost" mentioned in Sefer Ma'aseh is the Pilgrimage Festival of Shavuot, the same Festival I've been pondering in this post.  Before we get into what occurred with the talmidim (disciples) of Yeshua on that day, let's cover some background by looking into the events that led up to this particular Shavuot.

What many don't realize that is that Yeshua's ministry revolved around the three Chagim.  He came to Yerushalayim with a message many times, but he always seems to have come on Pesach/Matzah, Shavuot, and Sukkoth, something that would have been expected of any Jewish male as it is commanded in the Torah, and his actions and messages were often tailored to the context of these special Pilgrimage Festivals.  The last Chag he observed in Yerushalayim before leaving this earth was the combination Pesach (Passover) and Chag HaMatzah (Festival of Unleavened Bread).  In fact, one can say that this was among the most important of the times he observed it because during this time he fulfilled the navuot (prophecies) that were written about him by the nevi'im (prophets), and brought to reality the works that are foreshadowed by practices the Torah commands to be performed on the days of this Chag.

I won't cover all of the details of this last Pesach and its progression to Shavuot here, but I want to cover some of the important points that relate to the previous instances I've mentioned.  When Yeshua approached Yerushalayim that last time, he did so with purpose.  We read about his approach here:
"And when he approached Yerushalayim and came to Beit Pagesh on the side of the Mount of Olives, Yeshua sent two of his talmidim (disciples), and said to them, 'Go to this village that is in front of you and immediately you wil find a donkey that is bound and a colt with her.  Loose them and bring them to me.' ... The talmidim departed and did as Yeshua had commanded them, and they brought the donkey and the colt and placed their garments upon the colt, and Yeshua mounted upon it.  And a multitude of crowds were spreading out their clothes in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and cast them on the road. The crowds and those who were going before him and coming after him were crying out and saying 'Hoshana to the son of David.  Baruk (blessed) is he who comes in the name of YHWH!  Hoshana in the highest!'" (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:1-2, 6-9)
As verses 3-5 directly state, this was the fulfillment of a navuah from the Nevi'im Aharonim (Latter Prophets) in the Tanakh (Old Testament) about the Mashiach:
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Tsiyon!  Shout, O daughter of Yerushalayim!  See, your King is coming to you.  He is righteous and endowed with deliverance, humble, and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zekaryah / Zechariah 9:9)
So Yeshua is coming into Yerushalayim for the Chag in a way that clearly indicates to all the people who witness that he following the patterns expected of the Mashiach (Messiah), and the people recognize this and rejoice at it.  And his very next stop was the Heykal (Temple), which was also expected as the fulfillment of a navuah from the Nevi'im Aharonim:
"'See, I am sending My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me.  Then suddenly the Adon (Master or 'Lord') you are seeking comes to His Heykal, even the Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight.  See, He is coming,' said YHWH of hosts." (Mal'achi / Malachi 3:1).
Imagine the excitement of Yeshua's talmidim as they saw him go up to the Heykal (Temple).  Their anticipation was very likely that all of the navuot in the Tanakh would finally be fulfilled, and that this man, the Mashiach, would finally restore the Kingdom to Yisrael, and unify Yahudah and Ephraim once again.  Imagine also their disappointment when he doesn't do that.  Let's look at the sequence of events after this triumphal entry into Yerushalayim:
  1. Yeshua enters and cleanses the Heykal of those polluting it: those buying and selling within it. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:12-13)
  2. Yeshua heals the blind and the lame, which besides showing great compassion is also an important symbolic act, as the Torah forbade those with defects from serving in the Heykal, and these very likely could not enter the main area that others Jews were free to enter either. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:14)
  3. The people loudly proclaim him Ben David (son of David) and cry Hoshana (save now).  This displeases the Chief Kohenim (Priests) and the Pharisees, and they complain about what they are saying.  He reproves them for this by quoting an important prophecy. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:15-16)
  4. He then leaves not only the Heykal but also Yerushalayim, going to lodge at a neighboring city. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:17)
Imagine the shock of Yeshua's talmidim when he doesn't go any further than that.  They must have been wondering at this point if they had gotten it wrong.  Then the next day Yeshua begins another round of events:
  1. Yeshua returns to Yerushalayim.  On the way he approaches a fig tree to eat from it, and seeing no figs, pronounces a judgement upon it that it should never again produce figs.  The tree withers away completely.  This seems to be symbolic of what He is about to do in Yerushalayim at the Heykal. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:18-20)
  2. When Yeshua arrives at the Heykal, the Chief Kohenim and Pharisees demand he tell them by what authority he did the things he had done from the previous day.  He gives them a question that is impossible for them to safely answer, and they cannot answer it.  He then refuses to answer their question in return. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:23-27)
  3. Yeshua gives several severe judgements on the religious elite of His day in the form of parables, each one naming a judgement against them, declaring that they would lose their places of privilege in the court of Elohim. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:28-22:14)
  4. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and others attempt to trap Yeshua in several varied ways involving attempts to have him endorse sedition or treason, and in trying to test his knowledge of Torah.  Yeshua is able to answer all of these sufficiently without incriminating himself, to the amazement of all present, particularly his accusers. (Mattityahu / Matthew 22:15-40)
  5. Yeshua then turns the tables on those testing him and tests them in return.  He asks a question about the nature of Mashiach and his relationship to David, his father.  Those he challenges are unable to answer his test. (Mattityahu / Matthew 22:41-46)
  6. He warns his talmidim against following the example of the scribes and Pharisees. (Mattityahu / Matthew 23:1-12)
  7. Looking back to Yeshua's judgement on the fig tree, which seems to have symbolically represented the Jewish establishment of his day, he pronounces a judgement on those in power, the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and all the religious elite of his day. (Mattityahu / Matthew 23:13-36)
  8. He pronounces a judgement of desolation on Yerushalayim and the Heykal, yet promises to return to it when it cries out "Baruk (blessed) is he who comes in the name of YHWH."  These are the essentially wedding words, the words of the bride to her bridegroom. (Mattityahu / Matthew 23:37-39)
  9. Once again, Yeshua leaves the Heykal, with the intent of leaving the city.
Imagine once again just how perplexed his talimdim must have felt.  Two days now at the Heykal, and their expectations still are not being met.  In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.  They are expecting Yeshua to restore the Kingdom at this point by liberating the Yahudim and returning the lost ones of Ephraim.  They desperately want Yerushalayim restored, yet they are now hearing a judgement pronounced against it that calls for its desolation as well as the desolation of the Heykal itself.  We read as follows:
"And Yeshua went out of the Heykal to depart, and his talmidim drew near and were showing him the construction of the Heykal." (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:1)
What is interesting about this verse is what it says indirectly about the state of mind of the talmidim.  Yeshua was well versed and completely familiar with the Heykal, the House of Elohim.  He knew its construction and its buildings.  He had been coming to Yerushalayim three times a year throughout his life as commanded by the Torah, just as his talmidim very likely had.  So why were they taking him to show him the construction and buildings of the Heykal as if he needed a guided tour?

