While the unity of Jew and Gentile in Yeshua certainly comes as no surprise to you, the members and friends of Shema, there are many – most, in fact – to whom this concept is (pardon the pun) alien. Regrettably, for many centuries there has been a detrimental, man-made, barrier separating us, and far too many religious leaders, whether out of fear or self-interest who have been all too happy to keep that barrier firmly in place. If only they realized that, while acting in the name of God, they’re actually fighting against God’s purposes, and doing their fellow human beings a disservice.
Those who read and really understand their Bibles, know that one of the most important and beautiful themes of Shavuot, the Holiday of Weeks, or Pentecost, is the bringing together of Jews and Gentiles into one larger, united family in the Messiah. That is what I would like to talk about for a few minutes this morning.
Two Very Special Wave Offerings
There were two events that took place on Shavuot in ancient Israel; two very special wave offerings performed by the Cohayn haGadol, the High Priest. In the first of these, the High Priest took two loaves of baked bread, and waved them before Adonai. This particular wave offering was unique in all of the Torah. Why? It is unique because the two loaves were baked with leaven, whereas leaven was, in every other respect, prohibited from inclusion in any offerings. Leaven, in biblical imagery, is symbolic of sin. As yeast causes bread to rise and puff up, sin causes us to become puffed up with pride. Adonai did not want a symbol of sin to be part of Israel’s offerings –with this one exception.
I believe we should see it in contrast to the wave offering on the feast of First Fruits during Passover week. During First Fruits, which fell on the third day of Passover, the High Priest would wave a single sheaf of unleavened bread before Adonai. The absence of leaven symbolized the absence of sin, which is descriptive of Messiah – the One, unique, sinless Son of God. That it was lifted up and waved on the third day of Passover foreshadowed Yeshua’s resurrection on the third day.
But fifty days later, the High Priest now waved two loaves, and these had leaven. Messiah was sinless; we are not. And why two loaves? I believe they represent the two groups into which humanity has been divided, Jew and Gentile, being brought together as one!
But I mentioned two wave offerings. On Shavuot the High Priest also waved two lambs before the Lord (Leviticus 23:19-20). Lambs as sacrificial offerings were very common, so why is this exceptional? It is unique in all the Scriptures as the only wave offering of two lambs. I believe the lifting up and waving of two lambs before Adonai is symbolic of two flocks becoming one – a picture of Jew and Gentile coming together. Listen to what Yeshua had to say about sheep and shepherds: I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd (John 10:14-16).
And, of course, on that very special Shavuot that followed Yeshua’s death and resurrection, amid those unique and prophetic wave offerings, Adonai sent His Holy Spirit, and Messiah’s Holy Community was “officially” inaugurated. But of the coming of the Spirit, and the ongoing importance of being filled with the Spirit, I will say no more, since that is what Rabbi Loren will be talking about in a few minutes, and I don’t want to steal his thunder (or should I say, “fire”?).
One Very Special Historical Book (The Reading of Ruth)
For those who have ears to hear, the other aspect of Shavuot that instructs us about the joining of Jews and Gentiles is the book of Ruth. There is a lovely and spiritually rich Jewish tradition of reading of the Book of Ruth during Shavuot. There are several reasons given for it. For one, the delightful second half of the story takes place during the Spring barley harvest, which is when Shavuot falls. Another reason is that Ruth was to become the great grandmother of David, and so the book beautifully sets up the back story to the rise of Israel’s great king and the first Golden Age of Israel.
But in my mind, the most important, God-given reason for people to read Megilat Ruth on Shavuot is because the entire story is a massive remez – meaning a ‘hint’ a foreshadowing; in this case, the anticipation of the time when people from all the nations of the world would become one with the Jewish people, through the agency of Messiah, whom I believe to be Yeshua, Jesus of Nazareth.
While we don’t have time to read the Book of Ruth in its entirety in the course of this morning’s service, I think most of us here are quite familiar with the story; so what I’d like to do is summarize it, in order to allow us the time to consider the typology and see the big picture. Let me add, that the events recorded in the book of Ruth aren’t the stuff of fairy tale, but rather the chronicling of real history. And it takes place during the period of the Judges in Israel.
- Elimelech and Naomi forced to leave Bethlehem for Moab due to famine
- Elimelech dies, sons Mahlon/Chilion marry Moabite women (Orpah, Ruth)
- 10 yrs. Later, Mahlon, Chilion die, Naomi is left widowed and childless
- At that time, the famine ends in Israel, Naomi plans to return home
- Shortly after setting out, Naomi urges daughters-in-law to go back to Moab
- They both tearfully protest, but Orpah bids farewell and goes. Ruth remains
- Despite Naomi’s urging, Ruth is adamant that she will never leave Naomi
- Ruth’s great confession of faith
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (1:16-17).
