A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
(At sunset on Sept. 16, 2012 Israel begins year 5773 on the Hebrew Calendar. As I often do with articles that commemorate annual events, I have updated this study on the Fall Feasts adding new information for your review.)
The fall is arguably the most important time of the year in Judaism. Three of Israel’s holiest days are celebrated then, and all in the space of 15 days. They are Yom Teruah, or Feast of Trumpets, followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and 5 days after that by Sukkot, the week long Feast of Tabernacles. On our calendar they usually occur some time between mid September and early October due to the differences between the Jewish (lunar) calendar and the western (solar) one. Each of these holy days has both historical and prophetic significance, the prophetic fulfillment to occur on the day itself. Therefore Christians study them for glimpses into the future as well as to gain a better understanding of Jewish culture.
Happy New Year
Gentiles are sometimes confused in their studies of these holy days by the fact that the Lord changed the Jewish calendar at the time of the first Passover (Exodus 12:2). What had been the 7th month was thereafter to be the first, moving the beginning of the year to the spring, 14 days before Passover.
But because of the harvest, the Jews retained their original calendar as well, so now they have a religious year which begins in the spring and a civil year beginning in the fall. This is why the Feast of Trumpets is also known as Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year”.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings. According to some Jewish traditions, the creation was completed on Rosh Hashanah, and therefore Adam was born on that day as well. These events combine to give the day it’s historical fulfillment. Also, based on the view that John the Baptist was born in the spring, around Passover, and his birth preceded the birth of Jesus by 6 months, it’s possible to place the birth of the Messiah on Rosh Hashanah.
Unlike other Jewish feasts the Feast of Trumpets takes place on a New Moon, when just a sliver of the Moon appears in the night sky. Since this has to be confirmed by eye witness sightings the weather has to be very clear to observe the rising of the New Moon, and it’s not always that way. For this reason the Feast of Trumpets is known as the feast where no one knows the day or the hour.
According to Matt. 24:29, the Sun, Moon and stars will all go dark at the end of the Great Tribulation to signify that the most terrifying judgments ever to be visited on Planet Earth have ended. Sometime afterward the Lord will return on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. Four times within the span of 28 verses the Lord said the people on Earth at the time will not know the exact time of His return in advance, using a form of the phrase “you will not know the day or the hour” (Matt. 24:46, Matt. 24:42-44, Matt. 24:50, Matt. 25:13). This leads some scholars to speculate His return will coincide with the Feast of Trumpets. If so the 2nd Coming will be the prophetic fulfillment for the Feast of Trumpets.
Of the Lord’s coming with power and great Glory, Zechariah 9:14 tells us,
Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the LORD Almighty will shield them.
And Matt. 24:30-31 adds,
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
Others think that the Rapture of the Church will happen on Rosh Hashanah, but I’m convinced that the Rapture is a number specific event rather than a date specific one, meaning the Church will be raptured when “the full number of gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). If so the Rapture of the church could happen on any given day, although Acts 15:13-18 makes it clear that the rapture will have to precede the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week.
Religious Jews believe that in Heaven, books recording the deeds of mankind are opened on Rosh Hashanah for an annual review of man’s behavior. To this end, they spend the previous month in a sincere effort to right all the wrongs they may have committed during the year just ending.
When the books are opened, the names of those whose life has been exemplary in every respect are immediately entered into the book for another year of life, while those who have demonstrated no redeeming qualities at all are scheduled for death. Since normal bell curve distribution would indicate that very few fit at either extreme, the majority will have 10 more days until Yom Kippur to “get right with God.” These 10 days are called the Days of Awe where each man’s destiny hangs in the balance as he goes about asking forgiveness from friends and neighbors for the sins he’s committed in the year just past. A common greeting among Jews during the 10 Days of Awe is, “May your name be written in the Book.”
