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  • Daniel Botkin

Celebration of the New Moon


On the fourth day of creation, God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years” (Gen. 1:14). In order to keep the weekly Sabbath, God’s people need only count the daily rising and setting of the sun. Keeping the Sabbath does not require a yearly calendar with months. Keeping the annual Feasts of Yahweh, however, requires a calendar with months.

The Biblical calendar that God ordained is a lunar calendar, one in which each month begins with the appearance of the new moon. “He appointed the moon [not the sun] for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down” (Ps. 104:19). In other words, the sun knows its place: its function is to mark off the days; but “the moon marks off the seasons” (Ps. 104:19 NIV).

We who live in Western culture usually think of seasons and months in terms of our secular solar calendar, rather than the Biblical lunar calendar. We as God’s people would greatly benefit if we could begin to think of seasons and months more in terms of God’s calendar. This does not mean we should totally shun the secular solar calendar that is used by the world around us. After all, we are “in the world, but not of the world,” so for our dealings with the world, we need to use the world’s calendar. If I date a check today, I will date it June 25, 1995. If I date it 27 Sivan 5755, I may have problems with the bank. Or try telling your landlord that your rent, due the first of each month, cannot be paid because the new moon has not yet appeared. Obviously we must use the world’s calendar when dealing with the world. But when dealing with God’s Kingdom, we need to be able to relate to God’s calendar.

In Biblical times the moon served its God-ordained function, “for signs, and for seasons.” At the end of each lunar month, after the moon had disappeared, God’s people began watching the sky for the appearance of the new moon. As soon as two witnesses reported sighting the new moon to the elders in Jerusalem, trumpets would be blown and a large fire would be kindled on the Mount of Olives as a beacon. Neighboring areas, upon seeing the signal, would also light a fire on a high peak. As the signal fires spread from hilltop to hilltop throughout Israel, the message went out to all the land that the new month had officially begun. In this way the Israelites were able to know when to begin counting the days toward any Feast which might occur in that particular month.

During times of revival and spiritual renewal in the Bible, the re-establishment of proper worship usually included the reintroduction of long-neglected practices. Under Ezra and Nehemiah’s leadership, for example, God’s people rediscovered the joy of the Feast of Tabernacles, a commanded Feast which had suffered neglect “since the days of Joshua the son of Nun,” a period of about a thousand years (Neh. 8:17). During the revival under King Hezekiah’s reign, a decree was proclaimed urging all Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, because it had not been celebrated for “a long time in such sort as it was written” (2 Chron. 30:5). Hezekiah’s couriers carried the decree throughout the cities of Israel, where the people “laughed them to scorn, and mocked them” (2 Chron. 30:10). If a believer today suggests celebrating the New Moon, he can expect the same response from many people. Nevertheless, New Moon is, like the Sabbath and annual Feasts, a proper Biblical practice, and therefore not something to be scoffed at. During times of revival and restoration in the Bible, when proper worship was being re-established, the observance of New Moon was always included. (See 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4, 8:12f, 31:3; Ezra 3:4f; Neh. 10:32f.)

We are living in “the times of the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). Over the past several years, many congregations and individuals have rediscovered the joy of keeping the long-neglected Sabbath and the annual Feasts of Yahweh. It is time that the celebration of the New Moon be reintroduced in Messianic worship. Like the Sabbath and annual Feasts, it is a commandment of God (Num. 10:10; Ps. 81:3f) and it will be kept in the new earth (Isa. 66:23; Ezk. 46:3).

How should a Messianic congregation celebrate New Moon? The Bible does not prescribe exactly how New Moon should be observed by New Covenant believers in the Diaspora and without a Temple, but some ideas can be gleaned from the Scriptures and tradition, and adapted for use in Messianic worship. Let us consider some of these ideas.

In Biblical times the monthly appearance of the New Moon was, like the weekly Sabbath and annual Festivals, a time of joy, often celebrated with a special feast. (See 1 Samuel 20:18 & 24; 2 Kings 4:23.) Messianic believers might want to consider having some sort of communal meal to mark the start of each lunar month, either as a congregation or in smaller groups.

There are some Jewish traditions that Messianic congregations might want to adapt for the celebration of the New Moon. Some prayer books include a special prayer that is read on the Sabbath preceding each New Moon, asking God’s blessings for the coming month. This is followed by a meditation, which includes the following:

“O heavenly Father, the approach of another month reminds us of the flight of time and the change of the seasons. Month follows month; the years of man’s life are few and fleeting. Teach us to number our days that we may use each precious moment wisely.”(1)

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the rabbis taught that the reappearance of the moon, like the reappearance of other things in nature, should be recognized by praises to the Creator. The rabbis composed a blessing that compares the renewal of the moon to the renewal of the righteous in the resurrection:

“He ordered the moon to renew itself, as a crown of beauty over those He sustained from childhood, and as a symbol that they, likewise, will be regenerated in the future, and will worship their Maker in His glorious kingdom.”

