Counting the Omer
All of the moedim (mow-ah-deem = appointed times or festivals) of HaShem (YHVH or the LORD) fall on specific days of the month except for one. That one is Shavuot (Shawvoo-oat = Pentecost), also known as the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of Firstfruits. For some reason, HaShem, chose to set the date for this particular festival by having the children of Israel count seven Sabbaths plus one day (or fifty days) from the day of the Wave Sheaf offering.
"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. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath, then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD."
HaShem does not give instruction (torah), concerning His appointments with His people without there being a reason. This being the case, there must be a profound reason why He chose to set the date for Shavuot through a method of counting rather than by giving it a specific date on the calendar, the way He did with the other festivals. If we can discover the reason(s) for the counting of these fifty days, and what we should be trying to accomplish during them, it could lead us into a closer and more profound relationship with our Creator God.
~ What Is the Wave Sheaf? ~
"And the LORD spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: "When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.
""You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.""
There tends to be some confusion on
what constitutes a wave sheaf, because of the
translation of the Hebrew word omer (oh-mer) into the
English word sheaf. Literally, omer means a
measure of dry things, and it is believed to be a quantity
of about two quarts. If one wanted to be strictly literal in the
translation it might read something like this in English:
"...then you shall bring a measure of dry things of the firstfruits of your harvest to the Priest. He shall wave the measure of dry things before the LORD, ..."
In English, the word sheaf means; "a bundle of cut stalks of grain or similar plants bound with straw or twine. Needless to say, the average reader of the English Scriptures probably visualizes the Priest taking a bundle of barley grain stalks and waving it in the Temple in a manner similar to what is done with the lulav (loolahv; see Issue 96-3) at the festival of Succoth (Tabernacles). However, this is not the manner in which it was done.
What was actually offered in the
Temple as a wave sheaf or firstfruits offering
was two quarts of barley grain that had been thrashed, parched,
beaten and sieved into fine flour. The Jewish Encyclopedia, in
the article entitled, Omer, has this to say about the
"After the grain had been gathered it was brought to the courtyard of the Temple, where, according to R. (Rabbi) Meir, it was parched while it was still in the ear; according to the other rabbis, it was first thrashed and then parched. The grain was ground into coarse meal and then sifted through thirteen sieves until it became very clean, after which the tenth part was taken, the measure of the omer, and given to the priest. ... The priest proceeded with the omer as with any other meal-offering, he poured oil and frankincense over the meal, waved it, and then burned a handful of it on the altar; the remainder was eaten by the priests."
(Vol. IX, p. 399).
The manner of waving is also
described in the same article:
"The offering was placed on the extended hands of the priest, who moved them backward and forward (to counteract the effects of injurious winds) and then upward and downward (to counteract the effects of injurious dews; ...). As soon as the omer ceremony was completed the people of Jerusalem were permitted to eat of the newly harvested grain; people of towns far from Jerusalem might not do so until after noon, when it was certain that the ceremony at Jerusalem had been concluded."
(Vol. IX, p. 399)
As any grain farmer will tell you, the most harmful things to a ripe grain crop are high winds, which cause the grain to fall to the ground making it impossible to harvest; heavy rains which flatten the grain stalks, making in difficult to harvest; or several days of consistently heavy dew which can cause the grain to mildew. Apparently the waving part of the ceremony accompanied the priests prayer that these conditions not occur, so that the farmers could bring in the full harvest of good grain during the next fifty day period.
Since the Offering of the Omer took place during the morning hours of the "morrow after the Sabbath;" and since there was considerable work that had to take place before the omer was properly prepared, the next question is, when did the cutting of the grain take place. Alfred Edersheim (a nineteenth century Messianic Jew), in his classic work; The Life arid Times of Jesus the Messiah, tells that part of the story in beautiful detail:
was probably about the same time, that a noisy throng prepared to
follow delegates from the Sanhedrin to the ceremony of cutting
the Passover-sheaf. ... This Passover-sheaf was reaped in public
the evening before it was offered, and it was to witness this
ceremony that the crowd had gathered around the elders. ... When
the time for cutting the sheaf had arrived--that is, on the
evening of the 15 Nisan (Edersheim holds to the Pharisaic view
that the sheaf was always cut at the end of Nisan 15) even though
it were a Sabbath, just as the sun went down, three men, each
with a sickle and basket, set to work. Clearly to bring out what
was distinctive in the ceremony, they first asked of the
bystanders three times each of these questions: Has the sun
gone down? With this sickle? into this
basket? On this Sabbath?... and lastly,
Shall I reap? Having each time been answered in the
affirmative, they cut down barley to the amount of one
(Vol. 2; Book IV, p. 619).
