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This article belongs to a series on the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths or holy days. This present part concentrates on Pentecost and its symbolism, including some New Covenant parallels.
The apostle Paul noted that those days were a “shadow of things to come”, Colossians 2:17 – that is, they were types and symbols of future things. It is true that literally, many of them pointed to things that happened to the ancient Israelites, but it is clear that they also pictured things and events that were to come. Because of that prophetic symbolism, those days and the rituals that were connected to them, are an interesting object of study.
In many English bibles, the word “pentecost” occurs only in three passages, all in the New Testament. The first two are Acts 2:1 and 20:16. There, the Greek text contains the phrase tên hêmeran tês pentêkostês, “the fiftieth day”. In 1 Corinthians 16:8, we find a shorter form, tês pentêkostês, “the fiftieth”. This refers to the fact that the date for that day was reckoned by counting, from a certain day in the Passover season.
Below, that verse is divided into two parts, in order to make it clear that it mentions two separate feasts.
Exodus 23:16 And thou shalt keep the feast of the harvest of first-fruits of thy labours, whatsoever thou shalt have sown in thy field,
and the feast of completion at the end of the year in the gathering in of thy fruits out of thy field. (LXXE)
The words “the feast of the harvest of first-fruits” in the first part of that verse refer to Pentecost which was in the spring. The reason why that day was called “the Feast of Harvest” is that in the land of Israel of those days, winter-wheat which was sown in the autumn, began to be reaped around Pentecost time in the spring.
The words “the feast of completion” which the above-quoted LXXE has in the last part of that verse, refer to the Feast of Booths which was in the autumn.
Even this verse mentions two separate feasts, and is here divided into two parts, to mark that fact:
Exodus 34:22 And thou shalt keep to me the feast of weeks, the beginning of wheat-harvest;
and the feast of ingathering in the middle of the year. (LXXE)
The words “the feast of weeks, the beginning of wheat harvest” refer to Pentecost. Again, that was connected to the harvest of winter-wheat which was sown in the autumn and began to be reaped around Pentecost time in the spring.
(The last part of that verse refers to the Feast of Booths which was in the autumn.)
The reason behind the name “Feast of Weeks” is that Pentecost was always kept seven weeks after a certain day in the Passover season. – Even though the Scriptures do not specifically state this, it is quite clear that those seven weeks were reminiscent of the Exodus trek, the time between the Passover in Egypt and the making of the covenant by Mount Sinai in Arabia.
A New Covenant parallel: The seven weeks between the event when Jesus the True Passover gave his life as the Lamb of God, and the Pentecost day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit.
For more on the count of the fifty days to Pentecost, see the article exa087.htm. See also this time-graph.
Fifty days after their departure from Rameses in Egypt, the Israelites were by Mount Sinai in the Arabian desert. There, they made a covenant with the Lord. At that time, a loud trumpet sound was heard.
Exodus 19:10 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. 11 “And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 ‘Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.” (NKJV, highlighting added)
A New Covenant parallel: When the New Covenant was “launched”, on a Pentecost day, there was a loud sound heard from the skies. We read:
Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was now accomplishing, they were all together in one place. 2 And there came suddenly a sound out of heaven as of a violent impetuous blowing, and filled all the house where they were sitting. (DBY, highlighting added)
Please note that it was not a “wind” that filled that house but a loud sound from the skies. In the Greek text of Acts 2:2, the words for “sound” and “blowing” are êchos and pnoê. The noun êchos simply means “a sound”. The noun pnoê (“blowing”, “blast”) is related to the verb pneô, “to blow”. – For instance a trumpet is used for producing a sound, a blast, by blowing.
(The article eta058.htm has more on different prophetic trumpets of both past and future.)
A note: The word “decalogue” comes from the Greek text of the Septuagint (LXX) which has in Exodus 34:28 the phrase tous deka logous which means “the ten words”. The Hebrew text talks about “the words of the covenant, the ten words”, Exodus 34:28, or simply “the ten words”, Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4.
