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The Fall Feasts of Israel
By Mitch Glaser, Zhava Glaser
Moody PressCopyright © 1987 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Jesus—Lord of Time
In the beginning, God created time. He made light and darkness, calling the light day and the darkness night: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day" (Genesis 1:5). Yet the Holy One is eternal and lives beyond the limitations of time and space. He created time—the sequence of events—to serve as the arena where the heavenly meets the temporal, where God meets man. By His act of creation, the Sovereign of eternity was also crowned Lord of time.
The apostle John supplies additional knowledge on the Genesis record and tells us that the pre-incarnate Christ was the architect of creation. John wrote, "All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:35). The world of time and space were to become the special domain of the second Person of the Trinity. He is Creator, Redeemer, and King. Ultimately, His kingdom will include all that He has made, for heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool (Isaiah 66:1).
God intended events on earth to reflect heavenly realities. "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10), Jesus taught us to pray. It is God's desire that our lives be characterized by heavenly values, that the temporal reflect the eternal. As God the Father ruled over the heavens, so man, created in His image, was to rule for Him on the earth. The natural beauty of the world declared the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), but that was not enough for the Lord of the universe. He desired that every man and woman reflect the beauty of His holiness through the moral quality of their lives. But that was not to be.
Early in history, Adam and Eve revolted and ripped away from God the mantle of leadership, enthroning themselves in His stead. Adam's rebellion would turn man's walk through history into a path of thorns. But God, moved by love for His creation, would not allow the anarchy to continue. Along with Adam's Fall and the judgment came a ray of divine hope in the promise of a Redeemer, a seed of the woman, who would conquer the rebels and restore the rightful Lord of time to His throne (Genesis 3:15). But until that wonderful day when Christ rules His creation, time remains a battlefield between good and evil.
The apostle Paul tells us to redeem the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). The battle waged to redeem time, to sanctify our days as holy unto the Lord, is a critical one for believers in the Messiah. The day will surely come when every knee shall bow to Him (Philippians 2:10), but until then we must spend every moment in service worthy of the Lord.
The sanctity of time and the Lord's sovereignty over history were lessons that God sought to teach His chosen nation, Israel. Through the holy calendar given at Mount Sinai, the Lord of the Universe ordered the days of His people, focusing their attention on the heavenly realm. The feasts of the Lord were not given to enslave the Israelites but to free them to reflect on the Person, plan, and attributes of the Holy One of Israel. Through those special days, they were to recognize that He is Lord of every moment and must rule over every second of their lives.
The feasts and laws of the Lord were a tutor (Galatians 3:24) to lead the Israelites to the Savior. The apostle Paul described the Hebrew calendar as a "mere shadow" of what was to come. He wrote, "Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). The apostle was not condemning those Jewish Christians who wished to continue celebrating the Jewish holidays. Rather, Paul asserted that the festivals lead to Christ.
It is appropriate, therefore, for a Jewish believer to celebrate these holidays in a way that is consistent with the apostolic faith and that exalts the Person of Jesus. Non-Jewish Christians as well must recognize that the festivals of Israel find their fulfillment in Christ and His new covenant. Jesus Himself said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Christians who follow the church calendar will find that understanding the Levitical feasts adds a new depth and dimension to their lives. The feasts of Israel point to Jesus Christ as Lord of time and history.
In Leviticus 23, God calls the feasts of Israel "My appointed times." It was important for the Israelites to remember that behind the intricate details of each feast stood the God who ordained them, to remember that He created time, and to remember that history bears the image of His presence. The feasts of Israel were God's appointed times to remind His people that He was Lord of the calendar, the King of creation, and that He was to be worshiped every day. The feasts of the Lord have a great deal to teach all who have crowned Him Lord of their lives.CHAPTER 2
The Fall Feasts
The Hebrew Calendar
The traditional division of twelve months to the year is found in Scripture. In 1 Kings 4:7, the recorder of sacred history writes, "And Solomon had twelve deputies over all Israel, who provided for the King and his household; each man had to provide for a month in the year" (see also 1 Chronicles 27:2-15). The ancient Hebrews observed a twelve-month lunar year based on Psalm 104:19, "He made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows the place of its setting."
The length of a lunar month, the period between two new moons, is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds. But the lunar calendar is 10 days and 21 hours shorter than the solar year. If that discrepancy were not corrected, the order of the months would become so distorted that the Hebrews would be celebrating their spring holidays in the fall! To compensate, they instituted a periodic leap year in which a thirteenth month was added after the twelfth month of Adar (roughly equivalent to March).
The New Moon
The precise determination of the new moon has always been important to the Hebrews. Not knowing the exact time of the new moon could upset their entire calendar.
