Life, they say, is a journey. Time does not stand still. We learn slowly. I remember at the beginning of one year in elementary school looking at the back of the math book and thinking that I would never learn how to do those problems. By the end of the year I had learned enough to do those problems. By the end of the following year I thought those problems were easy. My teacher knew that would happen. We learned to do the math a little at a time. God deals with man the same way. Perhaps the history of the holiday of Shavuos (Pentecost) shows this very clearly.
There was a time when God seems to have communicated to man primarily on an individual basis. Sometimes he expected individuals to teach his word as they had opportunity. Noah was a preacher of righteousness in his day. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew God and showed him to the people they met. They showed the world a generous, loving God who spoke to man in a way he could understand. They showed the value of the sacrifices and obedience. But they could not show God’s love to the world overnight. People were not yet ready.
Then came Shavuos. Traditionally, fifty days into the exodus from Egypt, God spoke to a whole nation. With the nation surrounding Sinai, God spoke and the people heard all together. God gave a law for a specific people. They became his chosen nation. Through Moses, God gave Israel the Law. He did not give it to the rest of the world. On Shavuos God gave Israel “Most Favored Nation” status. He showed the world that he could love more than just a few obedient giants of faith. For centuries God dealt with man through the nation of Israel and the Law of Moses. But there was a problem. Actually a couple of them. One problem was that the nation was still not fully ready for God. A cursory reading of the historical books of Torah shows the difficulties Israel experienced in following the Law. The other problem was that the Law was only a step toward the final revelation of God. One writer later explained that the Law of Moses was good, but was like the early days of the math class.
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb 10:1-4, 12-14)
Then came another Shavuos. “This man,” mentioned by that author, was a man named Jesus, who had been executed. About fifty days later, on Shavuos some of his followers, empowered by God, told the world that salvation was come to all. “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6) The world was ready, in God’s view, to see the whole picture. We had learned what we needed to know. It did not happen overnight. But as Amy Grant sings, “If it all just happened overnight,/ you would never learn to believe/ in what you cannot see.” Because God gave us the lessons over time we can believe.
(Shavuos/Pentecost is May 19 in 2010.)