God’s Sacred Calendar (Part One)
Confusion persists today over when the sacred year should begin. Can we rely on the accuracy of the Hebrew calendar? Is it God-inspired, or merely the work of carnal men?
The argument to reject the Hebrew calendar is not new! Herbert W. Armstrong faced the same argument over 65 years ago! At that time, there was a man claiming the Passover fell on a different day, other than the 14th of Nisan, according to the Hebrew calendar. Mr. Armstrong answered this man’s argument in a Good News letter in 1940: “[U]nless God has preserved His sacred calendar through the Jews, then we do not know how to figure Passover or any of the holy days this year. For there is no authority for any other way. There is no Bible authority whatsoever for figuring the first day of the first month from the new moon nearest the spring equinox” (emphasis ours throughout).
Carefully read that last sentence again, because there are those who argue along this line: Just find the new moon nearest the spring equinox and calculate from there. (The spring equinox is when the time of the day and the night are equal in length—March 20 or 21 on the Roman calendar.) It is true that God says keep His holy days in season (Numbers 9:2-3). In other words, His spring festivals should be kept in the spring and the autumn festivals in autumn. And that is exactly what the Hebrew calendar ensures—that these days will be kept in their proper season. But nowhere does God tell us to find the new moon closest to the spring equinox and begin counting for yourself. God did not leave that responsibility to us—He left that to the Jews!
Notice! Mr. Armstrong continued in his letter, “God did not commit His oracles or the preservation of His times, to profane history …. [T]hey have been preserved by the Jews. … After thorough study of the Bible, of the Hebrew calendar, of history and every angle—after going into the matter with all the Eugene brethren and other brethren who have made a special study of this question, we have unanimously agreed that the Hebrew calendar has been preserved correct by the Jews.”
Let us consider further. How did Mr. Armstrong reach his conclusions? You will see that they are indeed biblically based.
Oracles Committed to Jews
Paul is very clear in Romans 3:1-2: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God” (Revised Standard Version). The Greek word for oracles in verse 2 simply means the words or utterance of God.
The oracles do not refer to Old Testament Scripture only. Notice what was written about the Hebrew calendar in the April 1981 Good News: “But what were the oracles committed in a public way to the Jews? The Hebrew Bible only? By no means! The Hebrew calendar also! For without the calendar, it would be impossible to fulfill correctly what is written in the Hebrew Bible about hallowed annual times. And not only the Bible and calendar, but the week also. These three—Bible, calendar and week—are all part of the oracles committed to the Jews for all mankind” (emphasis ours throughout).
But how can we rely on the Jewish people? The martyr Stephen said in Acts 7:39 that his Jewish ancestors rejected the teachings of Moses. And we all know the Jews eventually rejected the Messiah. How can we rely on people who have rejected God? Paul answers this very question in verse 3 of Romans 3: “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (rsv).
Good question! What if these people, to whom the oracles of God were committed, sinned and rebelled against God? Does that mean God would no longer preserve His oracles through them? “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar …” (verse 4). God continued to preserve His oracles through them. “He simply pruned off those who refused to preserve His revelation for men. That is one reason the 10 tribes of Israel were cut off and sent into exile” (ibid.).
Here is where the argument breaks down for those who say the Hebrew calendar is not of God. They will readily admit that the Jews, even though they have rejected God’s revelation, have preserved an accurate and precise reading of the Hebrew Bible; but they reject the preservation of the Hebrew calendar on the basis that it has been preserved by rebellious men! As Paul wrote, let God be true! Do you believe God? Did He preserve His inspired Word, the Hebrew Bible, even if through carnal men? Most would say, of course. Then did He preserve His calendar, organized according to 19-year time cycles, so that we might keep His holy days in their appointed seasons? God’s Word says yes!
