I remember as a youngster seeing this countdown in the newspaper announcing how many shopping days were left until Christmas. Back then, that number was important because it had gaps – it did not include Sundays, because – back then – general retail stores weren’t open on Sunday. And the countdown didn’t start until the day after Thanksgiving.
Every day, the number grew smaller by one, heightening the anticipation of the arrival of that blessed day when the shopping was done and I would get the stuff that was purchased. Or maybe it was the pressure of time running out and having to decide what presents I was going to buy with that Christmas Club money I’d been saving. Either way, the focus of the countdown was clear. Those individual days really weren’t that important, and paled in comparison to the end point. Day zero. Christmas.
It was a countdown.
Counting The Omer (Wave Sheaf)
You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.
You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD.
In contrast to the countdown of shopping days ’til Christmas, the Biblical counting of the Omer (the sheaf of the wave offering) is a count up. The instructions are clear – count seven weeks from the day of the Omer, fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath.
Jewish tradition emphasizes the Scriptural command on how to count. Each day is recognized by reciting “Today is (say the number) days, which is (say the number) weeks and (say the number) days of the Omer,” declaring the number of days accumulated since the start and also expressing the time from the start in weeks and days just like Torah instructs. However, the number of days remaining until the end of the count is not acknowledged. Each day is an important step on the journey toward the destination, but not how much time is left until we reach it.
The destination, the end of the count, is Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. The Greek name of this feast is pentekoste, or Pentecost, meaning the “fiftieth (day).” It will have been seven weeks and one day since we started counting. In fact, because the Hebrew name means “weeks,” we count not only which day we are on but also the number of weeks and days that have passed since we started counting.
And what else is Shavuot? Scripture calls it the Day of First Fruits – Yom haBikkurim (did you think that was where we started?).
Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD in your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work.
The Omer is the wave sheaf of the barley harvest in the spring. Shavuot is the Feast of the First Fruits of the early wheat harvest. And what has been happening while the count progresses? The grain has been growing. Maturing. Getting ready for the harvest. Do you know what else was growing? Chametz. Leaven. Now don’t be thinking leaven is bad or evil. It is something that is used as an illustration in teaching, a tool to help us visualize things. But it isn’t in itself bad. A nice, sweet challah loaf is much more pleasant than that flat and brittle matzah, the bread of affliction.
The chametz started over again after Passover and the week of Unleavened Bread ended. In ancient Israel it wasn’t instantaneous; you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a package of active yeast to make your bread. No, you had to rely on the natural fermentation of the flour, drawing yeast spores from the air – sourdough. I don’t know about you, but I’ve failed more times than I have succeeded in getting sourdough started. But here we have almost seven weeks to get a good batch going. The command for Shavuot is to have two giant loaves of leavened bread. That takes time.
Today we live in what some have termed a “microwave society.” We not only seek instant gratification, we take it for granted. And it is much more than just hot buttered popcorn in 90 seconds. Taking time is almost a thing of the past.
Turn a handle and we get hot water; turn another handle and we get cold water. Flip a switch and we instantly light our dwellings until we flip the switch again. We turn a knob and start a fire in a grill so we can cook the already-cut steaks we took from the refrigerator after purchasing them at the supermarket just down the road. But we don’t even have to wait for that to cook. We can get a get a complete meal any time day or night without ever leaving the car that just carried us a several miles in a few minutes. Even obscure items will arrive with free Prime delivery to our doorsteps in just two days.
Perhaps the fast pace of today’s world makes us a little more numb to God’s working in our lives. Like our Israelite forefathers, he is bringing us out of bondage and into submission to him so he can prepare us for the Promised Land. But in our instant “have it now” world, we cannot fast-pace this commanded counting of the Omer. It takes fifty days. Day one. Day two. Day three. Each one of them is a unique and important step.
After his resurrection, Yeshua spent forty days with his followers “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). That was during the counting of the Omer, which all of them were doing. But when he ascended to the Father on day forty, he didn’t say “I’m outta here, receive the Holy Spirit and get going.”
He said to wait.
When the day of Shavuot had come, they were all together in one place.
(Acts 2:1 TLV)
Is there a destination in the counting of the Omer? Sure there is. But our God doesn’t want us to focus on the destination; he intends for us to experience the journey. Don’t count down to Shavuot. Count up – from…to – and count every single day.
Here’s something else I remember from my youth (if you don’t know me, you are about to realize how old I am!) I hope you enjoy it.
You got to stop and smell the roses
You got to count your many blessings everyday
You’re gonna find your way to heaven
Is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t stop and smell the roses
Along the way
(Mac Davis & Doc Severinsen, 1974)
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation