By B. MICHAEL BIGG
MOST of us will have heard of, and know about, Passover: the Jewish feast commemorating God’s salvation of Israel while they were slaves in Egypt (Exodus 12). Fifty days later, is the festival of Shavout, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks.
Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name. You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning. You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. You shall cook and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents. Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God; you shall do no work on it. You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the LORD your God blesses you; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes (Deuteronomy 16:1-12—NAU ).
Passover occurs on the 15th day of the month of Nissan (in the biblical calendar, and also known as the month of Abib). Remembering that the Jewish day is from sunset to sunset, not midnight to midnight, the fifteenth begins after sundown of 14th day of Nissan. For us, in 2008, this means that Passover begins after sundown on the 19th of April 2008 (which is 7.10pm in Jerusalem, 8.02pm London, 5.29pm Sydney and 7.39pm New York, respectively). Following Passover, 50 days are counted for the day of Pentecost.
In giving these instructions, God told the Israelites to count off seven weeks, or 49 days, “from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain”. The day after, ie. the fiftieth day, is Shavout, or Pentecost (which is derived from the Greek word for fifty).
Fifty Days from the Sickle
The Jewish website chabad.org notes,
[The] 16th of Nissan also commences the 49-day “Counting of the Omer”, which retraces our ancestors’ seven-week spiritual journey from the Exodus to Sinai. Each evening we recite a special blessing and count the days and weeks that have passed since the Omer. The 50th day is Shavuot, the festival celebrating the Giving of the Torah at Sinai.
However, there are some differing opinions on when to start counting the seven weeks. The question is when is the sickle put to the standing grain? Rabbinic Judaism, as illustrated above, says the day after Passover, but is this truly the case?
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf (omer) of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. ‘He shall wave the sheaf (omer) before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. ‘Now on the day when you wave the sheaf (omer), you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the LORD. ‘Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the LORD for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine. ‘Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. ‘You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf (omer) of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. ‘You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD (Leviticus 23:9-16).
Biblical holidays are Sabbath days, that is to say that they are to be treated, respected and honoured as much as, if not more than, the weekly Sabbath. So, the Rabbinic Jewish argument (or point of view) is that the Sabbath that is mentioned in these verses of the Bible is Passover, and they start counting the seven weeks from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread . However, this seems counter intuitive from what the verse actually says. You must read into “Sabbath” a reference for Passover. And though there is some truth to this statement, it should be noted that though Passover is a Sabbath, Sabbath is not necessarily Passover. Sabbath days can include:
- • Passover (Pesach),
- • the Feast of Unleavened Bread(Hag HaMatzah),
- • the Feast of First Fruits (Bikkurim),
- • Pentecost (Shavuot),
- • Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah),
- • the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur),
- • the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot),
- • Sabbath Years and the Year of Jubilee
- • and the Weekly Sabbath
It is worth noting also that, Lamentations speaks of “The appointed feast and sabbath”6, First Chronicles says, “to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals”7, and in the New Testament, Paul in Colossians says, “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day”8.
Are all these days Sabbaths? Yes, but context shows the true reference.
In the northern hemisphere, Passover, Unleavened Bread and the Feast of First Fruit are Spring Festivals occurring around March-April. At the time of Passover the Barley crops would be maturing and be ready for harvest, followed later by the wheat crops. However, as we read above, harvesting and eating of these new crops could not happen until a sample, that is a sheaf (or bundle of approximately 3.5 litres in volume) and also known as an omer was brought to the Temple at sunrise on the first day after the weekly Sabbath which follows Passover. And so, though Passover can happen on any day of the week, and the festival of Unleavened Bread (in which no leaven was to be eaten) went for eight days, First Fruits always happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but was always on the first day of the week (that is, Sunday, from our perspective) which followed Passover.
So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb (John 19:40–20:3).
The Day of Passover was the first day of the eight-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, during which no leaven (or yeast, a symbol of sin) was to be consumed; also in this period was the Feast of First Fruits. This feast occurred on the day after the weekly Sabbath (Friday night—Saturday day), meaning the first day of the week (Saturday night—Sunday day). It was at this time, on this day, during this feast, that Jesus was resurrected. And it is here that we can understand what is meant in the words that Jesus is the “first born of the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5) and “firstfruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). And likewise, on this day, He showed himself to the disciples.
And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognising Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see. And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the scriptures. And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the scriptures to us?” And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon”. They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognised by them in the breaking of the bread. While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you” (Luke 24:13-36).
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you”. And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20:19-20).
Three days after he was crucified, Jesus rose again and appeared to his disciples for a period of forty days. As Shavout (Pentecost) approached, Jesus ascended back to heaven, with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit.
He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you (John 14:24-26).
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you (John 16:7).
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:4-5).
For ten days they were to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come on the Day of Pentecost. Using next year’s 2009 calendar as a guide, we can put the sequence of events as:
|April 4||Saturday Day [not the traditional Sunday] Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem The Passover Lamb was to be inspected and tested for five days, to ensure it was without spot or blemish (Exodus 12:5)|
|April 7||Tuesday Night The Last Supper|
|April 8||Wednesday Day Passover Lamb killed Christ Crucified and Buried Wednesday Night Passover Begins (Night One)|
|April 9||Thursday Day Passover Day (Day One) Thursday Night Unleavened Bread Begins (Night Two)|
|April 10||Friday Day (Day Two) Friday Night (Night Three)|
|April 11||Saturday Day (Day Three) Saturday Night First Fruits Begins Jesus’ tomb discovered empty in the morning whilst it was still dark [John 20:1]|
|April 12||Sunday Day Jesus meets his disciples on the road to Emmaus|
|May 21||Thursday Day Jesus Ascends back to heaven|
|May 30||Saturday Night Shavout/Pentecost Begins|
|May 31||Sunday Day Shavout/Pentecost Day|
For three years Jesus taught in Jerusalem, and surrounding regions. For three years his disciples, particularly the apostles, were taught by Jesus Christ. But more than this, after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to them over a period of forty days. How much did the disciples and apostles learn over that forty day period ... how much could we if we had spent forty days with Jesus?
until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:2-3).
