New Moon Observance in Ancient Israel
As we review a number of scriptures concerning the first day of the new month (the New Moon), it will become evident that the observance of the first day of the sacred month was an intrinsic part of the worship system that God gave to Israel.
The First Month
"And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak you to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house" (Ex.12:1-3 KJV).
It is important to remember that God instructed Israel to keep the first Passover observance, in the first month of his sacred calendar: The English word month used in this text is the Hebrew word hodesh, which can mean month, monthly, and new moon:
THE BLOWING OF TRUMPETS
Moses was told by God to make two silver trumpets (Num.10:2) which would be blown to announce a movement of the camp of Israel to another place. The trumpets were also blown to call the people and/or the heads of the tribes to gather at the tabernacle, to call God to help them in times of war, and to announce the first day of a new month:
Numbers 10:8-10 Paraphrased
"And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for a never ending statute throughout your generations. And when you go into battle in your land against the foe distressing you, then you shall blow the trumpets; and you shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies" (vs.8-9).
Not only was the blowing of these trumpets used to announce the movement of the camp, call an assembly of the people, and call for God's help in time of war but also in conjunction with the annual festivals, observances, New Moons, and sacrifices:
"And in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed times and in your new moons, you shall blow the trumpets over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God" (v10).
The English word memorial is translated from the Hebrew word zikaron, which is an object or an act that brings something else to mind or represents something else. A zikaron may be a memorial, a reminder, a historical record, or a physical token that calls a deity to mind.
If we think of the blowing of the trumpets on the first day of the month in the context of verses 8-9, we can conclude that the trumpets were to be blown for the following reasons:
- To call upon God to be present during the worship service on the day of the New Moon.
- To announce the beginning of the new month.
- As a monthly reminder of God's sacred calendar, which is used to calculate the days of God's commanded observances.
- As a monthly reminder that the Lord God was their God and that they were his people.
An important point to note is that the first day of the sacred month (the New Moon) can be seen as a part of God's worship system, because it was proclaimed, announced, and memorialized with the blowing of the trumpets.
SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS
Although the first day of the month was neither a holy convocation nor a day of rest like the weekly Sabbath, God required that the priesthood perform special sacrifices and offerings on this day; thereby, he clearly set this day apart from the other days of the month:
"And in the beginnings of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the Lord: two bullocks, and one ram, seven yearling lambs, perfect ones; And three tenths parts of flour, a food offering mixed with oil, for one bullock; and two tenths parts of flour as a food offering mixed with oil, for one ram; And a tenth part of flour mixed with oil as a food offering for one lamb; a burnt offering, a sweet fragrance, an offering by fire to the Lord. And their drink offerings shall be half of a hin to a bullock, and a third of a hin to a ram, and a fourth of a hin to a lamb, of wine: this shall be the burnt offering of every month for the months of the year" (Num. 28:11-14 Para.). See also Num. 29:1-6.
On the day of the New Moon, an additional burnt offering of a kid of the goats was given for the sins of Israel. By requiring additional offerings, God underscores the importance of the first day of each sacred month. If the first day of each month is this important to God, it should be as important to those who worship him.
The Peace Offering and the Table of God
The offerings and sacrifices on the New Moon were considered Fellowship Offerings. These types of offerings were partially consumed by fire as a sweet savor to God and partially eaten by the priesthood, which signified their eating at the table of God.
The eating of the Peace (Fellowship) Offerings has both literal and symbolic significance, because the priests were literally partaking of the Creator God's food (i.e., partaking of God's table). Remember that the high priest and the priesthood were the bridge between God and the nation of Israel. When the priesthood ate the sacred food offered to God, the people were also eating at the table of God by extension. As we will see, it was a custom for the priesthood and general population of Israel to eat a communal meal on each New Moon.
The Peace Offering was different from the other offerings, in that the offerer, the priest, and God ate together. In no other offering but the Peace Offering did God, the priest, and the offerer have something in common. However, they each partook of the Peace Offering.
During the Peace Offering, the offerer and the priest feasted with God. God, the priesthood, and offerer all found satisfaction in this offering, because common food was shared among them. God finds satisfaction in being honored by the one making the offering and in sharing the offering with the priesthood and the one making the offering. This offering shows that God desires and enjoys fellowship with his people.
The First Temple at Jerusalem
After King David's death, Solomon sent a note to King Hiram to inform him that he was going to build a temple for God. Notice that Solomon mentions the New Moons as being an intrinsic part of God's worship system:
"Behold, I am building a house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate to him, to burn incenses of sweet spices before him, and for the continual bread of arrangement, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, and on the new moons, and at the set feasts of the Lord our God. This ordinance shall be upon Israel forever" (2.Chron.2:4 Para.). See also 1.Chron.23:1-31; 2.Chron.8: 12; 31:3-7; Ezk.43:4-5; Neh.10:33.
This verse shows that all the things that Solomon mentions as part of the worship of God, including the things which pertain to the observance of the first day of the month (the New Moon), are supposed to be performed forever.