I think the answer once again lies in their expectations.  They expect the Adon to suddenly come to his Heykal to take possession, liberate Yerushalayim, and restore Yisrael.  They don't expect his visitation to be one strictly of judgement spoken in simple words.  They cannot mesh their expectations with the judgements he has just rendered, and seeing him once again leave the Heykal with the intent of leaving the city WITHOUT having met their expectations is just a bit much for them.  They are trying, perhaps desperately, to turn his attention back to the Heykal.  Yeshua lets them know without uncertainty that their expectations are off:
"But he said to them, "Look, don't you see all these things (i.e. the construction and buildings of the Heykal)?  Truly I say to you, nothing will be spared.  Not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:2)

Yeshua's talmidim must have been gutted.  After Yeshua has left Yerushalayim, they come to him on the Mount of Olives and ask him to help them understand what to expect.  Like Eliyahu before them, they need him to give them some perspective:
"And while Yeshua was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his talmidim drew near and were saying among themselves and to him, 'Tell us when these things will be and what is the sign of your coming and the end of the world.'" (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:3)
Yeshua then attempts to do just that.  He attempts to help them stave off their eagerness for immediate relief and prepare them for the long-haul.  He warns them against those who will come falsely in his name, prepares them to deliver this Besorah (good news) of the Kingdom of Elohim to the world and warns them of the persecution they will encounter in so-doing.  He helps them to understand that wars, calamnities, natural disasters and the like are the way of the present world, and are not indications that his coming is just around the corner, for they are only the "beginning of sorrows". (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:4-14).  He also discusses the fate of Yerushalayim and the Heykal by showing them that Daniyel (Daniel) had prophecied of this "abomination of desolation":
"'And when you see the sign of uncleanness (abomination) and desolation, that was spoken of by Daniyel the navi, which will stand in the Qodesh Place (he that reads, let him understand), then let those who are in the land of Yahudah (Judea) flee to the mountains... For then will be great suffering such as has not been from the beginning of the world until the present, nor will ever be again.  And if those days were not shortened, no flesh would survive, but for the sake of the chosen ones, those days will be shortened.'" (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:15-16, 21-22).
Bringing up Daniyel was important in this context, because Daniyel himself had expectations.  He knew that Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) had written that the period of exile under the Chaldean Empire, before a return to Yerushalayim, would be 70 years (Yirmeyahu / Jeremiah 29:10-14), and as that 70 years arrived, he prayed fervently for an understanding of when to expect the return, and also frankly, what to expect of that return. (Daniyel / Daniel 9: 1-19).  When he was given the answer, which was far deeper in time than he could have expected, with the detail that this return from exile would itself be followed by another even deeper exile, and that Yerushalayim and the second Heykal would once again be laid waste, he was perplexed to the point of depression.  He was only given information to a certain point, and he wanted to know the end of all of the things he had heard, but was told that this information would only be unsealed much later after he had passed on. (Daniyel / Daniel 12:8-9).

So just as Eliyahu needed perspective, and just as Daniyel needed perspective, Yeshua's talmidim needed perspective.  Yeshua ends his discourse with a description of what the actual time of the end will be like in the world, and warns them of false doctrine, those who claim falsely to know him and know his location, and he instructs them that despite knowing the time left to this evil age was deeper than they had conceived, they should live and work every day as if it were the day of his coming.  Yeshua goes as far as to tell them that they cannot know the time of his coming to restore the Kingdom, that even he does not know that time. (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:36).  Yeshua goes to great pains in this discourse to explain to them that there was then (and is now) still much work to do, and when Yeshua returns, he expects to find all of them (and us) doing that work, to be actively counting our days, not biding our time in a comfy bed. (Mattityahu / Matthew 24:23-25:46).