Even though the sun had just gone down (the Sabbath did not officially end until three stars were visible and the ceremony of Havdalah had been performed), the cutting of the sheaf actually took place at the very end of the Sabbath day (whether it be the weekly Sabbath or 15 Aviv).
In summary this is what took place. At the end of the Sabbath as the sun was going down, but. before Havdalah had been performed, the barley grain was cut by members of the Sanhedrin (San-head-rin), the Jewish Supreme Court. This cutting was witnessed by pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for the festival. The cut grain was then taken to the courtyard of the Temple that evening, where it was thrashed, parched with fire, and ground into flour. The flour was then put through thirteen different sieves so that what remained was both pure and very fine in texture. From this fine flour, the equivalent of two quarts (an omer) was taken. The next morning this omer was offered in the Temple in the manner of an ordinary meal offering with the exception that it was waved before HaShem prior to it being offered, and prayers were said as preparation for the coming grain harvest.
At this point, the general grain harvest could begin. During the first part of the fifty day count, barley would be the chief grain to be harvested. However, as other grains became ripe they too could be harvested without any further ceremony. The other chief grains, in addition to barley, were wheat and spelt. Of the three grains, barley was the more common and of coarser texture. It was primarily used as food for animals (oats were not grown in ancient Israel). The preferred grain for bread was wheat, and only the common people of the land ate bread made from barley.
~ The Time Setting ~
In the time of the
first and second Temple periods, the religious Hebrew calendar
(which is a lunar calendar) was governed by actual observation.
Each new moon had to be visually sited by at least two credible
witnesses and then approved by the Sanhedrin. Because the
calendar months were based on the cycles of the moon (each of
which had either 29 or 30 days), the twelve month
lunar year always came up several days short of the
solar year (the year as determined by the rotation of
the earth around the sun). Thus it was necessary to add a
thirteenth month every two or three years.
Eventually, in a span of nineteen years, the solar
and lunar years came back into perfect conjunction.
In the days when the Temple was in use and observation from Jerusalem was the key to the calendar, the Sanhedrin had to take several things into account before proclaiming the beginning of the month of Aviv* (also known as Nisan), the first month of that sacred calendar. For it was during the month of Aviv that the festivals of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread were celebrated, Because the Omer had to be waved during this period, it was crucial that the barley grain be properly ripened so that the required offering could be performed. It was for this reason that the first month was named Aviv, which literally means a green ear. Thus, Aviv is the month of green ears.
[*Many Christian sources and some Jewish ones spell the name of this month Abib. This is because the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet bet or vet, can be pronounced either as a "b" or a "v." When the dot, or dog-ash, is present in the center of the letter it is pronounced "b," when it is missing it is pronounced "v." The first month of the sacred calendar is correctly pronounced Aviv (Ah-veev) rather than Abib (Ay-bib), as many English speakers are prone to do.]
As the end of the twelfth month (Adar) approached, representatives of the Sanhedrin would examine the barley fields around Jerusalem to see if the grain would be ready for harvesting during the upcoming Days of Unleavened Bread, a little over two weeks away. If it was apparent that the grain would not be ready, they would proclaim a thirteenth month (called Adar II) and everything would be postponed one month.
However, there were earlier signs that could also indicate whether the new year would need to be postponed or not. One of these signs was the appearance of the almond blossoms. Since they would appear well ahead of the green ears of barley, the blossoms were early indicators as to when the new year would begin. Another factor was the weather conditions. If the rains lasted later than usual it would be highly unlikely that the almond blossoms and the barley crop would be ready as expected. In addition, late rains would make it well nigh impossible for the pilgrims to come to Jerusalem for Passover because the roads would be impassable. However, in the end the bottom line was that ripe barley grain had to be available in order for the Omer Wave Offering (Wave Sheaf Offering) to take place. Without the ripe barley there could be no Omer Wave Offering; without the Omer Wave Offering there could be no festival of Passover; and without the festival of Passover there could be no festival of Shavuot since there would be no new wheat flour available to make the two loaves of leavened bread that were central to the Temple offering for that day.
~ The Passover Connection ~
Passover (and the Days of Unleavened Bread), and Shavuot are tied together by a common thread known as Sifret HaOmer (See-fret Hah Ohmer = Counting the Omer). It is for this very reason that Jewish tradition teaches that Shavuot is the conclusion or culmination of the Passover season and not a stand alone festival. The reason for this is apparent.
It is taught that Shavuot
is part of the Passover experience and cannot be separated from
it, because the children of Israel needed to have instruction (Torah)
in order to function as a viable free nation under the authority
of HaShem. In other words, they could only experience
true liberty if it were under the rule of law (Torah).
