God's Appointed Times
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 7 June 2011; Revised 19 December 2015
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of all Scripture and message I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).
"The LORD spoke again to Moses, saying, … 'These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them.'" (Lev 23:1, 4 NASB)
"He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation." (Acts 17:26)
In the Torah (Pentateuch) God commanded Israel to observe specific holy days and festivals. These "appointed times," summarized in Leviticus 23, were designed to celebrate God's grace in the past and the present. All the designated days on God's calendar, including the first and last days of week-long festivals, were considered sabbaths, because ordinary work was prohibited on those days. The Hebrew calendar has an astronomical basis. Every day of the calendar begins at sundown since the days in the creation week of Genesis 1 are described as "evening and morning." The Torah instructions for observance of festivals refer to this manner of determining the beginning and ending of a day. In contrast days on the world's civil calendar begin at midnight.
Christians generally avoid observance of most of the holy days specified in the Torah, because of either a belief that these special days are Jewish or an assumption that God's Torah was canceled. Yet Christians will observe holy days determined by church authority, especially Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost. While Christian observance of the Passion Week and Pentecost are based on the Torah calendar, the actual dates of observance do not conform to the divinely decreed dates in Scripture.
All the special days identified in the Torah were commanded by God, not invented by Moses. Moreover, Yeshua (Jesus) and the apostles kept Sabbath and other special days on the divine calendar (Luke 2:42; 4:16; Acts 2:1; 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; 20:16; 21:20-24; 1Cor 16:8). With the exception of the Lord's Supper (1Cor 11:20-29) and the Lord's Day (Acts 20:7, 1Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10), no new religious observances were added to the calendar. Christianity had the freedom to establish special calendar days that bring glory to God, but there is no need to abandon the calendar God created. Let's consider the original appointed times.
REMINDER: By biblical injunction and practice all time references begin at sundown.
Daily – Sacrifice
Time: Every day, morning and evening.
Scripture: Exodus 29:38-42; Ezekiel 46:13-15; Hebrews 7:27; 10:11.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses, the daily sacrifice was a burnt offering of a lamb (completely consumed by fire, Lev 1:10-13), morning and evening, signifying continuing consecration and devotion to God. The animal sacrifice was accompanied by a grain offering and a wine offering. The daily sacrifice came with a precious promise: "It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory." (Ex 29:42-43)
New Covenant Meaning: Disciples are called to present themselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) and die daily to selfish desires (Luke 9:23). Disciples are to daily read Scripture (Deut 6:7; Ps 119:97; Acts 17:11; Rom 15:4; 1Tim 4:5; 2Tim 2:15; 3:16) and seek the Lord in prayer and worship (Ps 119:64; Matt 6:11; Luke 18:17; 1Th 3:10; 5:17; 1Tim 5:5; 2Tim 1:3). God still speaks to his people through these means of grace. See my commentary on Romans 12:1.
Weekly – Shabbat (Sabbath)
Time: Seventh day of each week/one day.
Scripture: Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:8-11; 31:13; Leviticus 23:1-3; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 4:16-21; 13:10; Acts 13:14, 42-44; 15:21; 17:2; 18:4; Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 4:9.
Background: God instituted the weekly day of rest at the conclusion of His creation. The observance was in practice long before the Mt. Sinai covenant. However, the weekly Shabbat became a sign of God's irrevocable covenant with Israel (Ex 31:13).
New Covenant Meaning: Shabbat hasn’t been canceled, since Yeshua and the apostles kept the Sabbath. However, the disciple is responsible for its observance to seek the rest God promises (Col 2:16). See my article Remember the Sabbath.
Monthly – Rosh Chodesh (New Moon, lit. "head of the month")
Time: First day of each lunar month; one day.
Scripture: Genesis 1:14; Numbers 10:10; 29:6; Ezra 3:5; Nehemiah 10:33; Ps 81:1-4; Isaiah 66:23; Ezekiel 45:17; 46:1, 3, 6; Colossians 2:16.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses. The astronomical new moon occurs when the moon is positioned between the earth and sun. The entire illuminated portion of the moon is on the back side of the moon, the half that cannot be seen from earth. On God's calendar each month begins when the first sliver of moon becomes visible after the dark of the moon. The day after the moon appears was designated a festival, Rosh Chodesh, announced with the sounding of the shofar, and commemorated with solemn convocations, family festivities and special sacrifices. The importance of this holiday in ancient times should not be underestimated. The entire calendar was dependent upon these declarations; otherwise, there would be no way of knowing when important holidays, such as Pesach and Sukkot, were supposed to occur.