Yeshua then drops a bombshell on them, something that they were not prepared to hear, that he would soon be killed.  Yeshua was to be the true lamb for the Pesach (Passover).  If we read this carefully, we will see that in addition to the two days we just went through upon Yeshua's arrival at Yerushalayim, there were two days to come for this event: "You know that after two days will be the Pesach, and the Son of man will be betrayed to be put to the execution stake." (Mattityahu / Matthew 26:2).  Since Pesach is on the 14th day of the first month, this means Yeshua said this on the 12th day of the first month, and as this was his second day in the city, it means he arrived at the Heykal, the House of Elohim, on the 10th of the first month.  This day is the day when the lamb was chosen by each family in Yisrael to be offered as the Pesach offering at the time of the Exodus, the blood of which would save the firstborn of Yisrael from death.  (Shemot / Exodus 12:1-3).  Yeshua was presenting himself as the chosen lamb in the Household of Elohim -- it is no small coincidence that it was from this day that the Chief Kohenim (Chief Priests) attempted to find a cause against him to arrest and condemn him. (Mattityahu / Matthew 21:45-46).  We read that their words even betrayed this hidden purpose of their actions:
"So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, 'What shall we do? Because this Man does many signs. If we let him alone like this, they all shall believe in him, and the Romans shall come and take away from us both our place and nation.' And one of them, Qayapha, being Kohen HaGadol that year, said to them, 'You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for us that one man die for the people than that the entire nation should perish.' But he did not say this from himself, but being Kohen HaGadol that year he prophesied that Yeshua was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather together into one the children of Elohim who were scattered abroad. So from that day on they plotted to kill him." (Yochanan / John 11:47-53).
Certainly, Yeshua's death was not expected by the talmidim, despite the fact that Yeshua mentioned its imminence to them repeatedly, particularly as the day approached.  We read the events leading up to Shavuot, as follows:
  • Yeshua observed the Pesach with his disciples by having the commanded meal with them. (Mattityahu / Matthew 26:17-30, Marqos / Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23)
  • Yeshua is arrested later that evening and ultimately put to death on the execution stake. The talmidim put up a futile defense, one which Yeshua essentially rebukes.
  • The death of Yeshua is the last straw that breaks the will of the talmidim, throwing them into disarray, the events of that day having left them scattered and disillusioned.  Several of them even left Yerushalayim during the Festival in a march of defeat.
  • Yeshua was resurrected three days and three nights later, as the weekly Shabbat came to an end, as he stated he would.
  • He first appeared to his talmidim the next morning.  He even appeaed on the road to those talmidim who have left Yerushalayim, causing them to return to Yerushalayim and regroup with the talmidim.
  • He continues to appear to them over the next 40 days. (Ma'aseh / Acts 1:1-3)
At the end of this period, we read the following account of their last direct communication with Yeshua:
"And meeting with them, he commanded them not to leave Yerushalayim, but to wait for the promise of the Father, 'which you have heard from me, because Yohanan (John) truly immersed in water, but you shall be immersed in the Ruach HaQodesh (Set Apart Spirit) not many days from now.' So when they had come together, they asked him, saying, 'Master, would you at this time restore the Kingdom to Yisrael?' And he said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Ruach HaQodesh has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Yerushalayim, and in all Yahudah and Shomeron, and to the end of the earth.' And having said this, while they were looking on, he was taken up, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Ma'aseh / Acts 1:4-9)
