Why Count the Omer, Part 1: The First 40 Days
Counting the Omer – most are familiar with the culmination of the count, which is Pentecost, also called the Festival of Weeks. “Weeks” is taken from the Hebrew word “shavuot” and refers to the seven weeks that precede Pentecost. Leviticus 23:15 tells us to count the weeks between the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost:
“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.”
It’s called “Counting the Omer” because the omer was the unit of measure used in this counting process of tracking the grain harvest.
For the past few years, I’ve kept count of the 50 days, although not understanding why. I was like a child – obeying my Father because he’s my Father. As with all the Feasts, God has been faithful to teach me little by little each year in accordance with my desire for His revelation. One year brought insights about the count that I had never seen or heard of in my research.
I call it the Phases of the Omer Count. It provides a structure for the 50 days and reveals the purpose for us in each phase.
The 50 days of the Omer Count can be divided into three phases:
- 40 days
- 9 days
- The 50th day
The 40-day Pattern
As we know, the timespan of 40 occurs several times in the Bible. Some of the well-known ones are:
- After 40 years, Moses was called to lead the Exodus. (Acts 7:30-33)
- The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before the second generation entered into the Promised Land. (Deut. 2:7)
- After 40 days, Moses descended Mt. Sinai with the Torah on tablets (he did this twice) (Ex. 24:12-18 & Ex. 34:27-28)
- Yeshua spent 40 days in the wilderness before he began His earthly ministry. (Matt. 4:1-11)
- On the 40th day of the Omer Count, Yeshua ascended into heaven. (Acts 1:1-3)
As I thought about the theme of each of these 40-day (or 40-year) events, I found three commonalities that all of them share:
- They were times of preparation for those doing God’s work
- During this timeframe the harvest was prepared – those who would receive God’s message
- God’s power came forth in full strength after the 40 days
Here’s a quick reference chart showing how the three aspects apply to each event.
The first 40 days of the Omer Count follow this same pattern:
- A time of preparation for ourselves as God’s ministers
- The preparation of our harvest – or those whom God sends us to minister
- Walking in the full strength of God’s power after the 40 days.
So what’s our part in this? How do we participate with God during these 40 days?
What Did the Disciples Do During These 40 Days?
The Jews of Yeshua’s time, including his disciples, observed this count. We can look to them as our example.
Since Yeshua rose from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits (Matt. 28:1-10), and ascended into heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:1-3), all of Yeshua’s post-resurrection appearances fall within the first 40 days of the Omer Count.
We can track the activities of the disciples by examining where Yeshua appeared to them:
- The day following the Sabbath, some of the disciples went to the tomb, Yeshua appeared to them there. (John 20:11-18)
- The disciples were directed to go to Galilee to meet with Yeshua, which they did. (Matt. 28:16-20)
- Two of them were on the road headed to Emmaus (away from Jerusalem) when Yeshua appeared to them. (Luke 24:1-33)
- Twice they were gathered in Jerusalem in the upper room when Yeshua appeared. (Mark 16:14 & John 20:24-28)
- We know some of them had gone back to fishing, Yeshua appeared to them on the banks of the Sea. (John 21:1-14)
From what we can derive from their whereabouts, it seems they’ve gone on with their lives. They didn’t know what to do. But wherever they went, whatever activity they took up, Yeshua kept revealing himself to them, strengthening their faith, opening their eyes and giving them new understanding of himself and of the scriptures.
We know they were being prepared for ministry, but even after the 40 days, they didn’t realize it. Why not? Because God had not required anything of them, except that they count the days. They went about their normal lives. God pursued them. God revealed himself to them in the course of their normal lives.
What Can We Do During These 40 Days?
This is what happens for us during these 40 days – God prepares us as his ministers. All he asks of us is to:
- Count the days,
- Cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is showing us,
- Watch for new insight and revelation of God as we go about our normal lives.
Consider again the other 40 day events mentioned above. We see this pattern in each of those cases:
- Moses was going about his life, not praying for a new ministry, not enrolled in Bible school. He probably didn’t know he was being prepared for ministry over those 40 years.
- The Israelites had been wandering in the dessert for 40 years. During this time the first generation would’ve have primarily been training the second generation in the observance of the Torah. The second generation was eager to take the Promised Land, but had no idea how to prepare for God’s plan.
- What part could Moses play in bringing the tablets down from Mt. Sinai? He obeyed God’s instructions to come up the mountain; God had to do the rest.
- During Yeshua’s 40 days in the wilderness, all he could do was keep himself holy and respond to Satan’s temptations. He wasn’t practicing healing people or studying up on how to cast out demons.
This is a time when God does the preparation – preparation of us as his ministers, and preparation of our harvest, or those He’ll bring to us for ministry. Our role is to count, obey, watch for his revelation and cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
I encourage you to count the 40 days and participate with God in his preparation of you. We know what happened to the disciples on Pentecost, the 50th day – that’s a day I want to be prepared for!