New Year in Israel

Fredy Winkler

In Israel, the New Year is celebrated in the fall, at the beginning of the seventh month. This tradition is rooted in Leviticus 23:24. It doesn’t actually say there, that this day is the beginning of a new year. It is a mysterious day of sacred assembly, rest and trumpet blasts, without any further explanation as to its deeper meaning. That’s the reason why the Jews began to celebrate this as their New Year’s Day, after the destruction of the temple. It gave that day a meaning. This particular month is called the “seventh month” in the Bible. The beginning of the year is actually in the spring, but it’s not a biblical holiday.

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month, and is the most important festival day of the seven annual festivals that God decreed for the Jewish people. On that day, once per year, the high priest went into the Most Holy Place with the blood of a goat to make atonement for the entire people.

This frequently gives rise to the question as to how modern Jews achieve their atonement and forgiveness for sins, as there is no longer a temple and no more sacrifices are offered. In this context, we have to consider the words of Hebrews 10:4, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

It’s indicative that the word “Kippur” or “Kappara” doesn’t even mean “forgive” or “take away,” but rather “cover.” Thus, the Old Testament sacrifices had only a symbolic meaning that pointed to a coming sacrifice that would truly forgive and take away their sins. They were symbols of the absolute sacrifice that Jesus Himself brought (see Mark 2:1-11). Before the absolute sacrifice came, sins were only symbolically covered by the blood of the sacrificial animals. They remained under God’s grace and forbearance until Jesus came to truly forgive the sins.

The recognition that sinful man needs the grace of God is demonstrated throughout the Old Testament, from near the beginning of the Bible (see Genesis 4:4; 6:8). The Jews recognized this as well, so after the temple was destroyed, they began to use the ten days between the day of trumpet blasts and Yom Kippur as a time of atonement, during which they bow before God, confess their sins, and pray that He will show them grace and mercy.

In looking at the sacrificial rites described in Leviticus chapters 1—9, it’s worth mentioning that there was no sacrifice for conscious sin. In Leviticus 4:2 it’s written, “When anyone sins unintentionally…”

In practice, that doesn’t mean that someone can just sin throughout the whole year and violate God’s commands, because their sins will automatically be forgiven on Yom Kippur—which is often the case with confession in the Roman Catholic Church.

God is above all a gracious and compassionate God. This was how He introduced Himself to Moses, when He proclaimed His name, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).

In the people of Israel, we see that God was always gracious to them. We can also see the tragic side of this godly statement in the people of Israel; in the end, God punished the descendants for the sins of their fathers.

This godly truth did not just apply to the people of the Old Covenant, but it applies to the people of the New Covenant as well. God isn’t a God of cheap grace in the New Testament, either, although He is often characterized that way. That is the message of Hebrews 10:26-31. When we purposely sin, after we know the truth and know that it’s wrong, we can no longer expect God to redeem us by grace.

The knowledge of the eternally valid sacrifice, with which our Lord Jesus Christ made us holy by atoning for our sins, should motivate us every day to be willingly obedient to Him purely out of love for what He did.

News From Israel - 11/2017

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