Having seen Yeshua unquestionably raised from the dead, and his presence demonstrated to them for 40 days, their hopes for an imminent restoration of Yisrael were renewed.  They asked the $100 trillion question, and once again, the answer they were given was threefold: that it isn't the time now, that they cannot know the precise time, and that there is much work to be done before that time arrives.  And then he leaves them, by ascending into the shamayim.  Though they are told he will return in the future just as he ascended as they witnessed (Ma'aseh / Acts 1:10-11), it seems clear that they just aren't prepared for the long haul that their wait and the work they must do was certain to be.  They had to temper their expectations and concentrate on the work that is to be done.  They are also told to stay in Yerushalayim to receive power from the Ruach HaQodesh, and that this will assist them in their work as witnesses of all that they have seen.  This makes sense for sure, because in ten days time at this point was the Festival of Shavuot, when they along with all other Jewish males were expected to be there.  So we read what happens when they show up in the morning to the Heykal of Elohim to observe Shavuot, as commanded:
"And when the Day of Pentecost (i.e. Chag HaShavuot, the Festival of Weeks) had come, they were all with one mind in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from the shamayim, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the House (that house being the Heykal) where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and settled on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Ruach HaQodesh and began to speak with other tongues, as the Ruach gave them to speak. Now in Yerushalayim there were dwelling Yahudim (Jews), dedicated men from every nation under the shamayim. And when this sound came to be, the crowd came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying to each other, 'Look, are not all these who speak from Galil (Galileans)? 'And how do we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born? 'Parthians and Medes and Eylamites, and those dwelling in Aram Naharayim, both Yahudah and Kappadokia, Pontos and Asia, both Phrygia and Pamphulia, Mitsrayim and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Yahudim and converts, Cretans and Arabs, we hear them speaking in our own tongues the great deeds of Elohim.' And they were all amazed, and were puzzled, saying to each other, 'What does this mean?' And others mocking said, 'They have been filled with sweet wine.'" (Ma'aseh / Acts 2:1-13)
The talmidim, including the eleven Shlichim ("apostles" or emissaries), were present, and all the Yahudim present in the Heykal were experiencing a moment of great revelation, only this time, Elohim was not speaking with a voice of His own: neither that of a Shofar, nor of a quiet whisper.  He was speaking through the mouths of these talmidim and Shlichim, in every language spoken by those who were present, and delivering a navuah (prophetic message).  And instead of a pyrotechnic display of fire coming onto the mountain, and smoke ascending up into the shamayim, tongues of fire ascended onto the heads of all the talmidim.  So odd was the spectacle, that some felt the talmidim had to be drunk.  We read:
"Afterwards, Shimon Keefa (Simon Peter) stood up among the eleven Shlichim and lifted up his voice and said to them, 'Men, Yahudim (Jews), and all who dwell in Yerushalayim, let this be known to you, and pay attention to my words.  For it is not as you think, that these men are drunk, for look, it is now only the third hour of the day (about 9 a.m.).  But this is that which was spoken by the navi Yoel.'" (Ma'aseh / Acts 2:14-16)
Shimon then quotes the navi Yoel (Joel), a prophecy about just this kind of revelation:
"And after this it will be that I pour out my Ruach on all flesh.  And your sons and daughters shall nava (prophesy), your old men dream dreams, your young men see visions.  And also on the male servants and on the female servants I will pour out my Ruach in those days.  And I will give signs in the shamayim, and upon the earth: blood and fire and columns of smoke, the sun turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH.  And it will be that everyone who calls on the Name of YHWH will be delivered." (Yoel 3:1-5 / Joel 2:28-32)
This navuah (prophecy) was about revelation, and this was at least part of the fulfillment of that navuah.  It has several items in common with the revelation from Shavuot before to Mosheh and the children of Yisrael, as we see here:

