By Shawn Richardson
Are you keeping the Feasts of God as prescribed in Holy Scripture (the Bible)? If you are unaware of what these Festivals (or God's annual appointments) are all about, you can learn more via several Sabbath-keeping Church & Assembly organizations or Synagogues. These Festivals help remind us of God's overall purpose for mankind and His plan to redeem His followers from sin and its curse of (eternal) death. Of course, the best resource to turn to is simply reading your Bible (these days are mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments and are clearly laid out in Leviticus 23). But this paper is not to explain what the Festivals are and how they represent God's (Yehovah's) overall plan for all of mankind; No, this paper is for those that have kept, or are wanting to keep, His appointments (Festivals) and to challenge them in understanding exactly how to determine when they should be kept.
If you have already observed the Biblical Festivals in the past, you know by now that they are observed on different days than the standard Gregorian calendar each year. And, like most of us, you likely had to seek out the specific dates as to when to observe them each year directly from a Sabbath-keeping, festival-observing organization. For me, I would always reference a pocket-calendar distributed from my Church organization (Worldwide Church of God, Living Church of God and others). Most of these organizations provide these pocket-calendar cards that list these Festival dates up to several years in advance to help members plan their commemoration. Perhaps you have simply referenced a group's website for a list of Festival dates from year to year. Maybe you gave it more thought and knew your Gregorian Calendar was useless and decided to reference a Hebrew Calendar instead.
You see, the Festivals are kept according to a Biblical calendar. The Gregorian calendar is the example most of us have followed and are intimately familiar with. We have been raised from childhood using this calendar, planning our entire lives around it (at least throughout most of the western world). We are used to months being January through December and days as being midnight to midnight. But the Bible describes when to keep a particular festival on Yehvoah's calendar that spans an eternity (at least, for this age) that does not require us to print on paper every year or create pocket-sized reference cards or websites. The Bible simply uses the moon and counting the number of days (starting when the sun goes down) between each lunar cycle, and begins this cycle every year based on the harvest season. This makes the Biblical calendar celestial - surrounding us with His creation.
So, the challenge I lay before each and every person that desires to keep these Festivals is this: can you determine exactly when you should be keeping Yehovah's appointed Festivals? In other words, could you determine on your own (with no pocket calendar or internet listing) when you should be celebrating these days from year to year? Could you show a layman how to determine when to keep a Festival using only the Bible and its instruction? You should! And you should be able to give an answer as to why you believe what you believe (I Peter 3:15).
But this challenge is not as easy as you may think (or rather it's not as difficult as we tend to make it out to be). Yehovah did not create an overall method of keeping appointments very difficult at all; in fact, Yehovah God would not intentionally try to confuse us - he is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). The true answer lies above us every day and every night - we are to look to the heavens! It is in the heavens that Yehovah created particular signs that indicate to His people appointed times and festivals (Genesis 1:14, Psalms 104:19). Starting at the time of Adam & Eve, Yehovah God gave us the tool where we can observe heavens - and it is that same method that is maintained throughout the Bible. But, the true challenge is overcoming our physical limitations and our tendency to over-think and complicate what Yehovah made simple by creating man-made traditions and rules and, eventually, distorting the simple facts of those in the Bible. One of these traditions is for man to calculate calendars (or timetables) to predict future appointments.
Keep in mind, Yehovah calls for each and everyone of us to prove all things (I Thessalonians 5:21)! We are also told to be careful to keep His appointed times (Leviticus 23:4, Numbers 28:2). But there are no scriptures regarding how to structure a calendar that you and I can hang on our walls and use calculation as a repeating formula to predict future events. No where in the Bible are we commanded or find details using mathematics beyond counting the number of days following the new moons.