New Covenant Meaning: Rosh Chodesh symbolizes renewal and restoration. Just as the moon wanes and disappears at the end of the month, but returns and waxes again to fullness, so we await the return of our Messiah, who will restore the glory of God to the earth. Rosh Chodesh also remembers the birth of Yeshua, whose light shines in the darkness, reflecting the love and grace of the Father. The only mention of Rosh Chodesh in the New Testament is Colossians 2:16 in which Paul assures Gentile disciples they have the liberty to determine how they observe this holy day.
Annual Feasts of the Lord
Time: One day, twilight ("between the evenings"), Erev 15 Aviv. Called Nisan after the Babylonian Exile (Mar-Apr); the first month of the year.
Scripture: Exodus 12:1–13:16; Leviticus 23:5; Deuteronomy 16:1-6; Matthew 26:2, 17-19; Mark 14:1-16; Luke 2:41-42; 22:13-15; John 6:4; 13:1; Acts 12:4; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23-27.
Background: Instituted by God in Egypt through Moses to celebrate deliverance from the tenth plague of death of the firstborn. Lambs were slaughtered and meal preparations were completed on the 14th so that the meal could begin at sundown.
New Covenant Meaning: Pesach remembers the death of Yeshua whose sacrifice assured eternal redemption, deliverance from eternal death and cleansing from sin (Rom 5:9; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:12; 13:12; 1Jn 1:7). See my article The Messianic Meal.
Hag HaMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread)
Time: Begins on 15 Nisan coincidental with Pesach and lasts seven days.
Scripture: Exodus 12:15-18, 31-34; Leviticus 23:8; Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:1, 12; Luke 22:1, 7; Acts 12:3; 20:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.
Background: Instituted by God in Egypt through Moses to celebrate deliverance from the tenth plague of death of the firstborn.
New Covenant Meaning: Hag HaMatzah symbolizes the sinless body of Yeshua and serves as a reminder to get rid of personal sin in order to emulate and honor our sinless Lord.
Reishit Katzir (First fruits of Harvest)
Time: Occurs on the day after the Sabbath that follows Passover.
Scripture: Leviticus 23:9-14; John 12:23-24, 32; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses. Sheaves of the barley harvest were waved before the Lord in the temple in thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest.
New Covenant Meaning: The feast symbolizes the resurrection of Yeshua, which occurred on this day, the "first fruits" of those who believe (1Cor 15:20-23). Barley was considered the bread of the poor, which symbolizes that Yeshua came to give the gospel to the poor and needy (Luke 4:18; 7:22; 14:21) and a continual reminder that the Body of Messiah must minister to the needy (Matt 25:34-36; Rom 12:13; Gal 2:10; 6:10; 1Jn 3:17).
Sfirat HaOmer (Counting the Sheaf)
Time: Begins the counting of 50 days to Shavuot (Pentecost).
Scripture: Leviticus 23:15-16.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses. Jews in the first century differed on the definition of "Sabbath" in Lev 23:11, which resulted in two different dates for beginning the omer counting. Modern Jewish observance occurs on 16 Nisan.
New Covenant Meaning: Counting days represents a continuing awareness of the fragility and shortness of life (Ps 90:10-12; 103:15) and our utter dependence on God. Jeremiah prophesied, "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant" (Jer 31:31). Counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot reflects eagerness for the coming of the Holy Spirit and celebrates the fulfillment of God's promises.
Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) or Yom HaBikkurim (Day of First Fruits)
Time: One day, first day of the week, seven weeks from Sfirat HaOmer (Sivan, May-June); third month of the year. (This date could occur anywhere in 8-15 Sivan.)
