The Messiah’s Omer (Nisan – Iyar – Sivan)
This period marking the time until Shavuot/Pentecost is called “counting the Omer” in the Jewish community. That’s misleading. The Torah statute (Lev.23:15-16) mentions the “omer” (translated “sheaf”) of barley first-fruits that begins the counting, but what we are commanded to count is not the Omer but the weeks – specifically, “seven complete Shabbats” until we reach 50 days. The Christian name Pentecost means “50th day” in Greek, while Shavuot is Hebrew for “weeks”.
The Omer itself is more relevant to Exodus 16. It’s the measuring unit God commanded Israel to use for portioning out manna, the miraculous wafer-bread that sustained Israel for 40 years. And manna’s first arrival is connected to the Passover experience.
Manna was unleavened bread on a whole new level, not even made of earthly ingredients that ferment. It was other-worldly in several more ways. No man could produce it, hoard it, or share his portion of it with someone else (Exod. 16:16-21). Its shelf life didn’t depend on storage time but on obedience alone (v. 19-24). Last but not least, it seemed to ignore human gathering efforts in a self-correction that unerringly met individual needs: “When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.” (Exod. 16:18) Possibly because of these traits, the Talmud described manna as something like a Divine agent standing in for God: revealing secrets, settling difficult disputes, and behaving differently toward the righteous compared with the wicked (Yoma 75a).
Later sages, impressed with the fact that the giving of the manna preceded the giving of the Torah, came to the conclusion (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Beshalah): “The Torah could be given only to eaters of manna.”
Less noticed was the date on which this heavenly diet was announced: “the 15th day of the second month” (Exod. 16:1) after leaving Egypt. As we learned in Part 5, Pesach Sheni was instituted exactly one year later, on the 14th day of the second month in year 2. The timing implies a year of grace, with Heavenly bread supplied regardless of the eater’s response (which was often unworthy). As that first year of feeding ended, the recipients of manna – and of Torah – became more accountable for disobedience. Perhaps Israel was forewarned of the change, and that’s what prompted the appeal from those who, through no fault of their own, could not obey the Pesach command.
For the people needing that second-chance Passover to prove their obedience, God suspended nearly all ceremonial requirements, except for the statutes surrounding the Pesach sacrifice. This proves that the Lamb is the non-negotiable core, the whole point of the Passover exercise. It was here that God pronounced judgment on those who had “not brought YHVH’s offering near” (Num.9:13, literal Hebrew), either at the first opportunity or the second.
God’s Heavenly bread was reserved strictly for the Redeemed of Israel who acknowledged His Sacrifice through its earthly representation. But He wanted to include not only those who had easy access to this revelation, but also those who in the future would find themselves “on a far road” in relation to Israel (v.10; see Part 5 for the explanation).
These are the Gentiles who would come to God through the work of Israel’s Messiah. Paul described them the same way (Eph. 2:12-13): “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel… you who formerly were far off” but now “have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.” Is this Jewish-Gentile merger a New Testament innovation? Not at all! Tanach is brimming with prophecies about it (1 Kings 8:41, Isa. 11:10, 56:6-8, Amos 9:12, and more).
Messiah as Feeder and as Food
Some rabbinic teachers have drawn parallels between King David, when he handed out identical food gifts to the masses of worshippers (2 Sam.6:19), and the character of Messiah Son of David. This is supported by Ezekiel 34:23: “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.” They also connected this feeding with the manna, which became equal Omer-sized portions regardless of how much was gathered.
Both roles are recorded in John’s gospel, where Yeshua distributed miraculous physical bread to 5000, and then announced (Jn.6:35): “I am the bread of Life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger.” Significantly, He first identified Himself with the manna (v.33). Unlike that Heaven-sent bread which only gave temporary life, those who take Him as Living Bread are promised eternal Life, “because of the Father” operating through Him (v.57).