Shemot / ExodusMa'aseh / Acts
YHWH told Mosheh to prepare the children of Yisrael for His visitation, stating that He would meet them on the "third day". Yeshua told his talmidim (disciples) to remain in Yerushalayim until the visitation from the Ruach HaQodesh (Set Apart Spirit).
YHWH's visitation on Mount Sinai occurred in the morning. YHWH's visitation to Yeshua's talmidim occurred in the morning, specifically the "third hour" (around 9 a.m.)
YHWH's visitation was on Mount Horeb, also called Mount Sinai, the Mountain of Elohim. YHWH's visitation was on Mount Moriah, also called the "Temple Mount", the site of the binding of Yitshaaq (Isaac), and at that time the site of the Heykal (Temple), the House of Elohim.
A storm cloud covered Mount Sinai at the presence of YHWH. The sound of a rushing wind filled the Heykal (Temple) of YHWH on Mount Moriah.
YHWH descended on Mount Sinai in fire, and smoke ascended up to the shamayim like a furnace. Tongues of fire descended onto the heads of those talimdim of Yeshua who were present at the Heykal on Shavuot (Pentecost) at 9 a.m. (the third watch).
The voice of a shofar sounded, and YHWH spoke to the children of Yisrael the Ten Commandments or Ten Words in the quodesh language, Hebrew. Each of those upon whom the tongues of fire descended were filled with the Ruach HaQodesh (Set Apart Spirit), and spoke in the languages of all the scattered children of Yisrael, all who were there, delivering the Besorah (Good News) of Yeshua.
YHWH's visitation on Mount Sinai was a marvel, and His presence and voice so fierce, that they begged Mosheh to speak for Him instead, out of fear. YHWH's visitation at the Heykal (Temple) on Mount Moriah was a marvel, and all present were amazed that they were hearing this message spoken in their own languages by Galileans. YHWH spoke through these men instead of speaking directly, as the children of Yisrael requested to Mosheh.

This revelation which so closely mirrors and even expands on the experiences of the children of Yisrael in the wilderness when they cemented their relationship with Elohim is exactly what they needed to empower them for the long-term efforts they were meant to undertake.  It constitutes a guarantee that Elohim will guide them as He did their ancestors in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud in the wilderness, and that He will not only dwell in their midst but within them.  As he fed the children of Yisrael with manna from the shamayim and with water from the rock, he will feed them with the Living Word from the Shamayim and the Living Water from the Rock.  And though they have a big work to do, a work much bigger than themselves, He will give them the tools to do it.

And they certainly needed that kind of reassurance.  A careful reading of their writings after these events makes it clear that they were still expecting the return of Yeshua in only a few years, at most a few decades, and that they were expecting the Kingdom to be restored to Yisrael and to have Yisrael and Yahudah reunitted within their lifetimes.  We know that this wasn't the case, that whenever they expected this to happen, it didn't.  In fact, what Yeshua said about the desolation of the Heykal and Yerushalayim, and the deeper exile of Yisrael from the Land, this is what happened instead.  Most of them would die unnatural deaths by execution for doing that very work they were tasked to do.

