Beit Shemesh view west of Sorek Valley 311.
(photo credit: BiblePlaces.com)
Wayne Stiles is an author who has never recovered from his travels in Israel—and loves to write about them from his desk in Texas.
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people familiar with Shavuot associate the holiday with the Book of
Ruth. After all, the most exciting events of Ruth’s story occurred
during Bethlehem’s wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23). It’s no wonder today that
many people include reading of the Book of Ruth as part of their
celebration of Shavuot.
Although I absolutely love the Book of
Ruth, Shavuot more often causes my mind to wander further west of
Bethlehem—down into the Shephelah.
remember standing on the site of ancient Tel Beit-Shemesh in the Sorek
Valley. As I looked around, I thought about the days of the judges. A
glance to the northeast gave me a clear view of the neighboring sites of
Zorah and Eshtaol, where the judge Samson grew up. A look to my left,
down the valley, revealed the direction in which Samson’s carnal
curiosity often took him—to the women of the Philistines. One such trip
even occurred at the time of wheat harvest, or Shavuot (Judges 15:1).
Years earlier, the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant,
eventually returning it on a cart up the Sorek Valley. As I stood on
Beit-Shemesh, a site given to the Levites, I could barely make out a set
of train tracks that ran roughly along the ancient path by which the
ark returned to Beit-Shemesh. The Hebrews were reaping the wheat harvest
in the Sorek Valley when they saw the ark. And although they were glad
to see it, they made the mistake of looking inside the ark at the holy
relics therein. Big mistake! (See Numbers 4:20; 1 Samuel 6:13-19.) The
Levites of Beth-Shemesh knew better than that. (Remember that scene in
Raiders of the Lost Ark
when the Nazis looked inside the ark? Same
idea.) The curiosities of both Samson and the people of Beit-Shemesh
offer an interesting contrast. Samson had a curiosity about sin and the
people a curiosity about God’s holiness. Ironically, the first made the
second just as disastrous.
Shavuot also bears the name “Feast of Weeks,” because it comes seven
weeks after the feast of Passover. The name “Pentecost” also identifies
the holiday since the celebration occurs “50 days” after Passover
(Leviticus 23:15-16). By the first century, however, Shavuot had an
additional meaning as a time to remember the giving of the Mosaic Law
(perhaps as a result of Exodus 19:1). For whatever reason, the holiday
came to be associated with a renewed commitment to God’s Law.
The prophets anticipated a promised “New Covenant” would write the Law
on the hearts of God’s people through the giving of the Holy Spirit
(Isaiah 59:20-21; Jeremiah 31:31-34). Perhaps for this reason, the King
James Version of Scripture translates Acts 2:1 with the words: “And when
the day of Pentecost was fully come . . .” It was on the feast of
Shavuot in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit came upon God’s people—just as
the prophets had promised.
True, Tel Beit-Shemesh seems an unlikely place to remember Shavuot. But
the events that occurred in the Sorek Valley at wheat harvest cause us
to consider the outcome of lives like Samson and the Levites of
It is precisely by observing such lives that our dedication to the
fulfillment of Shavuot—or Pentecost—offers such hope. In view of our
own weaknesses, the holiday challenges us to adopt a renewed commitment
to live according to Holy Scripture.
What to Do There:
have discovered a number of interesting finds at Beth-Shemesh,
including Israel’s largest Iron Age water reservoir. Read the biblical
events that occurred in the Sorek Valley at the time of Shavuot,
including the return of the lost ark in 1 Samuel 6 and the wanderlust of
Samson in Judges 15. Also read of the holiday’s first-century
celebration when came the promised Holy Spirit in Acts 2.
How to Get There:
Jerusalem, take Route 1 west to the Sha'arHaGai Interchange and merge
onto Route 38. After about 10 km follow the signs to the tell.
Read Wayne’s blog and subscribe to his weekly Podcast at www.waynestiles.com
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