During the time of Christ, a confirmation of the day was made each month by a court of three people, which always included the high priest. They would gather in a special hall in the Temple and receive the testimony of "credible witnesses" who claimed to have seen the new moon. According to the Mishna, not every witness was considered credible. The rabbis listed as ineligible: "a dice player, a usurer, those who fly pigeons, dealers in the produce of a Sabbatical year, and slaves." They continued, "This is the general principle: all evidence that a woman is not eligible to give, these also are not eligible to bring" (Rosh Hashanah 1:8). So it is doubtful that a woman's testimony was valid in the case of a new moon, although women were valid witnesses on other matters.
The Sanhedrin provided a sumptuous meal for this occasion to encourage witnesses to come forward. Once a new moon was confirmed, fires were lit on the Mount of Olives to notify those awaiting the signal on distant hills. The message would flare from hill to hill beyond the boundaries of Israel, so that those in the Dispersion could know the new moon had appeared over the holy city. Precautions, though, had to be taken, because some of the enemies of the Jews would light fires to deceive those waiting for the message that the new moon had appeared. According to the Mishna, six witnesses of the new moon were dispatched in the months of Nisan (for Passover), Av (for the fast on account of the destruction of Jerusalem), Elul (because it preceded Tishri), Tishri (because of its holy festivals), Kislev (for Hanukkah), and Adar (for Purim; Rosh Hashanah 1:3). These dispatchers "hand-delivered" the message that the moon was new over Jerusalem.
The Hebrews sensed a holy obligation to live obediently before the Lord of time. If God had expressly designed a calendar, it was their duty to observe it properly. To the pious, it was no small thing if a new moon was mistaken and the appointed times of the Lord were observed on the wrong days. The Lord of the calendar was to be obeyed with heart-felt precision.
Leviticus 23 describes eight "appointed times" of the Lord (although the celebration of the new moon might have been included as well; Numbers 28:11-15). Along with the weekly Sabbath, seven periods in the Hebrew year were set apart as festivals or feasts. These were not feasts in the modern sense of banquets and revelry but were based on the sacrificial altar and the worship of God.
The feasts divide naturally into two groups. In the first group, all related to Passover, are the Paschal sacrifice, the feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of First Fruits, and the Day of Pentecost. In the second group, all observed during Tishri, the sacred seventh month, we find the feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Tabernacles. This study will concentrate on the last three—the fall feasts.
Tishri—The Seventh Month
The number seven, symbolizing divine perfection, is woven into the entire Hebrew calendar. The Sabbath is observed on the seventh day of the week, every seventh year is decreed a sabbatical year, and after seven sabbatical years a Jubilee year is observed. Seven weeks after Passover comes the celebration of the feast of Pentecost. The feast of Tabernacles, which completes the holiday season, lasts seven days. And the seventh month, Tishri, contains the most holy days of the Hebrew calendar. Today the feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement are called the "High Holy Days."
Tishri is the sabbatical month and, along with the seventh day of the week, was set apart as sacred. So the seventh month, the subject of this study, is the most holy of months.
The Themes of the Fall Feasts
The fall feasts are unique among the appointed times of the Lord. The lessons they teach form a natural progression of thought: the feast of Trumpets teaches repentance; the Day of Atonement, redemption; and the feast of Tabernacles, rejoicing. On the feast of Trumpets, the sound of the ram's horn calls upon each Jew to repent and confess his sins before his Maker. The Day of Atonement is that ominous day when peace is made with God. On the feast of Tabernacles, Israel obeys God's command to rejoice over the harvest and the goodness of God. It is necessary to pass through repentance and redemption in order to experience His joy.
The themes of the fall feasts are especially meaningful to a believer in Jesus. The feasts—and the entire Old Testament—are fulfilled in Christ (Luke 24:26). We must repent of our sins before we can be forgiven by God, but repentance alone is not enough. Every Jew and Gentile must turn toward Christ, accepting His atoning sacrifice at Calvary and receiving Him in joy—unfathomable, everlasting, and indescribable—which this world cannot give or take away.
It would be easier to study the fall feasts if modern Judaism religiously practiced the customs in Leviticus. But that is not the case. The feasts of Tishri have been reshaped and reformed over time. In every age, traditions, liturgy, and folklore have been added to their observance. By the time of Christ, every feast had already undergone significant changes when compared to its biblical foundations.
Changes continued after the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. In the early days of the second century, Jewish leaders struggled just to keep the feasts alive. Their task was to adapt the observance of the feasts to the sorrowful reality of the Temple's destruction.
The sacrificial altar had always been the focal point of the feasts. How has Judaism coped through the generations without it? How do Jewish people celebrate the feasts today?
