The Postponements: Addressing the Issues
Dale D. Carmean and Jack M. Lane
Which New Moon Begins The New Year?
Conjunctionists tend to look to the conjunction closest to the spring equinox to determine Abib 1. There will be times when the fall Holy Days will be wholly in the summer (before the fall equinox) rather than in the fall season.
According to one of its own rules, the Hebrew calendar begins the year with the new moon closest to the spring equinox, as referenced in this quote from the Encyclopedia Judaica: "But Nisan 16 must not occur before a spring day, by the rules of the Hebrew calendar."
If the first day of Unleavened Bread fell on the day before spring, then the Last Great Day of the fall festival would occur before the fall equinox. We might ask, "How then could the fall festivals occur before fall begins?"
It is important to know that the scriptural instruction is not to observe fall festivals, but rather to "celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress" (Deuteronomy 16:13), and to "celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in your crops from the field" (Exodus 23:16).
The grape harvest begins in July and lasts until September. The wheat harvest is over in July or August. Olives are harvested from September to December; this is one of the longest harvest periods. Exodus 34:22 says, "also the Feast of Ingathering at the turn [tekufah] of the year." Tekufah here refers to the fall equinox.
On the other hand, those who observe the first crescent tend to declare the first new moon following the spring equinox to be Abib 1. That way, the spring barley crop will always be ripe and ready for harvesting (for the first fruit of the harvest used in the wave sheaf offering), and the annual Holy Days will all be where they are expected to be: the spring Holy Days will be in the spring and the fall Holy Days will be in the fall.
How can we tell which new moon, the one nearest or the one following the equinox, establishes the beginning of the year?
The first month of the year is named Abib, which means, roughly, "green ears." The month was named for a noticeable feature of the month, namely, the green ears of barley in the fields. Ripe barley is not a requirement for the month of Abib, although the barley needs to be at a certain stage of maturity.
If Abib 1 is determined by the first new moon after the equinox, there will be years when the Last Great Day will be as late as November 3, which is considerably past the harvest, and into the rainy season, which begins in late October. The rainy season in the Middle East is not a good time to be going to or from the Feast.
In God's instructions in Deuteronomy 16, He says, "Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing-floor and your winepress" (Deuteronomy 16:13, NIV).
He also said, "Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year [tekufah]" (Exodus 34:22).
The grape harvest is from the middle of July until September. Going to the Feast after the grape harvest would place the Feast in late September, at about the time of the tekufah, or the fall equinox.
By using the new moon closest to the spring equinox to determine the beginning of the year, rather than using the first new moon following the equinox, the earliest a Feast of Tabernacles would fall would be the middle of September. There may be years when the Feast would be in the late summer, but there is no scripture which forbids this. There is actually no mandate for the Feast to be completely in the fall. Tekufah refers to the fall equinox. Notice how God commands, "Celebrate ... the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22), not following it!
Even though Moses appears to be saying, in Exodus 13:10, "You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year" (NKJV), it is better translated, "You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year" (NIV), or "You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year" (NRSV). There is therefore no biblical mandate for the "fall" Holy Days to be in the fall, but there is a mandate that there be green ears in the spring, which is the meaning of "Abib" (Exodus 13:4; 34:18), and that the Feast begins after the completion of the wheat harvest (in August) and the grape harvest (in mid September) (Deuteronomy 16:13).
There is no valid scriptural reason for the Hebrew calendar to set the year by determining when Tishri 1 would occur rather than when Abib 1 would occur.
SHOULD WE OBSERVE NEW MOONS?
Several church leaders and church members have wondered about having some type of new moon observance, since it was important in ancient Israel, and there are several references in the Bible to new moon festivals.
When we look to Leviticus 23, and the list of God's commanded observances, we will find the weekly Sabbath and the Holy Days mentioned. We want to be sure to observe those. However, there are no scriptures telling us to observe other days, such as Purim or the Festival of Lights, although these are mentioned in scripture. These were, in effect, national holidays of ancient Israel, set up by a grateful nation to thank God and honor Him for delivering them from their enemies. There are likewise no scriptures commanding a New Covenant observance of the new moon. These other days, while they are not forbidden, are not commanded. Therefore, there would be nothing wrong in observing Purim, the Feast of Lights, or the day of the new moon, as long as we understand that they are not commanded observances, nor are they feasts of God.
Many ministers have been asked about new moon celebrations. The answer has generally been that there would be nothing wrong in observing the new moon, and it might even be beneficial, but since there is no biblical command to do so, the corporate churches have not set up any program for that.
One of the reasons that the new moon observance was so important in Israel was that it was a day to synchronize the nation. Each new moon was greeted by the blowing of horns throughout Israel, and served to remind everyone that the new month had begun.
Today, we use wall calendars, desk calendars, wristwatch calendars, and calendars in our computers to synchronize us, not to the Hebrew calendar, but to the Gregorian calendar. It would almost be an anachronism to "make a big production" on the new moon, although a quiet observance would be appropriate. Perhaps a home Bible study could be scheduled, or perhaps having a few friends over for dinner. These would be enjoyable and beneficial ways to spend the evening. The calendar and God's plan would naturally come up in conversation, and would help to remind us once again of what an awe-inspiring God we serve, and how blessed we are to be included in His plan, and how each of us was called by name to be a child of the great God in heaven.
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