With the ending of Passover we begin looking forward to the celebration of Shavuot. You may be wondering, “What are the customs of Shavuot?”
You also might ask…
- What is Shavuot?
- What is the biblical significance of Shavuot?
- How do I celebrate Shavuot as a Believer?
Whether this is your first time celebrating this festival or you have celebrated it for years, our hope is that you will gain a greater understanding of Shavuot and how it connects you to your heritage through God’s covenant.
Understanding the customs of Shavuot sheds light on its significance in your life.
What is Shavuot and Why Do We Celebrate It?
Shavuot—the Hebrew word for weeks—is commonly referred to as the Festival or Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Firstfruits.
God commanded that the celebration of Shavuot—Feast of Weeks—was to be kept at the conclusion of the counting of the Omer (a 7-week period that falls after Passover).
“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you.”—Deuteronomy 16:9-10 (emphasis added)
“From the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain” refers to the harvest. It is a time associated with joy. It’s a moment on God’s calendar when He asks us to respond to His provision with an offering of thanks. We offer Him thanks by giving the first and best of what He gave us—firstfruits.
The customs of Shavuot center on joy, provision, instruction, and thanks… But why are we to give thanks to God with the firstfruits of the harvest?
The story of Cain and Abel shines a light on this…
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”—Genesis 4:7
This story serves as a reminder that when your heart is directed to God’s Kingdom with your firstfruits, then you are in alignment with Him. Keep your sight on God and His Kingdom… First!
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”—Matthew 6:33 (emphasis added)
When we don’t seek Him with the ‘firsts’ of everything, we become more susceptible to the enemy and his tactics of distractions.
The Lord wants you to reap the blessings of harvest and experience His Kingdom glory. When we fully surrender and trust His instruction, we will walk freely in His blessings and have greater protection from the enemy.
This is what the customs of Shavuot are all about…
- Allowing the Spirit to reveal areas in our hearts that are doubtful or fearful
- Surrendering these areas to the Lord
- Giving thanks for the instruction He releases
- Receiving the instruction
- Being empowered to walk in victory for the next season
5 Customs of Shavuot Commonly Practiced
Modern customs of Shavuot are intentional and symbolic…
1. Three Days of Preparation
The Bible teaches that the Israelites had three days to prepare to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. To ready themselves for the revelatory occasion they were instructed to wash their clothes and stay ritually pure.
These three days give you a framework. You can spend time aligning yourself with God in the days leading up to Shavuot by preparing personally, as a family, and as a community. This positions your mind, will, and emotions to receive His empowering instruction.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. 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.’”—Exodus 19:10-11 (emphasis added)
2. The Torah Night Study
The timeline for the Festival of Weeks—Shavuot—and the gift of the Torah fall during the same time.
“In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.”—Exodus 19:1
As to the customs of Shavuot, this tradition of an all-night Torah study is a great reminder to honor and reestablish God’s Law in your heart and mind. The study would start at dusk and carry on throughout the night, as a remembrance of that preparation time at Mount Sinai.
After all, the giving of the Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event that has lasted for centuries. It is the establishment of God’s covenant with His people and a foreshadowing of events to come.
“‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ …”—Exodus 19:4-6
Notice the sequence of events laid out within this covenant…
- Grace: God rescued His people and drew them near to Him.
- Obedience: When there is obedience, you become a special treasure, and with that obedience, you are able to unlock the blessings that God has in store for you.
- Blessings: You shall be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Obedience doesn’t get you rescued, but it does get you blessed!
3. Eating Dairy-Based Products
Because the gift of the Law and the land that God was giving them was likened to nourishment and sweetness, it became one of the common customs of Shavuot to serve foods that incorporated milk and honey during the feast.
“He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.”—Deuteronomy 26:9-10
It is common for cheese plates, cheesecake, and quiche to be served at Shavuot feasts.
4. Reading the Book of Ruth
Reading the book of Ruth is one of the most well-known customs of Shavuot. It is believed Ruth’s journey to Israel took place during the festival of Shavuot. Likewise, she was grafted into the family of Israel and accepted God’s instruction as she moved into a new season in her life.
Ruth’s story is centered around the harvest season, and it is a love story that symbolically represents a Believer’s marriage covenant with God. Ruth accepted God’s instruction, and as a result, her life was forever changed.
“…Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.’”—Ruth 1:16-17
5. The Giving of Firstfruits
The traditional giving of firstfruits was called the mitzvah of Bikkurim.
The farmer selected the first budding fruit in his fields, marked the first bud with a reed tied around it, then declared it as “firstfruit” to be given to the Temple priests.
This applied only to the seven species of the land of Israel: barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates, and wheat. The giving of firstfruits included the offering of two loaves of the finest wheat grain baked with leaven and offered with special fruits, grains, and burnt offerings at the Temple during Shavuot.
The giving of firstfruits, another one of the common customs of Shavuot, is still carried out after the 50 days of the Omer today. It is observed by giving to the place of worship a monetary offering to the Lord.
Giving the offering is a symbol of giving God your finest first. When you give with a thankful heart and declare His goodness, you are positioned to experience abundant blessings in the next season.
“Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves… of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord.”─Leviticus 23:16-17
Shavuot is a time to thank God for the bounty of the harvest and the choicest of our firstfruits. It is a celebration of the Torah that would continue to bless us as we continue to align with His Word and love His law.
How Believers Can Observe the Customs of Shavuot
No matter how you decide to observe this feast of the Lord, it is about setting aside time to quiet your heart before Him. The time leading up to Shavuot—the counting of the Omer—is an intimate time between you and Lord.
Ask the Spirit to renew your mind, giving you focus and revelation about the meaning of your covenant relationship with Him.
This renewal flows over from your spirit to your mind, and then to your habits, patterns, and attitude. It is a time to purge the old and prepare for new instruction, revelation, and victory.
Just as the Jewish community went joyfully to the Temple, offering their firstfruits and thanking God for what He had done and what He would do, we can do the same.
The same Fire of the Holy Spirit that burned the Ten Commandments into the tablets of stone has written His law into our hearts and minds. Let us rejoice and enter His courts with praise!