On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (it’s a two day celebration) Orthodox Jews go to a running brook or stream where fish swim and throw pebbles or crumbs they’ve gathered into the water, symbolizing God’s casting away of their sins. While doing so, they recite Micah 7:18-20.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”
This is one of the most eloquent descriptions of God’s grace to be found anywhere in Scripture. It reminds God of His promise to be merciful to them in the coming judgment of Yom Kippur.
The fish’s dependence on water symbolizes their dependence on God. The fact that fish can’t close their eyes reminds them to be thorough because God sees everything. This ceremony is called Tashlich, Hebrew for “You will cast”, a reference to hurling their iniquities into the sea in Micah 7:19.
Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, judgment is rendered, the books are closed and everyone’s fate is sealed for another year.
Yom Kippur was the only day of the year when it was permissible to speak the Name of God. Yes God does have a name, but it’s not Jehovah or Yahweh. These names were created out of the four letters that Hebrew scribes used to represent God’s name in the Old Testament. Wherever the word LORD appears all in caps, you’ll find the Hebrew letters JHVH, (or YHWH) in the Hebrew text. Theologians call these four letters the tetragrammaton, which is Greek for “four letters”. So, in effect these four letters are God’s initials, standing for His real name.
Early English language translators added an E, an O, and an A, (vowels they took from Elohim, a form of the Hebrew word meaning God and Adonai, Hebrew for Lord) to JHVH and created the name Jehovah. We used to think that was God’s name, but it’s really a man made construction. And in Hebrew the four letters are pronounced yod, hay, wah, hay, which probably gave rise to the “Yahweh” we use today. It’s not His real name either.
It was forbidden for Jews to speak God’s actual name except for once a year on Yom Kippur when it was spoken 10 times. After the Temple was destroyed, the Yom Kippur ceremony changed and the name of God ceased to be used and was eventually lost. So no one alive today knows God’s name, and it probably hasn’t been spoken on Earth for about 1700 years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Philippians 2:9-11 says that Jesus, or if you prefer the Hebrew, Yeshua is now the name above all names.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Back to Yom Kippur. During a great and awe inspiring ceremony at the Temple, two goats were brought before the High Priest. One was a goat “for the Lord” to be presented as a peace offering as commanded in Lev. 16:7-10. The other was called “the scapegoat” because all the sins of the nation were symbolically placed upon its head, and then it was led outside the city to be killed. The goats had done nothing to deserve this but were chosen to demonstrate the fact that only the shedding of innocent blood could atone for the sins of the people. The death of the two goats symbolically set aside the sins of the nation, made their peace offering acceptable and gave them peace with their Creator. The people spoke the Name of God in heartfelt thanks.
Here are a couple of interesting tidbits from Jewish tradition. When the goats were brought before the High Priest, their respective roles in the ceremony were determined by lot. Two golden lots were placed in a golden bowl and as he placed his hand upon the head of each goat, the High Priest reached into the bowl and pulled out one of the lots. Before the cross, the goat that was to be presented to the Lord as a peace offering always turned out to be on the right hand of the High Priest. After the cross it never was.
While the scapegoat was symbolically receiving the sins of the people upon its head a scarlet ribbon was tied from one of its horns to the door of the temple. When the time came for the goat to be taken into the wilderness the ribbon was cut, leaving some on its horn and some on the door. At a predetermined location outside the city, the goat was pushed off a cliff and fell to its death. Before the cross, at the moment of the scapegoat’s death, the remnant of ribbon on the temple door turned from red to white symbolizing the passage from Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” After the cross this never happened again. The One Who now sits at the right hand of the Father and Who had fulfilled the dual role that the two goats only symbolized had come and forever taken away the sins of all who would choose to accept Him. (Source: The Fall Feasts Of Israel. Authors Mitch and Zhava Glaser, Publisher Moody Press.)
The Law Is Only A Shadow …
In Christendom a view holds that the Lord Jesus began His ministry on Yom Kippur announcing in effect that the judgment that was due mankind would be borne by Him (Luke 4:16-21) and that man no longer need live in fear of judgment nor have to endure the 10 Days of Awe every year.