As the Feast of First fruits instigated the Barley Harvest, so Shavout/Pentecost instigated the Wheat Harvest. And just as a sheaf or omer of Barley was to be brought to the Temple on First Fruits, so Wheat, in the form of two loaves was to be brought at Shavout/Pentecost.
There could not be a harvest without the presentation of the crop’s first fruits before God.
You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD. Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two male lambs one year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the LORD; they are to be holy to the LORD for the priest (Leviticus 23:15-20).
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:22-23).
Where Passover was a certain date, namely the 15th of Nissan, the Feast of First Fruits was a variable Holy Day, always the first day of the week following Passover.
So if the 15th was a Monday in a given year, First Fruits would be the 21st; likewise if the 15th was Thursday, First Fruits would be the 18th.
For this reason, God commanded that the Israelites count seven Sabbaths, rather than give a fixed date for Shavout/Pentecost, the date in the calendar would move, though it would always be the same day of the week.
Commemorating this count from First Fruits to Pentecost (particularly in Rabbinic Judaism) is the Counting of the Omer: counting down the days to Shavout/Pentecost.
Counting the Omer
Fifty days after the very first Passover in Egypt was the giving of the law, on stone tablets, at Mount Sinai. Fifty days after the Passover of the Lamb of God, His death, burial and resurrection—was the giving of grace and law, to be written on the flesh of our hearts (cf. Ezek 11:19, 36:26).
Too often we seem not to consider the duration of time in which things have and are occurring when reading the Word of God.
Let us Count the Omer, let us count the days, and consider God and His Word—and what the Holy Spirit could truly bring to our remembrance after spending forty days—not with a program, not with a purpose, not with an agenda, but with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—the Word of God.
How much more, then, might the Holy Spirit be able to work through us, so that “devout men”—people truly seeking God—might ask of us, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) and be prepared to hear the Good News, the Gospel, of the Kingdom of God.
Nevertheless, there will still be, as there was for the apostles, others, who will mock and say, “They are full of sweet wine” (Acts 2:13).
The best we might hope, in such circumstances, is that the mockers will be out of the church, rather than in it.
It is worth reflecting and looking back at Passover just gone (20 April 2008), and consider the duration of time—the number of days—to Pentecost (8 June 2008), and consider, how much wiser and better off would “I” be, if I spent forty days during this period with Jesus?
Maybe the church should start Counting the Omer, truly spend time with the Lord, and consciously be aware of the days from Passover to Pentecost and spend that time in the Word of God.
Consider the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who spent but half a day.
They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” —Luke 24:13
About the Author
1 All scripture is from the NAU (New American Standard, Updated 1995), unless otherwise stated.
2 The times for sunrise and sunset are dependent upon where you are in the world on any given day. The more northerly or southerly from the equator (and the earth’s axis tilt) the later the respective time; to the point that at the north and south poles, you have six months of daylight and six months of night. Generally we are use to this phenomenon and those living closer to the poles enjoy longer days (thanks to the twilight) and some countries implement daylight savings to compensate.
3 Begin Omer Count Tonight. WWW Page. , cited 9 May 2007
4 The “day after the Sabbath” is not without controversy. It must be noted that the seven feast days throughout the Jewish year were also Sabbaths. As such, the Pharisees contended that the Sabbath day mentioned is the Passover, whilst the Sadducees contended it was the weekly Sabbath. Based on the reading of the verse in Leviticus, and the second use of the word Sabbath, it would seem that the Sadducees are correct. As such, their understanding of the verse is used in this article.
5 The origin of the Rabbinic Jewish view seems to come from the Pharisees and their oral interpretation of the Torah (law and teachings). The Sadducees (which included the Levites and High Priest, and who rejected the Pharisees’ view of the oral law) held that the Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, with the destruction of the Temple in 70AD the Sadducees all but disappeared and the “waving of the sheaf” could not be performed by the High Priest. Now only the Karite sect within Judaism retains the weekly Sabbath interpretation for counting to Shavout (see also http://www.jewfaq.org/holidayb.htm and http://www.jewfaq.org/defs/karaites.htm).
6 Lam 2:6 (NAU)
7 1 Chr 23:31 (NAU)
8 Col 2:16 (NAU)
9 Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are sometimes used interchangedly. As such, the feast period in which no leaven was to be eaten was eight days, one day for Passover and seven days for Unleavened Bread.
10 CWM respects the right of difference of opinion by good men about detailed calculations like these. Many, such as Arnold Freuctenbaum, Jacob Prasch, Josh McDowel et al accept Friday as the day of crucifixion. Others, such as Dave Hunt, calculate Thursday as the day, while others like ourselves—B. Michael Bigg and Philip Powell, are inclined to the idea that it occurred on the equivalent of our Wednesday, based on a literal understanding of Christ’s words in Matthew 12:40. What do you think and why?
11 The modern Rabbinic Jewish calendar starts counting the fifty days from the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, that is, the day after Passover, Shavout/Pentecost begins at sundown on the 28th May 2009.
12 I have used the date of Passover in 2008 and not Easter 2008 (which was March 23 in the “western” church).