It is likely that the Lord spoke the “ten words” on the day which later came to be observed as the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost. This was by Mount Sinai in Arabia, seven weeks after the Israelites’ departure from Rameses in Egypt.
A New Covenant parallel:
The Old Covenant’s “words of the covenant, the ten words” were written on tablets of stone. Even the New Covenant has a “writing”. It is done,
“not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).
That “writing” – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – began to be done on a Pentecost day, see Acts 2.
A note: This matter is included in this Pentecost-related study, because the making of the Old Covenant took place around Pentecost time. [a]
The Old Covenant was in many ways like a marriage covenant. The Lord became a “husband” for the nation Israel. Several Old Testament passages refer to this. Similarly, even the New Covenant is described as a marriage, in a number of New Testament passages. Here is one of the relevant scriptures:
Revelation 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the lamb’s wedding banquet.’” He also told me, “These are the true words of God.” (GWV)
Many people may not have noticed this, but also when the Old Covenant was made, a number of people were invited to what clearly was like a “wedding feast”. That event is mentioned here – read this with care:
Exodus 24:6 And Moses took half the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the ears of the people; and they said, All that Jehovah has said will we do, and obey! 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant that Jehovah has made with you concerning all these words. 9 And Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were work of transparent sapphire, and as it were the form of heaven for clearness. 11 And on the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: they saw God, and ate and drank. (DBY)
If you read that scripture-quote with care, you perhaps noticed that when the Israelites had for the third time said “yes” to the covenant which the Lord had proposed, there was a festal event on the mountain, verses 9–11. That passage records how a delegation of 74 men went up to the Lord on the mountain, and ate and drank. It is obvious that that was a celebration of the covenant which had just been made.
That event took place in glorious settings, see the above-quoted verse 10. The Lord was there in person, and we can assume that it was he who provided the food and drink which verse 11 mentions.
A New Covenant parallel: That feast meal on Mount Sinai was a “type” of what was to come – the New Covenant’s even more glorious wedding feast, the “marriage supper of the Lamb”.
a The process of making the Old Covenant took actually several days. First, the Lord had Moses speak to the Israelites (regarding a covenant), see Exodus 19:3–8. They said “yes” to that, Exodus 19:9. After this, the Lord himself spoke to those people, see Exodus 20:1–17; this was probably on the day which later came to be observed as “the Feast of Weeks”, Pentecost. Then, Exodus 24:3 and 7 record how the Israelites were after that told the more detailed rules of that covenant, and said “yes”, two more times. After that, the covenant was confirmed, Exodus 24:6–8, and celebrated, Exodus 24:9–11. All in all, that covenant making took several days.
A note: This matter is included in this Pentecost-related study, simply for the reason that the making of the Old Covenant took place around Pentecost time, and because Acts 2 tells us that in New Testament times, it was on a Pentecost day that people began to be joined to Jesus and the New Covenant and receive the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3 is cited below. Many people have been caused to think that that chapter talks about “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law”. But, it does not. Clarification: When the apostle Paul wrote “the letter”, see verses 6 and 7 which are quoted below, he referred to the Old Covenant with its rules – “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets” and “the letter kills”. When he wrote “the Spirit”, verses 3, 6 and 8, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant – “the Spirit gives life”.
And, as we know, in NT times the Holy Spirit began to be poured out on a Pentecost day; see Acts 2.
Having noted those things, let us now go to the letter which Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth. He compared certain things in connection with the two covenants, old and new. – The writing that was done on Mount Sinai was a “type” which pointed to the New Covenant’s “writing” which consists of that God through his Holy Spirit comes to dwell in humans, and guides them in the right ways. – We read:
2 Corinthians 3:3 and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory! (NRSV, highlighting added)
Verse 11, “what was set aside” = the Old Covenant, which was a temporary arrangement. Same verse, “the permanent” = the New Covenant, which is lasting.