In ancient New Moon celebrations, some Jews expressed their joy by dancing and leaping toward the moon. This type of celebrating has not completely disappeared from Judaism. A contemporary journalist writes, “I once lived near a yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem where young Jewish men bonded by yowling at the moon so fiercely that neighbors filed complaints and the cops had to be called in.”(2) The same writer tells of Jewish groups in the U.S. who celebrate the New Moon by “working themselves into a collective lather under the light of the moon by cavorting and caterwauling, by thumping their chests like it was Yom Kippur, by pounding kettledrums.”(3) These kinds of traditions might be easily and eagerly adapted for use in very charismatic Messianic congregations, but I suspect they would be a bit too wild for the average congregation.

The beginning of each month was also a time for God’s people to bring special offerings to the Temple (Num. 28:11-15). The priests were commanded to blow silver trumpets over these offerings, “that they may be to you for a memorial before your God” (Num. 10:10). This practice offers an interesting suggestion for Messianic worship. Congregants could be encouraged to bring a special monthly offering of money as well as their “sacrifice of praise.” As the congregants offer both their finances and their praise, trumpets could be blown over the offerings, “that they may be to you for a memorial before your God.”

What, you may ask, does it mean for something to become “a memorial before God”? In Acts 10:4 an angel informed Cornelius that his prayers and his alms had “come up for a memorial before God.” I cannot give a formal definition of what “a memorial before God” means, but I can point out that when an action becomes “a memorial before God,” great blessing follows. Cornelius and his family and friends were marvelously filled with the Spirit by a direct act of God, ushering the Gentiles into the Kingdom. Perhaps God would recognize a sincere blowing of trumpets over a New Moon offering as a memorial before God, as He did in times past, and bestow great blessings on our congregations.

A New Moon celebration might also be a good time to reflect on symbolic meanings of the moon. We know from the Scriptures that the Lord is sometimes compared to the sun, “the greater light to rule the day.” (See, e.g., Psalm 84:11; Malachi 4:2; Revelation 1:16.) Thinking in these terms, God’s Messianic Community could be thought of as the moon, “the lesser light to rule the night.”

The relationship between the sun and moon is much like the relationship between the Messiah and His Community. The moon, like the Messianic Community, is dimmer, smaller, and has no light of its own. The only light it has is that which it receives from the unseen sun. The Messiah said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4f). While the Messiah was on earth, it was “Day,” but when He left, “Night” came. If He had not had a small Messianic Community to receive and reflect His light upon the earth, the world would have been left in spiritual darkness.

Until Messiah returns, until He arises to be revealed once again as “the Sun of righteousness, with healing in His wings,” He needs a “moon” in each generation - a body of people who are willing to receive and reflect His light in this dark world. It matters not that we are smaller and colder, and have no light of our own. We need only receive and reflect His light, and rejoice in the fact that “when He shall appear, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun [no longer merely like the moon] in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). Indeed, Isaiah tells us that in the Kingdom “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold” (Isa. 30:26).

We know that our Messiah, the Sun of righteousness, will arise with healing in His wings, and heal all the wounds and scars of mankind’s history. It is as sure as the rising of the sun each morning. As we await His return, we must allow Him to renew us on a regular basis. The moon waxes and wanes, and even seems to disappear, until the sun shines on it once again. We experience periods of spiritual waxing and waning. There are times we are full of the Spirit and shine brightly, like a full moon. Other times we feel like we have been abandoned by the Light of the world and left in total darkness. It is my prayer that the monthly celebration of the New Moon will remind believers that as surely as the moon is restored each month, so we can experience, through repentance, “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19) until the Messiah returns and restores us to our glorious fullness.

 

NOTES

(1) Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book, Rabbinical Assembly of America and the United Synagogue of America, 1946, 129.

(2) Matt Nevisky, “Some goyishe shtick just won’t stick.” Jerusalem Post International Edition, 3/18/95, 8B.

(3) Ibid.

 

ADDENDUM

I wrote the above article in 1995, the same year that I started our local congregation here in Peoria. Since our congregation’s beginning, we have had a gathering to celebrate New Moon every month. We don’t yowl at the moon, nor leap towards the moon, nor cavort nor caterwaul nor pound our chests like some yeshiva students do. But we do get somewhat loud and lively when we blow our shofars.


Many years ago I composed a song, based on Psalm 81, which includes the words “Then blow on the trumpet when the new moon comes. Blow it in the time appointed, for this is the law of God.” In the midst of these words, the music pauses while we all blow loudly on our shofars. After we all run out of breath, the music resumes and we repeat the song.

There have been a few times over the years when we had new people at our New Moon celebration as first-time visitors. When that happened, I always felt obligated to let them know that our New Moon celebration was different from our regular Sabbath meetings. We also sometimes point out to new people that blowing shofars at the New Moon was not our idea. We do it because, as Psalm 81 says, “for this is the law of God.”

We also typically have a prayer of thanks for the month that is ending and ask for God’s blessings on the new month that is starting. When I was the pastor, I often did a short teaching about the new month that was starting, and focused on some event in the Bible that happened in that particular month. Arthur Cox is now the pastor, and he often does the same thing.

Some years after I wrote this article, Jeremiah Greenberg, a Messianic Jew who produces liturgical publications for Messianics, saw my article. He contacted me and asked permission to include much of the content of my article in a book to help believers celebrate New Moon. For information about ordering the book Rediscovering the New Moon, contact jeremiah@messianicliturgy.com or phone (813) 477-2105.


| DB

 

Image: New Moon by Daniel Botkin from his Pistachio Art Gallery on his art website, DanielBotkin.com.

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