Rosh Hashana literally means head of the year. The Biblical designation of this feast that is celebrated as the start of the new year is Yom Teru’ah (Day of trumpets):
“On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets” (Numbers 29:1).
One would normally expect to celebrate the start of the new year at the beginning of the first month of the year. Why then is Rosh Hashana celebrated at the start of the seventh month of the Jewish year? The seventh month was considered more sacred than all the other months, partly because of its significance as the sabbatical month in which the great feasts of Yom Kippur and Sukkot occurred and partly because it marked the commencement of the civil year 1. (Jewish sources maintain that the distinction between the ‘civil’ new year and the ‘sacred’ new year dates from Moses, but others have suggested that it only dates from the return from Babylon).
The seventh month is thus both the end of the sacred calendar and the start of civil year, but let us reflect on the words of King Solomon concerning our endless toil and striving to live holy lives: ‘What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end’ (Eccles. 3:9-11).
Only when we come to realize how all the feasts of Israel have been fulfilled in the Messiah, can we begin to fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Jesus said, “I am the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). In Him we learn the spiritual significance illustrated in the ancient feasts of Israel which prophetically foreshadowed what the Lord intended to accomplish from beginning to end through Christ our Redeemer.
The Scriptures tell us quite clearly that the first month of the year is Nisan, the month in which the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt and in which the Passover is celebrated:‘The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month (Nisan or Abib – which means Spring) is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year”’ (literally the head month of the year).
Jesus represents the Lamb of God whose sacrificial death sets us free from sin (John 1:29), fulfilling the meaning of Passover. By faith in him we receive the Holy Spirit and the Law that is written upon our hearts – the fulfilment of Shavuot (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26). He fulfilled the prophetic meaning of the feast of trumpets, warning the people of pending judgement and calling the people to repentance, and he became the scapegoat to bear our sins – by shedding his own blood he atoned for the sins of the whole world – thus fulfilling Yom Kippur (Leviticus 23:27 and 17:11). He tabernacled among his people, fulfilling the prophetic meaning of Sukkot (John 1:14). Each one of the feasts typified and pointed to the spiritual reality that is revealed in Jesus our Messiah.
The first month Aviv (Spring), (which figuratively represents the beginning of new life), commemorates our deliverance from bondage to sin in this world. Unless we have been set free from our slavery to sin (which leads to death), the atonement in the seventh month has no permanent value and we remain trapped in the endless cycle that the continual sacrifices of the Old Covenant represented – a constant reminder of our bondage to sin (Hebrews 10:3) and of the fact that effective redemption could only be accomplished through the Messiah. Jesus is both our Deliverer and our final atonement. The Messiah is the Prophet like Moses who delivers his people from bondage to sin (Deut. 18:18), but he is also the end of the Law for all who believe.
If we celebrate the feasts according to tradition without understanding how they typified God’s redemption through the Messiah we still cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. If we fail to respond to the blast of the shofar on the Day of Trumpets (Yom Teru’ah) – figuratively speaking of the call us to awaken from our slumber and repent of our sins – we remain dead in our sins. We are trapped in an endless cycle and never enter God’s rest. Like the first generation of Israelites who were delivered from bondage in Egypt, no sooner have we experienced the mighty power of God to deliver us from sin than we begin to grumble and crave the things that enslaved us (Exodus 16:3).
We may begin the new year with all sorts of good intentions but unless we have been set free by the Deliverer we remain enslaved to our old sinful way of life, without the atonement for sin through the shedding of blood as required by the Torah (cf. Lev. 17:11). We strive in vain to attain righteousness by observing the Law, but unless the Lord writes his Law upon our hearts, as he promised to do through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33), we will forever be toiling in vain to attain everlasting righteousness.
Jesus the Redeemer sets us free from slavery to sin. His death was the final atonement for sin. Only through faith in him is the endless cycle broken and we find rest for our souls. The Rabbis continue to heap heavy burdens on the people (cf. Matt. 23:4), striving to achieve their redemption through good works, but everlasting righteousness comes only through faith in the Messiah. In his wisdom Solomon said, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men…”. But Jesus said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
This is the true Sabbath rest planned for the people of God in which we rest from our own works and enter God’s rest (Heb. 4:9). Figuratively, it represents the eighth day, the end of the cycle and the new day of salvation that the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24). This is the day of the Messiah in which we receive eternal life through the final atonement. ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is what we endeavour to proclaim – the Good News of Jesus the Messiah!
At the end of Jacob’s hard toil he blessed Joseph in the name of the angel who had redeemed him from evil (Gen. 48:16). It is only through the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah that we may ever fathom what God has done from beginning to end. It is only through him that we may have eternal life. Jesus prayed,
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
May you enter His rest and may your name be inscribed in the Book of Life through faith in Jesus the Redeemer of Israel!
1. A. Edersheim – “The Temple – its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Christ”.