The Fall Feasts of Israel
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
(At sunset on Sept. 29, 2008 we began year 5769 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 early 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 thereafter to be the first, placing the beginning of the year in the spring.
But because of the harvest, the Jews have always retained their original calendar as well, so now they have a religious year which begins in the spring and a civil year beginning in the fall. Therefore the Jewish New Year has always been celebrated in the fall and remains so today. This feast is known by two names, Yom Teruah, which means day of blowing but is called the Feast of Trumpets, and Rosh Hashanah, which 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. If so, then the counting of time actually began then, the first day of the first month of the first year. The first Rosh Hashanah.
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, 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)
I’m also convinced that Paul’s reference to the Rapture happening at “The Last Trump” (1 Cor. 15:52) should not be used to connect it to the Feast of Trumpets. He spoke of the same event In 1 Thes. 4:16 saying it would be accompanied by the trumpet call of God. Some scholars say there are two trumpets of God that recall the two horns of the ram caught in the thicket as Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. They call the Trumpet of Exodus 19:13 the left one, or First Trump, and say that God will call the Israelites back to the Land in the End Times by blowing the right one, or Last Trump. If as I suspect, this will occur in conjunction with the Battle of Ezekiel 38, then my belief that the Rapture will take place before Ezekiel’s battle would be confirmed. About the only thing we know for sure where the Rapture’s timing is concerned is that it didn’t happen on this Rosh Hashanah.
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 for sins he’s committed in the year just past. 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 and throw 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.
Ten days later, 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. Yes God does have a name, but it’s not Jehovah or Yahweh. These names were created out of the four letters that Hebrew scribes used to represent God’s name in the Old Testament. Wherever the word LORD appears all in caps, you’ll find the Hebrew letters JHVH, (or YHWH) in the Hebrew text. Theologians call these four letters the tetragrammaton, which is Greek for “four letters”.
So, in effect these four letters are God’s initials, standing for His real name which some say contains 72 syllables.
Since Hebrew has no vowels, early English language translators added an E, an O, and an A, (vowels they took from from Elohim, a form of the Hebrew word meaning God and Adonai, Hebrew for Lord) to JHVH and created the name Jehovah. We used to think that was God’s name. And in Hebrew the four letters are pronounced yod, he, wah, he, which probably gave rise to the “Yahweh” we use today. Neither one is really His name.
As I’ve said, it was forbidden to speak God’s actual name except for once a year on Yom Kippur when it was spoken 10 times. After the Temple was destroyed, the Yom Kippur ceremony gradually changed until the name of God ceased to be used and was subsequently lost.
So no one alive today knows God’s name, and it probably hasn’t been spoken on Earth for about 1700 years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Philippians 2:9 says that Jesus, or if you prefer the Hebrew, Yeshua is now the name above all names. This is now the name by which God chooses to be known.
Back to Yom Kippur. 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 then 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 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. In 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 that both goats had only symbolized had come and forever taken away the sins of all who would choose to 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 the judgment of Jews who survive 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 according to their works. (Rev. 20:11-15).
The Feast of Tabernacles comes five days after Yom Kippur. It 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. The aroma of delicious foods cooking over open fires permeated the whole city. For seven days where ever you went there was an air of joy and festivity as the people remembered their Provider and gave thanks. (Deut. 14:22-26).
Historically the Feast of Tabernacles 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) ( In order for the so-called Blood Moons of 2015 to herald the Lord’s return, Daniel’s 70th week would have to begin during the Feast of Tabernacles this year.)
Somewhere along the way a water libation ceremony was added to the Feast of Tabernacles. Each morning a procession of priests would descend the steps from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam and dip a silver pitcher into the water. Carrying the water back to the altar, they would pour it into the ground that had been exposed by the removal of a paving block near the altar, while offering prayers for rain. The purpose of this daily ceremony was to remind God to bring the fall rains needed to prepare the ground for planting. In Israel it doesn’t rain during the summer and the ground gets very hard. Gentle rains were needed to soften the ground to prepare it for the fall planting.
On the last day of the feast the High Priest himself would officiate and on this day instead of a silver pitcher one of pure gold would be used. The High Priest would be dressed in all his finest and attended by a huge contingent of similarly attired priests, blowing trumpets, singing psalms, and waving palm branches. When it was first described to me, I was struck by its beauty and pageantry. I’ve since read that extra balconies were set up around the Court of the Priests so more people could observe it.
One year just as the High Priest was about to pour the water into the ground, a loud voice interrupted the ceremony shouting, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38) It was Jesus and He was referring to the Holy Spirit, who believers would soon receive. This caused many to believe that He was indeed Israel’s Messiah. (We’re not told what the High Priest’s reaction was, but it couldn’t have been pleasant.)
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 Jesus 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.