Scripture: Exodus 23:16; 34:22; Leviticus 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:9-12; Acts 2:1-5; 20:16; Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 16:8.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses. Jewish tradition says that the tablets were given to Moses on Shavuot. After occupation of the land the festival would occur at the wheat harvest and was a time to rejoice in the fullness of God's provision. In the first century Pharisees and Saduccees differed over how the date was calculated. The instruction of Leviticus 23:15 is, "You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths." Pharisees (and modern Jews generally) interpret the starting point as the day after Pesach, since Pesach is a sabbath. Saduccees interpreted the starting point as the day after the seventh-day Sabbath following Pesach. The Sadducean method seems most reasonable because the starting point is the day of the sheaf offering, which occurred on the day following the Sabbath (Lev 23:11). If God had intended the counting to start with Pesach itself He would have said so more plainly. (This method was adopted by Christianity so that Pentecost is on the seventh Sunday following Easter.)
New Covenant Meaning: Of interest is that for the year of Yeshua's death and resurrection both methods for counting the days from Pesach to Shavuot would conclude on the same day. Shavuot remembers the pouring out the Holy Spirit on the day identified as Pentecost on the Christian calendar and the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Spirit would write the Torah on the hearts of God’s people (Jer 31:33; cf. Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
Yom Teru’ah (Day of Shouting)
Time: 1 Tishri, one day, (Sep-Oct); seventh month of the year.
Scripture: Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6.
Background: While commonly called "Feast of Trumpets," the Heb. word teru'ah does not mean "trumpet," but a shout or blast of war, alarm or joy. In fact, neither the words shofar (a curved ram's horn used for both military and religious purposes), or chatsotsrah (a long straight “trumpet” made of beaten silver and used mainly for religious purposes), occur in the texts describing this feast. However, the instruction was interpreted to mean blowing shofars or trumpets, because these words and teru'ah occur together in other Torah instructions, especially in sections describing feasts (Lev 25:9; Num 10:1-10).
Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses Yom Teru'ah begins a ten day period of sincere humbling and repentance to prepare for Yom Kippur. The ten days was known as the "days of awe." During Talmudic times the name of the festival was changed to Rosh Hashanah (lit. "head of the year") and is the name most commonly known today. Rosh Hashanah is considered the Jewish New Year (in a civil sense), whereas Pesach is the religious new year.
New Covenant Meaning: Yom Teru'ah is not mentioned in the apostolic writings, but these ten days are an appropriate time to intercede for the salvation of Israel and Jews, as well as one's own family (Ps 26:2; 139:23-24; Dan 9:4-23; Rom 9:1-4; 10:1). Disciples of Yeshua should pray that unbelieving Jews will engage in sincere repentance and turn to their Messiah during this period. Yom Teru’ah also remembers and anticipates the final days of awe, namely the return of Yeshua, which will be announced with the sound of a trumpet, and the judgment (Matt 24:31; 1Cor 15:52; 1Th 4:16; Rev 11:15).
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
Time: 10 Tishri, one day (Sep-Oct); seventh month of the year.
Scripture: Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:34; 23:26-32; 25:9; Acts 27:9; Hebrews 9:7, 25; 10:1-3.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses to provide atonement for the nation of Israel. This is the only day the Torah prescribes as a day of fasting.
New Covenant Meaning: Yeshua's sacrificial death provided redemption for the whole world, but he did not die on Yom Kippur. While the function of Yom Kippur has been superseded by the once-for-all atonement of Yeshua (Heb 7:27; 9:28), observance of the special day can serve as a reminder of Yeshua's role as the only perfect High Priest. Moreover, as High Priest Yeshua continues to intercede for His disciples every day of the year (Rom 8:34). Yom Kippur is, therefore, a time to glorify Yeshua and reflect on our continued need for his priestly ministry (Heb. 4:14-16; 5:1-10; 6:19-20; 7:11-28; 8:1-5; 9:11-28; 10:1-14, 19-22). As a High Holy Day in Judaism, this day is an especially appropriate time to intercede for the salvation of Israel and all Jews.
Sukkot (Feast of Booths)
Time: 15 Tishri (Sep-Oct); seventh month of the year; lasts seven days.
Scripture: Exodus 23:16; 34:22; Leviticus 23:33-44; Deuteronomy 16:13-17; 31:10; John 7:1-14, 37.
Background: Instituted by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Ingathering because of celebrating the harvest of olives, figs and grapes. Sukkot is often translated as "Feast of Tabernacles" but this interpretation is not very useful. In honor of the festival's historical significance, Jews build and dwell in temporary shelters for the seven days. The temporary shelter is referred to as a sukkah.
