The Fall Feasts of God are Coming!

The seven annual appointed times/feasts of God in English and Hebrew.

It’s mid September and Rosh Hashana (aka Yom Teruah) is right around the corner. Our community has begun making plans and preparing for parties, prayers, and even campouts!

I have never heard a single good reason for keeping the man-made holidays of Christmas & Easter instead of the God-made holidays of Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, etc.

Tradition, family and community, professional connections, personal memories… these are all powerful draws to the traditional Western holidays, but they aren’t good reasons to ignore God’s days altogether.

If you can’t bring yourself to give up the man-made replacements of God’s days, for whatever reason, you can still begin to keep the originals now. Even if you believe that Passover and Tabernacles are only memorials of things that have already happened, I promise that you will discover new meaning in keeping them.

Remember what has been in order to know what will be.

The Secret of the Passover Water-Bearer

The secret of the Passover water-bearer is revealed in the unnamed servant and the woman at the well.

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Mark 14:12-16 ESV. See also Matthew 26:17-19 and Luke 22:7-13.)

This passage reads almost like something from a spy novel with undercover agents and secret codes. What was going on? Who was this man they met? And who was the master of the house who was apparently expecting Yeshua and his disciples?

Two theories dominate most commentaries:

  1. Yeshua was giving another demonstration of his divinity. By knowing exactly who would be where in Jerusalem and which house still had a room available at the height of tourist season, the disciples could see that he had knowledge that only one with powerful spiritual connections could have.
  2. Yeshua wanted to eat the Passover in peace with his disciples. He had secretly made arrangements ahead of time and sent only two of his disciples to a clandestine meeting to secure and prepare the Passover so that they wouldn’t draw attention. In this way, they could celebrate Passover without being disturbed by worshipers, miracle seekers, or detractors.

I don’t have any strong feelings against either of those ideas–they both have merit–but I think there is something more going on. Passover involves washing, cooking, and baking, so surely there was more than one man in Jerusalem porting water in preparation for the coming festivities. There must have been thousands! Why did Yeshua single out that characteristic and not another, like the color of his turban or the style of his cloak?

Although these ideas are plausible, and might even be true, I’m going to give you two additional, interconnected, more significant ideas.

In Mark 14, an unnamed servant, who carries a pitcher of water, leads two of the disciples to the master’s house, where they will prepare to share the Passover with their friends.

Why a pitcher of water? Who was the man and how did he know they were coming?

Whenever you see something inexplicably odd in Scripture, it’s a sign that you should stop and take a closer look. I think a good place to start looking is in other places where we see pitchers of water and unnamed servants.

  • Genesis 24 – Abraham’s servant recognizes God’s intended bride for Isaac because of her pitcher of water.
  • Numbers 5:11-31 – A clay pitcher is used to mix holy water and dust from holy ground to wash away the curses written against the woman accused of adultery.
  • John 4:1-43 – The woman at the well abandons her water jar to tell her neighbors about Yeshua.
  • 2 Corinthians 4 – We are clay jars into which the life and death of Yeshua have been poured.

There are others, of course, but I think this sampling is sufficient to learn something significant.

An unnamed servant is often a metaphor of the Holy Spirit, for example in Genesis 24 when Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. How does the servant know which of the many young women of the town is the right one to bring back for Isaac? She is the one who is carrying a pitcher of water from which she will give a drink to him and all of his camels. Abraham is God, the Father, while the servant is the Holy Spirit, Isaac is the Son, and Rebekah is Israel, the Messiah’s bride.

So the servant in Mark 14 may be an image of the Holy Spirit, but what does the pitcher of water mean?

Bear with me for a bit.

By calling the servant–and the whole situation–a metaphor, I don’t mean to say that the events of Genesis 24 and Mark 14 didn’t actually happen as described. I mean that real events are often orchestrated by God to be prophetic metaphors of future events or of greater truths. In Mark, the man leads the two disciples to the Master’s house. Who is the Master? As in the Genesis story, He is God, the Father, and the house is the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can know the way to the Father unless the Spirit opens his eyes.

But having one’s eyes opened to the way is not enough. Yeshua said that he is the door and no one comes to the Father except through him. So where is Yeshua in this story? He is there at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

Bear with me a while longer, if you will.

Water is often a metaphor of spirit. Depending on the context, it can be the Holy Spirit or the spirit of a person or even of a people.

The water in this story is held in a clay pitcher.