Interestingly, a Midrash traces Iyar’s Biblical name, Ziv (1 Kings 6:1), meaning “Radiance”, to the manna’s first arrival in that month; the Heavenly food was said to glow with Divine radiance. Ramban’s commentary on Exodus 16 described manna as though it had been birthed directly from God: “…from the genealogy of the Most High Light [מתולדת האור העליון] which became physical [שנתגשם] by the will of its blessed Creator.” He and others attributed to Rabbi Akiva the description of manna as “Ziv ha-Shechinah,” the Radiance of the Divine Presence that sustains the angels in heaven, based on Psalm 78:24: “He rained down manna upon them to eat, and gave them food from heaven.” (The Hebrew is “lechem abirim”, better translated as “bread of celestial mighty ones.”)
The crowd quoted this verse to Yeshua (Jn. 6:31) and demanded a sign that God had sent Him, similar to this sign given by Moses. The Lord turned it around (v.32-33) by answering that this food given by God (not Moses) was the sign they were seeking: a prophecy of Himself coming down from Heaven to give them eternal Life.
As mentioned, manna was not from this earth, which set it far above all other foods in terms of purity. Yet it was digestible for earthly people, able to save them from starvation for an entire generation. In the same way, Yeshua’s purity from sin was due to His nature originating from above, not from this world (Jn. 8:23). And because He is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens,” He is able “to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25-26).
That “difficult saying”
Those who draw near to God are to partake together of Yeshua, similar to Israel sharing the manna. So far, so good. But then the Lord seemed to deliberately sabotage the message by putting it in offensively graphic terms (Jn. 6:52-53): “Eat My flesh and drink My blood.” This is arguably one of His most troubling statements ever, upsetting those who heard Yeshua say it and many who read it today. Believers throughout history have no doubt secretly wished He had quit while He was ahead. There was a time when I did.
However, remembering that the context is manna (v.30-ff), we discover Jewish teaching that offers a Torah foundation for why Yeshua worded His command that way, and why John recorded it for us.
The Talmud (Berachot 17a) used Rabbi Akiva’s description of manna, Ziv ha-Shechina, to propose that “in the future world… the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the Divine Presence.” The Torah support was Exodus 24:11 (“And they beheld God, and did eat and drink”), interpreted to mean literally, yet supernaturally, eating and drinking God’s visible manifestation.
This concept was likely circulating already in Yeshua’s day. Doesn’t Hebrews 1:3 call Him “the Radiance of [God’s] Glory” – a reasonable translation of Ziv ha-Shechina? But that wouldn’t have helped His audience, because they rejected the manna connection (Jn. 6:41): “Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Yeshua, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’”
Those who ate the perishable bread from Heaven likewise couldn’t reconcile themselves to it. God emphasized (Deut.8:3) that He fed them with something they “did not know”. He called it “bread” but the people renamed it “mahn” (Exod. 16:31), from “ma-hu?” or “what is it?” And they soon came to despise it (Num. 11:6).
God also said (Deut. 8:16) that this unknown, unwanted Food was destined to “do good to you in the end.” But the manna stopped falling a few weeks after this statement, when the Israelites entered Canaan. What did He mean? The Hebrew literally says, “do good to your last ones” – Israel’s final generations. That’s us, the Jews living in the Last Days.
If we faithfully “eat and drink” Messiah, we will live because of His Life in God. How will this affect those around us?
The missing testimony of Redemption
Born-again Christians typically relate to Redemption as an individual experience that unfolds in private communion with God, whereas Torah-literate Jews understand Redemption as a communal experience with world-changing impact. These differences are emphasized by Jewish antagonists to Messianic faith, who claim that a personal Redemption experience is not a Jewish message.
Actually, the Jewish Scriptures show that both are true. In fact, Jews who have not received personal Redemption will never be able to fulfill the conditions for being part of the national Redemption (Deut. 30:6-8, Jer. 31:33, Ezek. 36:25-28). On the other hand, if Messianic believers can testify only about the personal effects of Redemption, our witness stops, as it were, in mid-sentence.
As we saw in Part 1, Israel’s first taste of nationhood came through God’s command to them concerning Rosh Ha-Hodashim. That “Head of New Things” began a group relationship with Him that would forever be a sign to the world: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is YHVH our God whenever we call on Him?” (Deut. 4:7) Therefore, the group aspect of Israel’s Redemption particularly applies to Yeshua’s followers from that nation.