(The article eca117.htm has some notes on 2 Corinthians 3:6–8. The article eca086.htm has more on the fact the Old Covenant was a temporary arrangement. See even The article eca136.htm.)
As you can see, the above-quoted 2 Corinthians 3:3–11 talks about the two covenants, old and new. Both were launched at Pentecost time.
In the Passover season, there was a sacrifice of the year’s first-fruits harvest of barley. [b] Literally, that was a harvest-related ritual, but it is quite obvious that that ceremony also pointed to Jesus as the “first-fruit” in God’s spiritual harvest here on Earth.
The day when that barley-offer was made, was the starting point for the 50-day count to Pentecost and another first-fruits sacrifice (see Leviticus 23:15–17).
On Pentecost (the Feast of Harvest, the Feast of Weeks), two loaves of bread, made of the first-fruits of the spring’s wheat harvest [c] and baked with leaven, were waved towards Heaven, as a sacrifice. Literally, even this was a harvest-related ritual, but it is quite obvious that that ceremony was also a prophetic symbol which pointed to future things in connection with the New Covenant.
What could be the New Covenant parallel for that rite? Most probably, those two wheat loaves which were “waved” on Pentecost, symbolised the saints as a “first-fruits” group in God’s spiritual harvest here on Earth. The Holy Spirit began to be poured out on a Pentecost day, see Acts 2:1–4.
b and c This refers to winter barley respectively winter wheat, sown in the autumn and harvested in the spring.
Leviticus 23 records that the sacrificial “wave loaves” which were offered on Pentecost, were to be baked with leaven (sourdough).
Leviticus 23:17 ‘You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. (NKJV, highlighting added)
What did that leaven symbolise? And, is there some New Covenant parallel to it? – We can see that literally, that sacrifice had to do with a first-fruit harvest of wheat, but it is quite obvious that there was more to that matter.
In that connection, let us consider the leaven which is mentioned in this passage:
Matthew 13:33 Another simile spake he to them: ‘The reign of the heavens is like to leaven, which a woman having taken, hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.’ (YLT)
Exactly what does that mean and refer to? The New Testament does not spell this out, but it could be that the good leaven of that parable symbolised the Holy Spirit – God coming to dwell in humans.
At least in one way, the good leaven of the above-quoted Matthew 13:33 can be seen as a parallel to the leaven in the two bread loaves which in Old Covenant times were on a Pentecost day presented as a wave offer. Those two loaves were connected to a first-fruits harvest of wheat. On the spiritual level, the saints formed a “first-fruits harvest” for God. The Old Covenant’s sacrificial Pentecost-loaves were baked with leaven (Leviticus 23:17). Leaven saturates the whole dough. The saints, who were joined to the New Covenant, were filled with God’s Spirit. – And again, in New Testament times it was on a Pentecost day that the Holy Spirit began to be poured out, see Acts 2.
The article exa098.htm considers whether the Old Covenant’s high days, such as Pentecost, should be kept even in connection with the New Covenant.
See also the “recommended reading” section.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm
On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → eta058.htm
How the ancient Israelites reckoned the dates for their annual high days. → exa087.htm
The route of the Exodus, and the location of Mount Sinai. Did the Israelites cross the Red Sea by the Gulf of Suez, or by the Gulf of Aqaba? Or, was it some “reed sea” they went over, as some say? And, where did the forty-year desert sojourn take place? → eoa067.htm
A time-graph of the events of the Exodus trek from Rameses in Egypt to Mount Sinai in Arabia. The fifty days from the Passover in Egypt to the making of the covenant by Mount Sinai. → eoa067e.htm
On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → eca086.htm
On the word olam in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Many bible-versions render it in ways that make it seem that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”, but that is not correct. → eca136.htm
Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → eca117.htm
Where can one find the rules of the New Covenant, in written form? → eca066.htm
Should the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, be kept today? → exa098.htm
The symbolism of the Old Covenant’s weekly day of rest, the Sabbath. → exa111.htm
On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → eca058.htm
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