Earthenware vessels take a prominent role in the sacrificial system. If a sin offering (Hebrew: khatat, which literally means just “sin”) is boiled in a clay pot, the pot had to be broken afterward (Leviticus 6:28), much like Yeshua’s body was broken for us as he took our sin upon himself. The clay pot is his body, the sin offering is our sin, and the water is his spirit, which transforms the sin offering into an atonement for sin.

There is another transformation–and another earthenware vessel–described in the trial of the woman suspected of adultery in Numbers 5. The woman undergoes an elaborate ordeal in which curses against her are written on a scroll and washed off into a vessel containing sanctified water and dirt from the holy ground of the Tabernacle. She then drinks the mixture. If she is guilty, she’ll die of a wasting disease. If she is innocent, the curses are erased by the water and dirt from the pitcher, not just physically from the scroll, but also spiritually from her soul.

In this procedure, we are the accused woman and Yeshua is, again, the vessel. His life was poured out on the cross in order to “blot out the handwriting of ordinances that were against us” (Colossians 2:14). We too are clay vessels, and into us, God has poured “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, as well as his very life and death so that we can, in turn, give his light to the world while standing firm beneath the hardships and persecutions that the world throws against us for the sake of our faith in Yeshua. (2 Corinthians 4)

In John 4, there is yet another woman and an earthenware vessel. Yeshua and his disciples encounter a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well–Why does that sound familiar?–and when she realizes that he is the prophesied Messiah, she abandons her pitcher there at the well. She exchanges her pitcher of mundane water that must be replenished daily in order to continue sustaining life for another, Yeshua, that gives eternal life and never runs out. She runs home to tell all of her friends and family about the man who gave her living water, and they all believe in him too.

What has all this to do with the Passover water-bearer? Here is the meaning:

As in the story of Rebekah, the unnamed servant (the Holy Spirit) has gone to the well in search of a bride for the Master’s son. At the well he finds Peter and John who are two witnesses standing in for the twelve disciples, as well as for the two houses of Israel. They are the Bride of Messiah.

The servant doesn’t speak to them directly or on his own behalf, but carries his water pitcher on his shoulder, lifting up Messiah Yeshua so that they are able to follow him through the throngs that fill the streets for the coming festivities to the Master’s house, to the Kingdom of Heaven and the wedding feast of the Lamb.

God’s graphic prophecies are multidimensional, and if you turn them to look at them from a slightly new angle, you can often see another layer.

The servant is also you and me.

We are the woman at the well who has abandoned her old, empty life at the feet our Messiah and exchanged it for another, full of eternal life in Him. Our task, our Great Commission, is to lift Yeshua up high, like she did, so that all those who are called can see him in us. The world must be able to watch us walk among the world’s billions and see the life and death of Yeshua in our every word and deed. Our walk must be righteous to match the innocence which has been imputed to us by his shed blood, so that those who are ready and seeking him will find him.

The worthy servant of God goes out into the world with the Spirit and the Word to guide the broken, the sorrowful, the meek, and the hungry to the freedom from sin and death that is only found in our Passover lamb, Yeshua.

So, go, and live worthy lives that “draw all men unto” Him (John 12:32) and “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to tell others of the living water that has redeemed and animated us.

One Law or Two?

Are there separate laws for Jews and Gentiles or One Law for both?

I teach that there is one Law for all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, that those who have been grafted into Israel are subject to the same statutes and moral standards as those who were born into Israel. One common–and reasonable–objection is that if the law didn’t apply to gentiles prior to Yeshua’s incarnation, why should it apply after? Wouldn’t that mean a change in the Law itself?

For now, I’m going to set aside the distinction between such terms as Jews, Israelites, and Church. It’s an important distinction, but I’ll get to that in a separate article. In this article, I use the term “Jew” as shorthand for the people known as Jews in the time of Jesus and their heirs, because that’s how the term is used in the Apostolic writings.

If I wrote of every scriptural evidence that the Law applies to more than only the Jews, I would have to write a book. But then if I had the time to write a book, it would have to be a different one. So I’ll settle for a handful of evidences.

Evidence 1: Romans 3:9-11,19-21 (9) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, (10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; (11) no one understands; no one seeks for God… (19) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (20) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…

The phrase “under the Law” does not refer to those who are obligated to obey it, but to those who have violated the Law and are therefore under its judgment. The Law testifies against the sinner, thereby making him accountable for his sins. Paul wrote that “both Jews and Greeks are under sin.” But how can a Greek be “under sin” apart from the Law if, as Paul also wrote, “through the Law comes knowledge of sin?” He did not write, “Through one law comes knowledge of sin to the Greeks and through another Law comes knowledge of sin to the Jews.”

