“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:23-25).
Happy New Year! Now, before you think, “Surely he’s lost his mind,” which of course, you already knew, at sundown today begins Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. This marks the beginning of the Hebrew year 5782.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of The Feast of Trumpets, which God established for the Israelites to celebrate. How fitting that today, as we Americans celebrate the privilege of work on Labor Day, the Jews also pause from “any ordinary work.” If you have any Jewish friends, you might want to wish them “Shana Tova.”
This got me thinking about a lot of things. First, God understood that we need order to our days, Whether that’s the weekly rhythm of six and one, or the monthly schedule that brings springtime, harvest, solstice and seasons, we get to enjoy the march of time as we travel through it.
But there is something more significant to this day, particularly as we think about it biblically. The Feast of Trumpets begins on Rosh Hashana and continues for ten days of repentance, culminating on Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. This day is the pinnacle of the Jewish year. God told Moses that “It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves” (Lev. 23:32). That notion of affliction is repentance. Atonement means that I have done something wrong, and only God can remove the guilt and stain of that sin.
Interestingly, on this final day, Jewish tradition holds that God opens the Book of Life and studies the words, actions, and thoughts of every person whose name is written there. If a person’s good deeds outweigh or outnumber their sinful acts, his name will remain inscribed in the book for another year. Tradition also holds that Rosh Hashanah provides God’s people with a time to reflect on their lives, turn away from sin, and do good deeds. These practices are meant to give them a more favorable chance of having their names sealed in the Book of Life for another year.
But this is not the witness of Scripture. “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psa. 53:2-3). As the apostle Paul summarizes these verses, he concludes: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 6:23).
The period of the Feast of Trumpets culminating in the Day of Atonement was never meant to convey a notion that I need to do enough good to outweigh the bad. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” The only scale in the Bible is guilty or not guilty, and the verdict is in – we are all guilty. So we need God to provide atonement for us.
And Paul provides the answer for us. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26).
What we could not do for ourselves, God has graciously provided. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:11-14).
So let us cry out as John the Baptist did upon seeing Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And may this truly be a new year of living in the goodness, grace and mercy of God that only comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.