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The Fall Feasts of Israel

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The Fall Feasts of Israel

On September 22, 2006 we began year 5767 on the Hebrew Calendar. As I often do with articles that commemorate annual events, I have updated this study on the Fall Feasts and added new information for your review.

The fall is arguably the most important time of the year in Judaism. Three of Israel's holiest days are celebrated then, and all in the space of 15 days. They are Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and 5 days after that the Feast of Tabernacles. On our calendar they usually fall (no pun intended) some time between mid September and mid October due to the differences between the Jewish (lunar) calendar and the western (solar) one.

Each of these holy days has both historical and prophetic significance, the prophetic fulfillment to occur on the day itself. Therefore Christians study them for glimpses into the future as well as to gain a better understanding of Jewish culture.

Happy New Year

Gentiles are sometimes confused in their studies of these holy days by the fact that the Lord changed the Jewish calendar at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12:2). What had been the 7th month was hereafter to be the first, placing the beginning of the year in the spring. But because of the harvest, the Jewish New Year has always been celebrated in the fall and remains so today. Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year."

Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings. Jewish tradition holds that the creation was completed on Rosh Hashanah, and therefore Adam was born on that day as well. Many students of prophecy place the birth of the Messiah on Rosh Hashanah, giving the day it's first prophetic fulfillment, and believe that the beginning of Daniel's 70th week and 7 years later the Lord's Second Coming will also occur on Rosh Hashanah.

Others think that the Rapture of the Church will happen on Rosh Hashanah as well, but I'm convinced that the Rapture is a number specific event rather than a date specific one, meaning that the Church will be raptured when "the full number of gentiles has come in" making the day and hour unknown to us in advance, except that it will precede Israel's re-awakening (Romans 11:25) and Daniel's 70th week. (Acts 15:15-16)

Many religious Jews believe that in Heaven books recording the deeds of mankind are opened on Rosh Hashanah for an annual review of man's behavior. To this end, they spend the previous month in a sincere effort to right all the wrongs they may have committed during the year just ending. When the books are opened, the names of those whose life has been exemplary in every respect are entered into the book for another year of life, while those who have demonstrated no redeeming qualities are scheduled for death. Since normal bell curve distribution would indicate that very few fit at either extreme, the majority are given 10 days until Yom Kippur to "get right with God." These 10 days are called the Days of Awe where each man's destiny hangs in the balance as he goes about asking forgiveness from friends and neighbors. A common greeting among Jews during the Days of Awe is, "May your name be written in the Book."

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah Orthodox Jews go to a running brook or stream where fish swim, emptying their pockets of pebbles or crumbs they've gathered into the water, symbolizing God's casting away of their sins. While doing so, they recite Micah 7:18-20. "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago."

This is one of the most eloquent descriptions of God's grace to be found anywhere in Scripture. It reminds God of His promise to be merciful to them in the coming judgment of Yom Kippur.

The fish's dependence on water symbolizes their dependence on God. The fact that fish can't close their eyes reminds them to be thorough because God sees everything. This ceremony is called Tashlich, Hebrew for "You will cast", a reference to Micah 7:19.

Judgment Time

On Yom Kippur judgment is rendered, the books are closed and everyone's fate is sealed for another year.

Yom Kippur was the only day of the year when it was permissible to speak the Name of God. During a great and awe inspiring ceremony at the Temple two goats were brought before the High Priest. One was a goat "for the Lord" to be presented as a peace offering as commanded in Lev. 16:7-10. The other was called "the scapegoat" because all the sins of the nation were symbolically placed upon its head, and it was led outside the city to be killed. The goat had done nothing to deserve this but was chosen to demonstrate the fact that only the shedding of innocent blood could atone for the sins of the people. The death of the two goats symbolically set aside the sins of the nation, made their peace offering acceptable and gave them another year of peace with their Creator. The people spoke the Name of God in heartfelt thanks.

Here are a couple of interesting tidbits from Jewish tradition. When the goats were brought before the High Priest, their respective roles in the ceremony were determined by lot. Two golden lots were placed in a golden bowl and as he placed his hand upon the head of each goat, the High Priest reached into the bowl and pulled out one of the lots. Before the cross the goat that was to be presented to the Lord as a peace offering was always on the right hand of the High Priest. After the cross it never was.

While the scapegoat was symbolically receiving the sins of the people upon its head a scarlet ribbon was tied from one of its horns to the door of the temple. As the goat was taken into the wilderness the ribbon was cut, leaving some on the horn and some on the door. At a predetermined location outside the city, the goat was pushed off a cliff and fell to its death. All the years before the cross, at the moment of the scapegoat's death, the remnant of ribbon on the temple door turned from red to white symbolizing the passage from Isaiah 1:18, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow." After the cross this never happened again. The One Who sits at the right hand of the Father and Who had fulfilled the role the goats had only symbolized had come and forever taken away the sins of all who would accept Him.

The Law Is Only A Shadow ...

In Christendom a view holds that the Lord Jesus began His ministry on Yom Kippur announcing in effect that the judgment that was due mankind was to be borne by Him (Luke 4:16-21) and that man no longer need live in fear of judgment nor have to endure the 10 Days of Awe every year.

It's easy to see the Lord in the role of our scapegoat, whose shed blood purchased our pardon forever (Hebrews 10:1-4) but He was also our peace offering. "He is our peace, Who has broken down every wall." (Ephe 2:14)

In the prophetic sense, Tribulation survivors from the nations will receive their fulfillment of the Yom Kippur judgment in the days immediately following the Lord's return. This is described to us in the Sheep and Goat judgment (Matt 25:31-46) where those who've cast their sins at the foot of the cross during the Great Tribulation will be granted life in the Kingdom, and those who haven't will be sent away for death. In Matt. 19:28 the Lord told His disciples that surviving Israel's judgment would take place then, too.

For those of all ages who reject the Lord's vicarious atonement, the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur will come at the end of the Millennium in the so-called Great White Throne judgment, when all the unsaved dead are brought back to life to be judged for their works. (Rev. 20:11-15).

Happy Thanksgiving

The Feast of Tabernacles was a harvest celebration and is the inspiration for the American Thanksgiving Day. It began as a seven-day feast, later expanded to eight, when all the tithes the Israelites had set aside during the year were brought to Jerusalem for a joyous time of national celebration and thanksgiving for the Lord's bountiful provision. (Deut. 14:22-26). Historically it commemorates the time of God's dwelling with the Israelites in the wilderness. Its prophetic fulfillment comes in the Millennium when the Lord will once again dwell among His people; with the Church in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21) and Israel in Jehovah Shammah, the new name of the Holy City in the Promised Land.(Isaiah 62:2 & Ezekiel 48:35)

Let's Get Spiritual

Following the thought that events that were external and physical in the Old Testament are often internal and spiritual in the New, there is a sense in which these holy days also reflect the life of the believer.

As He came to live in the world at His birth (Rosh Hashanah), so He comes to live in our hearts at our new birth. As He required the shedding of innocent blood to reconcile Himself with Israel (Yom Kippur) so He shed His own Blood to reconcile Himself with us. As He dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness of Midian (Tabernacles), so He dwells with us in the wilderness of Earth. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age," He promised. (Matt 28:20) Even so, Come Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:20) You can almost hear the Footsteps of the Messiah.

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