What is the Counting of the Omer?
Preparing for His Power and Presence
Hidden in Passover week, amidst the celebration of the second night’s Seder (for those outside Israel) and the afterglow of the commemoration of leaving Egypt (for those in the Holy Land), stands a little-known appointment on the biblical calendar. Starting from the second night of Passover, the Bible encourages us to all become “Pentecostals” by initiating a forty-nine-day minor festival culminating on the Day of Pentecost—“Pentecost,” meaning “fifty.” The first fruits festival, known as “The Counting of the Omer” or simply “The Omer,” marks a culmination of three unique historical events and has enormous significance in the life of a disciple of Yeshua.
The Torah roots this festival in the thanksgiving offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (Leviticus 23:9-10; Deuteronomy 16:9-12). During this festival, the Torah commands the Israelites to bring the first sheaf, or “Omer” in Hebrew, of the harvest to the Temple before consuming the new barley and wheat crops. This Torah precept battled against the agricultural customs of the Canaanite nations that related the growth of grain to various local gods (see Hosea 2) to assure that the Children of Israel would thank the proper God and not fall into the traps of idolatry. This practice can be compared to a modern-day employee or business cheerfully giving to the needs of the community so that “the One who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (1 Corinthians 6:10, see also vv. 6-15). Additionally, the Torah prohibited using or eating any of the barley and wheat crops until the offering of the Omer, the first of the new grain, was brought up to the Lord.
Beyond its agricultural significance, the Omer marks the fifty days between the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. We can see the connection between Passover and Shavuot as we reflect on how the holidays are celebrated. Passover centers around matzah (unleavened) bread (Exodus 13:6-7), and fifty days later, Shavuot includes an offering of two chametz (leavened) loaves—the only holiday when chametz is brought on the altar all year (see Leviticus 2:4-6, 11). The “maturing” process of going from matzah to chametz bread symbolizes the spiritual maturing process of going from freedom from slavery to the revelation of the Almighty and the receiving of His Torah at Mount Sinai. Sandwiched between the two events lies a fifty-day period of spiritual growth that the Children of Israel needed to graduate to the status of becoming God’s “special” nation.
Drawing on this connection between Passover and Shavuot, we find a third significance of the period of the Omer. Sunday morning, while the women discovered Yeshua’s empty tomb, the high priest Caiaphas was busy mixing the barley flour with oil and frankincense to prepare it as a bread offering for the first Omer offering. That day, the same day of Yeshua’s resurrection, began the fifty-day count to the festival of Shavuot. This link makes the Counting of the Omer a season of particular significance. We remember the resurrected Yeshua, as all His post-resurrection appearances fell within this period. Paul used the image of the Omer and the grain harvest when speaking of Yeshua’s resurrection.
Just as the firstfruits offering of the barley made all the rest of the barley harvest possible, so too the resurrection of the Messiah makes the resurrection of the dead possible. – (1 Corinthians 15:20).
After His resurrection, Yeshua appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem and commanded them, saying, “I am sending the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in [Jerusalem] until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Fifty days later, when Shavuot had come, the disciples were all together in the Temple in Jerusalem when “They were all filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh (God’s Holy Spirit) and began to speak in other tongues as the Ruach enabled them to speak out” (Acts 2:4).
The Counting of the Omer takes us on a spiritual journey.
How to count the Omer:
We enter this journey through a countdown beginning from the second night of Passover through the evening of Shavuot. Each evening, the counter recites a blessing: “Blessed are You, LORD Our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to count the Omer” and states, “Today is X days of the Omer.” After the first six days, one counting also includes the number of weeks, for example: “Today is 13 days, which is one week and six days of the Omer.” If one misses an entire day’s count, the counting continues without reciting a blessing. Each night’s count is followed by reciting Psalm 67 and a few short petitions for spiritual cleansing and renewal. The Hebrew version of Psalm 67 contains exactly forty-nine words corresponding to the forty-nine days of the Omer. It also includes the themes of the harvest and God’s salvation (Yeshua) being made known over all the earth. The Counting of the Omer guides us on a spiritual journey of preparation, self-introspection, and maturing of our character traits. It offers an annual period to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) to bring us to a higher revelation of God and the individual mission He has for each one of us.