Christians from all theological traditions make at least a passing mention of Pentecost when it arrives during the liturgical year. Yet the small degree of attention Pentecost receives in comparison to Christmas and Easter indicates that most of us probably do not see Pentecost as very important. In truth, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was among the weightiest festivals of the old covenant.
Today’s passage reveals Pentecost’s importance under the old covenant, making it one of the three festivals each year when every Israelite male had to be in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16–17). Other feasts could be kept in one’s hometown, but Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot (the Feast of Booths) all required a pilgrimage to the City of David. Even during the more somber feast of Passover, these pilgrimages were doubtless times of great rejoicing as friends and family would have opportunities to visit together. More important, the covenant people of the Lord gathered together in one place, much as when all Israel received the Law at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19–24).
Speaking of the old covenant law, in time ancient Jews came to associate Pentecost with the revelation of God’s law to Israel. This does make sense when we consider that Pentecost under the old covenant was primarily an occasion on which to thank the Lord for providing the grain the people needed for survival (Lev. 23:15–22). God’s law is likewise necessary for His people to thrive spiritually wherever they may be, so Pentecost was as good a time as any to rejoice in the revelation of the Torah to Moses. However, since the Mosaic law by itself produced death and not life in the nation (Rom. 7:7–12), it also makes sense that our Creator would later choose Pentecost as the occasion on which He poured out the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–10). During a festival when the people thanked God for giving them grain and for giving them His law, the Lord gave the Spirit of life, who alone can enable us to fulfill His holy standard (Gal. 5).
In every era, it is appropriate to thank God for His provision for our needs, whether material or spiritual, through generosity to Him and the poor; thus, Pentecost under the old covenant was a time to feed the hungry alongside the giving of offerings to the Lord (Lev. 23:15–22). May we never fail to be generous to God and to those in need, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.