Concerning the preservation of the Hebrew calendar, the Good News wrote, “By faith we know we have copies, providentially preserved, of the original Word of God. By faith we know that the leadership in the Jewish courts did preserve the rules of the calendar God committed to them—even though they themselves have not wanted to follow those rules at all times. It is all a question of government—whether God is capable of ruling. Whether God can intervene in the affairs of His people to correct their errors—no men are perfect. And that is a matter of faith” (ibid.).
Let us now take a closer look at God’s sacred calendar as it has been preserved by the Jews.
God’s System of Time
God did not leave the seasons, days and years to chance or to the devices of men. On the fourth day of creation, He established a system, visible to man, for the purpose of regulating our calendar. He aligned the sun and moon in conjunction with the universe to function as a great time clock. God also created a system of annual and weekly sabbaths that demonstrate His great plan for mankind. By understanding His calendar and the meaning of the annual sabbath days, we can have a better understanding of our Creator’s plan for man.
Genesis 1:14 tells us God created signs for days,seasons and years. We know that a 24-hour day begins and ends at sunset. We must be able to mark the day and the week to understand how they are signs of creation and prophecy. To keep the Sabbath day holy, as required by the Fourth Commandment, we must know when the day begins and ends. In fact, just to count the seven days of a week and locate the Sabbath day, we need the sign of the day.
As the sun marks the day, it also marks the year. God’s plan for 6,000 years of human rule on this Earth and 1,000 years of Christ’s rulership (Revelation 20:4), known as the Millennium, requires us to be able to count years. One year is one orbit of the Earth around the sun. One solar year is 365 days and 6 hours. The Roman calendar, used by Western civilization today, is based only on this solar cycle, adding an extra day every fourth year to account for the extra six hours added yearly.
According to God’s calendar, however, months are determined by the moon—called lunar months. There are 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes in one lunar month. That is how long it takes for the moon to orbit the Earth. Twelve of these lunar months add up to 354.36 days—10.89 days short of one solar year (365 days, 6 hours). Following the lunar cycle only (as the Muslims do) would move the calendar forward more than 32 days every three years. April 1 would be where February 28 was three years earlier.
If the year had 13 months, there would be 383.86 days in a year, or 18.64 days more than a solar year. In this case, in just two years, the calendar would move back more than 37 days. April 1 would occur where June 6 was two years earlier.
With a 12-month year, Passover would be in the spring one year, the next year it would be in late winter, then move to early winter, and so on around the calendar. With 13 months per year, the movement would be in the other direction—and faster.
It is the Hebrew calendar which combines the lunar months and solar years to be completely synchronized—enabling God’s people to observe His holy days (as determined by the moon) in their proper seasons (as determined by the sun). In this way, God’s calendar is luni-solar, which is consistent with Genesis 1:14. God appointed both the sun and moon “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”
God has instructed us to observe His holy days on specific days of the month, while at the same time, during appointed seasons in the year (Leviticus 23:4). The Hebrew calendar accomplishes this through a 19-year time cycle made up of 12 common years (with 12 months) and 7 leap years (with 13 months). The 19-year cycle is significant because that is how the lunar months and the solar yearsrelate. For every 19 solar years, the moon revolves around the Earth 235 times. “This remarkable astronomical relationship,” according to John Kossey, author of The Hebrew Calendar: A Mathematical Introduction, “makes it possible to combine common years and leap years together within a fundamental pattern that repeats itself every 19 years.”
The Calendar Preserved
The fact that God has a sacred calendar which keeps track of time should be undisputed. Again, Genesis 1:14 says the sun and moon are for seasons, days and years.
The Jewish historian Josephus has an interesting account concerning the descendants of Adam’s son Seth. He wrote, “Now this Seth … became a virtuous man; and as he was himself of an excellent character, so did he leave children behind him who imitated his virtues. … They also were the inventors of that peculiar sort of wisdom which is concerned with the heavenly bodies,and their order. And that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known … they made two pillars; the one of brick, the other of stone: They inscribed their discoveries on them both” (Antiquities of the Jews, I, ii, 3).
