Demystifying the Calendar
One of the greatest successes of the enemy of our souls has been separating God’s people from His calendar. Why is this important? Because satan knows that the telling of time is integral to God’s everlasting covenant with His people. Here’s what the scripture says:
Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:35-37 NKJV, emphasis added)
Is it possible for the movements of the sun, moon, and stars to change? Only if God does the changing, which He will at the end of this age (see Isaiah 13:13, Joel 3:16, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:25, Luke 21:26, II Peter 3:10, Revelation 21:21). It is not possible for satan to make such changes. However, if he can get God’s people to forget the way to regulate time according to God’s instruction, then he can cause all kinds of problems. And in fact he has done that. The calendar we now use is the Gregorian Calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585). It is a solar calendar with a fixed number of days each month and year. We know it is not the calendar God established because the names of the months and days are the names of pagan gods (which is a separate story in itself), and because the year begins in winter, not in spring as God commanded.
God divided the time into days, weeks, months (or New Moons), and years. This is clear from the Psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6 NKJV)
According to the first chapter of the Bible, God established His calendar at creation:
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19 NKJV, emphasis added)
This explains that God established the sun, moon, and stars to regulate time, and that He set up days to begin in the evening. That is why “evening and morning” were the measurement of each day. This is a consistent pattern in scripture. Days do not begin at midnight, but at sundown.
The sun regulates each day, but what regulates the week? The sun does that also. Seven cycles of the sun (days) is a week, with that last one being the special day called Sabbath. This also is something God established in the beginning:
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3 NKJV, emphasis added)
Now we consider how months are measured. It is the moon that measures the months. Scripture calls the beginning of the month a New Moon, a time which Israel is to observe with special worship to the Lord. Here are just two of the relevant passages explaining New Moons:
Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand. “I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the baskets. You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah. (Psalm 81:1-7 NKJV, emphasis added)
Then Solomon sent to Hiram king of Tyre, saying: “As you have dealt with David my father, and sent him cedars to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me. Behold, I am building a temple for the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to Him, to burn before Him sweet incense, for the continual showbread, for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, on the New Moons, and on the set feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel. (II Chronicles 2:3-4 NKJV, emphasis added)
How to determine the month gets complicated. In the Temple days, there was a set procedure established by which the priests would watch for the New Moon. Once it was seen and confirmed by witnesses, the new month was declared. Now that we have no Temple, there is a Jewish calendar which sets the beginning of the month. It is called the Hillel II Calendar, and it is the most widely used calendar in the Jewish and Messianic world. The purpose of this calendar is to ensure Jews in the Diaspora (the exile into all the nations) have the same standard for observing the Feasts of the Lord and other special days such as New Moons. It is not a perfect calendar because, like the Gregorian Calendar, it assigns a set number of days to each month rather than waiting to see when the new moon is actually visible. However, it is the best system available since there is no established Temple with authority to regulate the times according to God’s commandments.
At this point I must note that there is controversy regarding the New Moon because many Jews and Messianic believers do not accept the Hillel II Calendar. Karaite Jews and many Messianics still determine the day by waiting for witnesses in Israel to see the New Moon and confirm it. Still others claim that the month begins with the astronomical New Moon, which is the convergence of the moon and sun, when the moon does not give off any light. This comes one to three days before the New Moon is visible to the naked eye.
There is much more to say about these different methods of calculating the New Moon, but even though this controversy is important is best not to let it be a source of division in the body of Messiah. Yeshua will clarify this for us in time.
The last increment of time in God’s calendar is the year. Determining the beginning of the year can also be confusing because the “Jewish New Year”, Rosh HaShanah, begins on the first day of the Seventh Month. The Seventh Month, called Tishri, corresponds to September or October. According to Hebrew tradition, Tishri was originally the first month because that was when God created the heavens and the earth. However, God changed the order of months when He brought Israel out of Egypt. That is why the First Month is now Aviv (also called Nisan), which corresponds with March and April. God did that on purpose, as He explained to Moses:
Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 12:1-2 KNJV)
The beginning of the year is in the spring, when we celebrate the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits (Leviticus 23:4-14), but the Head of the Year is in the Seventh Month, when the harvest comes in. In that month we celebrate Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:23-36).
How do we know when the first month begins? That requires the witnesses of the sun and the earth. It happens with the first new moon after the spring equinox, when the barley is mature enough to be fully ripe in time to present to the Lord at the Feast of First Fruits. This sign of the barley comes from the account of the Exodus, when God struck Egypt with hail as the Seventh of the Ten Plagues. According to scripture:
Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the head and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops. (Exodus 9:31-32 NKJV)
Barley is the first grain harvest, and therefore is the offering required at the Feast of First Fruits. In the time of the Temple, the priests had a barley field set aside to determine the beginning of the year. If the barley was aviv, meaning “in the ear”, or having a head of grain, then it was certain to be ripe at First Fruits. Therefore the next New Moon would be the month of Aviv. If the barley was not aviv, then the one additional month would be added to the year to give the barley time to mature. This would mean the old year was a leap year with thirteen months rather than twelve. Today the Hillel II Calendar regulates the years by adding a thirteenth month seven times in a 19-year cycle. This current year, 5774, is such a leap year. We have just entered the twelfth month, Adar I. The next New Moon will be the thirteenth month, Adar II.
As with the New Moons, there is some controversy here in that Karaite Jews and some Messianic believers wait until confirmation of aviv barley in Israel before determining when the First Month begins. When there is a Temple again, and, more importantly, when Messiah reigns from that Temple, we will know the right way to measure time. Until then we do the best we can observing the times as best we can in accordance with the Word of God and the constraints of this present age.
- Hebcal Jewish Calendar presents a wealth of useful information, including multi-year dates of the Feasts and other Jewish holidays, and tools to convert dates from the Gregorian to the Hebrew calendar. It is accessible at http://www.hebcal.com/.
- The Temple Institute provides historical information on New Moon observance in the days of the Second Temple in “Rosh Hashana: Sanctifying the New Moon”: http://www.templeinstitute.org/rosh_hashana/sanctifying.htm.
- For a comprehensive teaching on the various calendars in use in Jewish and Messianic circles, see the three-part series from 119 Ministries called “Time: Our Creator’s Calendar”:
- Another good study on the biblical calendar is “The New Moon”, by Monte Judah, Lion & Lamb Ministries, in Yavoh: He Is Coming!, vol 15, No. 5 (May 2009), at http://lionlamb.net/v3/YAVOH-HeisComing/2009/05.