To understand the feasts, we must first investigate what the Bible teaches about each of them, how they were observed in ancient times and in the time of Christ. We will also see how the feasts are celebrated today and will present the more classical beliefs and customs of Judaism. Our book depicts the way a practicing Jew would celebrate the "appointed times of the Lord." Yet we must keep in mind that for many modern Jews, the celebration of the festivals has been reduced to childhood memories. We should not presume that our Jewish friends observe the fall feasts exactly as presented in this book.
Understanding the fall festivals will enrich the lives and walks of believers in Christ. But we must not forget that Judaism is the religion of the rabbis. It is a religion based upon the Old Testament Scriptures, but it also incorporates centuries of Jewish interpretation and teaching. Tradition must not be confused with Scripture, or Judaism with biblical faith.
Nevertheless, as we learn about the fall feasts, we will gain insights into Jewish culture and be equipped to use the holidays to present the gospel to Jewish friends. The feasts of Israel are fulfilled in Jesus, for the entirety of the Old Covenant points to Him, the Lord of the calendar and Master of all.CHAPTER 3
The Biblical Institution of Rosh Hashanah
A Reminder by Blowing of Trumpets
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar clearly stood out above the others in the eyes of Moses and Israel. As God announced the order of the Hebrew calendar, He instructed the people to punctuate the arrival of each new month with a celebration and a blowing of trumpets. But He emphasized the seventh month when from the foot of Mount Sinai He said through Moses the lawgiver: "In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:24).
So a feast was decreed on the first of the seventh month. But what was it to be called? When He gave the calendar, God Himself named the appointed feasts—the Sabbath, the Passover, the Day of Atonement. But this feast received no title. It was simply "Yom T'ruah"—the day of blowing. So it became the feast of Trumpets. And the blowing of the trumpets became the distinguishing characteristic of the day, calling the people's attention to the awesome festival that was to follow—the Day of Atonement.
A SABBATH REST
On the first of Tishri at the call of the shofar, an instrument made from a ram's curved horn, all "servile" work was to cease. This set the feast of Trumpets apart from the first day of other Hebrew months. The restrictions were not as stringent as those on the weekly Sabbath or the Day of Atonement, but regular duties and everyday jobs could not be carried out. The preoccupations of daily life receded into the background as all thoughts turned to the days ahead, to the coming Day of Atonement.
The blowing of the shofar was a memorial, but a memorial of what? The Scriptures do not say. Certainly the call of the shofar reminded Israel that the seventh month had begun. It was distinctive from that of the silver trumpets blown on other new moons. Silver trumpets were sounded at the daily burnt offering and at the beginning of each new month (Numbers 10:10), but the shofar specifically was blown on the beginning of the month of Tishri. (The silver trumpets were probably blown as well [Bab. Rosh Hashanah 26b], however, as it was also a new moon.)
The shofar has always held a prominent role in the history of God's ancient people. Rabbis have delighted in quoting its long history of biblical usage: "The shofar was created for the welfare of Israel. The Torah was given to Israel with the sound of the shofar [Exodus 19:19]. Israel conquered in the battle of Jericho with the blast of the shofar [Joshua 6:20]. Israel will be advised of the advent of the Messiah with the sound of the shofar [Zechariah 9:14]. And the Holy One, blessed be He, will sound the shofar at the time of the ingathering of the exiles of Israel to their place [Isaiah 27:13]" (Eliyahu Zuta 2).
In the Bible record, the shofar was blown to signal the assembly of the Israelites during war (Judges 3:27; 2 Samuel 20:1). The sound gripped the hearts of women and children with fear, as their men were called away to battle and to an unknown fate. The watchmen that stood upon Jerusalem's walls blew the shofar to warn the people of impending danger (Amos 3:6; Jeremiah 6:1; Ezekiel 33:6).
But the shofar did not always strike a fearful note. The shofar was also blown at the start of the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:9), the great sabbatical release provided by God. Eagerly the slaves and hopelessly indebted listened for the joyful sound that signaled their freedom! The land itself welcomed the trumpet blast that allowed it to rest.
The accession of a new king to the throne was announced by the shofar's voice (1 Kings 34:39). What a time of feasting and pageantry for Israel!
The shofar's call is a reminder to the Jewish people that God is sovereign: "God has ascended with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet" (Psalm 47:5).
The Scriptures also predict the role of the shofar in the future restoration of Israel. Isaiah envisioned the shofar blast as announcing the gathering of dispersed Israel: "It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown; and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem" (Isaiah 27:13).
Excerpted from The Fall Feasts of Israel by Mitch Glaser, Zhava Glaser. Copyright © 1987 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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