(Grk. Pentekoste, "fiftieth," i.e., "day"). The second of the three great annual festivals, the others being the Passover and Tabernacles. The most important Bible passages relating to it are Ex 23:16; Lev 23:15-22; Num 28:26-31; Deut 16:9-12.
Names and Significance. This festival is called (1) the feast of Weeks (Ex 34:22; Deut 16:10,16; 2 Chron 8:13), because it was celebrated seven complete weeks, or fifty days, after the Passover (Lev 23:15-16); (2) the feast of the Harvest (Ex 23:16), because it concluded the harvest of the later grains; and (3) the day of the first fruits (Num 28:26), because the first loaves made from the new grain were then offered on the altar (Lev 23:17; see also the article First Fruits).
Origin and Import. The Scriptures do not clearly attach any historical significance to this festival but seem to teach that Pentecost owes its origin to the harvest that terminated at this time. It is to be expected that, in common with other nations of antiquity who celebrated the ingathering of grain by offering to a deity among other firstling offerings the fine flour of wheat, the Jews would recognize Jehovah's bounty with the first fruits of their harvest. The Jews, at least as early as the days of Christ, connected with the Passover and commemorated on the 6 th Sivan the giving of the Ten Commandments. It was made out from Ex 19 that the law was delivered on the fiftieth day after the Exodus. It has been conjectured that a connection between the event and the festival may possibly be hinted at in the reference to the observance of the law in Deut 16:12. Pentecost was essentially linked to the Passover-the festival that above all others expressed the fact of a race chosen and separated from other nations-and was the solemn termination of the consecrated period.
The Time of the Festival. The time fixed for celebrating Pentecost is the fiftieth day from "the day after the Sabbath" of the Passover (Lev 23:11,15-16); or, as given in Deut 16:9, seven full weeks after the sickle was put to the corn. The precise meaning of the word Sabbath in this connection, which determines the date for celebrating this festival, has been from time immemorial a matter of dispute. The Boethusians and the Sadducees in the time of the second Temple, and the Karaites since the eighth century of the Christian era, have taken "Sabbath" in the sense of the "seventh day of the week" and have maintained that the omer was offered on the day following that weekly Sabbath that might happen to fall within the seven days of the Passover. This would make Pentecost always come on the first day of the week. Many arguments are presented against this, showing that such an opinion involves many arbitrary and improbable arrangements.
Commenting on Lev 23:15-22, Keil and Delitzsch (Com., ad loc.) say that "Sabbaths (v. 15) signifies weeks. Consequently, 'the morrow after the seventh Sabbath' (v. 16) is the day after the seventh week, not after the seventh Sabbath." It is therefore evident that the Jews, who during the second Temple kept Pentecost fifty days after the 16 th Nisan, rightly interpreted the injunction in 23:15-22. The fiftieth day, according to the Jewish canons, may fall on 5 th, 6 th, or 7 th Sivan.
The Mosaic ordinances provided that on the Day of Pentecost there was to be a holy convocation, on which no manner of work was to be done; all the able-bodied men of the congregation were to be present (unless legally precluded) at the sanctuary; and a special sacrifice was to be offered (Lev 23:15-22; Num 28:26-31).
The sacrifices offered were
(1) the morning and evening sacrifices, with their grain and drink offerings;
(2) a burnt offering, consisting of seven lambs, one young bull, two rams, with their grain and drink offering (Lev 23:18; Num 28:26-31);
(3) the two wave loaves, the new grain offering, of two-tenths of an ephah of new flour (Lev 23:17); and
(4) with the loaves, a kid of the goats for a sin offering and two lambs for a peace offering. The firstling loaves, with the two lambs (peace offering), were devoted to the Lord by waving, as a thank offering for the harvest that had been gathered in during the seven previous weeks. The words "You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering" (Lev 23:17) are not to be understood as if every head of a house was to bring two such loaves, but that the two loaves were presented for the whole people. "From your dwelling places" appears to mean that they were to be loaves prepared for the daily nourishment of the house and not specially for a holy purpose or paid for out of the treasury. They were freewill offerings, presented by each person in proportion to the blessings received from God. These might be burnt, grain, drink, or thank offerings (Deut 16:10). This festival was to be a season of rejoicing, in which were to share the children, men and women servants, the Levites, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow (16:11). Israel was also to recall her bondage in Egypt and was admonished to keep the divine law (16:12).
Observance, Postexilic. From Acts (Acts 2:9-11) we infer that, perhaps more than to any other great festival, the Jews came from distant countries to Jerusalem. On the day before Pentecost the pilgrims entered Jerusalem, and the approach of the holy convocation was proclaimed in the evening by blasts of the trumpets. The great altar was cleansed in the first watch, and immediately after midnight the Temple gates were thrown open. Before the morning sacrifice all burnt and peace offerings brought by the people were examined by the priests. The following order was observed for the various sacrifices: (1) The regular morning sacrifice. (2) The festive offerings, as prescribed (Num 28:26-31); the Levites chanting the Hallel, in which the people joined.
