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Counting the Sabbaths – ספירת השבתות

Updated: Mar 14

Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a Sabbatical Sabbath, a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of work; it is a Sabbath unto YHWH in all your dwellings.

And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the waving; seven Sabbaths shall there be complete.

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת, מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה: שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה.

Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal-offering unto YHWH.

Leviticus 23:3,16,17

Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee; from the time the sickle is first put to the standing corn shalt thou begin to number seven weeks.

שִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעֹת, תִּסְפָּר-לָךְ: מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ, בַּקָּמָה, תָּחֵל לִסְפֹּר, שִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעוֹת.

And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto YHWH thy God after the measure of the freewill offering of thy hand, which thou shalt give, according as YHWH thy God blesses thee.

Deuteronomy 16:9,10

And he said: 'Verily, these seven ewe-lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that it may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.'

Wherefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there they swore both of them.

עַל-כֵּן, קָרָא לַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא--בְּאֵר שָׁבַע: כִּי שָׁם נִשְׁבְּעוּ, שְׁנֵיהֶם.

Genesis 21:30,31

Seven – שבע

Week – שבוע

Weeks – שבועות

To swear, make an oath – להישבע

Literally, to seven oneself

Oath, vow – שבועה

Oaths, vows – שבועות

In translation of Leviticus 23:16,17 above, I changed the original English from week/weeks to the more correct Sabbath/Sabbaths. Before these verses, the Hebrew שבת is never translated as week, as there is no apparent reason to do so. The third verse of the same chapter should set the standard for the use of שבת within the remainder of the chapter, i.e., it is the day after 6 days of labor, and is sanctified to YHWH. The 11th verse seems to confirm this:

And he shall wave the sheaf before YHWH, to be accepted for you; on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.

וְהֵנִיף אֶת-הָעֹמֶר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לִרְצֹנְכֶם; מִמָּחֳרַת, הַשַּׁבָּת, יְנִיפֶנּוּ, הַכֹּהֵן.

Leviticus 23:11

The Hebrew השבת cannot mean week within this context, therefore it makes no sense that the meaning would shift in the following verses: seven Sabbaths were to be counted, not seven weeks.

This naturally raises the question why in Deuteronomy 16 the Hebrew root שבע is used to describe the period as seven weeks rather than the counting of seven Sabbaths, and the feast is called the feast of weeks. I believe a clue lies in the 9th verse, where we find the following:

Seven weeks - שִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעֹת

Seven weeks - שִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעוֹת

Why are there 2 different spellings in Hebrew of the same English word weeks within the same sentence? I believe it is to call attention to the Hebrew root שבע: the Hebrew word for weeks is pronounced sh-voo-ote, but this is also the exact same pronunciation of the plural of the Hebrew שבועה, which means an oath/vow! There is no way to know if the plural is of the word for week- which in modern Hebrew is שבוע- or the word for an oath/vow, שבועה.

In ancient Hebrew tradition a vow/oath literally meant to seven oneself by repeating something 7 times or by giving 7 objects as sign of the sealing of a promise. We see this in the agreement between Abraham and Abimelech, where Abraham gave 7 ewe-lambs as a sign that he had done what he claimed. Every 7th day for the Israelites belongs to YHWH, their God, which is to prevent them from looking towards and committing to the total pursue of material wealth or well-being; man does not live by bread alone! The book of Deuteronomy is a reminder of the commitment/agreement the Israelites made with YHWH:

YHWH our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.

Deuteronomy 5:2

Thus, they were to number 7 Sabbaths, but also, they were to recall the covenant they made, the oaths/vows they swore to uphold! All of this is tied to reminding us of our connection with and commitment to YHWH, the Most High God of Israel, which we celebrate on the 50th day as The Feast of Oaths/Weeks!

12 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt;

and thou shalt observe and do these statutes!

Deuteronomy 16

April 21, 2023

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