So it was, on the fiftieth day of the Omer count, that the spring moed or appointed time of Shavuot (Day of Pentecost) was observed. It too was called a day of firstfruits. Thus the Counting of the Omer both begins and ends with a day which, in some way, represents the firstfruits of the harvest. During this entire time, not only was grain harvesting taking place, but late in the fifty days the early fruits also began to ripen. Thus, Shavuot marked the end of the spring grain harvest and also the beginning of the summer fruit harvest, the time when the firstfruits of that harvest were brought to the Temple.
Another way of looking at these festivals is in the context of a marriage ceremony. Passover represents the acceptance by the bride (the children of Israel) with the betrothal cup presented to her by her prospective Husband, YHVH. By accepting the blood of the lamb, and placing it on the doorpost of their homes, the
children of Israel were accepting the Ketuvah, their marriage contract or covenant. Then, at Mount Sinai, the actual wedding took place. The Bridegroom (YHVH) appeared, the Bride (the children of Israel) was present, the best man (Moshe) was there, and the wedding vows were exchanged by the Bride accepting the terms of the Ketuvah or covenant.
"So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words (the Ketuvah) which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, All that the LORD has spoken we will do. So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD."
It is interesting to note that in
Jewish practice, the Sabbath before Shavuot is
termed, Shabbat Kalah, which is the same
name given to the Sabbath before any brides wedding.
However one wishes to view this event, the simple fact is that Passover and Shavuot are definitely interconnected.
~ Sifret HaOmer ~
Although the day of the Wave
Sheaf Offering is not a commanded assembly, and the day is
not designated as a Holyday, it nevertheless was an extremely
important event in ancient Israel. Since no harvesting of any
spring grain could take place until this ceremony had been
successfully completed, and since the Scripture also commands
that one count the days starting with this day, it truly is
an important and pivotal day on the spring calendar.
The fact that we are commanded to specifically count the fifty days of Sifret HaOmer, leads us to the conclusion that each one of these days could have special significance. In Jewish thought, Sifret HaOmer is not a countdown, but rather a countup to the next moed (appointed time or festival), The Feast of Pentecost or Shavuot. In other words, it is leading us from one very important festival up to another. This same connection is made with Succoth (The Feast of Tabernacles) and Shemini Atzeret (The Eighth Day) in the fall. Here the Eighth Day is tacked on immediately following the conclusion of Succoth. It is said that HaShem intended Shemini Atzeret to also fall some fifty days later, but in His mercy decided not to require the children of Israel to have to make a pilgrimage during the cold and rainy winter season. (See the article; Shemini Atzeret, in Issue 96-3 for details).
Why do we need to count the days? What could possibly be the significance of such an exercise? Our Father has His reasons. It is our duty to try and determine what those reasons might be and what spiritual lessons we might learn from the exercise given to us.
~ Still In Darkness ~
Jewish tradition teaches that the
Exodus began during the early morning hours of Aviv or Nisan
15 (while it was still dark), which in that year was the fifth
day of the week (a Thursday morning),
Before moving on to Mount Sinai, the children of Israel had to find a way across the Sea of Reeds. Most Jewish tradition places this event on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, seven days after the Exodus. However, another view has it on the third day of the Exodus. Three days would have brought them to the first day of the week (a Sunday) for the crossing of the sea.
The crossing of the Reed Sea marks the completion of the redemption phase of the journey, because up until that point there was still a danger that Pharaoh might be able to force the children of Israel to return to slavery. Once the crossing of the sea took place, Pharaoh and his army (representing HaSatan and his demons) no longer had any hold over the redeemed children of Israel. Thus, the Reed Sea crossing symbolized baptism and completed the redemption phase.
Now, the children of Israel had to journey on to Mount Sinai to receive HaShems instruction (Torah). This journey would bring them to the fullness of their wedding with HaShem (YHVH), for He had redeemed them from slavery to their evil adoptive father, the Pharaoh of Egypt, who had held them in bondage. The Mount Sinai experience brought them into the fullness of being HaShems people, by giving them the instruction (Torah) they needed to fulfill that role.
The symbolism of crossing the Reed Sea after three days of exposure to the darkness of Pharaohs pursuit, corresponds with Yeshuas three days and nights in the heart of the earth before He fully conquered sin, thereby completing the redemption phase for our lives. The symbolism of baptism in the Reed Sea corresponds to our baptism. Yeshuas burial, and the Fathers faithfulness in raising us up with Him makes it possible that we too might live a new life.
"In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? ... For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin....
"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, ..."