Although most man-made calendars do attempt to track the seasons throughout the year, only one generally accepted calculated calendar attempts to take all of the Biblical instruction into account - that is the Hebrew calendar. Most people's solution to this challenge would be to consult a Hebrew calendar to find the Jewish equivalent of Yehovah's appointments and convert the indicated days to their own observed calendar and stop there. However, the Hebrew calendar also applies additional rules and replaces certain Biblical references for the sake of obtaining mathematical averages and avoiding particular scenarios deemed inconvenient. These additional rules, added to the Biblical instruction, are determined by man - not Yehovah! On principle, we are never to add or subtract from the instruction given in scripture (Deutoronmy 4:2; concept repeated in Revelation 22:18-19). Additionally, the Hebrew Calendar (as well as any repeating mathematical calendar), is susceptible to flaws. You may ask how can a calculated calendar based on mathematics be flawed? Certainly the Hebrew calendar would be somewhat accurate or wouldn't this subject have been highly debated during the time of Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Messiah)? If it was wrong, wouldn't Jesus (Yeshua) have corrected them?
First of all, the Hebrew, or Rabbinical, calendar as we know it today did not exist in Yeshua's time. In fact, it was not conceptualized or generally accepted until centuries AFTER Yeshua was crucified! Before, and during, the time of Yeshua the calendar was strictly based on that found in the Bible, which is solely a method of OBSERVATION and NOT CALCULATION!!
It is actually very difficult to calculate exactly when the seasons will change with any true accuracy on a set schedule (as a calendar system attempts to do) and, in the end, turns out to be infeasible and only causes complications. For a newly introduced individual coming into the truth of Yehovah today, this is usually the first thing that is noticed when they learn the Biblical method of starting days as the sun goes down instead of midnight on their wrist-watch. By referring to the celestial sign of the sun, a person changes from a calculated method of telling time to an observed one. Attempting to accomplish this would be similar to creating a formatted schedule of sunsets to establish a unified measurement of Sabbath observances throughout the year, but having to adjust for variances of altitude, time zones and mountain terrain. If you create a timetable, it is merely an average of an actual result (just as midnight is an aveage of Solar Midnight - when the Sun is directly behind the Earth from the observer's point-of-view). No one who keeps a Biblical calendar should argue "what if it's cloudy and I can't see the sun setting?" or "I was indoors and missed it!" Whether you begin the day at sunset, sundown or dusk, it's based on the foundation of observing (with a little bit of added common sense). Applying calculation and unseen concepts (such as solar midnight) would need to be instructed in the Bible to be understood. Although great detail is given for counting the number of days for each Festival, there is certainly no detail to determine unseen mathematical concepts. When we begin to apply such theories and mathematical formulas, it begins a process of over-thinking and complicating a very simple Biblical event.
So, how can we best determine future Feasts on our calendars hanging on our fridge at home? Is the Hebrew (or Rabbinical) Calendar the best and most accurate we have available? As stated earlier, Yehovah's method of observing the heavens is rather quite simple. As the favorite mainstream Christian phrase goes: What Would Jesus Do? Would He consult the local Rabbi to determine when He should keep the Feasts? Of course not! Nor should we look to Rabbi's to prove to ourselves Yehovah's appointed days any more than we should look to the Pope! Did Yeshua create a formatted schedule of days, months and years to determine when Feast days should be kept? Wouldn't that had been important enough to mention? Or did He simply use the tools given to mankind from the time of creation and OBSERVE? Let's step through history and discover just how we are instructed to use the heavens to determine how we should proceed.
Blowing of the Trumpets (Shofar)
During, and before, the time of Yeshua the Messiah, secular history records Jewish traditional methods of determining the first day of the month. This was done during a customary ritual known as the Rosh Chodesh. It was a part of this practice to hold a festive meal and to look to the heavens to determine the beginning of the new month by observing the cycle of the moon (I Samuel 20:5 & 18). When the moon was spotted by two or more witnesses (II Corinthians 13:1, John 8:17), the Shofar trumpet would be blown. This would indicate that the moon had been spotted and served as a method of communication to the surrounding area. When the nearby peoples heard the blowing of one or more trumpets, they could then determine that the following day (starting at sundown) would be the first of the new month. This tradition of blowing a trumpet at the New Moon is supported by scripture (Psalm 81:3). The blowing of the trumpet was used to communicate to the people the start of Sabbaths, Holy Days AND the start of a new MONTH (the purpose of the trumpet was to serve as a tool of communication)! Some take this verse (as few translations state Holy days as a Full Moon) to blow the trumpets at the Full Moon, but this concept is not supported anywhere else in scripture, the Talmud or secular history. Historically, the observation of the New Moon was used consistently before the time of Yeshua. The Sanhedrin also used the Observed New Moon method for officially determining the new months via two witnesses and communicated it directly to the people.
