How many Christians understand the importance of the Old Testament Feasts of the Lord and what they can mean in our lives today? Many Christians do not understand much of their Bible because they do not understand Jewish terms, Jewish time, etc. We are currently studying expositionaly “The Feasts of the Lord”. Below you will find some Jewish terms and some notes about Jewish time that were helpful to our church people in their desire to study the Scripture and to learn more about the Saviour. We thought they would be helpful to those receiving Hope Biblical Counseling Center material. These notes will also be available on our web site. (Please make sure to look at the Jewish Calendar and The Feasts of the Lord at the end of this document.)
Dr. Terry L. Coomer Sermon Series: The Feasts of the Old Testament December 30, 2001
Jewish time unique as it is, does exist. Months, days, and years are reckoned quite differently from a religious Jewish viewpoint than from the rest of the world.
The Jewish Day – For most of the world, a day is based on the Roman reckoning of time which began a new day at midnight. However, in marked contrast, the Jewish day begins at sundown and continues until the next sundown. Consequently, Jewish holidays always begin at sundown when the new day begins.
The Jewish Week – Most of the modern world reckons time by a seven-day unit known as a week. The Hebrew word for “week” is derived from the Hebrew word for “seven”. The Hebrew days of the week have specific names but are known as “the first day”, “the second day”, and so forth. The seventh day is known as the Sabbath and is set apart from the other six days as a day for rest and worship. All manner of work is prohibited on the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) by the Law of Moses (Exodus 31:15). If you worked on the Sabbath you were to be put to death. The Jewish week with its Sabbath finds its origin and meaning in the Biblical account of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3). God created for six days and rested on the seventh.
The Jewish Sabbath – This is considered a time to rejoice. Each Friday evening at sundown, the woman of the house will usher in the Sabbath by lighting Sabbath candles (usually two). She will then cover her eyes with her hands and recite the blessing for candle lighting. Candles are lit on all joyous occasions and holidays, preserving a Jewish tradition that dates back at least to the time of Esther (Esther 8:16). There is a Sabbath wine and a Sabbath table. The Sabbath is also a time to reflect. The modern observance of the Sabbath includes a Havdalah, from the Hebrew word meaning “separation”, serves as a separation between the Sabbath holy day and the following days of the secular work week. During the Havdalah, a cup of wine is filled to overflowing, symbolizing the joy of the Sabbath.
The Jewish Month – There is a connection to the moon. Hebrew months are lunar; that is, they are based upon the appearance of the thin crescent of the new moon. The moon orbits the earth, passing through its phases to the next New Moon, approximately 29 ½ days. For this reason, Jewish months generally alternate between 29 or 30 days in length. Since the Hebrew month is always connected to the New Moon, the Hebrew word for month (hodesh) is always the word for “moon”. In Biblical times, the beginning of each month was confirmed by the priests and later by the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling religious body in the time of Jesus. After questioning two reliable witnesses who had seen the New Moon, the council would solemnly declare, “It is sanctified!” In a matter of minutes word was “telegraphed” from Jerusalem to the large Jewish community in Babylonia. This was accomplished via an elaborate network of signal fires, which stretched for hundreds of miles across the Arabian desert. The first day of every month, known as Rosh Hodesh (the Head of the Month”), was a holy day. This has significance in the modern Jewish observances and the moon is talked about specifically and extensively in Scripture in the future observances of the Messianic Kingdom.
The Jewish Year – Most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar or Solar calendar, which traces its origin to the Roman calendar established under Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. Known as the Julian calendar, it consisted of 365 days each year and a leap year every fourth year. During a leap year, an extra day is added to the month of February. There is also a leap year every century, but only if they were also divisible by 400. Example would be 1600, 2000 etc. This revised Julian calendar to add a leap year was called the Gregorian calendar and is the calendar we use today.
Hebrew calendar – The Hebrew year reflects a compromise between lunar and solar reckoning. Jewish months are based upon the phases of the moon, with an average length of 29 ½ days. Ordinarily the Jewish year has 12 lunar months or, in other words, about 354 days on the calendar. The Bible commanded that the various holidays were to be kept in their appointed seasons (Numbers (9:2-3). Passover, for example, was to be observed in the springtime. Seasons, however, are determined by the earth’s orientation with the sun, not the moon. If the Hebrew calendar used only a lunar year (354) days, one would be faced with an insurmountable problem. The difference of approximately eleven days between the lunar year (354 days) and the solar year (365 ¼ days) would soon cause Passover to be celebrated out of it’s appointed season in violation of the Biblical injunction. To reconcile the difference, the Jewish calendar is based upon a 19-year cycle in which the third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth years are leap years. During a Jewish leap year, one day is added to the month Adair, and a thirteenth month (29 days), known as second Adar is added to the calendar. Because of the differences between the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars Jewish holidays appear to change dates every year. For instance, Passover sometimes occurs in March, at other times April. After the Exodus from Egypt, Israel actually observed two New Years, the agricultural and the religious. The religious calendar began its New Year in Nisan (March-April) and was used for all dating in the Bible. However, the more ancient agricultural or civil New Year (September-October), around the Feast of Trumpets) continued to be a tradition within Israel. The Biblical year consisted of 360 days or twelve months of 30 days each.
Dating System – Much of the world uses the dating system which reckons years before the birth of Jesus, (B.C.) Before Christ) and since His birth A.D. Anno Domini, Latin for in the year of our Lord. Since most Jewish people do not accept the Messiahship of Jesus, the same time periods are referred to in Jewish circles as “Before Common Era” (B.C.E. and “Common Era” (C.E.). The Jewish dating system used today actually reckons time from the traditional year of the creation of the world (Fall, 3761 B.C.). Therefore, the current Hebrew year can be calculated by adding 3760 or 3761 to the Gregorian calendar (because the Jewish New Year begins in September/October and the Gregorian year (because the Jewish New Year begins in September/October and the Gregorian New Year in January). For example, A.D. 2000 + 3760/3761 = 5760/5761.
Israel’s feasts are infinitely more important than just a series of cultural observances. These feasts are appointed by the Lord, and they are owned by the Lord. He calls them my feasts (Leviticus 23:2). These feasts are actually “appointed times” or “set times” with the Lord. Collectively, the “feasts” of the Lord form the divine appointments calendar, with Jerusalem as the meeting place (Isaiah 33:20).
The Jewish Calendar
- Nisan/30 days/Nisan 14/Passover
Nisan/15-20/ /Unleavened Bread
- Iyar /29 days
- Sivan/30 days/Sivan 6/Shavuot (Weeks)
- Tammuz/29 days
- Av/30 days/Av 9/Tisha B’Av
- Elul/29 days
- Tishri/30 days/Tishri 1/Rosh Hashanah
- Heshvan/29 or 30 days
- Kislev/29 or 30 days/Kislev 25/Hanukkah
- Tevet/29 days
- Shevat/30 days
- Adar/29 days/Adar 14/Purim
(30 in leap year)