Some will say that there are two different laws at work here, one for the Jew and one for the Greek. Don’t let the necessary improvisations of the English translators fool you. The same Greek word nomos was translated as law in every case, and there was no capitalization or punctuation in the Greek. Every use of nomos in this passage refers to the same Law as verse 21 makes clear. There is one Law for both Jew and Gentile.* The Israelites were only the vehicle through which God gave his Law. Verse 2 says that they were entrusted with the oracles (utterances or revelations) of God, not that they were the only people to whom those oracles were addressed. If it’s still not clear enough to you, read the next two verses:

Romans 3:22-23 (22) …the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek in our guilt before the same Law, just as there is no distinction in our salvation through faith.

Evidence 2: Galatians 3:8-14 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (10) For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Although I would like to focus on verse 13, I copied much more of this passage to give you a good idea of the context. The Letter to the Galatians was not written to Jews, but to Galatians. They were Gauls, Greeks, Romans, and other mixed gentile nuts. There were probably some Jews there too, but they weren’t Paul’s primary audience. Paul warned this mixed multitude of new believers against relying on the Law for their salvation, so we can be sure that he meant the Law of Moses. He told them that Yeshua set them free from the curse of that Law, but if the Law did not apply to the Gentiles of Galatia, how did they come to require salvation from its curse? Of course, the Law did apply to them. It wasn’t given only to be a witness against the Jews, but against the whole world! (See Romans 3:19.)

Evidence 3 & 4: 1 Timothy 5:18-19 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (19) Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

These are just two examples among many of Paul’s teaching of Torah to Gentiles. To what scriptures was Paul referring? Deuteronomy 25:4 and Deuteronomy 19:15. Since Torah doesn’t apply to Gentiles, why would Paul burden them with its instructions? His words make good sense, of course, but Paul explicitly founded his advice in the Law. He would later write to Timothy that all of scripture, including the Torah, is worthwhile to study and to teach. All of it. And going by Paul’s example, it’s not just good to study, it’s good to do.

Just ask James:

Evidence 5: James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

James was specifically addressing the Twelve Tribes in Diaspora, so this doesn’t directly counter the original objection. But if the objection is correct, and Christians have no responsibility to keep the Law at all, then they should remove this letter from their Bibles altogether because it wasn’t addressed to them anyway. All this talk of law would probably only confuse them. On the other hand, I know that many people teach believing Jews that they must abandon Torah when they come to faith in Yeshua. James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, obviously disagreed. Faith in Yeshua (aka Jesus) does not abrogate the responsibility to keep the Law, but rather establishes obedience as effectual for the holiness of all believers.

Evidence 6: 1 John 3:4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

John, in addressing some common early heresies, defined sin as living without the Law. One could object that John meant living without any law and not specifically the Law of Moses, but I think that seems a little silly after Evidences 1-5. I think we can all agree that he wasn’t talking about Roman civil law or Jovian ecclesiastical law.

I have already gone beyond the “handful” of evidences I intended, but I really should add a few from the older scriptures for the benefit of any Jews who might be following along.

Evidence 7: Isaiah 56:1-7 Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. (2) Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (3) Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” (4) For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, (5) I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (6) “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– (7) these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

This is just about as plain a statement as you could want. Those non-Israelites who join themselves to God must never say that they are separated from his people, the Israelites. Just as Paul would write hundreds of years later: under God there is no difference between Jew and Greek. If gentiles worship the true God and keep his commandments, then they will be invited into his house. The implication is that, if they do not keep the Sabbath, they will not be invited, and their offerings and sacrifices will not be accepted.

Perhaps this is why David wanted to teach God’s Law to everyone. He was a man after God’s own heart, after all.

Evidence 8: Psalm 119:46-47 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.

Although he used two words, “testimonies” and “commandments”, the context indicates he meant them to be synonyms. If you aren’t as sure as I am, that’s understandable. Look a little further into Psalm 119, and maybe you will be convinced.

Evidence 9: Psa 119:118-119 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain. All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.

David wrote that God spurns all who go astray from his statutes. Not just the Israelites or the Jews. “All the wicked of the earth.” Since he did not want to be spurned, discarded like dross, he chose to love God’s testimonies. These lines are even clearer than the previous ones that “testimonies” was used synonymously with “commandments” and “statutes” throughout Psalm 119, and that all three apply to gentiles as well as to Jews.