So, if the tradition was to look to the sky to find a new moon - what exactly were they looking for? You see, today's definition of a New Moon is when the Sun, Earth and Moon are on an equal line in relation to the Earth. This is referred to as the moon's conjunction - or when the moon is at its darkest point. But, if the moon is completely dark it can't be seen by the naked eye (how can you observe something you can't see?). This is another unseen, modern mathematical concept not unlike Solar Midnight used today for determining days rather than observing the going down of the sun. Yet, the Jewish tradition at the time of Yeshua was to blow the trumpets and required the testimony of at least two witnesses to SEE the New Moon!
When you look further into Jewish and Secular history, they both support the fact that the phase of the New Moon observed was the waxing New Moon Crescent (or the point at which the New Moon can first be seen by the naked eye). Interestingly enough, this event occurs in the western sky just as the sun is going down (at the start of the day). This would allow observers to SEE the new moon in the same horizon at the same time. They, then, should blow a trumpet to indicate the first of the month has arrived (in case others can't SEE it).
So, what difference does this make? The visual New Moon Crescent can occur several days (more than 24 hours) following the Astrological Conjunction of the Moon that we call the "New Moon" today. The calculated Hebrew calendar basis its calculations on the Moon's Molad (an average calculation of time between the waxing and waning crescents that results in, essentially, the Conjunction). This means that the Jewish Sanhedrin traditions of old during (and prior to) the time of Yeshua the Messiah kept Yehovah's appointed times one or more days differently than the Hebrew calendar indicates today. The Hebrew calendar was created centuries after Yeshua was crucified and is merely an average timetable that may - or may not - coincide with the actual event of Biblical signs appearing in the sky. This calculated calendar, though, has been approved by the Jewish Rabbis (and most Sabbath-keeping Church organizations also base their calculations for their pocket calendars on this same calculated Hebrew calendar).
What's even more difficult than predicting the cycles of the moon? How about the weather? You see, the Biblical determination of the new year (or the particular New Moon indicating the first month), is also based on observation! In fact, the Bible references the name of this first month (Exodus 12:2) as the month of Abib (Exodus 13:4) and contains the first of the appointed Festivals starting with Passover (Exodus 13:9-10). The word Abib literally translates as "green, tender ears", or budding (Exodus 9:31) and this particular New Moon was named by Yehovah Himself! During the Passover season, the first of the barley harvest is required as an offering, which is known as the Wave Sheaf Offering (Leviticus 23:10-12). In order for the first month to have barley available, it was important to know it would be ready in time. Agriculturally, this was indicated when the crops were fresh and budding, or contained green, tender ears. At the time of the New Moon Crescent sighting during the end of the winter season, these green-eared crops would indicate as to whether a New Year would begin. If they weren't ready, then it wasn't yet the New Year!
Again, this particular event has been replaced with either the mathematical spring equinox (the point at which the Sun and Earth's orbit begin to draw closer together) or, in the case of the Hebrew Calendar, based on an average number of lunar cycles barley is harvested (established within a repating 19-year cycle). But again, other factors (such as weather) play a major role in this particular event and are not based solely on the distance the Earth is from the Sun or the average number of times barley is ready to harvest. Not to mention, you can't look up and see exactly how far the sun is from the Earth with the naked eye nor can you have a Wave Sheaf offering without actual barley. Although the mathematical averages can be correct, it is not always the case! Determining the conditions of a crop mathematically every time is impossible - even with today's increased scientific wisdom.