It must have been difficult for them to keep perspective in the situations they were faced with.  We get some hint that many were losing faith when Shimon Kepha wrote a second letter to the sheep that Yeshua tasked him to feed, encouraging them to keep faith on the coming of the promises:
"This is now, beloved ones, the second letter I write to you, in which I stir up your sincere mind, to remember the words previously spoken by the set-apart prophets, and of the command of our Master and Savior, spoken by your emissaries, knowing this first: that mockers shall come in the last days with mocking, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all continues as from the beginning of creation.'" (2 Kepha / 2 Peter 3:1-4)
It's clear that many were losing faith, losing hope for the future, and were perhaps reconsidering YHWH's promises, and Kepha was intent on reminding them of the depth of Elohim's plan, and that our wait on Elohim has to follow His timetables, His appointed times, which are much deeper than we can conceive:
"For they choose to have this hidden from them: that the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by the Word of Elohim, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. And the present heavens and the earth are treasured up by the same Word, being kept for fire, to a day of judgment and destruction of wicked men. But, beloved ones, let not this one matter be hidden from you: that with YHWH one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. YHWH is not slow in regard to the promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Kepha / 2 Peter 3:5-9)
Elohim's perspective on time is much different than ours.  The surety of His promises are predicated on the fact that they will happen in His time.  We shouldn't lose hope, because His delay in judgement is an expression of His desire to bring more to teshuva (repentance) and to the deliverance He has promised since the foundations of this world were laid.  Judgement will come, but in the meantime, there is work to be done, and we should be praying and working to expand His arm of mercy and deliverance, for which we are emissaries:
"But the day of YHWH shall come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with intense heat, and the earth and the works that are in it shall be burned up. Seeing all these are to be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be in set-apart behavior and reverence, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of Elohim, through which the heavens shall be destroyed, being set on fire, and the elements melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we wait for a renewed heavens and a renewed earth in which righteousness dwells." (2 Kepha / 2 Peter 3:9-13)
And if we want to do that work, if we want to be useful to the One who sent us to do it, then we must maintain perspective.  It must be expressed in our thoughts and our actions.  We must renew our commitment to the Covenant we entered into with Him, the Covenant He renewed through Yeshua HaMashiach, the mediator of this renewal.  And we must remember the revelations we have received on these observances of Shavuot and live by them.  We must do all of this while not forgetting that there is an end and is a judgement coming, which will take most of the world unaware (as a thief would in the night, while everyone sleeps).  We must be prepared and aware, and we must live by His instruction:
So then, beloved ones, looking forward to this, do your utmost to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and reckon the patience of our Master as deliverance, ... You, then, beloved ones, being forewarned, watch, lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the delusion of the Torah-less ones, but grow in the favor and knowledge of our Master and Savior Yeshua HaMashiach. To Him be the esteem both now and to the day of eternity.  Amein." (2 Kepha / 2 Peter 3:14-18)
Amein indeed!  These words of Shimon's are not just for the men of his day.  They are for all of those who commit themselves to Elohim and enter into Covenant with Him.  Both recently, and over the last few decades, I've seen many discouraged by failures around expectations they've had about YHWH's timetables, and when those expectations proved presumptuous, many were unable to recover.  This kind of disappointment can crush our spirits if we let it, and that can inevitably affect our dedication to the Torah of YHWH and the testimony of His Mashiach, Yeshua.  We must always remember that we are agents of YHWH's work, and that if we are dedicated to this, He will be dedicated to us.  It isn't as important to know the when as it is to watch, observe, and continue the work He has given us to do, both the work we must do on ourselves to make our robes clean for the day of His coming, and the work we must do to broadcast His message of deliverance to others.  Don't get me wrong, we certainly must watch for the end, including the signs we are given that indicate its approach, but we cannot bank on our interpretations of those signs or our identification of their fulfillment, which is based on such interpretations.  We cannot let that task of watching for the coming of that day become more important than being prepared for that day by setting a firm foundation, a foundation which can only be established by both believing His Word and doing it.

Shavuot is about hearing the words of revelation and spreading that revelation ourselves, but it isn't just about hearing voices about the apocalyptic future.  Far more often, it's about living by the revelation of instruction here and now, about being not only a hearer of the word but a doer of it.  Next year after the first day of Matzah (Unleavened Bread), when those of us who observe Elohim's Chagim (Festivals) begin to count the days to Shavuot, I believe we should think about the lesson of time and faith each time we count the weeks and days up to the day, remembering the need to count and treasure each day we have to do the work Elohim has given us to perfect ourselves and to bring others to that deliverance, just as we realize that each day is one day closer to judgement and reward.  Pentecost should be a revelation to us about patience and perseverance.  That's the lesson I've come to take from this Shavuot.

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