It appears as though God’s revelation concerning the heavenly bodies, including the times and seasons, began with the earliest generations.
But can we find evidence of an actual calendar in Scripture? Actually, we find plenty! Most are not aware of these facts.
In Exodus 20:9-10, God plainly refers to a seven-day week. In fact, you can find a much earlier account of the seven-day week in Genesis 1 and 2.
But what about the division of months? What about the Hebrew calendar? Does God refer to it in Scripture? Yes He does! Most of the time, the writers of the Old Testament seemed content to just speak of the number of the months (first, second, etc.). But when the actual name of the month is referred to, God inspired them to refer to the months on the Hebrew calendar—not the Egyptian, or any other calendar for that matter.
In Exodus 12:2, God begins giving instructions concerning the Passover by saying, “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.” Notice the significance of this verse. God gave them a calendar! He told the Israelites which month was to be the first month. In Exodus 13:4, this month is called Abib, meaning an ear of corn. As the name of the first month reveals, the months were to be organized according to the annual harvest seasons. Anciently, in Palestine, barley ripened first. At that time, the green ears of the winter wheat began to show. All of God’s annual holy days are patterned after the two annual harvests in Palestine—spring and fall. That is why God appointed these days to be kept in season (Leviticus 23:4).
Baker’s Bible Dictionary refers to Abib as the first month “of the Jewish ecclesiastical year.” And so, early on in the Bible, we find evidence of the Hebrew calendar. Abib is mentioned five more times in the Old Testament.
In 1 Kings 6:1, there is a reference to the second month, Zif. Likewise, you can find names for the seventh and eighth months in Scripture (Ethanim in 1 Kings 8:2; Bul in 1 Kings 6:38).
When the Jews went into Babylonian captivity, they adopted different names for their months. Yet, is that where the Hebrew calendar ends in history? Does it disappear from Scripture? Not at all! God’s calendar was preserved. Notice Esther 3:7: “In the first month, that is, the month Nisan ….” The name Abib was changed to Nisan after the Jews went into captivity. Same calendar, same month, different name. In verse 13, you will see that the 12th month is referred to as Adar.
If you compare these names with any modern Jewish calendar, you will see that they are the same! 1 Chronicles 27:1-15 even refers to a 12-month year. Yet we know there had to be a 13th month added from time to time in order to keep God’s holy days in season. The 12th month, as we saw from Esther 3:13, is called Adar. Find a modern Hebrew calendar and you will see that, during a leap year, the 13th month is called Adar II.
Numerous other months named during the Babylonian captivity are mentioned in Scripture. In Esther 8:9, you will find the name for the third month on the Hebrew calendar, Sivan. Elul, the sixth month, is found in Nehemiah 6:15. The ninth month, Chisleu, is also mentioned (Nehemiah 1:1; Zechariah 7:1), along with the 10th month, Tebeth (Esther 2:16), and the 11th month, Sebat (Zechariah 1:7). These Hebrew calendar names are used repeatedly throughout the Bible.
So we find plenty of evidence of an actual calendar in the Bible. And in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we find evidence of the fact that God revealed it and preserved it through men: “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times,to know what Israel ought to do.”
According to the Targum (a sixth-century b.c. paraphrase of the Old Testament), “the sons of Issachar … had understanding to know the times, and were skilled in fixing the beginnings of years, the commencement of months, and the intercalation of months and years … that they might show Israel what to do; and their teachers were two hundred chiefs of the Sanhedrin.”
The fact that God preserved His calendar through men, just as He did Old Testament Scripture, should not surprise us. For as the Good News wrote, “[W]ithout the calendar, it would be impossible to fulfill correctly what is written in the Hebrew Bible about hallowed annual times.”
The Jews may have gone into captivity, but the calendar was preserved. Bible history proves it. And Paul confirmed it in Romans 3:1-2.
(To be continued.)