Again, the Biblical method of OBSERVATION still stands! Attempting to calculate such an event is very difficult when there are so many unknown variables and, therefore, cannot always be accurate. By creating an average timetable, you also lose any of the accuracy the math determined in the first place. We also are not commanded by Yehovah to use the equinox or other calculations to determine the first month of the year - instead, the month of tender green-ears is what we are told to observe.
If Yeshua is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and Yehovah DOES NOT CHANGE (Malachi 3:6) then should we take it upon ourselves to change the rules when attempting to calculate a calendar? Although calculation, in and of itself, is not a sin, wouldn't you at least attempt to base your mathematics on the same foundations as that of the original observed calendar? Did the Jews do that with the Hebrew Calendar? We know they didn't change the determination of days, which still begin at sundown (although, the Rabbinical laws do require additional actions to be performed to begin the Sabbath). But, let's take a deeper look into the remaining portions of the Hebrew Calendar.
In the fourth century, a calculated, fixed, calendar was created that was based on mathematical and astronomical calculations and was later commissioned by Rabbi's as the official calendar of the Jews. However, attempting to establish a set number of months and days to match that of generally observed events caused problems. In order to more perfectly match a calculated calendar to be based on solar and lunar events required further manipulation than just a fixed number of days. Hillel II created a leap-month system, as mentioned earlier, this was done by following a pattern of months every year. Twelve months would be observed except for every 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of a 19-year cycle (or the Metonic cycle) where a thirteenth month would be added in order to better match the historical events of the green-eared barley that indicates the New Year has begun. Simply stated, leap months were added on a schedule that best matched the pattern of observed events. It is this pattern the modern Hebrew Calendar uses. However, even with this system, the Hebrew calendar does not always compute perfectly. During years when a leap month is not added, events such as weather could affect the green-ears of the barley that could cause the Wave Sheaf to not be ready for the calculated Passover season.
Furthermore, the rules used within the calculations of the Hebrew calendar are not the same as those used with the historical ones during and prior to the time of Yeshua. The foundational basis for calculating lunar cycles for the Hebrew calendar uses the AVERAGE TIME between Astrological New Moons (or the molad cycle) and not the visible New Moon Crescent. As we have seen, this contradicts the old traditions followed during Yeshua's time and that supported by history (including the Talmud) causing additional discrepancies.
Due to these changes over the course of hundreds of years, a slight variance has occurred with the calculated Hebrew calendar that is slowly causing it to become less and less accurate - up to several days now since its inception. It is an accepted phenomenon by the Jewish community today and even they admit the Hebrew calendar is flawed. But in order to correct this drift of time within the calendar would require a rabbinical change that, in turn, would require the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin (which, in turn, would require a new temple) in Jerusalem. Yet, many overlook this flaw and continue to use the rabbinical calendar instead of the practice of observation due mostly to tradition and convenience.
Finally, the Hebrew calendar was further complicated in later centuries by Saadia Gaon (or Rambam) who incorporated, what are known as, Rules of Postponement (or "dehiyyot"). These rules have caused much controversy because they literally manipulate the Hebrew calendar to add or subtract days to a given month in order to force the Holy Day feasts to not fall adjacent to the weekly Sabbath. This event is often referred to as "fixing" Rosh Hashanah. Using this rule, the traditional Hebrew calendar will add or subtract a day so that Rosh Hashanah (or Feast of Trumpets) will only occur on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays because it was deemed inconvenient to prepare for or observe two Sabbath days in a row. This idea is strictly a rabbinical one and is NOT SUPPORTED BY SCRIPTURE OR HISTORY!
If we can accept the fact that the Bible never intended on mankind to use a calculated calendar in the first place and, instead, to look to the heavens, then how can we adopt a calendar that is flawed, manipulated and not founded on the observational concepts scripture gives us? Can we accept keeping Yehovah's appointed Festivals on different days than Yeshua did for the sake of convenience? Can we accept the fact that attempting to calculate a calendar based on a fixed number of days, months, etc, can't accurately predict the future events of the moon cycles and crops (whether or not we add leap months or postponements)?
