There’s a period of time between Passover and Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks) known as “Counting the Omer” when the people of Israel were commanded to count the days. For fifty days after Passover, Jewish families do a countdown to the next festival: The Feast of Weeks, or in Hebrew, Shavuot (meaning ‘weeks’). This daily counting enterprise is known as sefirat haomer, which is Hebrew for Counting of the Omer. It’s been making me think of this verse:

Teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)


Generally speaking, if you ask Israelis what Shavuot is all about, they’ll talk about the giving of the Torah. Jewish people count fifty days from Passover, when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and seven weeks later it’s Shavuot, when He gave people of Israel the Law at Sinai.

“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:15-16)

You might notice though, that even as the instruction to count the days is clear here in Leviticus, there’s no mention of an omer. It merely mentions the wave offering of a sheaf of wheat for the Feast of Firstfruits, which points to the resurrection. The omer is mentioned, however, multiple times in Exodus 16. The omer is a biblical measurement, roughly equivalent to ten cups, and the Israelites were given their daily bread in the form of manna from heaven as they traveled through the desert on the way to Israel.

“This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” (Exodus 16:16)

The first mention of a word in the Bible is typically the key to understanding the meaning behind it, and here we see God providing for his people. It was part of the giving of the Law: God included instructions about what they could expect from Him on their journey regarding meal times. Free food! Enough for everyone. He also gave instructions for when they’d finally get to the Promised Land, and were able to sow crops for themselves. He knew not everyone would be wealthy, and so included provision for the poor—farmers were to leave gleanings at the edges of the field for those who were in need. It’s for this reason that the story of Ruth is read every Shavuot. It’s written right into the same passage about counting the omer:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”

In parallel we see in the New Testament the giving of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after the crucifixion. We need God’s Spirit even more than we need food. And God provides. He provided for poor after the harvesters, He provided manna in the desert, He gave the Law to the people of Israel gathered at Sinai, and the Holy Spirit to the disciples waiting in Jerusalem. God is a giver. Knowing this deep in the core of our being really matters.

Wait: transition time

Counting the omer is also about waiting and transition. There’s the seven week gap between Passover and Pentecost, and the days are counted as they go by. Numbers have great significance in the Bible: Noah and his family waited for forty days and forty nights for the rain to stop. Jesus was tested in the desert for forty days, and came back after rising from the dead for another glorious forty days. Right before He then ascended to heaven, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem. They waited ten days, till the Feast of Shavuot. It was at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, came and it caused quite the commotion. They were clothed with power from on high, just as Jesus said, and went out with great boldness to proclaim the gospel and explain to all who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks how the Messiah had come, been crucified, and that God had raised Him from the dead! Now is the time of salvation. The time of waiting for the Messiah, and for the Holy Spirit, was complete.

Counting days is what we do when we’re waiting for something to happen, and in general we are wishing for the limbo to be over and the day to arrive already. I’m sure the disciples must have had those thoughts as they waited in the upper room. Whether it’s looking forward to an event, a new baby, a vacation or a special day, we often count days wishing them to pass. Time moves slowly when you watch it. And perhaps that’s the point of counting the omer. God wants us to be conscious of our time, of our days. We’re often told that it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s more important but it doesn’t usually feel like that along the way.


The truth is though that a countdown can be good or bad. What are we moving towards? The Iranian regime recently made a poster of an hourglass warning that Israel’s days were numbered. Israel returned the favor with a similar message. A countdown can be ominous, like a threat. A warning.

The Hebrew word for harvest is katzir, connected to the word for cut. Similarly, the word for summer is kaitz, because of the harvest and the end of the agricultural year. It’s not for nothing that the grim reaper carries a harvesting scythe: life is cut off and brought to an end. The Hebrew for end is ketz,  the end of days is ketz ha yamim. There is a cut off point to this world. The wheat and the chaff will be separated, and while there is joy in the harvest, the chaff will be thrown into the fire.

Sometimes parents will do a countdown as a warning to their children, encouraging them that there’s still time to avoid punishment. Sometimes there’s a countdown on gameshows to urge the contestants that time is running out. When we understand our time is limited, it helps us make good choices about how to spend that time. When we understand we are in control of our destiny and that our decisions matter, it encourages us to make wiser choices.

Teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

The second month, a time of second chances

God doesn’t want anyone to perish, and wants all to be saved. Passover happens in the first month of the biblical year and the Feast of Weeks lands in the third month. When we look closely at the appearances of the second month in the Bible, in the middle of the counting of the omer, we notice that references to it are replete with the message of grace and second chances.

For example, while Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat on the 17th of the 7th month, the waters had not receded until the following Spring, and it was only in the second month, on the 27th day we’re told in Genesis 8:14, that the earth was finally dry and they all came out of the ark and started again. It was a new beginning, God gave the earth a second chance.

In the second month we also have “Pesach haShani” which is a provision from God for those who couldn’t celebrate Passover in the first month with everyone else, so He established “Second Passover” to give a second chance to celebrate for those who missed out for whatever reason.

However, when the countdown is at zero, there will be no more chances. God is gracious and has made provision for us in every way. His law demonstrates the generosity and grace in the heart of our Father, caring for the poor and the ones who missed out… giving us His Word, His Spirit, and everything that we need for the journey. He has given us instructions and warnings, second chances and ways of escape we can take, but Judgment Day will come. Let’s be wise with the choices we’re making and the way we live our lives here on earth. Don’t waste the days you’ve been given!

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:7-13)

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

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