This week’s celebrations for Shavuot have taken place under tense circumstances for Israel and the Diaspora. We have seen images of warfare for over a week, as Hamas launches attacks against Israel and the IDF act to defend the nation. We have also seen the Jewish community in the UK come under attack, as convoys of vehicles gathered to shout obscene and shocking antisemitic abuse through Finchley, London. Also in the South East of England, at the weekend, a rabbi was verbally and physically assaulted, with antisemitic slurs hurled at him, and his belongings stolen.
What a juxtaposition between a holy, solemn, yet joyous and beautiful festival, taking place in the midst of such violence and ugly hate! Shavuot is celebrated in accordance with Exodus 34:22 and it is a celebration of the receipt of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which took place seven weeks following Passover.
This year, Shavuot fell on Sunday 16th May 2021, so the Jewish people will have enjoyed a festival meal, opened in ceremony by the women and girls of each house, and then an all-night reading of scripture and religious texts. As day broke on Monday, the Jewish people took the opportunity to recite morning prayers at the earliest opportunity, to commemorate the joy of receiving revelation from God, of true worship and service.
Homes and synagogues would have decorated with beautiful greenery, harvest plants and grains, and women and girls will have adorned their heads with flower garlands. This signifies another celebratory aspect of this festival; Mount Sinai is said to have come into bloom upon the presence of the Lord, His glory and the revelation His truth. As the festival occurs at what is harvest time in Israel and many other nations, the theme of abundance and provision is central and gives the hope of a new, fruitful and healthy season.
This is without doubt highlighted by the customary eating of dairy such as cheese and milk-based desserts, as it is believed that whilst the Hebrew people awaited instruction from God about the dietary guidance He would give them, they thought it best to eat a dairy based diet.
There are special morning prayers for this festival, and as the reading of the book of Ruth is customary; it will have been read out in Jewish homes across the world on Monday. It is perhaps in the reading of this book of the Old Testament, that we find understanding and guidance in these troubled times for God’s chosen people. Much like the book of Esther which is read at Purim, the book of Ruth is also a book where God appears to be silent, as a lonely and vulnerable woman faces complex elemental and political systems.
Ruth is in a most unenviable position as a homeless widow, who becomes a refugee in a nation that has hundreds of years of historical enmity and discord with her own. But unlike a refugee who flees to a nation where they may hope for a better life, Ruth goes to a nation where she knows she will face further hardship, as Naomi’s lamentations make clear.
What is Ruth’s motivation? It is not survival, economy or even safety, but it is her values, which transcend self-preservation. Ruth values relationship, respect and integrity. Ruth’s order of priority is what explains her otherwise inexplicable decision-making process. It is love that leads her to leave her homeland with an aged mother-in-law, who complains and cries continually. It is love that leads Ruth to work in the heat of the day, gleaning from the charity of her deceased husbands’ relatives.
The shame of people’s judgement since her husband’s death followed her from Moab, and her heart must have sunk as Boaz enquired about who she was, as she worked in his fields with the poorest of society. Yet her heart would not allow Ruth to abandon her mother-in-law, who had demonstrated a different culture to her, one unlike that which she had been immersed in since birth, but founded upon the revelation of God and His commands for human flourishing. What Ruth must have seen in Naomi and her God, was love, and love incites human beings to its pursuit!
Therefore, Ruth worked in a field in a foreign land as a refugee, for love, because it was a worthwhile pursuit to her. How incredible Boaz must have seemed to Ruth as he, like Naomi, displayed the values of the Torah, founded on love for God and for neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:40). Is it any wonder that Ruth found even more bravery within her heart, now that she had made it to Israel, to lay at the feet of Boaz, with Naomi’s encouragement?
What Ruth would not have realised, immediately, is the profundity of likeminded, loving, sacrificing and faithful people coming together in love, and in order to love. But the Bible tells us that one faithful person will put to flight a thousand and two shall put to flight 10,000 (Joshua 23:10)! In God’s Kingdom economics, multiplication and overflow are key principles. For this reason, Boaz and Ruth’s marriage forged in humility rather than pride of status, and in love as opposed to selfish ambition, brought about a vindication for Ruth, a witness to their community, and a royal lineage of Yeshua Himself! Ruth did indeed reap as she had sown, for God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7-8).
This is the message we can all receive, along with Israel and the Jewish people at the conclusion of Shavuot 2021; that God will vindicate His people, for He is the just Judge of the whole world (Genesis 18:25). What an honour for the Jewish People, to still be standing as a witness to the Torah, the way of love, thousands of years after Ruth exemplified that God’s people and the righteous among the nations, unite for salvation.
The book of Ruth and Festival of Shavuot this year is an exhortation to both the Jewish people and body of Christ, to continue in obedience, loyalty, love and integrity, whilst the conflict against the Jewish people continues to rage in Israel and amongst the Diaspora. As Israel continues to defend herself with military integrity against Hamas, as Christians, we must also ally our democracy with the Jewish People and uphold the truth.