Appropriately enough for the topic, I will conclude with a tenth scriptural evidence that the Law of God applies to all people, though there are many more to be found.

Evidences 10: Zechariah 14:18-19 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

Sukkot (the Feast of Booths) memorializes Israel’s time in the wilderness and prophesies of the coming of the Messiah. One could spiritualize this passage to avoid the issue–and the allegorical interpretation might not be entirely incorrect–but the literal meaning is quite clear. The day will come when any nation on earth that does not keep Sukkot will also not receive rain.

Sukkot, which means “tabernacles” or “booths”, is a festival that happens every Fall. It memorializes the time that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness living in sukkot and is the most likely time when Yeshua was born, hence the prophecies of the Messiah coming to tabernacle among his people. The manger probably wasn’t a feeding trough, but a tabernacle, a temporary shelter constructed in obedience to the command to live in sukkot for one week every year. Although it isn’t kosher by rabbinic standards, we set up our tents in the yard every year and try to sleep in them as much as possible for that week.

So, keep Torah (the Law) or not. Just don’t say that God never intended for non-Jews to keep it. The Apostles disagree.

*Be careful not to conflate the Sinai Covenant with the Law itself. The Law was included in the Covenant–Jeremiah says that the New Covenant also includes the Law–but it isn’t identical with the Covenant.

Enemies Within and Without

Every external trial is sent for an internal purpose.

The enemy within your gates must be defeated before you can effectively engage the enemy without, but sometimes the enemy outside is sent to expose and defeat the enemy hiding within.

In Psalm 86, David began with a parallelism that lays out a cause and effect relationship between the state of his heart and God answering his prayers.

  • V1 – Incline your ear, O YHVH. Hear me.
    • For I am sorrowful and destitute.
  • V2a – Preserve my soul
    • For I am pious.
  • V2b – Save your servant
    • Who trusts in you.
  • V3 – Be merciful to me, O Lord
    • For I cry out to you daily.
  • V4 – Gladden the soul of your servant
    • For unto you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
  • V5 – You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love
    • To all who call upon you.

David went on to ask God to help him become a more righteous man, to thank Him and glorify Him for His steadfast love and deliverance. Only then did he come back to the problem at hand: A group of lawless and violent men were conspiring against David, and he needed divine protection.

This Psalm is remarkable for more than just the parallelism at the beginning. In it, David touched on every major point of The Lord’s Prayer as taught by Yeshua in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. I have listed some of the correlations here but I am sure there are more:

  • v8,12 : Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
  • v9 : Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  • v1 : Give us this day our daily bread, and
  • v5,6,15,16 : forgive us our trespasses,
  • v11,17 : as we forgive those who trespass against us, and
  • v2,11: lead us not into temptation,
  • v2,13,17 : but deliver us from evil.
  • v10,12 : For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.

Not only does David foreshadow the Lord’s Prayer, but also the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:

  • v1 : Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • v4 : Blessed are they who mourn
  • v2 : Blessed are the meek
  • v11 : Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • v17 : Blessed are the merciful (David did not pray for their destruction, but their repentance.)
  • v2 : Blessed are the pure of heart
  • v17 : Blessed are the peacemakers (See above)
  • v14 : Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Is it any wonder that, despite all of his many sins and flaws, David is called a man after God’s own heart?

Like all of us, David continued to battle his sinful nature throughout his life, recognizing that he needed to have victory over the battle in his own heart before he could hope to have any real victory over external forces. This Psalm is an excellent pattern for every believer.

No matter how righteous we think we are, no matter how close to God we believe ourselves to be, our personal righteousness is a relative thing and will always be nothing compared to Yeshua’s. The trials that God sends are designed, in part, to remind us of this. The prayers of a righteous man are powerful, but righteousness that isn’t continually progressing becomes unrighteousness in time. This is a call to ever greater sanctity in our hearts and behavior, for there can be no victory in the world without victory in the heart.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

The Security of a Lean-To

Sukkot is that one week of the year when every Jewish neighborhood turns into a shanty town. The word “sukkot” is usually translated “booths” or “tabernacles”, but more literally means lean-tos, as in a temporary shelter assembled quickly from whatever materials happen to be close at hand.

