“And you shall count from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days to the morrow after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to Adonai.” –Leviticus 23:15-16.
Counting the Omer is a tradition that goes back to the first temple period and even earlier. It is not one of the more colorful Jewish traditions, but it is authentic and ancient.
Omer has a double meaning: (1)a bundle of cut grain on the stalk and (2) a measure of grain which is one tenth of an ephah (Exod. 16:36). In the verses above, the “sheaf” of the wave offering is an omer. In Exodus 16:16, the Israelites were told to take an omer of manna each. In these two verses we see the word used both ways, for a bundle of cut grain on the stalk and for a measure of grain.
Counting the Omer means counting the fifty days from the “morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover until the “morrow of the Sabbath” seven weeks later. It is the time from one Omer waving to another. The first Omer waving is the firstfruits of the barley crop, which is ready at Passover. The second Omer fifty days later is the firstfruits of the wheat, ready at Shavuot (Weeks, called Pentecost in the New Testament).
There has been debate for millennia about the meaning of “morrow after the Sabbath.” Does it mean to start counting on Sunday of Passover week, which is the day after Saturday or the Sabbath as we normally think of it? Or does it mean to start counting on the second day of Passover (Nisan 16) since the first day of Passover is a Yom Tov or a special Sabbath?
My opinion, which I do not seek to prove here, is that in Yeshua’s time, the Sadducees who ran the temple offered firstfruits on Sunday in keeping with their interpretation. Later tradition has followed the opinion of the Pharisees, that firstfruits is offered on the second day of Passover, Nisan 16. Thus, Christian Pentecost is always on a Sunday, while Shavuot can be any day of the week it is always on the 6th of Sivan (beginning the night before at sundown).
This year Shavuot begins Thursday night, May 28, and is all day Friday, May 29. In between we count the Omer each night, beginning Thursday night, April 9.
The counting involves gathering the family to recite a blessing (and many families have the kids mark it on a calendar). The blessing goes like this in English (the Hebrew can be found in a Siddur): Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the Omer. Today is ___ days which is ___ weeks and __ days of the Omer.
So that’s the counting of the Omer. Now, why did I bring the UMJC into the topic? The UMJC is the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (umjc.net). And the UMJC has added some spiritual readings and prayers to the counting of the Omer. I think this is a great idea and so I am publishing, for those who care to follow (all verses are the Jewish or Hebrew numbering which sometimes differs):
Thursday, April 9: Acknowledging our separation — Isaiah 59:1-2.
Friday, April 10: Confession of sin — Hosea 14:2-4.
Saturday, April 11: Return to God — Malachi 3:7.
Sunday, April 12: Rededication — Psalm 51:12-14.
Monday, April 13: Renewed vision for Yeshua and Jewish life — Zechariah 9:9; Acts 21:20.
Tuesday, April 14: Prayer for the future — Isaiah 57:15-18; 59:21.
Wednesday, April 15: Thanksgiving for a renewed relationship with God — Isaiah 58:11-12.
. . . I will publish the other weeks of the Omer each week. Blessings to you and your family this Omer counting season and for these days of Unleavened Bread (Passover).