The Feast of Firstfruits
Leviticus (Vayikra) 23 provides a list of all seven festivals Elohim gave to the children of Israel to observe. Verses 1 and 2 introduce these holidays by calling them the feasts of Adonai:
“And Adonai spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of Adonai, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are my feasts.’”
Two key terms emerge from these verses: feasts and holy convocations. The first word derives from the Hebrew word “moed,” “appointed time.” The second term derives from the Hebrew word “mikra kodesh,” “a set apart, holy gathering” of people. Mikra derives from the Hebrew root “kara,” meaning, “to call” and “kodesh” derived from the Hebrew root, “kadesh.” Therefore it has been translated into a holy gathering or holy convocation. Joining these two concepts, we learn that each festival is an appointed time when Elohim gathers His people to meet with them.
The Counting of the Omer
The Counting of the Omer begins a 50-day period, culminating in the festival of Shavuot. This season begins on the day an Omer of barley was waved in the Temple as a “firstfruits” offering. The Biblical command is taken from Leviticus (Vayikra) 23:9-15:
“Adonai said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel, ‘After you enter the land I am giving you and harvest its ripe crops, you are to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He is to wave the sheaf before Adonai, so that you will be accepted; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Shabbat. On the day that you wave the sheaf, you are to offer a male lamb without defect, in its first year, as a burnt offering for Adonai. Its grain offering is to be one gallon of fine flour mixed with olive oil, an offering made by fire to Adonai as a fragrant aroma; its drink offering is to be of wine, one quart. You are not to eat bread, dried grain or fresh grain until the day you bring the offering for your Elohim; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live. From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving — you are to count seven full weeks. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Shabbat; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Adonai.”
From this passage in Leviticus (Vayikra), we can draw a number of conclusions. Verse 10 states, “after you enter the land . . . and harvest its ripe crops.” This indicates this festival occurs at a specific harvest time. The Land of Israel produces at least three harvest seasons. The early spring harvest of barley, the late spring/early summer harvest of wheat, and the fall harvest of fruit. Since the context of this passage occurs in early spring during Pesach, we know it refers to the barley harvest. The “sheaf,” therefore, would be a sheaf of barley.
Verse 11 declares, “the priest is to wave it on the day after the Shabbat.” By using the term “Shabbat,” we know the waving of the sheaf must occur after a specific Shabbat day during the barley harvest season. Furthermore, as the passage is linked with the festival of Unleavened Bread, it teaches us that this Shabbat occurs during the week of Unleavened Bread.
In the first century, a controversy arose between the Sadducees and the Pharisees over the interpretation of “the Shabbat” in this passage. The Sadducees, composed mostly of priests, taught “the Shabbat” mean the regular Shabbat occurring during the week of Unleavened Bread. According to their interpretation, the waving of the Omer would always occur on a Sunday.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, interpreted “the Shabbat” to mean the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15), since this day was also counted as a Shabbat. We know this from verse 7 which says, “On the first day [Nisan 15] you are to have a holy convocation; don’t do any kind of ordinary work.” According to their interpretation, the waving of the Omer would always occur on the 16th day of Nisan.
The controversy was not a small matter. This day begins a period of counting off 50 days, ending on Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot is one of the three festivals in which all males are required to appear before Elohim in Jerusalem (Exodus 23:14-17). Starting the count on the wrong day means Shavuot would be observed on the wrong day as well, thus violating the command to appear before Elohim at the appointed time.
The Sadducees based their interpretation on verse 15 and 16,
“From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving — you are to count seven full weeks. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Shabbat; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Adonai.”
The verse literally says, “Count seven Shabbats.” The Sadducees interpreted “Shabbats” to mean seven regular Shabbats. The only way to count 50 days and include seven weekly Shabbats is to begin the count on Sunday. The Pharisees maintained that “Shabbats” meant weeks in this case, not Shabbat days.
Since Yeshua fulfilled the prophecy of the Omer when He rose from the dead, a logical solution for Messianic believers might lie in discerning what day of the week Yeshua was actually resurrected. However, even this approach does not provide a clear-cut answer. According to gospel accounts (Matthew [Mattityahu] 28:1-6; Mark 16:1-6; Luke 24:1-7; John [Yochanan] 20:1-9), Yeshua rose from the grave on Sunday during the week of Unleavened Bread. This seems to give weight to the Sadducees’ conclusions. Scripture clearly states He was placed in the tomb at the close of Nisan 14, just as the Shabbat of Unleavened Bread was approaching (John [Yochanan] 19:31). Many believe the weekly Shabbat and the Shabbat of Unleavened Bread occurred on the same day that year. Accordingly, if Yeshua was entombed late Friday afternoon, and assuming this view is correct, the waving of the Omer would have occurred on Sunday, fulfilling the Sadducees’ interpretation, yet also on Nisan 16, fulfilling the Pharisees’ requirement. To state the obvious, both interpretations are fulfilled.
However, this presents a major problem in the fulfillment of Yeshua’s words in Matthew (Mattityahu) 12:40. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Moreover, according to Leviticus (Vayikra) 23:15 and 16, the counting must start on the day after the Shabbat, and we must count seven Shabbats. Therefore, we conclude that in order to be able to fulfill the prophecy of three days and three nights, Yeshua was entombed late Thursday afternoon. This also reinforces the Biblical command to start counting the Omer on the Sunday after the regular weekly Shabbat, and as such determining the festival of Shavuot.
Today the Rabbinic tradition follows the Pharisees and to start counting the Omer on the 16th of Nissan.
The commandment to count the Omer
Scripture commands us to actually count the days and weeks from the waving of the omer to Shavuot. Leviticus (Vayikra) 23:15-16 states:
“From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving —you are to count seven full weeks, until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to Adonai.”
How does one count? Any time after sundown, the father of the house should say, “Today is 1 day of the Omer; today is two days of the Omer; today is 2 weeks and 2 days of the Omer; and so on.” As Messianic believers, some may want to also include the traditional Jewish blessing prior to counting. The blessing, in English, says, “Blessed are you, O Adonai our Elohim, King of the Universe, who has who has sanctified by your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.”
How the Omer points to Yeshua
As previously discussed, the Omer is a firstfruits offering of barley (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:10-11). On this day, Yeshua rose from the grave as a type of firstfruits — a guarantee of the future full harvest of resurrected souls.
About The Author
Rabbi Amnon and Rebbetzin Lynette Shor are international conference speakers on prophetic subjects, the Middle East conflict, Biblical holidays, and Jewish cultural life. Rabbi Shor has appeared on many radio and television programs which include CBS, CBN, TBN, and Jewish Voice. He has also worked with Promise Keepers as the international liaison to Israel and the Middle East, and with the Road to Jerusalem Ministry as global spokesman.
Rabbi Amnon Shor, was born in Israel to an orthodox Jewish family. His grandfather Zachariah was a Rabbi in the local synagogue. Rabbi Shor learned the Old Testament and the Jewish Law from early childhood. After his service in the Israeli Army, where he fought the Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he set out to see the world working for EL-AL Israel’s Airlines , where he met his wife of 41 years Lynette. They have three children and seven grandchildren.