Encouragement in Waiting: Counting the Omer from Passover to Pentecost
But those whose hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
In the Law of Moses, we receive the following instructions as to how we are to live during these 49 days, 7 weeks, between the celebration of Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).
Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees. Deuteronomy 16:9–12
The counting of the Omer, Passover and Pentecost
This period between Passover and Shavuot is known as the “counting of the Omer.” The Omer is a measurement of barley, which was one of the sacrificial elements presented in the Temple at Passover. Passover commemorates the people of Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. It was a time of redemption, of transformation from slavery to a people liberated and sanctified by God Himself. They were to become a people who reflected the Creator’s values and holy ways of living. These instructions for holy living were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai seven weeks after he led his people out from the bondage of Pharaoh. The Bible refers to this day as Shavuot, the feast of Weeks. It is also known as Pentecost and is, according to Jewish tradition, the time when God gave the Commandments (Torah) on Mt. Sinai. In the New Testament we also see the Messiah’s promise to send the Holy Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples in Jerusalem.
What happened biblically during the first counting of the Omer
The Scriptures tell us that the days following the Hebrews liberation from slavery were full of faith-testing challenges. They crossed the Red Sea with the Egyptian army in pursuit. They needed to trust in divine intervention for sustenance: manna, quail and water from the rock. Walking through the desert taught the people of Israel that they needed to rely completely on God’s provision and to obey His instructions. Even after experiencing incredible miracles, learning to rely on God and not complain or become bitter was truly a challenge. Those of you who have visited Israel and Egypt with us can attest to the lack of comforts in the wilderness here. Many of us can admit that if we had been in the wilderness with them, our reaction would have been similar to theirs. Sadly, as we know from the Biblical account, it took an entire generation of wandering through the wilderness for God’s people to mature from a nation of slaves to one of free men and women.
Biblical prophecy and foreshadowing around Passover and Pentecost
The Scriptures teach us that events in the Old Testament (Tanach) foreshadow the life and work of Jesus. We can see this principle by contrasting the Passover, the exodus, the people of Israel’s time in the desert and the giving of the Law on Shavuot (Pentecost) with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as his teachings for how to die to sin and live to God.
Jesus was crucified just before the Passover. Most of the disciples fled and hid as soon as the Romans arrested Jesus. His arrest exposed the weakness of their faith and even the disbelief of some, even after all the miracles they had seen and the life changing teachings they had heard. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, those he referred to as his friends. Now, He instructed them to wait for him, to “stay in the city.” I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49
A biblical example of waiting
We can only imagine the excitement the disciples must have felt to see that their teacher, their Rabbi, the one they believed to be Messiah of Israel was indeed all they hoped. He had even defeated death! They must have wanted to share this good news with everyone they could. Yet Jesus told them to wait. Unlike the children of Israel, who had such a hard time trusting in the wilderness, the disciples obeyed God and waited. Luke’s account tell us they were “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53).
We know the rest of the story: we read “when the day of Pentecost (Shavuot) was fully come, they were in all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).As we continue, we learn that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to share the good news of the Messiah’s resurrection, as well as his teachings. This time, the disciples waited. As a result, they were filled with God’s power, not their own. The fruit of their patience was that many believed their message and received salvation.
Encouragement as we wait for coronavirus to end
Waiting in our modern age, where we can enjoy instant gratification and receive immediate answers, is perhaps harder than ever before. This era of coronavirus has required that we wait. It has interrupted our daily lives. We cannot reach our destination or accomplish our goals in the time we expected, or perhaps at all. I believe we can apply the lessons of the period between Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost), between the crucifixion of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to what we are experiencing today. Will we will be like the children of Israel, who struggled against God in their journey into freedom from slavery? Will we be like the disciples, who were shaken in their faith by hardships that they did not expect? Or, will we follow their better example and trust in God’s power as we wait?
It is my prayer that we can take heart and encouragement from these lessons from the Bible, and trust God to bear fruit through this season of waiting.
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14