Many Christians are unfamiliar with the Biblical holy (or ‘set-apart’) day known in the Hebrew as “Shavuot”. Those who have heard of it by the more Greek-derived name, “Pentecost”, may tend to remember it primarily as the day when “tongues of fire” descended on the taught-ones of the Messiah following His resurrection, and many of them then “spoke in tongues” (Acts 2). There is, of course, MUCH more to the story.
We could start by pointing out that the real miracle that day didn’t really have to do with those doing the SPEAKING, but the HEARING. Men of many different ethnicities and backgrounds, who spoke many different languages, each heard what YHVH intended for them to hear, in a language they could understand. Kefa (“Peter”) spoke to those assembled, and quoted to them the words of the prophet Joel (Yah-El, for “Yah is El/Elohim”) concerning the ‘last days’, and the pouring out – again – of His Ruach (Spirit).
But there seems to be more to the story surrounding the Biblical appointed time of Shavuot and language than originally meets the eye. For example, while the date cannot be established with certainty, the approximate timing is clear from places like Exodus 19:1 and Numbers 1:1, and most of the ancient sages teach, that the giving of the Torah to Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness — the original “wedding Covenant” — happened on Shavuot. This was fifty days after the first two of YHVH’s “appointed times” associated with Pesach (Passover) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and then that of First Fruits. Interesting, as well, is the fact that Scripture tells us to “count for ourselves” the fifty days leading up to the “Feast of Weeks”, as though we were to “take ownership” of that time interval, and consider what is being taught, and foreshadowed.
The story of Scripture repeats one message for us literally many times: Men make a choice — to rebel against YHVH. He, however, has a plan for us as Kinsman-Redeemer, and is faithful to execute His plan. YHVH makes and keeps His Covenants – men continue to break them. We rebel, get kicked out of the garden, out of the camp, out of the land, even out of the marriages — and back into bondage. He redeems us — “by a mighty hand and outstretched arm“, by His perfect Sacrifice, by His grace.; “wheels within wheels”, cycles within cycles. His feasts — no, not merely the ” “Jewish holidays” but the Appointed Times of YHVH, which He says we should “keep forever” — repeat each year as well, since we evidently need continued reinforcement of the message!
But there is another aspect of the message associated specifically with language, and His miracles and prophecies, which takes a form more reminiscent of “bookends” on a shelf than of cycles. In that sense, perhaps the “speaking in tongues” associated with the Shavuot following His resurrection is more aptly seen as a milestone, somewhere near the middle of the story. For its beginning, we turn to the incident at the time of Nimrod, after the Flood, when men sought to build a tower, arguably as an affront to YHVH Himself. Bereshiet (Genesis) 11 tells us that the “whole earth was of one language,” literally “echad,” or in unity, of speech. In order to confound those efforts, YHVH confounded, or “mingled,” their language, so that those at what become known as Babel could no longer understand each other’s speech. One common tongue became many.
At the OTHER, future, ‘bookend’, the prophet ZephaniYah (interestingly, the “Secret Treasure is Yah”) tells us in verse 3:9 that the time will come when YHVH “will [re]turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of YHVH, to serve Him with one consent.” At this time to come, evidently, out of many languages will — again — come one, purified, tongue.
And in between, we had the prophetic “shadow picture” of a time when people still SPOKE in the many languages of fallen man, but those with “ears to hear” HEARD what YHVH intended for them in a way each could understand. It was the MESSAGE which was ‘echad’, although it was still spoken with tongues rather than yet being Written on hearts.
Will that future event happen at another Shavuot, when a “pure” language is again returned to us? Will it be Hebrew? Or some more ancient variant, like “paleo-Hebrew”, or “Abrahu” as some refer to it, or something even more “pure”? Whether or not we can know yet what that pure language looked or sounded like, there is no question that the meaning of much of His ‘torah’ is rendered more accurately, more completely, in Hebrew than any single English, Spanish, or Greek translation can contain.
Even the two Hebrew words used in the two “bookends” sound like mirror image processes of one another. ‘Mingled’ is from the word “balal” (spelled Bet-Lamed-Lamed in the root form) while ‘purified’, selected or cleansed, comes from “barar” (spelled Bet-Resh-Resh).
I have long been convinced that His Torah, or “instruction” to us was not only “perfect” (Psalm 19:7) and complete, as originally Written, but is perhaps even impossible to translate FULLY, or with all of the richness of nuance, meaning, and even poetry, into any lesser, ‘mingled’ language of man. This may give some additional insight into why people were “astounded” when the “Torah Made Flesh” taught with such Authority (MatitYahu/Matthew 7:28-9) and even why the whole of His instruction has obviously not YET been “Written on our hearts” (YermeYahu/Jer. 31:34)
As an engineer, and later as a computer memory/storage system designer and engineer, I have been impressed with how much language itself influences thought patterns. “Thinking machines” can be, and are, literally designed to run using a specific computer language. Programs, too, that might be almost impossible to write in one language can be easy to do in another — especially when the language is designed for the purpose at hand! Our minds, similarly, are shaped by the hand of the Designer. Perhaps this is why Shaul (Paul) wrote that we should “let THIS mind be in you” — which is His — and warns that we should “take every thought captive” in obedience to Him as well. Language truly does SHAPE our thoughts, as any parent should understand.
The Torah was probably given on Shavuot, and His Word was Written for us to later read. Some seven weeks after the perfect sacrifice of the Torah Made Flesh, again on Shavuot, His Ruach Hakodesh, or Holy Spirit, began to testify through the languages of men. And in the time ahead, we are told He will again return to us a pure language, so that we may all call upon the Name of YHVH, and serve Him as “echad”, in unity, of one consent.
Until that day, we still “see through a glass darkly“, through the lens of languages mingled with the contamination of pagan words, thoughts, and imagery. It is certainly possible to learn much from His Word in whatever language we best understand. But language DOES truly help shape thought patterns. And there is great value to be had in seeking to “study to show ourselves approved;” to seek out the meaning of some of the most important words and concepts in as close a form as we can manage to the way they were Written for us. Learning a new language is admittedly a lot harder than having Him miraculously purify one for us, too! In the meanwhile, however, it is exciting to know that if we diligently seek Him, and try to see His Word in a different way, such as through a Hebraic mindset and language, He will reward our efforts.