It’s easy to see the Lord in the role of our scapegoat, His shed blood having purchased our pardon forever (Hebrews 10:11-14) but He was also our peace offering. “He is our peace, Who has broken down every wall.” (Ephe 2:14) For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
In the prophetic sense, Tribulation survivors from the nations will receive their fulfillment of the Yom Kippur judgment in the days immediately following the Lord’s return. This is described to us in the Sheep and Goat judgment (Matt 25:31-46) where Gentiles who’ve cast their sins at the foot of the cross during the Great Tribulation will be granted life in the Kingdom, and those who haven’t will be sent away for death. Their willingness to risk their lives by ministering to believing Jews during the Great Tribulation will be evidence of their faith. (Old Testament mention of this event can be found in Joel 3:1-3.) In Matt. 19:28 the Lord told His disciples that the judgment of Jews who survive the Great Tribulation will take place then, too.
For those of all ages who reject the Lord’s vicarious atonement, the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur will come at the end of the Millennium in the so-called Great White Throne judgment. For the last time, the books will be opened and the unsaved dead will stand before God to be judged according to their works. Everyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, comes five days after Yom Kippur. It’s a harvest celebration and was the inspiration for the American Thanksgiving Day. It began as a seven-day feast (later expanded to eight) when all the tithes the Israelites had set aside during the year were brought to Jerusalem for a joyous time of national celebration and thanksgiving for the Lord’s bountiful provision. The aroma of delicious foods cooking over open fires permeated the whole city. For seven days where ever you went there was an air of joy and festivity as the people remembered their Provider and gave thanks. (Deut. 14:22-26).
Historically the Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the time of God’s dwelling with the Israelites in the wilderness. Its prophetic fulfillment comes in the Millennium when the Lord will once again dwell among His people; with the Church in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21) and Israel in the Promised Land. From that time forward the Holy City will be called Jehovah Shammah, which means “The Lord Is There” (Isaiah 62:2 & Ezekiel 48:35).
Somewhere along the way a water libation ceremony was added to the Feast of Tabernacles. Each morning a procession of priests would descend the steps from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam and dip a silver pitcher into the water. Carrying the water back to the altar, they would pour it into the ground that had been exposed by the removal of a paving block near the altar, while offering prayers for rain. The purpose of this daily ceremony was to remind God to bring the fall rains needed to prepare the ground for planting. In Israel it doesn’t rain during the summer and the ground gets very hard. Gentle rains are needed to soften the ground so it can be prepared for the fall planting.
On the last day of the feast the High Priest himself would officiate and on this day instead of a silver pitcher one of pure gold would be used. The High Priest would be dressed in all his finest and attended by a huge contingent of similarly attired priests, blowing trumpets, singing psalms, and waving palm branches. When it was first described to me, I was struck by its beauty and pageantry. I’ve since read that extra balconies were set up around the Court of the Priests so more people could observe it.
One year just as the High Priest was about to pour the water into the ground, a loud voice interrupted the ceremony shouting, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38) It was Jesus and He was referring to the Holy Spirit, who believers would soon receive. This caused many to believe that He was indeed Israel’s Messiah. (We’re not told what the High Priest’s reaction was, but it couldn’t have been pleasant.)
Let’s Get Spiritual
Following the thought that events that were external and physical in the Old Testament are often internal and spiritual in the New, there is a sense in which these holy days also reflect the life of the believer.
As Jesus came to live in the world at His birth (Rosh Hashanah), so He comes to live in our hearts at our new birth. As He required the shedding of innocent blood to reconcile Himself with Israel (Yom Kippur) so He shed His own Blood to reconcile Himself with us. As He dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness of Midian (Tabernacles), so He dwells with us in the wilderness of Earth. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” He promised. (Matt 28:20) Even so, Come Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:20) You can almost hear the Footsteps of the Messiah.