The Jewish Calendar
J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
The Israelites divided the year into twelve months, i Kings 4. 7, based upon the moon's phases. Because their calendar was not related to the solar year, a thirteenth month, called Adar Sheni (Second Adar) or Ve-Adar (another Adar), was added whenever it was observed that the feast of firstfruits, held sixteen days after the proclamation of a new year, would not otherwise come after the commencement of barley harvest. Under this arrangement, the priests announced a leap-year month to follow the normal last month, Adar, every two or three years.
Abib, (March-April), Exod. 13. 4; 23. 15; 34. i8;Deut. 16. 1. Until the Exodus, this was the seventh month, and, in fact, the civil and agricultural new year has continued to be in the autumn. The events surrounding the institution of the Passover, Exod. 12. 14, which took place on the 14th Abib, were to be so outstanding, however, that Moses was instructed to make this "the beginning of months", Exod. 12.2. When the twelve tribes left Egypt there was to be a new start to their history; the past was to be ignored and Abib was to open the sacred year. The first of the annual holy convocations was subsequently kept in the middle of this month. These three— the Passover, feast of unleavened bread and feast of firstfruits —speak to us of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lamb of God, 1 Cor. 15. 3, 4. Just as the sacred year was to begin with the Passover month, so "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new", 2 Cor. 5. 17 R.v. marg.
"Abib" means "green or ripening ears of corn". After the captivity, the month was called Nisan, Est. 3. 7; Neh. 2. 1, which means "start", "move" or "flight". We are thus reminded that the time of one's salvation is a start; we are to sprout up and bear fruit. The spring weather may be chilly, John 18. 18, but, as the second half of the agricultural year commences, the latter rains, Deut. 11. 14; Zech. 10. 1, swell the grain and the harvest begins, Josh. 3. 15.
Ziv, (April-May), I Kings 6.1,37. Ziv (or Zif) is the "month of flowers". The alternative name, Iyyar, meaning "to be bright", carries a similar thought. Lengthening days and spring beauty, reminiscent of resurrection, serve to emphasize that we should show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light, 1 Pet. 2. 9.
A second Passover was held during Ziv for those unable to celebrate this all-important feast on the 14th Abib, Num. 9. io-ii i 2 Chron. 30. 15. The 10th and 16th days were kept as fasts to commemorate the deaths of Elijah and Samuel respectively. These were two powerful men of prayer, James 5.17; 1 Sam. 7. 5; 12. 23. We similarly must "spend much time in secret with Jesus alone" if we are to be bright in a sombre world; cf. Exod. 34. 29-32.
Sivan, (May-June), Est. 8. 9. The feast of weeks, held fifty days after the feast of firstfruits and consequently called "Pentecost" in Acts 2. 1, fell early in this month. An Assyrian word, "siv", meaning "moon", is the probable root of "Sivan" which usually carries the idea of "appointment" or "mark". Does our clear testimony make its mark, revealing that we are energized by the Holy Spirit and baptized into one body, as appointed, at Pentecost? We are to standfast in the Lord, "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man", Eph. 3. 16.
Tammuz, (June-July). This name is that of an ancient Akkadian god identified with vegetation. Like Ab and Ve-Adar, it is not mentioned in Scripture.
Ab, (July-August). The ninth day was a fast in memory of Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem,
Elul, (August-September), Neh. 6. 15. This was the gleaning month and the name implies the cry of gladness at vintage. Believers too have much cause to shout for joy.
Ethanim, (September-October), 1 Kings 8. 2. Tishri, meaning "begin" or "dedicate", is the modern title for this month which opens the civil year.
The last three of the seven great annual religious gatherings —the feast of trumpets, day of atonement and feast of tabernacles—were held in this month. These feasts point forward to Israel's future full regathering, repentance, and rejoicing, which will prepare the nation for that millennium when all civil rule will be under the direct administration of the Prince of Peace.
The farmers' year began with Ethanim, the "month of perennial streams". Frequent showers were heralds of the "early rains" to follow, and remind us that "there shall be showers of blessing'* when the Messianic kingdom is set up, Ezek. 34. 26.
Bui, (October-November), 1 Kings 6. 38. This month got its name from a heathen god of rain, (cf. Nisan which was the Babylonian god of spring). It was the first month of the rainy Season, and is usually called Heshvan or Marchesvan from "mar" meaning "to drop". Wheat and barley were sown during Bui; we also must be active, sowing the good seed which is the Word of God.
Chisleu, (November-December), Neh. 1. 1; Zech. 7. 1. Few holy days came during the winter. One was the feast of dedication, John 10. 22, held on the 25th Chisleu.
Heavy rainfall, Ezra. 10. 9, with snow on the mountains, can make this an unpleasant season, Jer. 36. 22. Christians, even in adverse circumstances, are to "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might", Eph. 6. 10.
Tebeth, (December-January), Est. 2. 16. No matter how inclement the wintry weather may be, Psa. 147. 16-17, many wild flowers appear as the grass and herbs shoot up after the storms. Believers may suffer, but through them a life-giving supply flows out to refresh others, John 7. 38.
Shebat, (January-February), Zech. 1. 7. The weather gradually gets warmer, "clear shining after rain". "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven", Matt. 5. 16.
Adar, (February-March), Ezra 6. 15; Est. 3. 7, 13; 8. 12; 9. 1-21. The fast of Esther was held on the 13th day and was succeeded by the feast of Purim.
The Israelites were to keep a feast at "the end of the year", Exod. 23. 16, and as we look back over the way the Lord has led us we too shall rejoice. We sing His praises who "satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness", Psa. 107. 9.
From Genesis 7.11; 8. 3-4, it would appear that each month consisted of thirty days; (from 17th Bui to 17th Abib, i.e. five months, is recorded as being a period of 150 days). This way of counting corresponded to the early Chaldean and Egyptian year of 360 days. (The total duration of the flood was eleven days more than the recognized year, however. Gen. 7. 11; 8. 14, which happens to be the exact excess of a solar year of 365 days above the lunar year of 354 days.)
The Hebrew "chodesh", meaning "month", comes from "chadash" which means "new", namely new moon. From Numbers 10. 10; 28. 11-14] 2 Chronicles 2. 4 we realize that God intended the Israelites to hold a "solemn feast", as the first day of a month, to coincide with each new moon. To preserve this the months must consist alternately of 30 days and 29 days, because the moon's four quarters take 29^ days.
For many years, appointed witnesses reported the appearance of the new moon to the authorities, by twice repeating "mekudash" (consecrated). A new moon sabbath was then proclaimed. We are consecrated, set apart for God, and must avail ourselves of the "new and living way" consecrated for us; having boldness we "enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus", Heb. 10. 19-20. Saints are thus enabled to bless His Name and show forth His salvation from day to day, Psa. 96.2.