You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:41-43)

Traditionally, a sukkah (the singular form of sukkot) is a three-sided shelter made of tree branches with an open-lattice roof, but these days, you can see them built out of everything from PVC pipes and plastic to 2x4s and plywood. Some of us less conventional types put up a tent or borrow a portable bicycle sukkah for a few minutes.

Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like: a small sukkah mounted on the back of a bicycle for feast keepers on the go.

There are two holiday seasons on God’s calendar: spring and fall, with one that’s set more-or-less in the middle. The spring feasts, collectively known as Passover are in the Hebrew month of Nisan, roughly corresponding to March/April. The fall feasts, including Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, are in the Hebrew month of Tishri, exactly six months later. Shavuot (aka Pentecost) is about 7 weeks after the start of Passover in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

One of the really interesting things about God’s feast days is that they primarily memorialize a series of divine actions that occurred within just a few months of each other. For example, Passover is about the final plague that God sent against Egypt and how He freed the Hebrews from slavery. Shavuot is the anniversary of God giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Yom Teruah memorializes God’s voice as it was heard from Sinai, among other things.*

Sukkot breaks this pattern in that it’s not about something God did, but about something the people did.

But is it really?

Sukkot celebrates the love and protection of God in every circumstance.Starting from the very first night of the Exodus when the Hebrews built sukkot at a placed named Sukkot (Exodus 12:37), they slept undisturbed in a wilderness that was barren, but not uninhabited. They didn’t have guards except to keep unauthorized people from hurting themselves in the Tabernacle. They didn’t assign watches at night. They walked through the lands of Midianites, Amalekites, and and other semi-nomadic peoples who proved that they were more than willing to do the Hebrews harm despite the dramatic defeat of Egypt, yet they slept safely in the flimsiest of structures with nobody to watch over them except for that towering pillar of fire and smoke.

In the wilderness, Israel was completely under the protection of God Almighty and nobody but Israel could compromise that security.  The didn’t have to build fortifications or post guards because God kept watch of the camp of Israel. This is what Sukkot is really all about: the divine providence of God.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year not just because the Hebrews lived in sukkot in the wilderness, but because they lived and ate and slept in ultimate security in fragile structures with no locks or barred doors in a country peopled by hostile nations.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year so that we would never forget the central message of the Bible:

“I love you. Trust me.”

 

* All of the feasts look both backward and forward. They memorialize things that happened in the past and prophecy things that will happen in the future, especially where events center on the Messiah. That aspect of the feasts will have to wait for another post!

Remember These Five Things

Yom Teruah is to be a memorial of trumpets, but what are the trumpets supposed to remind us of?

Everybody knows that Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, but it seems that few people know why (see here) and fewer still know the real meaning behind the day.

The primary source passages for the day are Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6.

“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first of the month, you shall observe a solemn rest, a memorial of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any servile work, and you shall present a fire offering to the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:24-25)

Like God’s other Appointed Times (moedim in Hebrew), Yom Teruah is to be a special day of rest, what’s commonly called a High Sabbath, and of sacrifices at the Temple. Most people understand the idea of a sabbath. You take a day off from work for resting and worship. Likewise with the sacrifices. Although the exact procedure and the purpose is a bit of a mystery, most people at least have some idea of what they are.

The thing that makes Yom Teruah different from all other moedim is the “memorial of trumpets”. The Hebrew word for trumpet in this passage is teruah, which more literally means “shouting”, but often means blowing trumpets or generally just making a lot of noise. Based on other passages and tradition, it is always translated as trumpets in relation to Yom Teruah. Specifically, these are to be the kind of trumpets that are called shofars and are made from the horns of clean animals like a ram.

So what is a memorial of trumpets? What are we supposed to remember? All of the moedim memorialize something. Passover recalls the plague of the firstborn in Egypt and how God spared those in houses marked by the blood of the lamb. Unleavened Bread recalls the hasty exit the Hebrews made from Egypt after the plague. Shavuot memorializes the giving of the Covenant at Sinai. And so on.

But… trumpets?

Again, what are we supposed to remember by blowing shofars? The Bible doesn’t specifically say, unless…unless it’s the trumpets themselves that we are to memorialize, more specifically, the sound of the trumpets. Okay, but does that really get us any closer to understanding the point?

It should help to look at how trumpets and horns appear in other places in Scripture.

