Ascension: The 40th Day of the Omer

shavuotLast week when I took my Mom to church, the Pastor preached on the Ascension of Christ, which occurred 40 days after he rose. He surprised me by bringing in a copy of the Tanakh and describing, in elementary terms, the Torah, Nevim, and Ketuvim. He said he didn’t expect anyone in his audience to understand those terms, but then again, he didn’t anticipate me.

His sermon got me to thinking about the Counting of the Omer, and since we are in the days of Shavuot, which concludes the 50 days of the counting, I started to wonder if there was some significance in Judaism to the 40th day of that counting.

A quick Google search didn’t reveal anything very significant. Lag B’Omer occurs on the 33rd day, so no help there. While we understand, from a Messianic point of view, that Shavuot or Pentecost was the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (see Acts 2), what, if anything, is significant about the 40th day of the Omer? Everything else in the Bible is so ordered, so I can’t believe the timing of the Ascension was random.

Okay, my search wasn’t completely futile, but it wasn’t conclusive either. Consider:

Velveteen Rabbi

Chabad

Messianic Sabbath

The first two seem to be merely daily commentaries, but the last entry said something interesting, though I don’t know how valid the information happens to be:

Since Yeshua rose from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits (Matt. 28:1-10), and ascended into heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:1-3), all of Yeshua’s post-resurrection appearances fall within the first 40 days of the Omer Count.

And

As I thought about the theme of each of these 40-day (or 40-year) events, I found three commonalities that all of them share:

  1. They were times of preparation for those doing God’s work
  2. During this timeframe the harvest was prepared – those who would receive God’s message
  3. God’s power came forth in full strength after the 40 days

Is that the answer? Was it just another part of the 40 day pattern we often find in the Bible? It makes sense if it is, but is there any more?

I don’t know. Throwing it out to you for commentary.

8 thoughts on “Ascension: The 40th Day of the Omer”

  1. Somebody is miscounting. The Omer count begins immediately after Passover (i.e., the next day), two days before the resurrection. Add 40 days, and we’re looking at the 42nd day of the count, not the 40th. That leaves just over a week (a shavua) until Shavuot. Does it evoke any obvious cutesy numerical gamesmanship? No! And I see no reason why it should. There’s no need for either the resurrection or the ascension to align with the new moon of Sivan the third month of the biblical calendar, nor with Shavuot the first-fruits harvest celebration, nor with any other specific event. Both occur within the atzeret period between Passover and Shavuot while the first-fruits harvest is being gathered, so the simile of this event as a first fruit of the future resurrection (and even something akin to the “rapture” of which Rav Shaul wrote) is covered.

    Now, each day of the omer count is associated with a Hebrew phrase. In the case of the 42nd day that phrase is: “malchut sh’b’yesod”, which refers to a “kingdom that is in the foundation”. Maybe someone would like to make something mystical or midrashic out of of *that* in connection with the ascension!

    1. I’m sure the miscounting was me, but probably the Lutheran Pastor in question as well. I asked because I don’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard of a commentary about the Ascension before.

  2. I’m sick right now, and not thinking as easily as usual. (So I hope there’s not something weirdly unclear that I’m going to say.) But… since the ascension happened on the fortieth day of the Omer, would that put it at an even six weeks from Passover? (Passover proper — not preparation — and that year.) [This is given Firstfruits being on the first day of a week (the beginning of the first week after Passover Day). I know there is another way to determine Firstfruits.]

    This would then mean there was another full week and three days before Shavuot (from Passover that year). Just thinking out loud (math in public while dizzy and feverish); forgive me.

    Don’t know if any of that seems significant.

      1. Thanks, James.

        For the trivia of it, if that’s what it is, I’ll share this.
        http://www.jewfaq.org/m/holidayb.htm

        ……….

        There was at one time a dispute as to when the counting should begin. The Pharisees believed that G-d gave Moses an oral Torah along with the written Torah, and according to that oral Torah the word “Shabbat” in Lev. 23:15 referred to the first day of Passover, which is a “Shabbat” in the sense that no work is permitted on the day … In this view, held by most Jews today, the counting begins on the second night of Passover, that is, the day after the non-working day of Passover. The Tzedukim (Sadducees) … believed that the word “Shabbat” in Lev. 23:15 referred to the Shabbat of the week when Pesach began, so counting would always begin on a Saturday night during Passover. The Sadducees no longer exist; today, only a small sect … the Karaites follow this view.

        I don’t know who runs this (below) site, but here is something I hadn’t heard before today — the part in bold.
        http://rabbiyeshua.com/articles-by-kehilat/item/8-counting-the-omer
        On the same day that the Master was tried before an assemblage of priests and judges from the Sanhedrin, apostles of the Sanhedrin were sent out to a barley field not far from Jerusalem. On the [preparation day], the apostles of the Sanhedrin bound up the standing barley into bundles while it was still attached to the ground so that it would be easier to reap. (Menachot 10:3)

        After the sun had set and the Sabbath was over, just hours before the Master rose from his tomb, the barley was reaped and collected in three baskets. That night the baskets of grain were carried to Jerusalem. They were delivered to the priesthood in the Temple. The baskets contained more than enough grain to constitute a full sheaf’s worth: enough to fulfill the mandate of Leviticus 23:10. The Hebrew word for sheaf is omer.

        The harvest ritual of gathering this barley omer was for a special first fruits offering to the LORD. According to Torah, no grain or produce from the new year’s crops could be used or eaten until the first omer of grain to ripen was harvested and brought to the Temple. Barley is the first crop to ripen in Israel, so the omer was always a barley sheaf.

  3. The day that the Sadducees would count as the 40th of the Omer period, starting from the day after the weekly Shabbat, would happen to coincide with the occurrence of Rav Yeshua’s ascension. But, given his affiliation with the Mosaic authority of the Pharisees, cited in Mt.23:2-3, it is unlikely that he would choose to favor the Sadducees if he had any control over the date of that event and if he had any desire to connect it with the Omer count. We have no indication in Acts 2 that Shavuot was immediately after a weekly Shabbat, which would have been the case if the Sadducean method that Marleen referenced for us were used to set the date. On the other hand, we have no indication that it was just before Shabbat or even on Shabbat, which would have been the case using the Pharasaic method, given the timing of Passover that year which placed Rav Yeshua’s resurrection on the morning after the weekly Shabbat that followed Friday’s Passover Shabbat. The only clue may be in Acts 1:12 which mentions a Sabbath-day’s journey immediately following the ascension event. But since the resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, a Sunday, the ascension 40 days later had to fall on a Friday. Unless it occurred close to sundown, there should not have been much concern about the limits of a Sabbath-day’s journey between the Mount of Olives and the “upper room” where they met while waiting for Shavuot either 8 or 10 days later, by Pharisaic or Sadducean count respectively, whichever was in control of the festival date-setting at that time.

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