Can you explain some of the peculiarities of the Hebrew Calendar?


In our last Q&A, we explained why the Church of God has made the decision to accept and follow the current Hebrew calendar. The short answer is that God has entrusted the Jews—and no one else—with the preservation of the calendar and the determination and identification of the correct dates of the annual Holy Days.

We also explained that in AD 358-359 A.D., the Jews’ chief leader, Hillel II, carried out his God-given authority to present the Hebrew calendar throughout the future, and it is that calendar which we are to apply for the determination of the annual Holy Days.

Those who devise their own calendars don’t only disobey God’s inspired Word which declares that the oracles, including the week, the Sabbath and the calendar, were given to the Jews, but they also completely miss certain particularities within the Hebrew calendar which God inspired to prevent undue burdens or to guarantee that the Holy Days are being celebrated at their proper times. These technical decisions include the four postponements and the insertion of a thirteenth month, amongst others.

The Bible does not tell us how many months a calendar year should have. In order to harmonize a solar year (about 365 ¼ days) with a lunar year (about 354 ¼ days), so that—following biblical injunctions–Passover is always in the spring, and the Feast of Tabernacles is always in the fall, a thirteenth month had to be included seven times within a 19-year lunar time cycle.

The Bible does not specifically mention a thirteenth month, but as Raymond F. McNair explains in his article, “Which Calendar Has God Authorized?” (Global Church News, July-August 1996), “from a careful study of the time periods mentioned in the first eight chapters of Ezekiel (1:1-2; 3:15; 4:5-6; 8:1), we can deduce that a thirteenth month was definitely being used by the Jews when Ezekiel wrote in the early part of the 6th century B.C.”

This shows that God and the Bible endorse the decisions of the Jewish people pertaining to the inclusion of a 13th month in the Hebrew calendar, and that no one should take it upon him- or herself to make arbitrary decisions contrary to the established Hebrew calendar. The same must be said regarding other peculiar decisions pertaining to the Hebrew calendar.

For instance, Dr. Herman L. Hoeh explains the following in his article, “The Hebrew Calendar—Authoritative for God’s Church Today” (Good News, April 1981):

“The rules of the permanent calendar [authorized by Hillel II] call for each of the first six months of the year to be alternatively 30 and 29 days long. Since the Bible does not declare which months have either 30 or 29 days, it is… [a] decision enacted by those who are in authority over God’s calendar… each month is slightly more than 29 ½ days long… That means the [decision is that the] first half of the year is always 177 days long (three months with 30 days plus three months with 29 days…). And if the first day of the seventh month is on Tuesday, the first of Abib is 177 days earlier, and on a Sunday…”

In addition, postponements were also clearly authorized and endorsed by God. As mentioned in the last Q&A, postponements delay the beginning of the first day of the seventh month—the first day of Tishri or the Feast of Trumpets:

The four rules of postponements are simply these:

(1)  When the new moon (more accurately, the “Molad or “birth”; that is, when the moon is directly between earth and sun and it is therefore invisible) occurs on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, the Feast of Trumpets is postponed to the following day. The reason is that the Day of Atonement [which is to be kept 9 days after the Feast of Trumpets, on the tenth day of the month] should not occur on the day before or after the weekly Sabbath, and the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles should not occur on a weekly Sabbath, as it is followed by an annual Sabbath—the Last Great Day.

In his article, “The Hebrew Calendar—Authoritative for God’s Church Today,” Dr. Herman L. Hoeh wrote:

“Why do God’s festivals fall when they do? Have we ever asked why… the fast of the Day of Atonement does not occur on Friday or Sunday? Or why the seventh day of the Festival of Tabernacles does not fall on the weekly Sabbath—but the eighth day commonly does?… If Atonement were to fall on Friday, housewives would have to prepare food for the weekly Sabbath on a Thursday…

“Hillel II realized that … the Day of Atonement should not fall on Friday, the preparation day of the Sabbath. The rule, therefore, is that if the new moon of a seventh month could occur on a Wednesday (beginning the previous evening), that day is not to be declared the new moon. It is to be postponed. But the day following is to be declared the new moon… that is, a Thursday (beginning the previous evening) is the first day of the seventh month. That Thursday is consequently the Feast of Trumpets… and the Day of Atonement, which is the 10th day of the month, falls in such a year on the weekly Sabbath.”

(2)  When the new moon or the Molad occurs at noon or later, the Feast of Trumpets is postponed to the next day. This is so and makes logical sense, because otherwise, the people would not have been able to keep the entire Feast of Trumpets, but only a portion of it (that portion following the occurrence of the Molad or New Moon). But the Bible demands that the entire day of 24 hours be kept as holy.

(3)   When the new moon or Molad occurs after 3:00 a.m. or later on a Tuesday of a common year, the Feast of Trumpets is postponed to Thursday. This decision was made for astronomical reasons to ensure that the common year (not a leap year) would be between 353 to 355 days long. [The Hebrew calendar has twelve common years and eight leap years within a 19-year lunar time cycle. A common year has 353, 354 or 355 days, while a leap year has 383, 384 or 385 days.]

(4)   When the new moon or Molad occurs on Monday after 9:00 am, the Feast of Trumpets is postponed to the next day. This postponement was also made for astronomical reasons to ensure the proper length of common years.

In addition, it was sometimes necessary to postpone the beginning of the year by an entire month.

To quote from Raymond McNair’s article, “What are the Postponements?” (Global Church News, July-August 1996):

“… in order to be able to offer the ‘wave sheaf’ (Hebr. Omer) of ripened barley during the Days of Unleavened Bread, it was sometimes mandatory that the high priest in ancient Israel postpone the beginning of Nisan 1 by a whole month… the Feast of Unleavened Bread [must] fall in the spring (thereby necessitating certain one-month postponements to the beginning of the sacred year). There is no record of Christ and His disciples objecting to the calendar or instituting a different one.”

Another reason for the postponement of the first month might also exist when otherwise the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated in the summer, rather than in the autumn. [This is similar rationale as and related to the insertion of the 13th month, see above.] As mentioned, the Bible demands that the Feast of Tabernacles must be observed in the autumn, “at the year’s end” (Exodus 34:22). If the first month is declared as occurring too early, the Feast of Tabernacles would be observed too early as well, and not in accordance with the Scriptural demands.

This Q&A does not cover all of the particulars of the Hebrew calendar, but we hope that enough information is provided to show not only the authoritative decisions of the Jews in regard to the calendar, but also the godly-inspired wisdom for the rationale behind it, proving that the calendar must harmonize with the biblical commands as to when and how to observe the annual Holy Days.

We are sure that those who want to find fault with the decisions of the Jews to design and maintain the Hebrew calendar in the way they do, will invent seemingly convincing human arguments and counter-arguments, but it really boils down to this question: Are we allowing God to guide and do we believe that God has guided the Jews in the preservation of the calendar, or aren’t we? If we do not have enough faith that God could and did preserve the calendar through the Jews, where else is our faith lacking?

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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