What is Counting the Omer and Is It Biblical?
Counting the Omer
The phrase, counting the Omer, may sound foreign to you. What do we count down to? The Bible often counts days and years from significant events. But can you recall a countdown to a future event?
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 excruciating not being married in the meantime. I was ready.
One of the traditions we practiced to heighten the excitement 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.The countdown of the days helped us remember the goal. We were preparing and getting excited to start the new chapter of our lives.
The Biblical Countdown
We are currently in the Jewish season of “Counting the Omer.” Although it is commonly called Jewish, it is in fact Biblical and commanded by God! 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.”
This is the time when the Jewish people practice something very similar to what my wife and I did with our sticky notes. However, while we counted sticky notes, they count the omer.
Additionally, while my then fiance and I were the only two counting down to our wedding, counting the omer invovles the whole Jewish nation.
What is an Omer?
To put it simply, an omer is a unit of measure for grain. In the same way that we may measure flour in cups, quarts or grams for our cooking recipes, the ancient Israelites would use omers or ephahs.
That’s how they knew how much grain to offer 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.
And that is precisely when we start counting. The day after the Passover meal is usually day one, although some wait to start counting until after the Sabbath. But in either case, the counting of the omer begins at Passover, the feast of unleavened bread.
The escape out of Egypt was a history-changing event in the lives of the Jewish people. Not only calendar years were counted since the exodus. Also Passover itself became a life-shaping observance for all of Israel.
How Long Counting the Omer Lasts?
Knowing how significant Passover was, you can probably guess that the event to which we are counting down the days must also be important. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
The goal of the count is Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. Counting the Omer lasts to the next major holiday on God’s calendar. This day became momentous because it marks the day when the commandments were given to the Israelites.
Shavuot is one of the seven moedim (festivals) of the LORD. The length of time between their salvation from Egypt (Passover) to their receiving of the Torah at Shavuot was exactly 50 days (or seven weeks). This the name: festival of weeks.
The LORD gave His law (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 with a promise.
If they would walk according to His commandments in the Torah, then He would be their God and they would be His people. Thus, the Torah became a part of the identity of the Israelites.
Start Counting to Remember
The LORD commanded His people to remember this period from Passover to Shavuot by counting the omer. It was a way for them to think back to the time when their forefathers were in the wilderness, at that point without the Word of God.
The Israelites already saw their God in action – they saw Him as God of miracles, of mercy and freedom. They knew He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But other than that, they hardly knew Him.
They didn’t know what touches His heart, what pleases Him and what He has in store for them. They were learning to walk afresh in liberty, but if not for Moses, they didn’t even know where they were headed.
Counting the Omer brings the Jewish people back to that season of expectancy. We may not know what God has in store for us, but we know that it is good. This is what this season is about.
Expect Great Things from the Lord
Much like how my wife and I waited and counted down the days until our wedding, the people of God eagerly wait and count down 50 days each year after Passover. Why? They cannot wait to celebrate the gift that is the Word of God!
They eagerly await 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. Then, remember 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.
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