Comparing Calendars

C. E. Hocking, Cardiff

Part 1 of 2 of the series Comparing Calendars

Category: Exposition

Mankind has produced a variety of calendars the origins of which have provided astronomers, historians and antiquarians with fascinating pursuits. Our particular concern here is to point out the obvious differences between the two currently used Jewish calendars, the civil and the religious. By including our more international equivalent, we are better able to keep our bearings.

One major difference between our calendar and the Jewish ones is obvious in the year numbering. For the rabbis the first year from which the reckoning is made is that of man's creation (many would question their arithmetic regarding this but that is not our concern here). The beginning of our present numbering of years is taken back to what was presumed to be The year of the incarnation of our beloved Lord (it is genrally agreed that this also is inaccurate and should have commenced about five years or so earlier). Whether consciously, unconsciously or nominally, in using our calendar we salute the divine initiative in sending the Son of God into the world to save sinners. For us the coming of Christ provides the pivot of time. Preceding His birth the years are 'Before Christ' (bc) whereas the years since His coming arc in The year of our Lord' (ad). All who reject the claims of Christianity out of hand and who need to refer to the international calendar, describe BC years as those 'Before the Common Era' (bcb), and those which follow as years in 'The Common Era' (ce). Such seeming trifles are contemporary evidence for the continuing offence of the Christ and the cross.

Another general difference between our calendar and the current Jewish calendars is not obvious to the cursory glance. In the Table, March 20 has Adar B 13 for its Jewish civil year equivalent. The letter B here indicates that the current Jewish year is a leap year, having an additional month of 29 days (following Adar A). This highlights a major difference that exists between the Jewish year and ours. Our calendar is based on the solar year while the Jewish year follows the lunar cycle. There is an appreciable disharmony between the solar and lunar cycles timewise (the solar year = 365.2422 days: a lunar month has 29.536 days). Therefore, twelve lunar months fall short of the full solar year by about 11] days. This is reflected in the varying times at which Easter and Whitsun appear in our calendar.

Our main concern, however, is to highlight distinctions between the two Jewish calendrical forms so as to derive spiritual lessons from these. The very first date line in our Table serves our purpose well. Notice that our September 12, 1988 was for the Jewish civil calendar, New Year Day, 5749, whereas for the Jewish religious calendar it was the first day of the seventh month of the preceding year, 5748. This means that in the normal secular calendar priority is given to the great festival month leading in to the Feast of Tabernacles. Harvest home, the joyous climax of the agricultural year for which all Jews hopefully yearn, is where they wish to start! It is almost as though, unconsciously, the nation sings 'Speed the bright millennial day'. Like some believers today, they would prefer to reign now! Is there not reflected here that same spirit seen in Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration? Enveloped within that scene anticipating and unveiling the power and glory of his Lord, and not knowing what to say, he blurted out 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah', Mark 9. 5f; 2 Pet. I. 16ff. Undoubtedly the Tabernacles festival is to be a prominent feature of the future glory of Israel and the blessedness of the nations of the world, Zech. 14. 16-21. Yet all who are in sympathy with the divine purpose for the Messiah and His people know that the establishing of His kingdom upon the earth is God's grand climax for salvation history. The Jewish religious calendar sets this blessed period, the age to come, not in the first month but rather in the seventh (it should be pointed out that there are no divinely appointed events beyond this seventh month). Rightly, therefore, the Reg to come, of which the bible speaks so profusely, is placed at the end of God's festival calendar and not at its beginning. To arrive at such a desired end one must begin where God's programme begins, at His first month.

Glance now at the date line marked April 20, 1989. This is seen to be Nisan 15 on the Jewish calendars. Observe that the month numbers vary however, as we have already noted. The seventh month in the civil calendar is the first month for the religions calendar. The two calendars invert the months in a most significant manner. The first of the first for the one is the first of the seventh for the other and vice versa. Things are upside down! Flew characteristic this is of natural man's thinking. Small wonder that Jewish instigated opposition to the message of a crucified and glorified Messiah accused the early church preachers of turning the world upside down. How wrong they were. God is pursuing a programme guaranteed to set the world the right way up shortly! We need to rid ourselves of our own computations and pay attention to God's times and ways. The primary month of the year for God, and the foundation month for His glory and man's hope and blessing, is redemption month. To be blessed personally in the great Passover event is fundamental to man's having any part in the climaxing Tabernacles event and kingdom glory.

One other significant difference between the Jewish calendars is related to the Passover season. You will notice that the present civil calendar commences the Passover Festival on the 15 Nisan. This day opened the Feast of the Unleavened Bread in the divine religious calendar. Until the destruction of Herod's Temple in ad 70, the 14 Nisan had always been the day when the lambs were presented and slain. The carcase of each offerer's lamb was then taken home to be prepared as the main course of the passover meal. Now that there is no temple, nor any offering of a passover lamb per household, the day of the 14 Nisan has no sacrificial function. Modern Jewry there fore actually celebrates the Unleavened Bread festival calling it the Passover (often this term is used biblically to include both the Passover and Unleavened Bread festivals, but it is never so used of the period excluding the 14th). The beginning of months for Israel as God intended it is redemption month, wherein a nation was sheltered from divine wrath against sin by the blood of the passover lamb, and brought out of the house of bondage into God-provided liberty. All of this pointed on to its great antitype in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb of God who bore away the sin of the world. Believers rejoice that 'our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ', 1 Cor. 5. 7. This is where all must start, if any are to be lastingly blessed by God. Kingdom glory is for those truly redeemed, and not for those whose privileged fathers alone knew the great political redemption out of Egypt. Israel must know an even greater spriritual redemption. The nation has been slow to accept this but the divine purpose in her future redemption is assured despite the delay. Israel will yet come to accept the One who was wounded for their transgressions, will look upon Him whom they have pierced and only then enter upon their joyous kingdom blessings. Unless the Christ of the cross is received there is no hope of being blessed by the crowned Christ who is seen to return. Be in time!