  • In Genesis 22:13, God provided a ram caught in a thicket by its horns that Abraham could use as a burnt offering instead of his son, Isaac. Rabbinic tradition says that this happened on the date of Yom Teruah.
  • As battle cries, to signal attack, or to celebrate victory. (Numbers 31:6, Joshua 6, etc.)
  • To call the people to gather or to signal the moving of the camp in the wilderness. (Numbers 10:3,5)
  • To announce the arrival of a king or the Ark of the Covenant. (Numbers 23:21, 1 Samuel 4:5-6, Matthew 24:29-51, etc.)
  • To announce the arrival, descent, or descent of God. (Psalm 47:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, etc.)
  • The voice of God. (Exodus 19:16,19, Numbers 23:21, etc.)

This last one is what I find most interesting. God’s voice sounds like a shofar! What is it about God’s voice that we should remember?

God created the world and everything in it with his voice. Jewish tradition says that Yom Teruah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, who were the first things that God didn’t create by speaking them into existence. Instead, they were formed by his hands and filled with his breath. (Kind of like a shofar. Hmm…) They weren’t present to witness God creating with his voice, so he had to give them a day, Yom Teruah, to look back at what they couldn’t otherwise see.

God gave the Sinai Covenant and the Torah with his voice. Certainly remembering the covenant and keeping its terms is very important. Another tradition says that, if the Israelites had been able to stand the direct communication with God at Sinai, they would have received the Law written on their hearts at that moment. Since they could not, God gave a special day to make sure they continued to look back at that moment. Jeremiah 31:31-34 says that one of the defining features of the New Covenant is the Law written on hearts instead of stone, so that Yom Teruah also calls Israel to remember that day, which has been promised and paid for, but not yet fully delivered.

Yeshua’s return will be announced by a great shofar. The arrival of a king is announced by a shofar. How much more so, the arrival of the King of Kings? This could very well be the voice of God himself, a great battle cry from heaven calling his people to assemble and announcing the beginning of the Day of the Lord.

What then does Yom Teruah memorialize through the blowing of trumpets?

The shofar on Yom Teruah calls us to repentance, to hear and obey the Voice of God.

Remember the Creator who spoke the universe into existence. Remember the substitution of the ram for Isaac and the Lamb for all of us. Remember the Covenant. Remember the commandments. Remember the King, who was, who is, and who is to come.

The Lamb’s Book of Life will not remain open forever. Repent from all transgression of the Law, for the Kingdom of Heaven is now, and the King has promised to return.

Peter’s Passover

As prophecy, Passover has ripples forwards and backwards in time.

Over many years in Sunday School, in church, and at school (I went to a Christian school.), I remember hearing the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12) many times, almost as often as I heard about the non-escape of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. But in all that time, I don’t recall ever hearing that God orchestrated–and Luke portrayed–this escape to be a mirror image of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt.

I don’t think there was any grand conspiracy of silence involved. Maybe it was taught, and I missed it, but I think it’s more likely that most of my teachers were unaware of the parallels themselves. But once you become very familiar with the story of the first Passover in Exodus, the connections are very difficult to miss. Check out this startling list:

Peter’s Passover Israel’s Passover
Herod persecuted Yeshua’s followers. Pharaoh persecuted the Hebrews.
Herod killed James (“Jacob” in Hebrew). Pharaoh killed the infant sons of Jacob.
Peter was arrested and imprisoned during Passover. Passover commemorates the enslavement and redemption of the Hebrews.
The congregation of believers prayed for Peter’s deliverance. The Hebrews cried out to God for their deliverance.
There were sentries outside Peter’s cell door. The Egyptians were outside the blood-marked doors of the Hebrews.
An angel, who lit up Peter’s cell, appeared to lead him out of prison. An angel in the form of a pillar of fire led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
The angel woke Peter and told him to get up quickly. God told the Hebrews to be prepared to leave Egypt quickly.
Peter’s chains were removed by a miracle. The Hebrews’ chains were removed by a series of miraculous plagues.
The angel told Peter to dress and put on his sandals. The Hebrews were told to eat the Passover with their sandals on and staffs in hand
The angel and Peter walked out past the guards with no resistance. The Hebrews walked out of Egypt with the full cooperation of the Egyptian people.
God caused the gates into the city to open to let Peter pass. God caused the Red Sea to part to let the Hebrews pass.
Peter said, “Now I am sure the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod and all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Jethro heard all that God had done in rescuing Israel from Egypt.
Peter went to the house of Mary (“Miriam” in Hebrew) where there was a prayer meeting in progress. Miriam led worship and prayer after the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea.
There was a disturbance in Herod’s court when Peter’s absence was discovered. Pharaoh was angry and regreted that he had let the Hebrews go.
Herod killed the guards who allowed Peter to escape. God killed Pharaoh’s charioteers in the Red Sea.
The neighboring kingdoms depended on Herod for food. The neighboring kingdoms depended on Pharaoh for food during the famine of Joseph’s time.
The people who heard Herod’s speech praised him as a god. The Egyptians worshiped Pharaoh as a god.
An Angel of the Lord killed Herod. God drowned Pharaoh in the Sea.

