Yesterday my neighbor asked me what the significance of the Counting of the Omer was and I told her it was counting the days between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). She wanted to know what an Omer was and my brilliant response was that no one really knows – it is a measurement but no one knows exactly what that measurement is.
Actually, the Omer is first mentioned in the Exodus story of the Bible when God so graciously rained manna – a wafer-like bread substance – down from heaven with explicit instructions. Each day, the Jews on the desert were supposed to collect one omer of manna for each person in their tent. They were not to collect more or less – if they did and there was manna left over, it ‘stank’ as the Bible says. On the 6th day, they were to collect twice as much – two omers per person in their tent. Why? Because the 7th day was a day of rest and there was to be no collecting of manna then – in fact, there wouldn’t be any to collect as God would be resting as well.
God tells Moses that he is to collect an omer of Manna to store away as a witness to future generations what God had done for them. Isn’t that interesting? If they collected too much manna and had some left over the next morning, it would stink, but God would preserve this one jar of manna as a testimony for generations to come!
During this time on the desert, the Jews morphed from a renegade bunch of slaves into a well-organized body of people – the people group God chose to represent Him in the world. (Thus the hatred of Jews down through the generations – it’s called jealousy. But that’s another story.) Forty nine days after the Jews hurriedly left Egypt, God called Moses to a one-on-one meeting with him on top of the mountain where he gave the Ten Commandments, actually the Torah, to his chosen people. Forty nine days to change a people. Forty nine days to develop a nation.
Like Passover, the Jews were instructed to do this every year, forever. On the day after Pesach (Passover), in what would become known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they were to begin counting the omer for forty-nine days. The fiftieth day would be the day the Torah was given and which, in later generations, would become the day of Pentecost. Ideally, during these forty-nine days, as they count the omer, each person is taking a spiritual inventory of themselves. Are they worthy of receiving the Torah?
The counting of the omer also represents the time frame between two important harvests in Israel – Barley and Wheat. Once the Temple was established in Jerusalem, an omer measure of barley was presented daily to the priests, up until wheat harvest which would be at Shavuot. It all works together – the giving of the life-sustaining manna during the forty years in the desert; the sheaf of barley grain (an omer is considered the size of a sheaf of grain enough to feed one person for a day) and then the wheat harvest began and two loaves of bread made from wheat were offered up in the Temple. All of these sustain life! Manna, barley, wheat but most importantly, the Torah. All gifts of God to His Chosen People. God’s provision. Amazingly perfect – amazingly sufficient if we will just trust him.
Being a Christian, I cannot help but take this one step further and consider the provision God made for His People at the Mount of Beatitudes. Scholars tell us there were approximately 5,000 people there that day, plus the disciples and Jesus. It was on a hillside in the country and there was no 7-11 nearby. All they had was a five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus blessed the bread and suddenly, there were baskets full of bread and fish. Whether we like fish sandwiches or not is immaterial. The point is, God’s provision! It is always sufficient – always there, if we will just trust Him.