Resolved to Remember
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2014
The first 15 years of the 21st century have come to an end. The media has already been looking back over 2014 reviewing stories in the news about celebrities, politics, calamities, movies, music, and new products.
There has also been talk about making the future better. There were predictions about things that concern us: the economy, fashions, politics, social unrest, and the weather patterns ahead for the winter and for the rest of the year.
At the last moments of each year those concerns are set aside for celebrations and parties. People eat, drink, dance, watch the ball drop in Times Square, and make all sorts of resolutions for things to be different in their lives in year ahead.
God included New Year celebrations in the calendar he gave Ancient Israel.
From the time the law was given to Moses, Israel had two New Year days every year. One marked the start of the worship year on the 1st of Nisan, the Passover month. That’s when the cycle of feast days restarted each Spring.
The calendar year started on the 1st of Tishri, the 7th month on the worship calendar. The Hebrew month of Tishri begins in mid September. It’s when the dry season ended and the plowing would begin for the new crops. It was when the work of the people started up fresh. The month started with the Feast of Trumpets; It was called the rosh ha-shaNAH (ראשׁ השּׁנה). It literally means: “head of the year” – the beginning of the work year.
Leviticus 23:23-25 Describes this New Year festival:
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.”
There were three primary things the people were commanded to do on that New Year’s Day:
1. It was a day of solemn rest, a ceasing from the work they did to earn their living. The word there that’s translated, “solemn rest” is “shabbat” (שׁבּתון), the word we often translate as “Sabbath”. It’s a time to stop our regular work and not pay others to work on that day.
2. It was a day of memorial, a time of remembering, to think about all God had done.
3. It was a day of holy convocation, coming together with an offering giving thanks for God’s provisions and care of his people.
The central idea for this holiday was memorial, a “remembering” of God’s promises.
The month of Tishri was a whole season of New Year celebrations:
The 1st of Tishri was the Feast of Trumpets, the Rosh HaShana, or New Year Day. The key theme for that holiday was promises. This feast called them to remember what God promised in his covenant.
The 10th of Tishri was the Day of Atonement. The key theme for that holiday was provision. This feast was to remember God’s promise to provide pardon for our sins. It pointed to the then future sacrifice of the Messiah who would make believers right with God.
The 15th of Tishri, and for 7 days after that, was the Feast of Tabernacles. The key theme for that holiday was praise. It was a time to remember their deliverance from Egypt and God’s care for them in the wilderness.
They were celebrated in that order: God’s promises, his provisions, and our resulting praise to him for his deliverance and care.
Today in our more secularized world our celebration of the New Year is different.
Thinking about what we’ve done and plan to do, often replaces thoughts about what God promised and has done. Resolutions have replaced remembrances of God’s promises and blessings as the central theme of the New Year celebrations. Parties have replaced an attitude of worship, and momentary fun has replaced the joy which comes from our faith in all God has done to redeem us.
Of course this does not mean we can’t celebrate and enjoy our modern New Year holiday. There’s nothing wrong with decent parties and lots of fun with friends. But we need to be careful that our thoughts are centered on God’s doings, rather than just our own feelings and doings.
As the last moments of December fade we often take a nostalgic look back over the past year, or even over our many past years. We remember what we’ve done and experienced. Some of us will make resolutions hoping to make our future better.
By seeing what God called for in the celebrations of the New Year he set up, it helps us look for the right things that should be in our remembrances and resolutions. The three feasts of Tishri make a good guide for us as we celebrate the New Year.
The first was the Feast of Trumpets: a celebration of promise.
This was the start of the new year. The “head of the year” (Rosh-HaShanah) was a day to stop our work, to remember God’s promises, and to gather with God’s people in a holy convocation.
The Trumpet was sounded at the place of worship for the whole day. On other occasions the trumpet blew once or twice. On this day it blew all day. The trumpet was the shophar. It was a large horn that made a dull tone that could be heard for miles around.
It was a very common sound to the Jews because it was used on several occasions. Numbers 10:1-10 explains the meanings God connected with the various trumpet sounds.
– One sound called the people to come together at the tent of meeting for worship.
– Another sent them marching out to war to face an enemy.
– Still another sound announced each feast.
The all-day sounding of the trumpets was unique to this New Year celebration of Rosh HaShanh.
The “Rosh-HaShanah” was also a time of special offerings made at the place of worship. The word used here for “offering” is “ishshah (אשּׁה). It primarily refers to a burnt offering. “Food offering” in the ESV translation is a little misleading. Burnt offerings represented the future sacrifice of the Savior. Every hope of God’s blessings begins first with the removing of the offense of our sin. The moral barrier that separates us from our Creator would one day be torn down on a cross near Jerusalem. The sacrifices of Israel’s New Year represented their trust in the coming Messiah. It demonstrated a living faith in God’s promises.
As a day of memorial, it was to remind the people of God’s faithful promises. At the time of Creation, God promised to provide for our daily needs through what he made. He gave us work to do as his representatives. In all our labors we are to do them in service of the King of all kings.
