The Bible measures time in a totally different way from us. You’ll be familiar with this formula in Scripture, repeated seven times as part of the Creation story in the first Chapter of the Bible.
“And there was evening, and there was morning – the first (second, third etc.) day.”
We’re only in the first part of the first part of the first part of the Bible, yet we can already see where the Church has veered away from the Bible. If it wasn’t bad enough that we name our days after pagan deities (of Roman and Nordic origin), we don’t even begin each day in the Biblical manner. The Bible begins each day at sunset, not midnight and so does the Jewish calendar.
So where does the Jewish Year start? This may surprise some of you, but it doesn’t actually start at the Jewish New Year! The festival known as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is not the start of the year according to the Bible, in fact it falls in the seventh month of the year! But more of that later, as we’re going to concentrate on the Biblical calendar, which is the same as the Jewish Calendar in every way except for the issue of when it starts.
The first month of the Biblical Calendar is Nisan. A good Hebrew name, soaked in arcane meaning and Biblical significance? No, actually, it is a Babylonian name, as are all the Jewish months. Uncharacteristically, for a book that attaches such meanings to names, the Bible generally doesn’t name any months at all, simply referring to them as the first month, second month etc. So why Babylonian names, already? The Rabbis tell us that they are to remind the Jews of the exile in Babylon. This is borne out by the fact that we only start to see names being used in the Bible in reference to events that happened after the return from Babylon.
“In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast the pur (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” (Esther 3:7)
There was an event in Jewish history considered far more important than the return from Babylon, an event of such importance that it actually kick-starts the Biblical year. That event was the Exodus from Egypt, an event so pivotal, that God wanted to make sure that it was never forgotten and scattered the Bible with references to it. In fact, in many cases, this was how God defined Himself, to ensure that His people knew it was He that was speaking to them and working on their behalf. The form taken was of the type, I am the Lord your God, who brought your people out of Egypt …
Nisan always falls in early springtime, thanks to the “leap month” system mentioned earlier and that is where our journey starts. Our journey will take us through three parallel and intertwining themes, Biblical events (in both Old and New Testaments), future promises and the seasons of nature, and through it we will find our faith enriched as we marvel at God’s unfolding plan for mankind.
God Himself gets the ball rolling.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year”. (Exodus 12:1-2)
The scene is set. Four hundred and thirty years of slavery and hard labour in Egypt was about to come to an end. God has acted and salvation is literally days away. Nine plagues have failed to convince Pharaoh to let Moses lead his people out of Egypt and we are standing at the edge of history. Something significant is about to happen and God issues His instructions. On the day of Nisan 10th every Jewish family is to buy a lamb, a male lamb without defect …
“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” (Exodus 12:3)
Another scene flickers into view, in the Roman province of Judea, around fifteen centuries later. It is also Nisan 10th. On the eastern approach of Jerusalem a crowd gathers. They are celebrating the arrival of an honoured visitor. It is Jesus, Yeshua, riding on a donkey. It is his triumphal entry. This day is Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar (only rarely celebrated on the authentic date) and the Lamb of God has revealed himself to his people.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)
God instructs His people through Moses that this lamb is to be kept out of harm’s way, looked after by the family, for four days. Jesus also spent these four days teaching his family of disciples and wandering around Jerusalem speaking to whoever was willing to listen.
These were days of safety, the calm before the storm …
When is the Biblical New Year?
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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