When Heaven Kissed Earth

Judaism encourages us not just to learn about the giving of the Torah, but that we should be there for it. When we do, we become part of the story.


Calendar, ShavuotJun 10, 2016

ShavuotJun 10, 2016


A portion of the Shavuot oil on canvas painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1880, featuring the celebration of the giving of Torah in the synagogue. (Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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Seven full weeks have come and gone since Passover. We have counted forty-nine days since loading unleavened bread upon our backs. At the end of that first week, we crossed the Red Sea—on dry ground. Pharaoh's men were not so fortunate. Together we sang the Song of the Sea, praising God for his miraculous deliverance.

With every step we took our hearts drew nearer. We were guided by the cloud by day and fire by night. Our journey led here, to the foot of Mount Sinai, just over three days ago. Together we camped waiting for our teacher's promise to be fulfilled. We were as one.

Then he told us to stay back from the mountain. There was no need to insist, though we were told the penalty was death.

The Heavens unrolled as there was a disturbance in the natural order. We could not look as the world above kissed the world below. The very throne of the Creator of the universe came to rest on top of Mount Sinai.

Terror.

Were our hearts still beating within our chests?

The sound of a shofar and what might been the roar of fire and the rush of air past our ears overwhelmed the sound of our own thumping pulses. We felt heat on our faces and wind in our hair. And then it happened.

He spoke. To us all. To each of us. And in a voice everyone understood. Those from other nations with us heard him speaking in their own languages.[1]

"I am the LORD your God."[2]

It was more than a revelation. It was a command.[3] "Believe in me," he insisted. At that moment, how could you not? As he spoke, all other sounds ceased.[4] His words were not merely sound. They were creative potential made manifest. Each word formed into letters in our own languages and burned like a fire not of this world[5]—because it wasn't. They hovered over each of our heads as they passed through the camp.[6] Then he spoke again.

“You shall have no other gods before me.”[7]

His words pushed us backward.[8] The force was incredible. Somehow we remained standing. "If he keeps talking to us, we'll die!" we all thought. At the end of the giving of the Ten Commandments, we pleaded with our teacher Moses to ascend the mountain and bring back the message of the Almighty God. We wanted those words desperately. They were our life, but we were afraid they could also be our death. We had accepted all that the Creator had told us, promising that we would do all that he required of us even before explanation.

“Love me and keep my commandments.”[9] To those who did, he promised mercy.

How far we have come. In the space of fifty days we went from the ultimate humility of slavery to ascend to stand before the very throne of the King of kings of kings. From death to life. From mourning into dancing.

Each year we have the opportunity to relive the experience of the Revelation at Sinai. We stand in unity around the bimah to hear the Creator speak directly to us. As one we receive his words of instruction: words of eternal life. Judaism encourages us not just to learn about the giving of the Torah, but that we should be there for it. When we do, we become part of the story.

This was the mindset of the disciples of Yeshua as they ascended the steps to the Holy Temple on Shavu’ot twelve hundred years later. They were familiar with the legends of the experiences of the children of Israel at Sinai. They had been there before. Every year since they were young, they remembered that turning point in the universe’s history. After the ascension of the Messiah, they were expecting something special.

The Master had promised that they would be clothed with power from on high.[10] “You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now,”[11] their Master had told them. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”[12] They waited with expectation until the appointed time arrived, and when it did they relived the experience of Sinai in a new and unexpected way:

“When the day of [Shavu’ot] arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire [Temple] where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:1-6 ESV)

We are also awaiting a promise from the Master. Perhaps this Shavu’ot, the skies will once again open as the promised Redemption culminates with the return of Messiah. When that day arrives, we will “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”[13] May it be soon and in our days.

Footnotes:
  1. b.Shabbat 88a-b; Exodus Rabbah 5:9
  2. Exodus 20:2
  3. Maimonides, Sefer HaMitzvot, P1; cf. b.Makkot 24a
  4. Exodus Rabbah 29:9
  5. Rashi: Exodus 20:15; Mechilta
  6. Song of Songs Rabbah 1:13
  7. Exodus 20:3
  8. Rashi: Exodus 20:15
  9. Exodus 20:6
  10. Luke 24:49
  11. Acts 1:5
  12. Acts 1:8
  13. Hebrews 12:22-24
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About the Author: Sheldon Wilson is a Creative Team Assistant for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David, specializing in editing books and Messiah Journal articles. Research projects include the Messianic Luminaries series and the forthcoming Didache translation and commentary. More articles by Sheldon Wilson

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