Just before the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, God told Moses that the month of the Passover was to be the first month of the new year. So the first day of the first month, the start of the year, is in the Spring according to the Bible.
“This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:2)
He didn’t give the month a name at that point1, just as He didn’t give the days of the week names in Genesis either. They were simply called the first day, second day, and so on, through to Shabbat. In the same way the months are referred to as the first month, second month, and so on. The names of the months came later, and today the first month of the Jewish calendar is known as the month of Nisan. This is the real new year, according to the Bible—the month when the tribes of Israel became a faith community and the whole nation set off on their faith journey with God.
What about Rosh Hashanah?
Today, the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year”) is celebrated in the Fall, at the Feast of Trumpets. In ancient times, the surrounding nations would likewise start their year according to the agricultural cycle, when the first rains came. But in contrast to other peoples, God told His own people their timetable would run very differently.
Instead of fixing the calendar around the agricultural cycle, God kicks off the year beginning with His great story of redemption, which would foreshadow the redemption provided by the blood of Jesus on the cross.
It was in that first month of Nisan that the entire nation of Israel were saved from slavery by the blood of the Passover lamb. They all took part in faith, obeying God’s instruction to put the blood on vertical and horizontal pieces of wood around their doorframes, trusting that death would pass over them as God had said. Later, the blood of the Messiah on the vertical and horizontal planks of wood on the cross would save countless millions from slavery to sin and death for those who trust in His sacrifice. While the rest of the world was focused on the bread necessary for survival, God changed the pivotal point to highlight our need for redemption as even higher than our need for food. Life is precious, but eternal life even more so.
It must be said, however, that the idea of the year coming to an end in the fall is not entirely unscriptural. The Feast of Tabernacles, also known as the Feast of Ingathering, is described twice as being at the end of the year:
“You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor.” (Exodus 23:16)
“You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end.” (Exodus 34:22)
While the Jewish civil new year is in the fall, and with some justification, the Bible says the first month of the year is to be in the Spring, in the month of the Passover. Unlike the many feasts of the Lord, God does not command a celebration, or even a rest! But here it is anyway, the ceremonial head of the year—the real Rosh Hashanah.
A new beginning
The first of Nisan is not only the start of the new year, it was also highlighted once again to Moses, on another important occasion:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.” (Exodus 40:1)
Moses was shown the pattern for the tabernacle up on Mount Sinai, and the work was completed by the time Passover came round again for the first time since the great event itself. On the anniversary of the first month of the first year, when the calendar was first inaugurated, Moses and the Israelites completed the task of building the tabernacle.
In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars. And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Exodus 40:17-19)
Just as in the beginning God stretched out the heavens over the earth, Moses was instructed to stretch out, to spread the tent material over the tabernacle structure. This concept of spreading or stretching out is an interesting word to trace throughout the Scriptures when we’re thinking of the first day of the first month. God’s handiwork of creation is often referred to as stretching out the heavens like a tent:
I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. (Isaiah 45:12)
Psalm 104 also builds on this metaphor of God stretching out the heavens like a tent, using imagery of the tabernacle structure with a cloth canopy stretched over it (also in Psalm 19:4, Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, Jeremiah 10:12 and many other places2). A few different words for this stretching and spreading out of the heavens are used in Hebrew, some of which (like the word רקע as God stretches out the sky in Psalm 136:6 and Job 37:18) are also used to describe how the woven fabrics within the tabernacle were fashioned. These words also speak of the cherubim stretching their wings over the mercy seat, and of people stretching out their hands in intercession… just as the arms of Jesus were stretched out on the cross as He offered up His life for us, bidding all to come.
So the tabernacle was set up, and God’s glory fell on the first day of the first month, a year after Israel’s dramatic deliverance. A new beginning was made for God’s chosen people, with the tabernacle signifying a replica of Eden.
A fresh start, a way back to how things were supposed to be. And a new start is open to us as we receive the gift of forgiveness and cleansing from the sacrifice of the Messiah, His arms stretched wide offering us salvation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- God later calls the first month Aviv: “Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night”. (Deuteronomy 16:1)
- eg. Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 48:13, Isaiah 51:13, Jeremiah 10:12, Jeremiah 51:15, Zechariah 12:1