What is Rosh Hashana? Much of the world celebrates a new start as December 31st turns into January 1st, whereas Jewish people now celebrate their new year at the Feast of Trumpets. But according to the Bible, the new year starts on “The first day of the first month”. The ‘first month’ is the month in which we celebrate Passover in the Spring, and the new moon signifies the beginning of each new month.
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.”
But our God is a God of multiple new beginnings, new seasons, and fresh starts!
Instead of celebrating once a year, God asks that the beginning of every month, each new moon, is celebrated – that’s twelve new beginnings instead of one! This is called “Rosh Chodesh”, or “head of the month”. It’s interesting that the word for month, “chodesh”, is from the root word for new: “chadash”.
The Biblical Mandate
Numbers 10:10 instructs:
“On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God.”
Numbers 28:11-15 goes further, requiring many sacrifices: “
At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord”… The trumpets were sounded, many different kinds of offerings were sacrificed, and it was a holiday for Israel – a day off regular work.
Throughout the Bible these New Moon festivals were often forgotten and fell by the wayside, at other times they were joyously reinstated, and other times they were performed in a dry and empty way that grieved God. But it is interesting that God wanted his people to note the opening of each month, isn’t it? The moon was at its very thinnest, all fresh and new, starting a new cycle, and a new month.
How the Jewish calendar developed
The Jewish calendar is different to the Gregorian calendar in that it is regulated more by the moon rather than the sun (although there are slight alterations to keep it in line with the seasons), and the days go from sundown to sundown, instead of midnight to midnight. This is because in Genesis we read, “and it was evening and there was morning, the first day” – starting with the evening.
You may be aware of the names of the Jewish months (like Nisan, mentioned above), but God called the months simply by their order – the first month, second month, and so on. He also, by the way, calls days of the week in the same manner – first day, second day, all the way through to sixth day, and then Shabbat. The names of the week that we use are actually based on idol worship! (Sun-day, Moon-day, Thor’s-day, and so on). Similarly, the names of the Jewish months cannot be found in the Bible, but have been brought back with the people of Israel from their time of exile in Babylon:
1. Nisan (נִיסָן)
2. Iyyar (אִיָּר)
3. Sivan (סִיוָן)
4. Tammuz (תַּמּוּז)
5. Av (אָב)
6. Elul (אֱלוּל)
7. Tishri (תִּשׁרִי)
8. Cheshvan (חֶשְׁוָן)
9. Kislev (כִּסְלֵו)
10. Tevet (טֵבֵת)
11. Shevat (שְׁבָט)
12. Adar (אֲדָר)
It is also Babylonian influence that brought the Jewish people to start celebrating the new year at all, and to do it at the Feast of Trumpets1. The name “Rosh HaShana” (head / beginning of the year) is mentioned only one time in the Bible, by Ezekiel:
“In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, in the beginning of the year [Rosh HaShana], in the tenth day of the month—in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day—the hand of Adonai was on me, and He brought me there.” (Ezekiel 40:1)
However, the context shows that he was not talking about a new year’s celebration, but rather just a measurement of time.
Resetting the clock
As we mentioned, God laid out this calendar to Moses at the time of the Exodus (thought to have happened in 1446 BC), but how did they measure time before that?
If you search for the word for ‘month’ in the Bible, you will find that time used to be measured by Noah’s age – we read that the flood came in the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year! And it continues to keep time by Noah’s age from then on, until this new paradigm shift occurs – God does the extraordinarily dramatic Exodus miracle, and resets time. However, God’s calendar was not necessarily what the other peoples of the earth were following – people would set time according to the life or rule of the King, as we can also see in the books of Kings, and the prophets. But the clock is dramatically reset once again by the coming of the Messiah, whom we proclaim every time we write the date – 2020 years since he came.
The Jewish year becoming 5781 is supposed to reflect the number of years since creation, although this is difficult to prove. The truth is that the very concept that this is the year 2020 is uncomfortable for those who are not fans of Yeshua. Instead of saying “BC” (Before Christ) or “AD” (Anno Domini – the year of our Lord), in Israel they say “before the counting” and “after the counting”, and it is now more common globally to write “CE” (Current Era) and “BCE” (Before the Current Era). The awkward truth of Yeshua’s central importance that all this counting and era-diving points towards is thus avoided for those who would rather deny the One who split time in two.
There will be a day when everyone will have to bow the knee and confess that He is Lord, but for now, we will continue to consecrate our lives to him as living sacrifices, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. Happy Rosh Hashana!
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- Elon Gilad, The History of Rosh Hashanah Which Wasn’t Always the ‘New Year’, HaAretz, Sep 20, 2017