God made promises to us as the descendants of Noah after the great flood. He specially called the descendants of Abraham to be the caretakers of his promises. He delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt in the time of Moses to illustrate how Messiah would deliver God’s people from their bondage to sin.
Even the giving of God’s sacrificial law included promises. It shows us that though we are a fallen, depraved and condemned race, by his love and grace he delivers the unworthy by dying in their place. The law also helps us understand the importance of showing our gratitude to our Redeemer by living morally, humbly and worshipfully for his glory in all we do.
The word for “memorial” is “zicron” (זכרון), a broad word that means a “calling to mind”. It’s not just about remembering things completed in the past. It is also about remembering God’s promises yet to be fulfilled. That’s how this word is used in other places in the Bible too. It was a day of remembering the past blessings, and God’s promises which continue to give hope.
After that feast of promise was a feast about God’s provision.
A little more than a week later, on the 10th of Tishri, was the Day of Atonement. There were special sacrifices and ceremonies to show their need for the removal of sin’s guilt. It was a time of repentance for our crimes against our Creator. It was a holiday to think about God’s grace. He was going to provide himself as a sacrifice in the place of his people. The offense of sin would be removed, and their fellowship with their Creator restored.
The order of these feast days to start the New Year were important.
First was the day of remembering our sins and God’s promises. The next special day was for celebrating God’s provision to fulfill the promise to redeemed sinners. This order showed the expectation revealed to the Jewish nation before the coming of Christ. Long ago Rabbi Moses Maimonides said that, “Rosh HaShanah was to awaken the people to repentance in prospect of the Day of Atonement.”
We were born into this time of history where we have seen how God made that Atonement. God in his mercy poured out our judgment upon Jesus Christ as our substitute. Therefore every New Year celebration should move us to show our gratitude for that work of grace by a determining to live a holy and godly life in the year ahead.
It’s a good time to specially thank God for His mercy, to appreciate his grace in the finished work of Christ that has delivered us from bondage. Romans 5:8 reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
After the feasts of promise, and of God’s provision for sin, came a 7-day feast of praise.
The 15th of Tishri began the Feast of Tabernacles. For 7 days each family stayed in a hut (sukkot) which they made out of tree branches.
It reminded them of how their Covenant God took care of them through the trials of the wilderness after the Exodus. It reminded them of the dangerous struggles they went through, and how God never forgot his promises to them. It reminded them of how thankful they should be for the promises of God’s covenant. Not only were they free, they were also kept by the powerful and caring hand of God. This was a joyful feast that showed the blessing of life in God’s covenant promises.
The world in forgetting Christ, celebrates the new year with abandon. There is excessive drinking, superstitions, and all sorts of sensual indulgences. That is not the way we should celebrate new beginnings with Christ. In Philippians 3:18-20, God’s word says, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” For God’s Covenant People it should be a remembering of God’s promises and loving provisions.
It’s not a time to abandon good moral choices in a night of sin. It’s to think on the things of God and to be truly joyful in Christ. This is what should occupy our minds, our heart’s desires, our decisions, and activities. It should govern our celebrations, our words, our goals. We can only find real joy and celebration when we belong to Christ repentantly, and live as our Creator made us to live as his covenant people.
These three feasts of the ancient New Year celebrations teach us how to live in Christ today.
As you welcome in the New Year, center your thoughts on the God of all the ages.
It’s a time to look back on the blessings God has poured out upon his people and in your own life, a time to remember the firm promises he made to us as his people, a time to think about the foundation we have in the loving victory of Jesus Christ, a time to rejoice over the prospect of serving him with a fresh start in the season ahead.
It’s time to plow fresh fields. Not just literal fields as it was back in the time of ancient Israel. But as that represented, it’s a time to start up fresh, determining to turn away from the sins in our lives, and to prayerfully strive to put God’s glory above every other desire or goal we have. It’s a time to rethink our schedules, budgets, and how we use our opportunities and all we have. It’s a time to strategize how we can better encourage one another as a family of God.
Set goals so that a year from now when this new year ends you will know God’s word better, you will have regularly come to God in sincere prayer every day, you will have been faithful in worship and in the support of the ministries and people of your church.
This new year is an opportunity to live for God’s glory as you have never done it before. That is how we will find our holiness in Christ, and our happiness in that holiness.
God’s promise and his gracious blessings are not only to make us humbly thankful. They should also make us confident as we press on in service for Christ.
Psalm 89:15 says, “Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face…” The term translated “festal shout” is “teruah” (תּרוּעה) which literally means “the sound of an alarm, or of the shophar”. It’s not used about people shouting, but of the sounds the trumpet made for Israel. It’s the call to worship, a call to battle, a call to God’s holy days when we specially remember his promises. Researchers have determined that here that phrase is a specific reference to the trumpet call to these feasts of the New Year. Special holidays should stir us to live as those made more aware of God’s promises and assured presence.
God will richly bless us as his people as we remember his promises and how he provides for us by grace in Christ. New Year celebrations should stir us to praise God throughout the year in joyful and confident service for Christ and his kingdom.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
When you bring in the new year, center your thoughts on praise for God’s promises, and the provisions which make those promises yours in Christ.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.