Is the challenge apparent to you yet? Our later generations have been raised in a society that PLANS in advance daily routines from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year. Even as church-going believers wishing to keep the Feasts of Yehovah, we want to be able to pull out our pocket calendars and find out exactly what day Feast of Tabernacles will be held next year and plan accordingly. We have made it a ritual of asking our employers for time off on particular days in advance so that we can keep the Festivals with our families. Church groups often book locations years in advance to plan the Feast of Tabernacles. We feel comfortable knowing exactly when future events will occur and are not used to being left in the dark. We want to know, and we need to know now!
But, as Genesis points out, the heavens were created for us to determine Yehovah's appointed times and festivals (mowed, or seasons) and it is THAT tool we should be using. Yet, for us stubborn human beings, we want to be able to PREDICT THE FUTURE, so we try to calculate a mathematical calendar. For centuries, many different calendars have existed and none have been accurate in regard to the seasons and celestial movements Yehovah created. Each one requires manipulation of leap days, years, minutes and seconds or even added months in order to even come close to the celestial movements of the universe. But the fact remains that even the universe is constantly changing! Predicting something as massive as Yehovah's creation is truly beyond our abilities as human beings. We think we can get pretty close with increased knowledge and technology but in reality we, as human beings, will never be able to be like Yehovah no matter how hard we try on our own. Too many variables and factors come into play with a very large role in order to accurately determine when a specific event, such as green-eared barley, will occur into the future (just check how accurate your local weather forecast is within just a few days).
Sure, we can try to calculate and do our best to determine when a celestial object such as the moon SHOULD be able to be seen at any given time - but the fact remains that this is NOT definite. We really should be observing (as scripture tells us to) at all times by confirming Yehovah's intended days and relying on Him when we should really be keeping His festivals. This may mean that we would need to prepare in advance for a particular day to be different than expected. This concept, by the way, perfectly fits with the theme of the Feast of Trumpets, which falls on the first day of the month, to observe the heavens for Messiah's return at a future time no one TRULY knows.
Keeping the Festivals on days strictly based on an Observed calendar rather than a Calculated one certainly is different from that of many Church traditions - which will keep many from changing away from the established practices. Although Yehovah will bless those that TRULY attempt to keep His appointed Festivals (and He has undoubtedly blessed many of His people for doing so in the past), it is important to heed His instruction when we are shown to understand differently. We need to keep an open mind to the fact that we may be doing something wrong (I'm sure it's not the first time you've done something wrong and understood a change was needed).
If you are still reluctant to consider what has been presented in this paper, it would be most important to take it directly to Yehovah in prayer and ask Him to show you what you should do; after all, it is He who is the ultimate authority in these matters. There certainly will be those that will not change or have an attitude of "don't fix what is not broken". We should not shun these people or shove change down their throats - for we are ALL Yehovah's People and we should not judge one another based on Sabbaths, Feasts OR NEW MOONS (Colossians 2:16)! We are not perfect, nor will we ever be until Yehovah's choosing. All I ask is that you do take this challenge and prove to yourself the steps you should take from here forward. After all, we need to PROVE ALL THINGS and be able to give an answer (I Peter 3:15) to why we believe what we believe and not rely on man for the answers.
Although we may think there is not a lot of scripture pertaining to the calendar, the fact is there is not scripture to support a scheduled calendar as we think of them. There are actually several references to the new moons and observed, or appointed, times giving considerable support to the action of OBSERVING (rather than calculating) the start of the new months and years. We are only to count the number of days from these points to know when we should be keeping the Feasts of Yehovah. Simple logic and history should be apparent that we need to be able to OBSERVE the moon by seeing it in the sky. And if we are to react to what we see by blowing a trumpet, this would be at the time the moon is FIRST SEEN (not when it disappears at the waning crescent or when the moon is completely full which cannot be determined with the naked eye). This event is clearly supported throughout history as being the new crescent.
