Blow the Shophar! It’s a New Year!

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screenshot-2016-12-27-11-29-09Are you thinking about making any New Year’s resolutions? You know what folk wisdom says about that: “New Year’s resolutions go in one year and out the other.” We all know that most of the leaves we turn over in January have already started to fall by the end of the month. Therefore, let’s turn to the Word of God for instruction. Let’s see what Scripture declares about the concept of New Year. Does God’s written revelation provide any basis for Christians to celebrate the arrival of a New Year? According to Leviticus 23:23–25 and Numbers 29:1–6, the Lord commanded Israel to observe the Feast of Trumpets—also known as the New Year. It was a national celebration. This feast occurred on the first day of the seventh month (a sabbatical month) in Israel’s religious calendar. The seventh month in Israel’s religious calendar served as the first month of Israel’s civil year. We observe a similar use of two calendars in our own day when we speak of the calendar year vs. the fiscal year. The former begins in January and the latter in July. For Israel the religious calendar commenced in the March-April time slot and the civil calendar in the September-October time slot.

Blow the Shophar!

In ancient Israel a ram’s horn served as a kind of trumpet—a horn (Hebrew shophar or shofar). The Israelites blew a shophar to summon the people. The blowing of the shophar served to

  • signal the breaking up of camp during the wilderness wandering, Numbers 10:5
  • announce the beginning of the Year of Jubilee, Leviticus 25:9
  • announce the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 25:9
  • announce the festival of the New Moon, Psalm 81:3
  • proclaim a fast, Joel 2:15
  • declare a new king, 2 Samuel 15:10
  • herald the moving of the ark of the covenant, 2 Samuel 6:15
  • announce the approach of an enemy, Jeremiah 6:1
  • warn the general population of a threat to their safety, Exodus 19:16 and Isaiah 18:3
  • signal the troops both before and during a battle, Judges 6:34 and 2 Samuel 2:28

The shophar also heralded the start of the New Year (Leviticus 23:24). The Lord called Israel away from their earthly labors to a sabbatical season of wholehearted worship. The shophar on the first day of the seventh month summoned God’s people to a time of spiritual preparation for the greater liturgical festivals to come within that same month: the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths. The seventh month included the greatest concentration of religious feasts in the Israelite calendar—it was an entire month of spiritual remembrance, exercise, and celebration.

Such festivals recognize that God controls all of Israel’s times. If people spend so much time in spiritual observance by setting aside their normal labors, how can they continue to provide food and shelter for their families? Such times of worship must depend completely upon the Lord’s provision. The Lord knows the question and has provided the answer for even the longest period of sabbatical observance:

And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives. (Leviticus 25:20–22 ESV)

By God’s design, Israel began their civil year by recognizing and worshiping the Lord as Creator, Provider, and Refresher. The Israelites celebrated the fact that God had presented the festivals as a gift to His people. God determines the timing of seasons and of events for all mankind corporately and individually (Ecclesiastes 3:1–11). The ultimate result for God’s timings presents each person with the opportunity to contemplate the concept of eternity that God has placed within every heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

As a community of believers we, like ancient Israelite believers, must set apart times to recognize God as Creator, Redeemer, Lord, Provider, Refresher, and Sustainer. We must be content in Him (1 Timothy 6:6–12, 17–19). The season following the Feast of Trumpets involves a time of redemption, repentance, pardon, and restoration (the tenth day of the month, for the Day of Atonement; Leviticus 23:27–32) as well as a time of remembrance, thanksgiving, and provision (the fifteenth through twenty-first days of the month, for the Feast of Booths; Leviticus 23:34–43). The New Year celebration prepared Israelite believers for that intensely spiritual season at the start of their civil year. In other words, they looked to the Lord through worship before beginning their normal secular calendar of life, agriculture, and government. What a great way to begin the year.

It’s a New Year!

The Feast of Trumpets, as the civil New Year (Ro’sh Hashshanah) observance, began a new cycle of feast days and observances for Israel. The seventh month (Ethanim or Tishri) correlates with the September-October time slot in the current Christian calendar. As a sabbatical (seventh) month, God expected His people to fill it with worship and the cessation of normal work. In the ancient Israeli agricultural calendar it fell at the time of the former (or, first) rains that concluded the autumn harvest season (closing with harvesting grapes and figs) and initiated the stage for sowing the seeds for the grains of winter and spring (see Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:14). However, the seventh month was not merely an agricultural observance. The Lord appointed the seventh month for Israel to enter into a renewal of their covenant relationship to Him—especially through the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16).

By recognizing God as our Creator, Redeemer, Lord, Provider, Refresher, and Sustainer, we remember that all that we are and all that we have possessed comes from Him. In recognition of His provision, the Israelites brought sacrifices to offer to the Lord at the New Year (Numbers 29:2–6). New Testament Christians must also demonstrate by their sacrifices that God is our Redeemer, our Lord, our Provider, and our Refresher (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–9; 9:6–11; Hebrews 4:1–11; 13:15–16).

We cannot set our own destiny, no matter what New Year’s resolutions we make. Unbelievers use the New Year as a time of carnal revelry and unrestrained humanism—they believe they set their own destinies and possess the power to reform themselves apart from God. They act as their own god. The New Year celebration should prepare us for worship in the following year and also prepare our hearts and lives for the Lord’s Second Advent. The Second Advent will include a trumpet of summons to an everlasting rest and continuous worship (1 Corinthians 15:51–58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). How ready are we for the sound of that shophar?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, celebrate this New Year in the spirit of Israel’s God-ordained observance. Remember what He has done, worship Him for who He is, and prepare for our Savior’s soon Return. Observe a blessed New Year!

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