We usually think of the Passover as a one-time event (God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt) that prophesied another one-time event (the death and resurrection of Yeshua). Done and done. But that’s not really the way that God works. He builds everything around themes, applying the same patterns over and over, almost like ripples across the surface of time.

Passover also appears in the destruction of Sodom:

  • Abraham washed the feet of his guests and offered a meal with unleavened bread.
  • Lot offered a meal of unleavened bread to the angels.
  • Lot and his family sheltered in his house while angels caused mayhem in Sodom.
  • The angels lead Lot and his family to safety while God destroyed Sodom.

In the binding of Isaac:

  • God led Abraham on a three day journey into the wilderness.
  • Father Abraham left his servants (his disciples) behind while he and his son go on ahead to the altar.
  • Isaac carried the wood for his own death.
  • The near death and subsequent resurrection of Isaac.

And in John’s Revelation:

  • A series of plagues devastate the world (Egypt).
  • Those covered in the blood of the lamb are saved from or through the plagues.
  • The redemption of the 144,000.
  • The saints sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

There are probably other echoes of Passover in Scripture that I haven’t seen yet or can’t remember right now. My point is that it is a mistake to call one of God’s feasts “fulfilled” as if it’s no longer relevant. God wasn’t done with Passover when the Red Sea closed over the Egyptians. In fact, He was only just getting started. Nor was He done with it when Yeshua rose from the grave, as we can see in Peter’s escape from prison and in Paul’s use of Passover themes to teach holy living.

Yeshua’s death and resurrection wasn’t an echo of the Passover in Egypt, but the other way around. Egypt was an echo of Calvary, and it wasn’t the only one, either before or after. We can expect another Passover and another Exodus at the Day of the Lord described by the prophets.

Just as the plagues and the march out of Egypt weren’t a walk in the park for anyone, not even the Hebrews, so the Exodus to come won’t be pleasant. And like all great events and disasters, thorough preparation can make things much easier. We keep Passover every year as a memorial of what has already happened and so that we will be able to recognize God’s patterns when we see them in the world around us.

God’s feasts aren’t arbitrary, nor are they only historical. They are ongoing training that we can use to better understand His character and His plan, and to be better prepared for the future. If we are taken off guard at how events unfold, there’s no real excuse. God showed us what will happen, and then He told us and showed us again, and commanded us to learn it and rehearse it.

If you’ve never kept Passover before, it’s not too late. You can start this year, and don’t worry about getting all the details right. God doesn’t expect anyone to get it perfect or else He wouldn’t have told us to keep doing it year after year. But you do have to start somewhere.

Hebrew for Christians has a lot of good information on Passover at their website here. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take it one piece at a time and progress as you can. Find some believers near you who are hosting a Passover seder and ask if you can join them. Who would say no?


Here are some great resources you can use to explore Passover with your family:

A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.
Great for families with small children who want to replace secular and pagan holidays with God’s days:
A Christian Passover Seder.
A guide to a semi-traditional Passover celebration for believers in Yeshua.

You Are the Tabernacle of God

Last week we celebrated Sukkot with our small community in Brenham, Texas. If you aren’t familiar with Sukkot, you might know it better by the name Feast of Tabernacles. (See Lev 23:34-43.) “Sukkot” is Hebrew for “tabernacles”. “Sukkah” is the singular form.

The themes of Sukkot appear over and over in the writings of the prophets. I suspect there might be more end-times prophecy surrounding Sukkot than any other single, biblical holy day.

  • The repentance, restoration, and reunification of the tribes of Israel (Isa 27, Jer 23:7-8, Zec 12:10-13:2, etc.)
  • The calling out of those from among the nations who have been grafted into Israel (Isa 27, Isa 54:1-3, etc.)
  • The destruction of the nations who attacked God’s people (Isa 27, Isa 54:4-17, Zec 12:1-9, etc.)
  • The establishment of the Messianic Era with God Himself tabernacling among His people (Isa 4:2-6, Zec 14:5-9, Eze 37:27, etc.)
  • The celebration of the feast by all nations (Zec 14:16-19)

All holidays come with their traditions. You’re probably familiar with the Thanksgiving turkey, but have you heard about the Sukkot gumbo? It’s actually a pretty recent innovation, but it’s one of my favorites. My wife is an outstanding cook and every year she puts together a giant pot of this amazing stuff–made with chicken and all beef sausage, of course. No shellfish or pork in our gumbo!