New Covenant Meaning: Sukkot remembers that Yeshua was the Word made flesh, who tabernacled among us (John 1:14). Sukkot is a time to rejoice in the earthy ministry of the Messiah. Sukkot is also a recognition of our transient state on earth and our anticipation of a permanent home (John 14:2; Heb 11:8-10; 13:14). Sukkot is most likely the time of year for the birth of Yeshua, so it is appropriate to celebrate Sukkot as the time that God became flesh and "tabernacled" among us (John 1:14).
Other Jewish Festivals
There are additional feasts not included in the Moadim ("appointed times") of Leviticus 23. These feasts were inaugurated by Jewish leadership after the Babylonian exile and added to the annual festival calendar.
Tu B'Shevat (The Planting of Trees, lit. "the fifteenth of Shevat")
Time: one day, 15 Sh'vat (Jan-Feb)
Scripture: [Leviticus 19:23-25; 26:3-4]
Background: Tu B’Shevat is the New Year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing (Lev 23:24). The special day served to remind Israelites of the importance of fruit trees. The Torah states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for God, and after that, people could eat the fruit. Fruit trees were not to be cut down in time of war (Deut 20:19). The righteous man is likened to a fruitful tree (Ps 1:3). The prophet Isaiah depicted the fruit trees as clapping "their hands" as the word of YHVH was accomplished (Isa 55:11-12). Tu B’Shevat is not mentioned in the Bible. It is mentioned in the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), and the only thing said there is that it is the new year for trees. There was a dispute as to the proper date for the holiday. Beit Shammai said the proper day was the first of Shevat, but Beit Hillel said the proper day was the 15th of Shevat. As usual, Jews follow Beit Hillel.
New Covenant Meaning: This feast is not mentioned in the Besekh, but it is very possible that this is the festival mentioned when Yeshua healed the man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9). The fruit tree is significant because the Bible begins and ends with the Tree of Life (Gen 2:9; Rev 22:19). Yeshua used the fruit tree to symbolize the good and faithful disciple (Matt 7:18). Israel is likened to the olive tree (Rom 11:24). Lastly, the apostle John saw the Tree of Life bearing twelve fruits each month and its leaves were for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). Observing this special day celebrates the life that is found only in Messiah Yeshua.
Purim (Feast of Lots)
Time: two days, 14-15 Adar (Feb-Mar); twelfth month of the year.
Scripture: Esther 9:1-32.
Background: Purim was established at the order of Queen Esther after the plot of Haman against the Jews was exposed and defeated.
New Covenant Meaning: This feast is not mentioned in the Besekh. Paul reminds us that the New Covenant did not end the promises to Israel under the Old Covenant (Rom 9:2; 11:29), nor did the Church replace Israel in God’s affections. Observing Purim is a way of expressing solidarity with God’s purposes for Israel.
Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication)
Time: 25 Kislev (Nov-Dec); lasts 8 days.
Background: The feast was inaugurated in the intertestament period after the Maccabean revolt against the tyranny of the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. The Temple was cleansed and rededicated with sacrifice of lambs. Priests discovered they had only enough oil for one day and it would take a week to obtain more. So, they lit the lamps and the oil miraculously lasted eight days until the new supply arrived. Thus, Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Lights. See my commentary on Daniel 8:2-25 and 11:11-45, as well as John 10:22.
New Covenant Meaning: While not mentioned in the Tanakh the festival was observed by Yeshua (John 10:22). Hanukkah represents the light of Messiah burning brightly in our hearts. It is fitting for believers to honor Messiah with thanksgiving for deliverance from sin and dedicating our lives anew to Him. Hanukkah was probably the time of year that the Magi visited the holy family in Bethlehem. Thus, like the Magi Hanukkah is a time to recognize Yeshua as King. Christians could reclaim the spiritual meaning of Christmas by celebrating Hanukkah. See my web article The Message of Hanukkah.
Jewish New Years
The Mishnah identifies four new years in the Jewish calendar that were occasions of celebration, i.e., the year is reckoned to commence at different dates for different purposes (Rosh Hashana 1:1). Although the term "new year" does not occur in Scripture, these important dates would have been in place in the first century.
First New Year
Time: The first of Nisan (Abib in early biblical times, Ex 13:4), the new year for kings and festivals. Nisan is first month of the year and corresponds to March-April. The "new year for kings" meant that if a document is dated with a certain year in a king's reign, the year is reckoned to have commenced in Nisan, no matter in what month the king came to the throne. This was the practice of Israelite kings prior to the exile, but the years of non-Israelite kings are reckoned from the seventh month of Tishri (Rosh Hashanah 3a). In addition, the festival calendar is dated from Nisan.