(Rom. 6:1-2, 5-6, 8)
~ On the Road To Sinai ~
Now the children of Israel can begin their Sifret HaOmer journey. Let us take that journey with them by examining the events that were recorded as they made their trek from the Reed Sea to Sinai.
* Marah *
The first stop in their Omer journey, after their passage through the Reed Sea, was their arrival at Marah.
"So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah.
"And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
"So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and when he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them. And there He tested them, and said, If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you."
If indeed the children of Israel
crossed the Reed Sea on the first day of the week, and their
journey to Marah took another three days, they would
have arrived there on 21 Aviv, the Last Day of
Unleavened Bread. However, Jewish tradition teaches that the
children of Israel spent many days by the shore of the Reed Sea
after their crossing, because of the spiritual high which they
were experiencing from that event. But the decision to move did
not rest upon the children of Israel, it was determined by HaShem
(YHVH) who led them with the pillar of cloud by day and
the pillar of fire by night.
The Wilderness of Shur is said to mean envision, so it is thought that they followed the pillar of cloud because they wanted to envision another encounter such as they had experienced at the Reed Sea. However, things were to be different now. Instead of experiencing another great event they ran out of water, one of several trials the children of Israel were to go through during their journey to Sinai. When they did arrive at Marah the water there turned out to be bitter and undrinkable. They complained to Moshe, who intervened on their behalf with HaShem, and the water was made sweet.
- Lesson number one: Once we have been redeemed (bought with a price by the blood of the Lamb), and have passed through the waters of baptism, trials will be forthcoming. However, our Father in heaven can turn bitter trials into great blessings if we will only go to Him through our Mediator, Yeshua HaMashiach, and ask for help. For we are told to: "...count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
* Elim *
Following this trial, HaShem (YHVH) granted the children of Israel a brief time of peacefulness and plenty.
"Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters."
According to tradition, there were twelve wells or springs of water at Elim so that each tribe could have one to itself. Also there were seventy palm trees so that each of the seventy elders could sit in shade while performing their judgment duties.
* The Wilderness of Sin *
The next event occurs on the fifteenth day of the month of Iyar, the second month of the sacred calendar. The children of Israel are now one full month removed from the beginning of the Exodus. It was on this day that they entered the Wilderness of Sin (in Hebrew the word is pronounced seen). Once again problems arose. The food that the children of Israel brought with them from Egypt had run out. They were tired and hungry and complaining came easy.
"And the children of Israel said to them, Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
As a result of their complaining, HaShem determined to give them food in a manner that would provide a daily test for them.
"Then the LORD said to Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.
"Then Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, At evening you shall know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD; for He hears your murmurings against the LORD. But what are we, that you murmur against us? ... Your murmurings are not against us but against the LORD."
- Lesson number two: HaShem tests His children to see if they will walk in His way on a daily basis. The purpose of these trials are:
"..that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ..."
(I Pet. 1:7)
Although the manna was sufficient to provide all of the nutritional needs for the children of Israel, because they complained about not being able to eat from the flesh pots of Egypt, HaShem decided to also give them meat to eat in the form of quail.
"And the LORD spoke to Moses saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel Speak to them, saying, "At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God."
"So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
"So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, What is it? For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: "Let every man gather it according to each ones need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.
It is interesting to note that the amount of manna that the children of Israel were to gather was one omer for each person. Likewise on the sixth day of the week they were to gather two omers for each person. Also, no matter how much each person gathered, they all ended up with one omer apiece.
Now comes what seems to be an unusual test:
"And Moses said, Let no one leave any of it till morning"
Of course that did not seem logical. After all, they had already experienced hunger on this trip, who was to say it would not happen again? So instead of obeying the direct command of HaShem, some decided to put aside a portion for the next day.
"Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was very angry with them."
Of course the story of the manna does not end here. On the sixth day of the week the people were commanded to gather two omers of manna so they would not need to go out to gather on the Sabbath.
"And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.
"Then he said to them, This is what the LORD has said; "Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning,"
"So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it.
"Then Moses said, Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none.
"Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
"So the people rested on the seventh day."
- Lesson number three: Trust and obey the instructions of HaShem (YHVH). Living according to HaShems instruction book (the Torah) requires faith. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Heb. 11:6) Without faith we could become frightened by the consequences of certain prescribed practices. Some of His instructions do seem a little peculiar to those of us who have been raised in the modern world. For this reason many of us try to rationalize our way out of observing them, because they might make us look or seem strange to our relatives and neighbors. "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special (KJV = peculiar) people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy."
(I Pet. 2:9-10)
Keeping the Sabbath is often times one of these frightening instructions.
"If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My Holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken."
* Rephidim *
The next trial on the journey to Mount Sinai is an old one revisited.
"Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people contended with Moses, ... "
Once again, Moshe had to go to HaShem for instruction on how to provide for the needs of the people. in this case, Moshe was called upon to strike a rock, out of which flowed the water that was so necessary for life.
- Lesson number four: We need to have daily contact with our Father in heaven. We must continually drink of the living water in order to live a Torah centered lifestyle amidst a world of sin. "Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give Me a drink," you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water."
"...For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ."
(I Cor. 10:4)
* War *
The next trial of the children of Israel was an all out war against them by the people of Amalek. We must remember that the children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for at least eighty years, if not longer. They did not have fighting skills, and without the help of HaShem they would have been at the complete mercy of Amalek and his troops.
"Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand."
As long as Moshe was able to hold the rod of God with his hands raised to heaven, the men of Israel prevailed. However, when his arms became tired and he had to rest them, the army of Amalek prevailed. Therefore, Moshe, called on Aaron and Hur to help him by supporting his hands so that Israel could win the battle.
"So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword."
- Lesson number five: Sometimes we need help to win our spiritual baffles. At those times we need to humble ourselves by asking our brothers and sisters to lift us up in prayer, that we might prevail over the attacks of the enemy.
* Jethros Visit *
The last recorded event in the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt to Mount Sinai was the visit of Moshes father-in-law, Jethro. Moshe had acquired the burden of being the sole judge for all of the children of Israel, some 600,000 men, plus women and children. This proved to be a problem for both Moshe, who had to listen to every dispute and make a judgment, and for the children of Israel, who had to wait long periods of time to have their cases heard. Jethro provided the perspective needed to solve this problem by suggesting that Moshe appoint lower level judges to hear the less difficult cases, leaving only the most difficult for himself.
"So Moses father-in-law said to him, The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself.
"Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.
"If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.
"So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said."
- Lesson number six: Do not try to be Superman or Wonder Woman. We are only human, and we need to learn to bring other good people into the service of HaShem. The mark of a good leader is that the work over which he has been in charge will continue to function in the proper manner and direction once he is gone.
~ Mount Sinai At Last ~
Although it took less than fifty days, it has nevertheless been a long and eventful road from the Reed Sea to Mount Sinai. Now final preparations had to be made before the wedding ceremony and Ketuvah reading (giving of the law) could take place.
"Then Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives."
The people were to
be sanctified (that is set apart) by two
methods; the washing of their clothes and refraining from sexual
relations with their wives. In Jewish understanding the command
to wash their clothes implies that immersion in a mikvah
(meek-vah = immersion pool) would also take place. If this was
done at Mount Sinai, there must have been a body of water or a
river nearby that would have allowed for this to happen. The
bottom line for both of these instructions was that the people
had to become ritually clean so that they could be allowed
to come before their Husband, HaShem.
It is interesting to note that a Jewish bride always immerses in a mikvah the night before her wedding.
- Lesson number seven: in order for us to come before the very throne of our Father in heaven, we too must be ritually clean. While immersion in the mikvah symbolizes this cleanliness, true spiritual cleanliness comes only through the cleansing blood of the Lamb, Yeshua. "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
(I John 1:7)
~ The Big Day ~
is now complete. The children of Israel have arrived at the
fiftieth day from the day on which the Omer Wave
Offering was to be made. It must be remembered that in the year
of the Exodus there was no actual Omer Wave Offering.
That instruction had not yet been given, nor could it be observed
until they became permanent residents of the land, for they did
not raise crops during their forty years in the wilderness.
Nevertheless, their journey was a type of the future Sifret
HaOmer (Counting of the Omer). The children of Israel
did indeed act out (for our instruction) the difficult fifty day
journey from their baptism in the Reed Sea to their full
acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Just as we do
not know when our Husband, Messiah Yeshua, will come for
us, they did not know exactly how long they would have to journey
before their marriage was consummated through the giving of the Torah.
This fiftieth day was also symbolic in another way, for the Torah laid down the rules they were to observe concerning the land Sabbaths and the Jubilee year once they had entered into the land.
"And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: "When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.""
Just as the seventh day of the week was to be a Sabbath of rest for the people, so each seventh year was to be a Sabbath of rest for the land.
""And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.""
Just as each week begins with six working days and ends with a Sabbath of rest, so the land was to be farmed for six years, ending with a Sabbath year of rest. Then, just like the counting of the Omer, forty-nine years (days) were to be complete and the fiftieth year (day) was to be the Jubilee when everything was restored to its original state. Thus we can see that Shavu'ot also symbolizes HaShems plan to return us to our original state, without sin, just as Adam and Eve were without sin in the Garden of Eden prior to the fall. No wonder this was the day on which our Saviour sent His Bride the engagement ring of the Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit).
"Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
Now the Bride has
not only been redeemed from her sins, she has also been
given liberty in law (Torah), plus the empowerment
(Holy Spirit) to be able to follow the instructions found in that
law. If any one of these three essential ingredients is missing
in a persons life, the completion of the redemption process
cannot take place for that individual. The beautiful part about
it is that initially all we need to do is believe and say
"Yes," just like the Bride at her wedding. So it is
that the offerings of Shavu'ot picture the Bride of
Messiah, those who are the called out ones.
It now becomes clear why the festival of Shavu'ot is the goal of the redemption process, for it completes that process thus bringing to an end the spring holy days. The firstfruit offerings are now complete, and the long summer harvest season can begin.
~ Firstfruit Symbolism ~
The counting of the Omer begins and ends with special offerings that carry the designation firstfruits. It must be understood that in the Brit Chadasha (Breet Hah-dah-shah = New [or Renewed Covenant or Testament), there are two applications of the word firstfruits to human beings. Shaul (Paul), makes it clear that the designation of firstfruits is primarily applied to Yeshua Himself.
"But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christs at His coming."
(I Cor. 15:20-23)
But there are others who are also called to be a type of firstfruits:
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures."
"Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Fathers name written on their foreheads, ... These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God."
Thus we see that certain human beings are going to be redeemed into a group that are referred to as firstfruits. Since Yeshua was the first to be cut free from the earth (resurrected), He becomes the first of the firstfruits:
"For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He (Yeshua) might be the first born among many brethren."
indeed the first to be raised from the dead, but there will be
many more to follow Him. Thus He is properly symbolized by the
very first offering of the spring grain, in the ceremony known as
the Wave Sheaf Offering. Likewise, "...those who are
Christs at His coming." are properly symbolized by the
leavened bread offerings at the festival of Shavu'ot. HaShems
planning and symbolism is quite profound.
The dictionary defines firstfruits as: "The first gathered fruits of a harvest, offered to God in gratitude." In the symbolism of the Omer Wave Offering, the barley must be offered be-fore any other harvesting can take place. As already mentioned this offering represents the Messiah, who offered Himself as a sacrifice so that this initial harvest of souls can take place. Barley is the coarsest of grains, it was only used for bread baking by the poor common people. It is no accident that our Messiah, Yeshua took upon Himself the lowliness of human flesh, for thus He is represented by the barley grain of the Omer Wave Offering.
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. ...
"Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. ...
"Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."
(Heb. 2:9, 14-15, 17-18)
Not only does the
barley grain itself provide a beautiful symbol for Yeshua;
the cutting of the sheaf of barley, the processing
of the grain, and the waving of the omer all
provide us with a fitting review of the things which He
experienced. For example, the barley grain was cut free from the
earth just as Yeshua was resurrected back to life from
the emptiness of death. Just as the Priests had to prepare the
barley grain for the Omer Wave Offering, so Yeshua
had been prepared throughout His life for the sacrificial role He
was to play. They thrashed the grain (Yeshua was
thrashed by the Romans), they parched the grain (Yeshua
went through the fiery trial of death), they sieved the grain
through thirteen sieves (Yeshua was sieved by constant
testing throughout His entire lifetime). In other words, Yeshua
was fully prepared to represent the finest human barley
flour possible. He was fully prepared to be the Omer
Wave Offering for the early harvest of the firstfruit
souls, just as the barley grain was fully prepared to be the Omer
Wave Offering for the early grain harvest.
Finally there was the actual ceremony of the Omer Wave Offering which was held in the Temple itself. This was accomplished during the morning sacrifice ceremony on the first day of the week during the festival of Passover. As the group of women made their way to the tomb early Sunday morning, the priests in the Temple were offering their omer of barley grain in the traditional Omer Wave Offering ceremony. At that very same time, Yeshua was being presented before His Father in heaven as our Omer Wave Offering. We can rejoice in the fact that he was accepted by the Father, after which He returned to spend the next forty days with His disciples here on earth.
It was the prior evening, at the very beginning of the first day of the week, "... while it was still dark ..." (John 20:1), that Mary Magdalene met Yeshua in the garden.
"Jesus said to her, Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.""
It was the next morning that He was accepted by His Father as our totally acceptable Omer Wave Offering.
"But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption."
The spiritual Counting of the Omer can now begin. Its culmination will come fifty days later when Yeshua sends His Bride a most precious betrothal present, the Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit).