- Upon their return, the town is glad to see her, but Naomi is Mara (bitter)
- Ruth proposes to go and glean in a local field in order to provide for them
- It just so ‘happened’ she was gleaning in the field of Boaz (a near relative)
- Boaz meets her, is impressed by her, and provides generously for her
- Naomi, wanting Ruth’s well-being, suggests Ruth offer herself to Boaz
- Boaz is delighted, and consents to levirate marriage
- However, there is one closer relative, and a first right of refusal of Naomi’s land must first be made. Boaz offers, but the relative declines to take Ruth
- Boaz publicly offers to buy Naomi’s land and take Ruth as a wife
- He and Ruth bear a son, Obed, and Naomi’s days are once again pleasant
The Book of Ruth has something for everybody. It’s a tragedy, it’s a love story, it has adventure, suspense, redemption… and it ends with a brief but important genealogy. Ruth and Boaz give birth to a son named Obed, who gives them a grandson named Jesse and a great-grandson named David – as in King David! Ruth is an ancestor of the great king of Israel! And that also makes her an ancestor of Messiah Yeshua, Israel’s greatest and soon-coming King! And it’s a big deal when we recall that Ruth wasn’t born an Israeli. In fact, she was from a nation considered one of Israel’s worst enemies – the Moabites!
So now, let me share with you why the Book of Ruth isn’t merely history, but a hint of something wonderful that was to come.
Discovering the Gospel in Ruth
Names and their meanings: What they symbolize:
Elimelech – ‘My God is King’ God, who has withdrawn from Israel
Naomi – ‘pleasantness’ or ‘delightfulness’ Jews in exile, bitter, but will return
Bethlehem – ‘House of Bread’ Place of prior and future blessing
Mahlon – ‘sickly’ Jews’ dire condition outside the land
Chilion – ‘wasting away’ “ “ “ “ “ “
Boaz – ‘quickness / swiftness’ Kinsman-Redeemer/Messiah
Symbolism in the circumstances:
- Famine in Judah – God’s (temporary) judgment on Israel
- Family departing for Moab – Exile of the Jewish people to the nations
- Death of husband, sons – dire circumstances for the Jewish people outside the land (helpless/alone/vulnerable)
- Return to the land – latter day return of the Jewish people to Israel
- Orpah’s tearful turning back – Gentile non-believers (who have no commitment to the Jewish people or concern for their welfare)
- Ruth’s insistence on staying with Naomi – Gentile Christians (those with a heartfelt desire to identify with and protect Israel, even at personal cost)
- Ruth accompanies Naomi to Israel – the Jews bless the Gentiles by introducing them to the God of Israel (Gospel)
- Ruth works/provides grain for Naomi – Gentile Christians return the blessing to the Jews through love and kindness
- Boaz provides for Ruth and Naomi – Kinsman redeemer = Messiah as the One who unites and provides for both Jew and Gentile
- Boaz takes Ruth as wife – Gentiles and Jews together become one family in God’s kingdom; Messiah being our Bridegroom
In the book of Ruth we see a beautiful story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz – a story of love, friendship and loyalty. But as I said earlier, it is more than just history. It contains a hidden spiritual truth as well: God’s plan for the ages. Naomi represents the Jew, and Ruth, the Gentile. At the beginning, Naomi’s life ends up blessing Ruth’s life. At the end, Ruth’s life ends up blessing Naomi’s life. In the same way, salvation came from the Jews to bless people from all nations. And now people from the nations, those with the heart of Ruth (not Orpah), having been grafted in through Messiah Yeshua, are in a position to bless the Jewish people. When that happens, the God-intended circuit is made complete.
All along, God has been showing us His heart – that through faith in Him and ultimately in Messiah Yeshua, people from every nation, language and people group might come together in genuine love and in a common faith. This is what Rabbi Paul wrote about in his letter to the believers in Rome. We, Jews and Gentiles, when united in faith in Messiah, are like an olive tree that has both natural and wild olives grafted in. Just as we are incomplete without Yeshua in our lives, we are incomplete without one another. To this magnificent olive tree the natural branches bring a long and abiding culture, maturity and wisdom, and the wild branches bring life and vitality, color and flavor and strength.
So, if God intends Heaven to be filled with people from every walk of life, let’s practice it now. Consider this, your life, a dress rehearsal. Remember Shavuot, and the message it holds for those “with ears to hear”.