According to Jewish tradition, the Torah was given to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai on the Day of Pentecost, after Israel had spent the Feast of Weeks as a whole walking through the wilderness after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. According to the Book of Acts, the early Church of God was given the Holy Spirit on the same Day of Pentecost after having been delivered from slavery to sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Given the centrality of the Law and the Holy Spirit to believers of God, what parallels may we draw between these two gifts on this particular day, and what do these parallels mean for believers? Even if it may not be possible to provide an exhaustive list, we should at least be able to gain some insight from a comparison between the two gifts, seeing as they came from God during the same festival. With that said, let us look at some of the more obvious similarities that exist between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
The Giver Of Gifts
We should note at the outset that the most obvious similarity between the two gifts is that they had the same source. In Exodus 20, God announces himself as the giver of the ten commandments to Israel by thundering out in Exodus 20:2-3: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” From the start, then, the Eternal identifies Himself as the giver of the law, and as the ultimate authority for the people of Israel. Israel was not particularly cognizant of the implications of this particular commandment (or the other ones), but their lack of awareness does not in any way negate the fact that the Torah was not something that the Jews could take credit for themselves, but was rather a gift from God Himself.
Likewise, the identity of God as the giver of the gift of the Holy Spirit through our Savior Jesus Christ is made very plain in Acts 2:29-36: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to his flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: “The Eternal said to my Lord, “Sit and my right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”” Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” This particular passage makes it plain that our Heavenly Father is the giver of the Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, a fact that Peter makes very clear.
The Modest Origins Of The Recipients
Given that the Israelites who received the Law at Mount Sinai were themselves only a few weeks removed from slavery, it is clear that they had a modest origin, having been a mixed multitude (by no means pure Israelite) that had been made into a new people by virtue of their having heeded the call of God in marching out of slavery under the leadership of Moses . As it is written in Exodus 19:3-6: “And Moses went up to God, and the Eternal called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Here we see God taking a motley crew of slaves and considering them as His special people.
The group that saw the gift of the giving of the Holy Spirit was similarly a mixed multitude. From Acts 1:5-11, we read: “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all of these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” And God made a similar promise to them that he made to the people of ancient Israel, saying in 1 Peter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” For the people of God, like those of ancient Israel, had been called from ignominy and obscurity and slavery into the glory of His calling.
The Response of The Recipients
How did the people of ancient Israel respond to that glory? They responded as we might expect. Israel’s response to God’s call was an open acceptance to do whatever God commanded and to accept his every word. That does not mean that they were really prepared to do so, or really committed, but rather than they were inclined to make an oath to obey God, as it is written in Exodus 19:7-9: “So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Eternal commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Eternal has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Eternal. And the Eternal said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the Eternal.”
The response of the witnesses of the giving of the Holy Spirit was repentance, as well as an open acceptance of whatever God would require, as it is written in Acts 2:37-39: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Here we see that this particular promise was not only for the people of the time, but for the rest of human history. The reply was to accept whatever God required, which was repentance for their sins.
The Fire And The Glory
It is noteworthy that one of the more striking manifestations of God in giving the gift of the Law was a fire that came in the morning, a fire that was terrifying to the people of Israel, as it is written in Exodus 19:16-20: “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Eternal descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Eternal came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Eternal called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.” Here we see the fire that occurs in the morning as well as speaking as being part of the miraculous work of God bringing the Law to Israel.
Similarly, the gift of the Holy Spirit contained the elements of fire, the timing of being in the morning, as well as the role of speaking. Acts 2:1-4 gives two of these elements: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and became to speak with other tongues [languages] as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:14-15 gives the timing: “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” Here again we see the same timing as well as the medium of speaking the use of fire as part of the miracle.
Generosity To Outsiders
One of the more intriguing aspects of Pentecost is the command to be generous to outsiders . Leviticus 23:22 tells us about the Feast of Weeks: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Eternal your God.” It is, ironically enough, through the obedience to this law that God brought together Ruth and Boaz for the first time, as she was a poor young Moabite widow and Boaz was a wealthy and single older gentleman. Need met generosity and the result was the building of a family and a community, part of the purpose of the Feast of Weeks in increasing the unity of the brethren through the bonds of love and generosity.