(3) The firstling loaves, with their accompanying offerings. These loaves were prepared as follows: "Three seahs of new wheat were brought to the temple, threshed like other [grain] offerings, ground and passed through twelve sieves, and the remainder was redeemed and eaten by anyone. Care was taken that the flour for each loaf should be taken separately from one and a half seah; that it should be separately kneaded with luke-warm water (like all thank offerings), and separately baked in the temple itself. The loaves were made the evening preceding the festival; or, if that fell on the Sabbath, two evenings before. These loaves, with the two lambs, formed part of the same wave offering." (4) The freewill offerings of the people, which formed the cheerful and hospitable meal of the family and to which the Levite, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger were invited.
This festival is annually and sacredly kept by Jews on the 6 th and 7 th Sivan-i.e., between the second half of May and the first half of June, thus prolonging it to two days. In accordance with the injunction in Lev 23:15-16, the Jews regularly count every evening the fifty days from the second day of Passover until Pentecost and recite a prayer over it. The three days preceding the festival, on which the Jews commemorate the giving of the law, are called "the three days of separation and sanctification," because the Lord commanded Moses to set bounds about the mount and that the people should sanctify themselves three days prior to the giving of the law (Ex 19:12,14,23).
On the preparation day the synagogues and private houses are adorned with flowers and fragrant herbs; the males purify themselves by immersion and confession of sins, put on festive garments, and go to the synagogue, where, after evening prayer, the hallowed nature of the festival is proclaimed by the cantor in the blessing pronounced over a cup of wine. The same is also done by every head of a family before the evening meal. After supper, either in the synagogue or in private houses, the reading of Scripture continues all night, the reason given being that, when God was about to reveal His law to Israel, He had to awaken them from sleep; to remove that sin they now keep awake during the night.
In the general festival service of the morning special prayers are inserted for the day, which set forth the glory of the Lawgiver and of Israel; the Great Hallel is recited; the lesson from the law (Ex 19:1,20,25), the Maphtir (Num 18:26-31), and the lesson from the prophets (Ezek 1; 3:12) are read, the evening prayer (Musaph) is offered, and the benediction is received by the congregation, their heads covered by the fringed wrapper. On the second evening they again go to the synagogue, using there the ritual for the festivals, in which are again inserted special prayers for the occasion, chiefly those on the greatness of God and on the giving of the law and the Ten Commandments. The sanctification of the festival is again pronounced, both by the prelector in the synagogue and by the heads of the families at home. Prayers different from those of the first day, also celebrating the giving of the law, are mingled with the ordinary prayers; the Hallel is recited, as well as the book of Ruth; the lesson read from the law is Deut 15:19-16:17, and the lesson from the prophets is Hab 2:20-3:19, or 3; prayer is offered for departed relatives; the Musaph Ritual is recited; the priests pronounce the benediction; and the festival concludes after the afternoon service, as soon as the stars appear or darkness sets in.
(from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)
Ex 23:16-19 AMP Also you shall keep the Feast of Harvest [Pentecost], [acknowledging] the firstfruits of your toil, of what you sow in the field. And [third] you shall keep the Feast of Ingathering [Booths or Tabernacles] at the end of the year, when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field.
17 three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.
18 You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread [but keep it unmixed], neither shall the fat of My feast remain all night until morning.
19 The first of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk.
Lev 23:15-22 AMP And you shall count from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, seven Sabbaths; [seven full weeks] shall they be.
16 Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord.
17 You shall bring from your dwellings two loaves of bread to be waved, made from two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven, for firstfruits to the Lord.
18 And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs, a year old and without blemish, and one young bull and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their cereal offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire, of a sweet and satisfying fragrance to the Lord. 19 Then you shall sacrifice one he-goat for a sin offering and two he-lambs, a year old, for a sacrifice of peace offering.
20 The priest shall wave the two lambs, together with the bread of the firstfruits, for a wave offering before the Lord. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest.
21 You shall make proclamation the same day, summoning a holy assembly; you shall do no servile work that day. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. 22 And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord your God.
Num 28:26-31 AMP Also in the day of the firstfruits, when you offer a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy [summoned] assembly; you shall do no servile work. 27 But you shall offer the burnt offering for a sweet, pleasing, and soothing fragrance to the Lord: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs a year old,28 And their cereal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of an ephah for each bull, two-tenths for one ram,29 A tenth for each of the seven male lambs,30 And one male goat to make atonement for you. 31 You shall offer them in addition to the continual burnt offering and its cereal offering and their drink offerings. See that they are without blemish.
Deut 16:9-12 AMP You shall count seven weeks; begin to number the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.
10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give to the Lord your God, as the Lord your God blesses you.
11 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and daughter, your manservant and maidservant, and the Levite who is within your towns, the stranger or temporary resident, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place in which the Lord your God chooses to make His Name [and His Presence] dwell.
12 And you shall [earnestly] remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be watchful and obey these statutes.