About a year and a half ago I began a countdown to two very important events. I was expecting not only my first grand baby, but my second as well. The babies were due about a week apart and I had pregnancy tickers on my desktop to remind me of the development of these two little ones and the passage of weeks until their due dates. Finally, last May they were born, not a week apart, but three (One needed to come early.). It was a time of rejoicing that will live long in my memory!
It is common to count down to an important event, but how many times have you heard of somone counting up to an event?!
When we are in the middle of the "counting of the Omer," we count up, beginning with the first day and ending with the 49th day (Pentecost being the 50th day.). Many, I'm sure, have wondered why the count has traditionally been done that way. Not being Jewish, I really don't have any answer to this, but I do have some impressions.
Certainly, the counting is meant to be a way of marking when Pentecost (Shavuot) occurs, and it is meant as a connection between the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost, but it seems that it would have been easier to mark it by a date, similarly to the 14th of Nisan marking the day when the Passover lambs were killed. There must be some importance, then, in the counting itself.
If you are counting up, does that highlight the coming event in some ways more than if you were counting down? Perhaps, although this is certainly a subjective impression. But let's run with that idea.
Passover and the Exodus from Egypt is the central redemptive event in Judaism. What possibly could compare to the way the Israelites' lives were changed from slavery to freedom? If God wanted the people not to rest on the great miracles they had participated in during the Exodus and wanted them to move forward, to look for that next important step, maybe a count up would do just that. But what was so important about Pentecost, that God decidedly shifted His focus to it?
Most Christians believe that Pentecost was the beginning of the church, but Pentecost's history began during the days of Moses and the Israelites. Since they were wandering around in the desert and had not planted any crops, the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost were not actually celebrated until they came into the land.
Leviticus 23:10 (KJV)
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:
It is believed, however, that something very important occurred on what would have been Pentecost.
Exodus 19:1-6 (KJV)
In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.
For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Fifty days after the Passover (in the first month) the Israelites came to Mount Sinai (in the third month). When Moses went up onto Mount Sinai, God told him to tell the Israelites that if the people would obey His voice and keep His covenant, they would be God's treasure above all people.
This event was a milestone in the life of the people that marked another significant change for the Israelites. Is it no wonder that God commanded the people to remember Pentecost, not only as a time of gratitude for the wheat harvest, but for the establishment of the covenant as well?
As we "count the Omer" are you joyfully anticipating the coming celebration of Pentecost?
More on this next time.