But these followers cannot choose their own sign of group Redemption, certainly not while living in Israel. Moses defines the sign as faithfulness to the “statutes and judgments just as YHVH my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.” (v.5) If we the Israeli Body are claiming a share in the nation’s Covenantal right to return to our earthly inheritance, we must observe the terms of this Covenant.
Is that workable in a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile believers? According to Paul (1 Cor. 7:18), absolutely yes. We each practice the calling that we had when Messiah found us, “circumcised” or “uncircumcised”. As one congregation, we study all His commands to apply the spiritual realities they express. As individuals, we love Him by obeying Him in each command that applies to us (Jew or Gentile, native or sojourner, man or woman, poor or rich).
Why isn’t it as simple as that? We can’t seem to sort out the obligations relevant to each calling, without alienating part of our community. The very idea of “obligation to the Law” polarizes the Body of Messiah, particularly in Israel. What happened to the road the apostles mapped out for us?
History happened. We are struggling on one hand with 2000 years of distorted Torah, legislated by men who rebelled against the Holy Spirit; and on the other with 1800 years of perverted New Testament, taught by men who hated all things Jewish. The teachings from synagogue and church that were true to God’s Word are clouded by these layers of confusion that the apostles never faced.
It’s not our fault, but with all our Bible training we are clueless about how the Redeemed “Israel of God” should look, speak and behave. Particularly in Israel.
Coming up the “far road to Israel”
Most Israeli believers are living somewhere on a spectrum of church-synagogue hybrids that were formed by cherry-picking elements from these two warring camps. All the prevailing combinations have failed to provoke our Jewish nation to jealousy, and often produce opposite results.
Our only ally is the secular Israeli community, which doesn’t recognize YHVH as Israel’s King and entitles everyone to do “what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). And even they don’t see us as the forerunner of a national transformation; we’re just an interesting minority oppressed by the narrow-minded rabbis.
We are outspoken about personal Redemption, which is important but only half the Good News for Israel. Our testimony of collective Redemption begins and ends with the “new man” of Jewish-Gentile equality, which is important but global rather than national. What of the collective Redemption of the Jewish nation united under God? Postponed until Messiah returns… at which time hope for Israel’s Redemption becomes unimportant, because the whole earth is united under God. Another global message.
In short, we call ourselves Jews, but we think, walk and talk like Gentiles – those Paul described (Eph. 2:12) as “strangers to the Covenant of Promise.” The Covenant clauses that govern our identity as individual Jews, and our unique destiny as a Jewish nation, have become irrelevant – swallowed up by the Good News to the (other) nations.
But what does the Spirit say? He has scheduled a second-chance national Redemption, a Covenant recovery program for Israel in the Last Days. It will be led by those in Israel with circumcised hearts (Deut. 30:6-8, Ezek. 36:27, Jer. 31:33). How will it unfold?
If we follow Messiah in restoring true Torah by means of the Spirit who gave it, those “statutes and ordinances” which the church pronounced dead will come alive. They must – because they are spiritual (Rom. 7:14). The fullness in our observance of them will likewise be called “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:11-16).
We will then begin to testify convincingly that Israel’s national Redemption is demonstrated in the united Body of Messiah, where both holy callings – circumcised and uncircumcised – can be seen in proper relationship. This Oneness will prove to the world that God really did send Yeshua (Jn. 17:21-23). And on that day, we will also provoke jealousy among our fellow Jews, secular and religious alike, who are starving for Heavenly Bread. They will receive Messiah’s Omer and experience the end-time fulfillment of Shavuot.
“And so all Israel will be saved.” May it be, speedily and in our days.
If you have been impacted by this series and would like to participate in future Bible studies of this kind, we at Restorers of Zion are forming several online discussion groups – for those who know how to hear the Spirit in Scripture study, for those who would like to learn how, and for those who have questions about the series. To join a group, contact Arye Powlison by email: livingwordarye [at] gmail.com