~ Sifret HaOmer With Yeshua ~
The forty days that
Yeshua spent with His disciples, from the time of His
resurrection until He was taken up into heaven, were the first
forty days of Sifret HaOmer (Counting of the
Omer). For this reason, we need to examine what took place during
those days to see if there are any clues to help us better
The information given in the Gospel accounts concerning those particular days is sketchy at best. Matthew and Mark tell us practically nothing except for the fact that Yeshua did indeed appear to His disciples on a number of occasions. In general, both accounts tell us that the disciples did not believe the reports of Yeshuas resurrection until they actually saw Him with their own eyes. For this lack of faith they were rebuked:
"Afterward He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen."
Faith is a difficult thing. It is not something that a person can work up, either a person has it or he does not. However, if we lack faith, we can go to our Father in heaven and ask for it.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Luke gives a little more information by including the story about Yeshua meeting the two men on the road to Emmaus. The core of this teaching was about the many passages in the Torah and the Prophets that alluded to the first coming of the Messiah.
"And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself."
John brings in an additional account about the Yeshuas appearance to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). The disciples had gone fishing at night and had not even caught one fish. In the morning, as they drew near shore, they saw Yeshua standing there, but they were too far out to see that it was He.
"Then Jesus said to them, Children, have you any food? They answered Him, No.
"And He said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of ......
"Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken."
What is significant about the number 153 that it should be included in this story? E.W. Bullinger in his book Number in Scripture, tells us that the number 153 is a gamatria (gamatria is the numerical equivalent of Hebrew words) of the phrase "sons of God" (in Hebrew; bnai haElohim). Bullinger equates the phrase with redemption. According to Yacov Rambsel, author of Yeshua the Hebrew Factor, the Hebrew phrase ha Pesach (the Passover) also has a gamatria of 153. Of course, Passover is the festival of redemption.
It was after their breakfast of fish that Yeshua inquired of Simon Peter about the extent of his love for the Messiah.
"So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me more than these? He said to Him, Yes, Lord: you know I love (phileo) You. He said to him, Feed My lambs.
"He said to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me? He said to Him, Yes, Lord: You know that I love (phileo) You. He said to him, Tend My sheep.
"He said to him a third time, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (phileo) Me? Peter was grieved because He said to him a third time, Do you love (phileo) Me? And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You. Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep."
This passage cannot
be understood unless one knows about the two different Greek
words used in the New Testament that are both translated into our
English word love. Agape refers to the
highest level of love, the kind of love that Yeshua and
the Father have for us. Phileo is the word used to
describe a typically human love between brethren, that of
brotherly love. At this point in Peters Sifret
HaOmer journey to the Day of Pentecost (when he would be
imbued with the Holy Spirit), he did not yet have the fullness of
God given Agape love.
Then Yeshua made another point to Simon Peter by letting him know that the fate of each of us lays in the hands of the Father and Yeshua. It is not up to us to decide whether we live long and prosperous lives, or whether we die a martyrs death.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.
"This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, Follow Me.
"Peter, seeing him (the apostle John), said to Jesus, But Lord, what about this man?
"Jesus said to him, If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?"
One of the major
lessons both the children of Israel and Believers in Yeshua
must learn, is that we have no choice but to place ourselves into
the care of our Messiah and our Father in heaven. They control
our destiny if we will but let them rule our lives.
At the end of the forty days, Yeshua gave His disciples their final instructions.
"The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."
One of those last instructions included the Great Commission.
"And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
"So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God."
Luke fills in the rest of the story at this point in the Book of Acts:
"And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, He Said, you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
Given that it was only ten more days until Shavuot, it is very probable that the disciples expected the baptism Yeshua spoke about to take place on that soon coming festival. However, just like most of us modern Believers, the disciples were more interested in prophecy than in the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit).
"Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?
"And He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Yeshua skillfully directed their attention away from the current political situation and the timelines for future events, back to what was really important, the receiving of the Ruach HaKodesh. We can all take a valuable lesson from Yeshuas final words. It is not for us, the Bride of Messiah, to know exactly when He will return for us. But rather, while we wait, we need to occupy our time with both learning and doing the will of our Father in heaven. Perhaps this is the ultimate lesson in the entire experience of Sifret HaOmer.
~ Omer Counting for Believers ~
It is all well and
good to understand intellectually the meanings behind the
symbolism surrounding the Omer Wave Offering. However,
as physical human beings we often need certain forms or rituals
to help us not only grasp, but to hold on to, the truths that we
have learned. It would be easy to enjoy the understanding of the
Counting of the Omer, as you read this or other
articles, and then totally forget it when the actual days of the Omer
are occurring. As a modern bride awaits her wedding day, she
counts the days. Each day is filled with some activity that
points her towards the big day which is her focus. The same
should be true with the days of the Omer, for the final
goal of the spring festival season is Shavu'ot. As each
day proceeds, we should focus towards that goal, preparing
ourselves during the forty-nine day journey that culminates in
our acceptance of the Torah instruction, and the
receiving of our engagement present, the Holy Spirit. It is both
an annual review of past events, and a rehearsal of the very
fullness which is yet to come.
