Itʼs that season again. This year I finally asked, “What is counting the Omer?” Maybe you havenʼt even heard that expression. In Judaism, it is the term used to count the 50 days between Feast of First Fruits and Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). It is the time being counted from First Fruits until the celebration of the giving of Torah from Mt. Sinai. In Christianity it is the time between Yeshuaʼs resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Messianic embraces and esteems both events–they are Godʼs appointed feasts.
Realizing that counting the omer is related to two feasts: First Fruits and Shavuot (Pentecost or Weeks), it must mean the word, omer, appears in the bibleʼs description of one or both of the feasts. On the contrary, the word doesnʼt appear in either set of verses. God does give specific instruction for calculating the time between the two events, but no mention of omer. So, isnʼt the air alive with curiosity? Please join me as we attempt to solve the riddle of where the saying comes from and why, regardless of what itʼs called it is a time filled with expectation.
The word omer does appear in Exodus 16:36, however, but briefly:
“Now an omer is one- tenth of an ephah”
Even though it is a brief appearance. it is an important clue to understanding how the omer is part of the counting process.
The Israelites were instructed by the Lord through Moses to celebrate First Fruits when they come into the land and eat of the first grain harvested from the land. Barley is the first grain to be harvested in Israel (The Land), as well as many other grain-producing areas.
The First Fruits ceremony is set forth in Leviticus 23:11-13:
He (the Priest) shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as aburnt offering to the Lord. 13 Its grain offering shall be two- tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one- fourth of a hin.
Next, letʼs look at the description of Shavuot from Leviticus 23:16-17:
15 And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering:seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16 Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.
What I didnʼt quote for you was the verses establishing the date for the Feast of First Fruits. Thatʼs a necessary piece of information to make this whole puzzle work out. So, Iʼll just paraphrase it for you, it too is from Leviticus 23 and is tied to Passover. Passover and the two feasts following are tied to the month of Abib also known as Nisan. So, to obey God and celebrate the feasts perpetually, all the Israelites should have to do was tp look at the calendar and see when Abib is. Not quite so easy, there was no calendar, only the word of God that Abib was the first month of the year and the feasts should be perpetually observed. Letʼs digress a minute to figure the strategy used to determine Abib and the first of the year.
Our old friend, barley, is a key factor. The Lord originally instructed Moses and Aaron that they were in the first month; the clock is running to Passover; celebrate these events forever. The first year was no problem, but they needed a clue to determine when that first month was going to happen year after year. Remember, Godʼs timetable is based on lunar cycles. So, to obey God, it was realized two things had to be considered to determine the start of the year and therefore the start of the month of Abib. First it had to begin, as all months, at the appearance of a new moon, which marks the first day of each month. Next, they had to look at the barley fields because God tied the feasts into the barley harvest. If the heads were filled and it looked like theyʼd be ready to harvest before the next new moon (approximately 28 days later}, then this present new moon marked the first of Abib and the new year. The count to the feasts could began: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Pentecost.
Technically, First Fruits is to be celebrated on the day following the Sabbath which ends the week in which the barley harvest could start taking place. Since there is a little time slippage possible here, field to field, when each field is ready for harvesting, it was decided that a good average would be to take the day following the Sabbath which follows Passover. This would always put it in the latter half of the month and would be most likely to catch a portion of the harvest.
Now we have a start date for calculating First Fruits. Itʼs always going to start on Sunday, the next day after the Sabbath marking the beginning of the barley harvest and following Passover. On this day the grain offering was waved and the other sacrifices made. We then count seven Sabbaths, beginning with the next Sabbath. After those go by, the next day, a Sunday, is Shavuot, an elapse of 50 days from grain offering to grain offering.
Thatʼs all very nice, but what about counting the omer? Do we line up 50 omers, taking away one each day? Or, fill up an omer with 50 somethings, removing one daily, or what? Well, the best I can figure out, is to look at the First Fruits ceremony since thatʼs where the counting starts. What happened? A grain offering, obviously of the barley harvest, was made by the priest. But did he offer an omer of grain? No, he offered two omers. He offered two-tenths of a ephah and an omer is one-tenth of an ephah (remember the short critical verse from Exodus 16). Bottom line, counting the omer, is really counting FROM the offering of the omer of grain! And it should really have been counting from the offering of the omers plural. Or, better, counting from the sheafs. The waving of the sheafs is seemingly more truly represented by the First Fruit offering. So perhaps at some time in the dim past the 50 days was called counting from the omers offering and through familiarity or laziness got shortened to counting the omer. There, arenʼt you glad you stayed to solve the riddle? But what about this time of counting?
A deeper understanding of why we are preparing for the feast by the countdown should only add to the excitement of the actual feast. Two very significant events occurred on this 50th day. First, it is the celebration of the giving of Torah, which in Judaism is viewed as a marriage covenant God was making with Israel! Second, and very significant to the Messianic believer, it was the giving of the Holy Spirit, in the Upper Room. The presence of the Lord in smoke and glorious demonstration at Sinai was again manifest in the flaming presence of the Holy Spirit on those gathered in obedience to the instructions of Yeshua. This time, those who believe will have Torah in their hearts–the Living Word of Godʼs indwelling presence in his unity as Yeshua, Son of God.
Iʼm so glad you persevered through the “journey of the omers.” It was worth it to me to understand the true meaning of counting the omer. I realized we werenʼt really counting 50 OMERS from First Fruits to Shavuot, we were counting 50 DAYS from that first four-part offering, 1⁄4 of which was the two omers of barley flour. Counting the Omer, then is simply “code” for Godʼs helping His people anticipate the amazing gift He is about to give after 50 days. God gives us His instruction (the law, the Torah) to count 50 days and then celebrate the giving of His Holy Spirit. Day by day we are to meditate on this undeserved gift of His Spirit to dwell in and empower each believer. Like the child who counts down the days until his birthday, we are to count down the days until Shavuot.
I suggest that each of us meditate on something Holy Spirit did for us in the past as well as biblical passages, describing a Holy Spirit event. Let the anticipation build and just see what God will do when Shavuot finally arrives.
Shauvot (Pentecost} this year begins at sundown, Saturday, June 7 and goes to sundown, Sunday, June 8.