When considering the use of a visible crescent moon calendar, other factors begin to become apparent. Such as, what if I can't see the moon behind the clouds? And, unless you grow a barley crop in your backyard, where do I go to see if green ears exist? These dilemmas do require our abilities to adapt to a new way of thinking. After all, an OBSERVED calendar isn't going to seem as accurate to us as one calculated using mathematics. These can be resolved as easily as we resolve determining when Sabbath begins at sunset. After all, that is an OBSERVED event as well. These questions are just as equivalent to when people living in Alaska (or the far reaches of the Earth's poles) determine when Sabbath should be observed since the sun may never set. The fact still remains that we need to consult Yehovah's signs and understand that those observances will always trump over calculating when they SHOULD appear.
Another question that comes up in considering an observed timetable is where do we draw the so-called "international dateline"? Now, we consider the turnover of a new day to be at midnight and the next calendar day to be on the fixed point of Greenwich (previously, this dateline was established in London). Today, many Judeo-Christians consider Jerusalem to serve as the dateline to determine for the rest of the world when the next day or new month would begin using Isaiah 2:3 for this basis - therefore, observations of the celestial bodies would only be observed from Jerusalem. However, there is no law concerning this rule in the Bible in regard to observations of the days and months. In fact, when Israel had forgotten His Appointed Festivals, they were told to look to the moon as the first of the months while they were outside of Egypt, NOT JERUSALEM! Genesis clearly states the heavens serve as our signs for His Appointments (Jerusalem is not mentioned for this purpose). We like to think of stationary datelines, because we are used to them when attempting to use a FIXED timetable - such as a calculated calendar! But, our timetable is above us (in the sky) and fluctuates as Yehovah sees fit! Our dateline should be when the moon is OBSERVED - therefore our "dateline" is VARIABLE and not fixed!
For a more detailed study on this topic, please review my research paper Mathematical Bias of the Biblical Calendar. If you would also like to read more on documented Jewish history of the calendar and the rabbinical authority behind it using the Talmud, I highly suggest reading Testimony of Timekeeping Within Dual Torahs by Yavonne Hinton. Both of these papers use a thorough analysis and utilizes several reference materials on the historical and scriptural basis of calendar creation and observation.
You may be surprised to find that there are MANY people that have been keeping New Crescent Moon calendars based on OBSERVATION for centuries - including a large group of Jews known as Kairites (based on the Hebrew word Karaim meaning "Followers of Scripture). Even the Islamic calendar is based on observation rather than calculation (and, remember, early Muslim history is the same as Jews and Christians). Even though there are pagan traditions that involve the moon, it does not mean that the moon itself is pagan (nor should the moon be a symbol of worship). In fact, Pagan practices base many celebrations on all phases of the moon (including the conjunction which is known as a time of rest from magic) as well as practices that directly worship both the sun and moon. But from a Biblical perspective, the sun and moon are merely signs to indicate Yehovah's true calendar and we need to be watchful for them! You can find several assembly groups (churches) today that submit observational reports of moon and barley sightings from all over the world (serving as witnesses) for years - even centuries. It is also the documented method of the Jewish Sanhedrin court system used during the time of Yeshua. This is not a new concept folks! We just aren't used to using it in our "advanced" everyday lives here in the Western World.
Even though it may be apparent to you how you should determine the Biblical calendar on your own, remember that it's important that you know fully why you are keeping the days you do keep - otherwise, you have not proven it to yourself! Let Yehovah direct you, though, on what you should do! Challenge yourself to learn His truth for yourself and don't just accept what you're told. As the favorite saying goes from my previous group (Worldwide Church of God): don't take my word for it, look it up for yourself! Yehovah bless you.
For a more detailed analysis on this subject, please refer to my Research Paper entitled "Mathematical Bias of the Biblical Calendar"