I have spent the last few days studying the Festival of Weeks, aka Shavuot. It is such a rich holiday, full of tradition and connection that I decided I needed to divide my thoughts into multiple posts. This is the second of four posts about how the Jewish celebration of Shavuot (this year on May 14-16) connects to the modern Christian church. There are many lessons for Christians today.
The Festival of Weeks (Number 28) brings the first fruits of the harvest before the Lord as it recalls Moses returning from Sinai carrying the tablets of God’s Law. God’s blessing is tied to the keeping of the Law, so it makes sense that these are connected. According to some scholars, the initials of the four Hebrew words the describe the Shavuot (the Hebrew name for this holiday) meal spell out mei halay (from milk), which may explain why this is traditionally a dairy holiday.
The idea of Shauvot as a dairy holiday is two-fold. The first idea is that, when Moses brought the Law down from Sinai, the food already prepared was not according to the new Kosher (Kashrut) standards. That meant the meat could not be consumed, leaving dairy as the only readily available protein source until new sources could be prepared.
That is interesting, but not truly significant. The real significance of Shavuot being a dairy holiday is the idea that the Israelites who had just escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt, were like newborns in faith, not able to fully digest the fullness of the Word, and needing to be nurtured with more easily digested “milk.” The idea that the Chosen People needed something simple and straightforward is continued into the young Church of the New Covenant after the first Christian Pentecost.
Paul, knowing well the Jewish traditions makes reference to this concept in his first letter to the Corinthians, saying, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it” (1 Corinthians 3:1). He understood, probably better than most, the importance of the Shavuot ideal: those new in faith need a very defined path to follow until they are ready to dig deeper into the things of the Father.
The author of Hebrews (probably Paul) showed his frustration at the lack of growth in the Church:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Babies are supposed to grow and eat solid food. Even though the Law given to Moses was specific, it was intended, not to be only a pattern of behavior, but also a maturing of the heart. As people grow in faith and understanding of the Creator, they must also begin to see beyond the words of the covenant to the spirit of it. It is by learning the heart of God that man can truly walk in fellowship with Him. It may be that Moses’ frustration over this fact is what led him to lash out and ultimately lose the privilege of entering the Promised Land.
The idea that Shavuot is a dairy holiday connects clearly to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. He came to fulfill the Law (the Old Covenant) and allow His followers (the Jew first, and then the rest of us) to grow beyond milk into enjoying solid food. On the level of a purely human appetite, milk is fine for babies, but there is also pulled pork and paella and steak and potatoes and chocolate to enjoy! What if Christians all over the world stopped being satisfied with milk, as pure and nutritious as it is, and began a journey through the rich flavors and textures the Father has for us to taste at His banqueting table?