Counting Down: What is Counting the Omer?
I remember being engaged. The season of waiting was like the Tale of Two Cities – “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” It was wonderful knowing that I would soon be married to the love of my youth, but it was horrible not being married in the meantime.
One of the traditions we practiced to heighten the excitement of getting married was keeping track of the number of days until the wedding on a set of sticky notes. Starting at day 100, we began peeling off one sticky note each day, thus revealing 99, 98, and so on.
We are currently in the Jewish season of “Counting the Omer.” This is a time where the Jewish people practice something very similar to what my wife and I did with our sticky notes, but where we counted sticky notes, they count the omer. And where we were the only two involved in our wedding countdown, their whole Israeli nation performs Counting The Omer.
What is an omer? And what are they counting down to?
An omer is a unit of measure for grain. In the same way that we may measure flour in “cups” or “quarts” for our cooking recipes, the ancient Israelites would use omers or ephahs of some sort of grain when offering to the LORD. In the case at hand, the Passover sacrifice required a lamb sacrifice along with one omer of barley during the days of the temple.
God says to the Israelites in Leviticus 23:15-16, “From the day after the [Passover] Sabbath, the day you brought the omer of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath.”
As for what the people of Israel are commanded to count down to, the answer is Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot is one of the seven moedim, or festivals, of the LORD. This day is importance because it marks the day the Torah was given to the Israelites. The length of time between their salvation from Egypt (Passover) and their receiving of the Torah (Shavuot) was exactly 50 days (or seven weeks).
The LORD gave His Torah to His people through Moses so they might know how to live in relationship with Him. God spoke to the Israelites in Leviticus 26 and promised them that if they would walk according to His commandments in the Torah, then He would be their God and they would be His people. The Torah was everything to the Israelites.
Later the LORD commands His people to remember this period by counting the omer so they may think back to the time when their forefathers were in the wilderness and did not yet have the Word of God.
Much like how my wife and I waited and counted down those one hundred days until our wedding, the people of God eagerly wait and count down 50 days each year until they can celebrate the festival of Shavuot – the day the LORD blessed them with the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
During this season, if you are counting the Omer, reflect on the days when you walked in rebellion to God and His Word, and also the time when His Word became real and alive to you. Find a clever way to make this season a period of growing excitement as we get closer to Shavuot.