Scripture: Important events occurred on the first day of the first month: Ending of the global deluge (Gen 8:13), and erecting the Tabernacle (Ex 40:2, 17). During the reign of King Hezekiah a religious revival led to the cleansing and consecration of the temple that began on the first day of the first month (2Chr 29:17).
Second New Year
Time: The first of Elul, the new year for animal tithes. Elul is the sixth month from Nisan and corresponds to August-September.
Scripture: On the first day of the sixth month the prophet Haggai received a message from the Lord that challenged the Jewish people to rebuild the temple (Hag 1:1-7).
Third New Year
Time: The first of Tishri, the new year for calculation of the calendar, sabbatical years and jubilees, for planting and sowing. Tishri is the seventh month from Nisan and corresponds to September-October.
Scripture: Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1. See the note on Yom Teru'ah above. On this date sacrifices resumed in Israel after the exile (Ezra 3:6) and Ezra the priest read the Torah to the people (Neh 8:2).
Fourth New Year
Time: The first of Shevat, the new year for trees, calculated for determining the tithe of tree fruit. The date of 15 Shevat was preferred by Beth Hillel, so that is the date observed by most Jews. Shevat is the eleventh month from Nisan and corresponds to January-February. In modern times this holiday is celebrated in Israel with the planting of trees.
Scripture: On this day Moses spoke to the Israelites in Moab to review all that God had done and remind them of His laws and covenantal expectations (Deut 1:3).
New Covenant: The New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah promised a new kind of relationship with God and a new life. Such concepts in the Besekh as "new wine," "new languages," "new creation," "new man," "new self," "new heavens" and "new earth" reflect the newness brought about by the grace of God. Each of the Jewish new years can have a spiritual meaning and at the very least these days are reminders of what we owe God.
God’s appointed times of spiritual celebration and worship detailed in the Torah were originally intended for all mankind (Lev 24:22; Num 15:16; Acts 17:26). When Yeshua returns and establishes his millennial kingdom, he will oversee the restoration of key festivals that God ordained, such as Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (Isa 66:22-23; Ezek 46:1-11; Zeph 3:18; Zech 14:16; Matt 26:29). Paul provided important instruction to the non-Jewish disciples in Colossae concerning observance of the biblical calendar:
"Therefore, do not let anyone pass judgment on you in matters of food or drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon or Shabbat. These are the foreshadowing of things to come; but the reality is Messiah." (Col 2:16-17 TLV)
Unlike exemption from ritual circumcision granted to Gentile disciples at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Paul assumes the continuation of the biblical calendar. The word "festival" possibly alludes to the three important festivals that every Jewish male was obligated to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem for observance: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (Deut 16:16; 2Chr 8:13), but would apply to all the festivals times observed by the Jewish people. For Gentile disciples Paul emphasizes personal responsibility for observance free from the legalism of Pharisaic Judaism. Most importantly the special days should be observed as revelations of the character and ministry of Yeshua.
I therefore recommend that Christian churches and believers evaluate their attitudes toward the biblical calendar and consider the following options:
1. Highlight the key biblical festivals, on the church’s and personal calendar to draw attention to God’s appointed times for celebration.
2. In anticipation of each holy day provide teaching on the institution of the feast and the New Covenant meaning for disciples. A Messianic Jewish leader could be invited to give the instruction.
3. Encourage families to observe biblical feasts at home. The manner of observance is a matter of personal choice (Col 2:16). A minimal observance would include reading the Scriptural background for the feast, reflecting on how the festival reveals the ministry of Yeshua, and praying that unbelieving Jews would recognize their Messiah in their celebration of the feast.
4. Join with a Messianic Jewish congregation in their observance of the feasts.
By sharing in these events, Gentile Christians send the message that they love the Jewish people and appreciate the banner of faith carried by the faithful remnant of Israel for so long throughout history.
There are many resources available to assist in learning more about the biblical feasts and providing suggestions for observance. See Barney Kasdan, God's Appointed Times (Lederer Publications, 1993) and the section of the Hebrew for Christians website, Feasts and Holidays.
Copyright © 2011-2016 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.