I love spring time in California! The hills are a vibrant green with an abundance of wild flowers poking their heads up through the grass. Poppies are a favorite; they look like brilliant declarations of sunshine in the grass. I also like Tidy Tips and Baby Blue eyes and Lupines, Shooting Stars, Indian Paintbrush and Chinese Houses; I suppose the list could go on forever! What flower don’t I like?! I love the blue skies and the warm days, the Oak trees bursting forth their new, fresh, spring-green leaves. In all that I love about spring I never stopped to think about how this time of the year relates to scripture, outside of Passover being the first of the spring festivals, (which is soon upon us!), followed by a week of Unleavened Bread during which First Fruits is celebrated which begins the counting of the Omer. (Now tell me again, just what is the significance of counting the Omer?)
From the celebration of First Fruits to Pentecost or Shavuot is the time of the counting of the Omer — 50 days we are commanded to keep count, but for what purpose? I have read a lot of ideas about the significance of the Omer, and they are all good ideas, but none of them really answer the question of why. We do it because scripture commands us to, but why? We know the “why” behind Passover and Unleavened Bread and Shavuot and Trumpets, Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles, so it seems to follow that there should be a “why” for the counting of the Omer as well.
We have just returned from spending three months “down under”. While in New Zealand we met some new friends that through this encounter I believe I may have discovered a “why” for the Omer. During one of our conversations the man said to me, everyone loves spring, winter is releasing its grip on the land, the days are getting longer, warmth is creeping back into our bones, but because we no longer are an agricultural society we don’t realize that spring is actually a time of want and potential starvation. Wow! That was a new thought!
Fall is the time of plenty; the harvest is brought in and either canned, dried or preserved in some manner to be eaten during the long winter months. By the time the days lengthen and the sun warms up the soil enough to plant most of the winter food stores have been eaten.
In an agricultural society as soon as the soil can be worked people are out preparing it for planting. They put the seeds in the ground and pray for enough rain to germinate the seeds and then they wait. Each day during that anxious time they check their planting. Have the seeds sprouted? Have the deer or rabbits or gophers gotten into the fields? Are the plants flowering yet? Will the weather remain stable? Is the fruit coming on?
Passover is a time to remember our story of deliverance from bondage. The first fruit offering is a sacrifice of trust. And what exactly is our First Fruit offering; along with barley, the people were to 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.” (Leviticus 23:12-14) It is the end of winter, your food supplies are pretty low, it will be a bit of time before the garden is producing and God wants you to bring Him, besides barley, a lamb, your reserve of fine flour (wheat) mixed with oil and wine and on top of that you are not to eat bread, roasted grain or new growth until you have made your offering!
Planted in the fall, barley matures 60 days after spring growth begins, providing there are no frosts. (-1 degree C will cause a loss of up to half the crop and -5 degree C will destroy the entire crop.) With a good growing season barley will begin to mature in time for Passover with harvesting continuing through the counting of the Omer. As the barley harvest is ending the wheat harvest is beginning. At Shavuot, or Pentecost, bread made from the freshly harvested wheat, which is known as the finest of the grains, is brought before YHVH as a wave offering. This is the second of the wave offerings presented to YHVH; one still being the grain in the sheaf, not yet ready for use — that being Barley, and the second being a product of threshing, winnowing, grinding, fire, in other words refined; Bread made from Wheat. This makes me think of us as Believers in Yashua YHVH; when we first come to know our Messiah we are like barley; the most basic, the coarsest of grains. We are not yet ready for use. But as we keep our eyes on Yashua and allow the Ruach haKodesh/Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, we are cleansed and refined, nourished and strengthened; transformed into the finest of grains, an acceptable offering before YHVH!
YHVH has promised in His word to never leave us or forsake us and in the cycle of seasons He demonstrates His loving care for us year after year. In this modern era of grocery stores and supermarkets we, most likely have lost sight of the agricultural significance of YHVH’s cycles. The fall of the year represents plenty; the harvest provides for the dark days of winter. The barley, planted in the fall, is waiting for six hours of intense sun to begin growing again. March and April are generally the beginning of harvest time for the barley crop which extends until the time of the beginning of the wheat harvest in May/June. This is the time period of the counting of the Omer. Our Israelite forbearers were eating sustenance food during these fifty days all the while thanking their Heavenly Father that they had food to eat after the long winter, however coarse it might be, while they eagerly anticipated the wheat harvest and the abundance of summer produce.
As our own spiritual journey relates to these feasts we too await the intense rays of the SON to shine on us and bring us into maturity so we may be waved before our Heavenly Father. We joyfully suffer the trials and tribulations that cleanse and refine us, making us acceptable before the Throne of YHVH to sit at His banqueting table and sup with Him!
This is such an example of our sojourn on this earth; barley is our earth walk of cleansing and refining while heaven is the finest of grains. We live on the barley, the coarsest of grains, but we long for the wheat. Barley keeps us alive, but wheat is the bread that is waved before the King of Kings. And to help us, even more intently long for His Kingdom and His Righteousness He follows the wheat harvest with harvests of figs, dates, pomegranates, grapes and olives. This is the food that was set before kings and magistrates!
There are patterns in scripture, one of them being the order of the days, “and the evening and the morning were the first day.” YHVH started the day at the evening. This is a pattern that repeats itself many times throughout scripture. Why would YHVH begin the day in the evening? Could it be as a lesson in trust for us? Even in the darkness, when things seem most bleak and frightening I am still with you, watching over you, protecting you, delivering you, caring for you. Trust Me to bring you through the darkness into MY marvelous light! David tells us in Psalm 23 that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff they comfort me…” Don’t wait until you see the light to celebrate. That’s what the pagans do. Don’t wait until the fruit of your fields is ready to pick and eat before you give thanks; YHVH wants us to rejoice now, with whatever we have, trusting Him to bring us into the full LIGHT of His glory. Celebrate in the dark while you wait for the light; celebrate while you are waiting for the first fruits of your field, celebrate that YHVH is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and He never changes. What He did for Abraham, Moses, David and others He can and will do for you!
Come on and let’s celebrate!
P.S. Another reason for barley being the grain the Israelites ate while they counted the days of the Omer is its health benefits. After spending a winter of eating preserved foods a general internal cleaning would be in order; barley provides for just this overhaul. It helps to lower cholesterol and provides for intestinal protection, helps to balance blood sugars, helps prevent gallstones, aids in the development and repair of body tissue, eases arthritis symptoms, protects against heart disease and cancers. YHVH knows what His people needed to maintain health so He gave them/us a 50 day cleansing regimen!