With the conclusion of Passover, we have entered into a time known on the biblical calendar as the Counting of the Omer, or simply the Omer.
The Omer begins the day after Pesach and is a forty-nine-day count-off to Shavu’ot. God commands the Israelites to literally count each day. This sounds a bit strange, right? Why does God want the Israelites to count the days leading up to the festival after Passover?
To understand the Omer’s value, let’s recap the meaning of Passover. Passover is known as the Season of Freedom because it is the time that God took his children out of Egypt and slavery and made them his people. We also know that, at Passover, our Master Yeshua offered his life to establish salvation for all humanity and bring humanity out of the slavery of sin to serve God fully. The exodus from Egypt was the beginning of the Israelite story, not the end. Similarly, Yeshua’s death on the cross marks the beginning of a journey of discipleship. We know that once we accept that salvation for ourselves, we begin a lifelong pursuit of discipleship and development to live up to the standards that Yeshua laid out for us. Understanding this journey is the key to understanding the value of the Omer.
One popular idea in Judaism is that the first Counting of the Omer after the exodus culminated in the children of Israel receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. We also know that the first disciples of Yeshua were given the Holy Spirit fifty days after his death at Passover. (Many connections exploring Shavu’ot and the giving of the Spirit can be found on this website here, but for now, I want to stay focused on the Omer.)
So far, we’ve learned that the events of the giving of the Spirit and the giving of the Torah occurred fifty days after two incredible events of salvation and deliverance. With this in mind, we can see how the LORD would use the Counting of the Omer as a time of introspection and preparation for the newfound freedom he has granted us and how we are to live out that freedom.
In Psalm 90, Moses pleads with God to grant man insight into the days of his life that he may live them out with intention and not fall into the same faults of his past:
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. (Psalm 90:12-15)
One can see this Psalm as a reflection of the whole Passover-to-Shavu’ot narrative. For centuries, the children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt. Their lives had lost all meaning and purpose as they could not live for themselves, but only for their taskmasters. It was not until God removed them from Egypt that they were able to truly live. However, God did not take them out so they could live for themselves. He saved them so that they could dedicate themselves to serve him and carry out his will. This sounds familiar. Yeshua’s death also served this purpose. We were slaves to sin, living to satisfy our fleshly desires until God removed us from that life so that we could serve him.
This may be why God commanded the Israelites to count the forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuot. He knew the Israelites would not change overnight; he knew sin had conquered and defeated them and that they needed time to overcome and change their lives for good. God told them to count each day actively and take an accounting of that day. He wanted them to number their days so that they could see his great salvation and rejoice in his name. Each day was an opportunity to be better, to throw off the sin of their past and progress toward the holy mountain where they would receive his personal instructions for righteous living.
Yeshua’s death and the days after serve that very same purpose. Yeshua rose from the dead and began visiting his disciples. He was teaching them the deep meaning behind his sacrifice and the promises that were at hand. He was calling his disciples to throw off the yoke of slavery and live to the newness of life that his sacrificial death had offered. For fifty days, they were preparing to carry out Yeshua’s mission and spread the good news of salvation and the kingdom to the world.
Each day leading up to Shavu’ot is a new opportunity for us. An opportunity to prepare our hearts and minds to serve God more deeply than the day before. It is a day to live with intent and purpose, fully understanding our part in the bigger picture and doing what we can to turn that part into reality. We have been given a freedom that none of us earned or deserve, and we must dedicate ourselves to uphold that freedom.
As we count through the Omer this year, let us all take time to remember the amazing gift of salvation offered to us, and to also deeply take account of our lives and days to make sure that we are living up to the full potential of Messiah’s call on our lives. Each time we count a new day, we can count it with the full understanding that it is a day closer to being the disciples that God knows we can be. May Shavu’ot come this year with all of us prepared for this great mission!