Return From Captivity
After the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, those who had knowledge and understanding of the law of God set themselves a tax in order to provide for the services and continual offerings of the temple. The following verses show that the offering for the New Moons is included in this self-taxation ordinance:
"Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of God; For the showbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the Sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God" (Neh.10:32-33 KJV).
THE PEOPLE AND THE NEW MOON
Because the first day of each new month was a special event, it was of major concern among the Israelites that it be observed on the correct day. This concern is obvious when we read 1.Samuel 20:4-24, which is an account that indicates a special meal was held to commemorate the beginning of the month.
This account takes place in a field where David was hiding for fear of being killed by King Saul who had discovered that Samuel anointed David to be the new king of Israel. Here, Saul's son, Jonathan, promised that on the New Moon celebration he would find out what his father's intentions were toward David.
1.Samuel 20:4-6,17-18,24,27 Paraphrased
"Then said Jonathan to David, Whatever your soul desires, I will do it for you. And David said to Jonathan, Behold, tomorrow is the New Moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king and eat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third day at even. If your father misses me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might go to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family" (vs.4-6).
"And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. Then Jonathan said to David, Tomorrow is the New Moon: and you shall be missed, because your seat will be empty" (vs.17-18).
"So David hid himself in the field: and when the New Moon came, the king sat down to eat" (v24).
A Second New Moon Commemoration
The above verses show that one New Moon commemoration meal was observed, and verse 27 shows that a second meal was being eaten by King Saul and his servants to commemorate the New Moon:
"And it came to pass on the next day, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said to Jonathan his son, Why does not the son of Jesse come to eat,neither yesterday, nor today?" (v27).
The Second New Moon
The phrase "the second day of the month" (Hebrew, va-yehi mimohorat ha-hodesh ha-sheni) would be more correctly translated, "on the next day was the second new moon."
Why Two Consecutive Days?
The fixed orbit of the moon makes it impossible for there to be two occurrences of the New Moon, but there were two consecutive days of the New Moon observance recorded; therefore, it is important to understand why it was sometimes necessary to have two consecutive New Moon observances at the temple and two commemorative meals?
When we view things in a purely legalistic manner as the Israelites did, it is easy to understand why there were two observances of the New Moon. When the astronomical calculations were made, and the appearance of the new moon was calculated to be so close to the horizon that it was too difficult or impossible to be seen at sunset or it was simply too cloudy to see it, two new moon days were observed. This double observance assured the Israelites that they were observing the correct day and that they had not missed the New Moon observance because of a lack of a visual sighting of the new crescent moon.
Having two commemorative meals—one on each day—was done for the same legalistic reasons as having two New Moon observances. There are three important things to note here about the meal on the first day of the sacred month:
- At this time in Israel's early history, the king set the example for the people to follow by eating a commemorative meal on the first day of the sacred month.
- If the king thought it was important to eat this communal meal on this day, he must have been following some past precedent and he must have understood that it was necessary to do so because of its religious significance.
- Nowhere in scripture is there a command or a condemnation for eating this communal meal on the first day of the sacred month.
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman
In the Second Book of Kings, there is a reference to the custom of some people to assemble with religious leaders on the New Moon.
The event described in the following verses concerns a certain Shunammite woman who provided lodging for the Prophet Elisha and his servant. Because of her kindness to Elisha, he used his authority and power as God's prophet to allow her to have a child by her aged husband. In the course of time her child became ill and died, and knowing that Elisha had the power to resurrect her child, the woman asked her husband if she could go to Elisha:
2.Kings 4:18-23 Paraphrased
"And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said to his father, My head, my head And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. And she called to her husband, and said, Send me, I pray you, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again. And he said, Why will you go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor Sabbath."
Notice that her husband knew that his wife's custom was to meet with Elisha on the Sabbath and the New Moon. It is logical to assume that the reason the woman met with Elisha on a regular basis was for some type of religious purpose, such as fellow-shipping with those who worshiped God and being taught by Elisha.
The story of the Shunammite woman and the death of her son indicates that the New Moon was a special occasion which was observed on a regular basis like the Sabbath.
A New Beginning
Among other things, the New Moon represents a new beginning.
As noted in Genesis 1:14, the sun and moon are to be used as signs to confirm or predict an event by calculation and observation. The first day of the sacred calendar is always confirmed by the new crescent of the spring Equinox. The first new moon after this Equinox is a sign (i.e., proof) that the first month of the Sacred Calendar has begun:
"And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Ex.12:1-2 KJV).
The Feast of Trumpets
"Sing aloud to God our strength: make a joyful noise to the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day" (Psa.81:1-3 KJV). See also Num.29:1.
The only annual festival to occur on a new moon is the Feast of Trumpets; moreover, this feast in itself signifies a new beginning, because it most likely pictures the return of Jesus Christ as the conquering King of kings.
A Time to Rejoice
God intends for the first day of each month to be a time of joy and happiness (Num.10:10). What would make a person especially joyful and happy on these days? The tremendous blessings that God promised the Israelites (i.e., the blessings they received for their obedience) are ample reasons for them to be happy on this day.
From the many scriptures that refer to the New Moon observance, there can be no doubt that the observance of the first day of each month has a permanent place in the worship system that God created for Israel to follow.
By B.L. Cocherell b5w14