Another tradition–one more widespread and well established–is the building of a sukkah from tree branches, palm fronds, and other natural materials. A sukkah is a temporary dwelling place with three walls and a roof that is good enough to provide shade, but loose enough to be able to see the sky through it. This tradition goes back to at least the time of Nehemiah (Neh 8:13-18) and possibly all the way back to the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness.

Here’s the original command from Torah:

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths [sukkot] for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths [sukkot], that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths [sukkot] when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
(Lev 23:39-43)

Technically, Torah only says to celebrate with the fruit and branches and also to live in sukkot for seven days, but Nehemiah interpreted this to mean they were to build their sukkot from the branches, and this is still how it’s done today.

A Sukkot etrog and lulav.
A Sukkot etrog and lulav.

By the first century AD, a completely different idea had taken root, that the fruit must be an etrog (also known as a citron) and the branches of three specific kinds of trees must be bound together in a “lulav” and waved a certain way. While it’s not strictly biblical, there’s nothing wrong with this practice, and the rabbis draw an interesting and valuable lesson from it. Each of the four species (etrog, palm, myrtle, and willow) represent a different kind of person, and all of them are bound together at Sukkot because it takes all kinds of individuals to make a whole nation.

It’s a little like our gumbo in that way. You put all of these different ingredients together in a pot, turn up the heat, and they make a single, magical dish that draws the whole community together. (And I do mean magical. You should try it sometime!)

You’ve probably read this passage before, but read it again now with the image of a divine Tabernacle made from the natural and wild branches of God’s people:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
(Isa 56:3-7)

Maybe you’re a palm tree or maybe you’re a willow of the brook. Whatever your race or personality type or skill set, God has called you out to be a part of His people, to be one of the branches used to build the Tabernacle of Messiah.

The Tabernacle of Messiah is made up of branches from many different trees, both domestic and wild.

Happy New Year

L'shana tova from Brenham, Texas!

Why is the Feast of Trumpets (aka Yom Teruah or Yom ha-Zikkaron) also called Head of the Year (Rosh Hashanah) when God specifically said that Nisan is the first month of the year? Every calendar has multiple years. We have fiscal years, school years, birth years, tax years, etc. The ancient Hebrews were no different. But what, specifically, makes this day a “new year” day?

There are two reasons, one mystical and one practical. Traditionally, Adam and Eve were created on Rosh Hashanah, so we blow the horns in honor of the world’s birthday and in remembrance of the Voice of God that caused the world to come into being. More scripturally, the year of Jubilee begins in the seventh month (this month, now called Tishrei). Every seventh year in the seventh month, debts were forgiven, Hebrew slaves set free, and the land given one year of rest from active agriculture. Every fiftieth year in the seventh month, all land returned to the original owners, the families to whom the land was granted in the time of Joshua. (See Leviticus 25)

Technically, the release of slaves and land begins at Yom Kippur, which is the 10th day of the month, making it simultaneously the most solemn and the most joyful day on God’s calendar. Regardless, the month of Tishrei is still the first month of the year for the purposes of the Jubilee, so the first day of Tishrei is considered the first day of the year.

L’shana Tova! Happy New Year! May you find freedom in Yeshua this year and every year.

You Will Go Out in Joy

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.

Isaiah 55:12-13

There is no escaping pain. To one degree or another, everyone hurts, everyone suffers. No one can say why one person suffers in one way and another suffers in some other way, but pain and trouble are part of living. Without strain, our bones and muscles would never grow strong. Without sickness, our immune systems would never learn. Without conflict, our hearts would never learn what it means to love.

In the midst of our struggle, it can be easy to forget that God still sees us, but never believe that He has abandoned you. Your pain is real. Your scars might never fade. But God has promised that He will reward those who remain faithful and that reward will be greater than anything you might have lost. He will exchange your thorns for firs, your iron for silver, your bronze for gold. (Is 55 & 60)

And He will do this because fulfillment of promises and rewards for faithfulness are an intrinsic part of His name. It is simply who He is.