The traditional Jewish practice during these days is to count each day in the evening, as it begins. A blessing may be said as part of the counting ceremony. It might go something like this: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has given us Your commandments and commanded us concerning the counting of the omer." It is customary to count both the days and the weeks. For example, on the fifteenth day one would say: "Today is the fifteenth day of the Omer count. That is, two weeks and one day."
For those who wish to delve deeper into the spiritual meaning of these days, there is another ancient Jewish tradition which teaches that during this period of time one should meditate on what are known as The Seven Holy Attributes. These seven attributes are:
Since there are seven weeks and seven days in each week, there can be one predominant attribute for each week, which is then combined with each of the seven during the individual days of that week. For example, the first week would focus on various aspects of Chesed or Loving Kindness. Here is how it would work:
The second week we would focus on Gevurah, Severity or Strength. Again, each of the other attributes will be combined with Gevurah as the subject for meditation each day of the week.
The overall focus
of the third week is Tiferet or Beauty. Again, all seven
attributes are combined with Beauty, one on each day of the week.
The fourth week finds Nerzach or Victory to be the key. Combining each of the other attributes with Victory helps us to understand how we can become victorious Believers in Yeshua.
The fifth week is the week of Hod or Glory. Now the Glory of HaShem and of Yeshua are the center of our attention as each of the attributes is combined on each one of the seven days.
The sixth week centers around Yesod or Intimacy. How we can become more intimate with our Father in heaven and with His Son, Yeshua. Each day brings new insights.
The seventh week is taken up with the attribute of Malchut or Majesty. Yeshua is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is our Husband, Saviour, Elder Brother, High Priest and Mediator. Reflecting on how each attribute is displayed in His life, will help bring us successfully to Shavu'ot, the final goal of our forty-nine day journey.
A spiritual exercise of this nature is like climbing a ladder. As we move up each step on the ladder we move closer to our Father in heaven. When we reach the top rung of the ladder (step number forty-nine) we are then prepared to move into the Day of Pentecost, a picture of the great year of Jubilee. Because we have taken the time, and made the effort to move closer to HaShem, it is believed that He will come down to meet us, on that great day of Shavuot just as He did when He gave the Torah to the children of Israel, and the Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit) to the Believing community.
"Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. ... Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. ..."
~ In Summary ~
In the past, most
Believers have paid little or no attention to the forty-nine days
that lead us from the crossing of the Reed Sea to the experience
of receiving HaShems instruction and His gift of
the Holy Spirit. It is our hope that this article will stir the
hearts of all of our readers to make the most of these extremely
important days. They are days during which we should focus on
moving from the slavery of our former lives, to the experience of
liberty in law, through the power of the Holy Spirit. For both
the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Holy
Spirit were indeed, gifts of freedom and revelation for those who
experienced them. Our experience should be just as profound, but
it cannot be unless we take the time to prepare and move towards
However, there are pitfalls. Forty-nine days can be a long time. Just as the children of Israel were constantly distracted by their physical problems (thirst, hunger, war, etc.) so the Adversary will try to distract us from focusing on moving forward spiritually during this period of time. Perhaps it would be helpful to take forty-nine 3 X 5 cards and write one of the forty-nine combinations of attributes on each card, and number a card for each of the forty-nine days. Then each day we can carry that card with us, and when time permits we can look it to remind us what should be the focus of that day. Notes concerning the insights we gain throughout the day can be written on the back.
Sure, its a crutch, its a physical thing, like writing the law on our doorposts or tying tzit-tzit on our clothes, but it sure can help us to stay focused. There is nothing wrong with using physical things to remind us of what our spiritual obligations should be, as long as we do not begin to worship the object instead of our Creator.
Another possible method to keep our spiritual focus during these days, is to review each of the stops made by the children of Israel during their journey from the Sea of Reeds to Mt. Sinai. The seven lessons that are given in this article might provide a starting point for your spiritual journey of Sifret HaOmer. This method could also be combined with the teachings which Yeshua gave to His disciples during those last important days He spent with them before He was taken up into heaven.
Whatever we do during these forty-nine days, the important thing is to remember that each day is special unto itself. Because it is special, it is important that we remember each day in some special way, so that when we arrive at Shavu'ot we have a sense of having completed a very important journey.
Shalom and happy counting!
~ Sources ~
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