Similarly, the response of the early Church of God to the gift of the Holy Spirit and to their new identity as part of the Israel of God was likewise generosity. As it is written in Acts 2:40-47: “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and gods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Here again we see the Feast of Weeks being the cause of greater love and generosity between the brethren.
The Common Desire Of God For Personal Relationships
One of the more poignant aspects of the giving of the Law to ancient Israel was God’s desire for a personal relationship with the people of Israel, which was rejected not because God was somehow harsh but because the people themselves were afraid and unable to open their hearts to Him. As it is written in Exodus 20:18-21: “Now all of the people witnessed the thunderings, the lighting flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” Here we see the tragedy of God longing for intimacy with His people, but inspiring a reaction of craven fear and terror rather than love.
Similarly, part of the meaning and importance of Pentecost for the early church was a similar desire for intimacy between God and His chosen people. As it is written in Joel 2:28-32, quoted in Acts 2:17-21: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into blackness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Eternal. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Eternal shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Eternal has said, among the remnant whom the Eternal calls.” Here again we see part of the intent of the Feast of Weeks, for God seeking an intimate and personal relationship with his people, not merely those elites in charge but the old and the young, men and women, all who are the servants of God. This time, though, God will not be rejected by His people, even if the signs of the times will be immensely frightening.
The Interconnection Between The Law And The Spirit
Deep in the heart of the Law, as Moses neared the end of his life and prepared to pass on leadership of Israel to his successor Joshua, God gave through him a moving and deeply poignant warning to Israel about the need to have a heart that was right towards God, in Deuteronomy 5:28-33: “Then the Eternal heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Eternal said to me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh, that they had a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.” Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Eternal your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Eternal your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.” Here we see the deep importance of the heart and spirit when it comes to following God’s ways, an importance that has often been neglected because of slandering the heartfelt way of God as expressed in His Law with the formalism of the traditions that became encrusted like barnacles onto it.
Likewise, we see that the giving of the New Covenant is not an abrogation of the law, but rather a giving of the means to follow God’s ways through having the laws of God written on the heart and the mind, as it is written in Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Eternal, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Eternal. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Eternal: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Eternal,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Eternal. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. Here we see that Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit is about giving those who believe and follow God, across all classes of humanity, a new heart and a new mind and a new spirit so that we can walk in His ways not out of pride in our own righteousness but in love and gratitude to God for freeing us from being compelled to walk in sin and shame. Let us not therefore slander God’s law, realizing with the author of Hebrews (in Hebrews 8:7-13) that the covenant with the people of Israel at Sinai was defective not because God’s laws or ways were defective, but because He found fault with the rebellious and disobedient people of Israel. Let us therefore remember that the Holy Spirit leads us to obey God’s ways, and let us keep ourselves from slandering those ways or from turning aside after our own wickedness and folly.
What conclusions can we draw from these parallels. For one, let us note that the giving of the Law and the giving of the Holy Spirit were both deeply similar acts that were milestones in the establishment of the nation of Israel and in the formation of the Church of God as the renewed Israel of God. With a similar focus on loving God as God has loved us and loving others and being gracious and generous to them (the two great commandments of Matthew 22:34-40), with similar timing and the use of fire, with a similar interconnection of the Law of God and with matters of the heart and spirit, we see that these two gifts of God both had similar designs. The intent of God and the general way He worked, and His desire to be close to His people never changed, nor has the tendency of people to reject and rebel against His ways while claiming identity as part of His people, or to reject the universal scope of God’s ultimate desire to bring all humanity into His family. The call remains the same now as it did on Mount Sinai as well as in the long-destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Will we do as God has commanded us, and will we follow His ways in truth and love, to be a part of His redeemed people with love and compassion and generosity for our present and future brothers and sisters in Christ? Will we turn in fear from the call of God or respond to it with a hearty amen, and with our lives bearing the fruits of practical righteousness that follow conversion through the indwelling of that Spirit and of the writing of God’s laws on our hearts and minds? Men and brethren, what shall we do?
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