Why is it important to know when the biblical month and new year start? Because as more people are leaving the non-biblical traditions of man that they have been taught in their churches (including the non-biblical Christian holidays) and return to the truths of the Bible (including the biblical holidays), they need to know when to celebrate YHVH’s appointed times or feasts. This means that one needs to have a basic understanding of the biblical calendar, which is different from the world’s calendar in use today. The article below (along with other articles that I’ve written on the subject which you can find at https://www.hoshanarabbah.org/teaching.html#feast) will help to explain this.
Exodus 12:2, Month. It is the Hebrew word chodesh (Strong’s H2320/TWOT 613b) meaning “the new moon, month, monthly, the first day of the month, the lunar month.” It is found in the Tanakh (Old Testament) 276 times and is translated in the King James Version as “month” 254 times, “new moon” (20 times), and “monthly” (1 time). We see that from these definitions that the terms “month” and “new moon” are synonymous. It has been understood for millennia that ancient Israelites began their month with the new moon.
Why was it important for the Israelites to know when the new moon occurred and when the month began? The dates of the annual biblical festivals that YHVH gave to Israel and instructed them to observe were determined based on when the new moon occurred (Lev 23:5, 6, 24, 27, 34).
The next question to answer is this: when does the biblical month begin? As we noted above, for modern astronomers the term “new moon” means something different than it did to the ancients, including those who YHVH inspired to write the Bible. Ancient calendars were determined by the moon, while modern ones are not. Some biblical expositors teach that the new moon begins when the moon is in conjunction or in line with the earth and the sun and is in its dark phase. Others believe that the month begins just after the moon has moved out of its dark phase and begins to show a sliver of light, which is called the visible or crescent new moon. Who is right?
Some Bible teachers claim that there is no place in the Scriptures that specifically states that the new moon begins at the first visible sliver after being dark for several days. Therefore, they reason, it is an assumption to say that it does (even though, as we will see below, this was the understanding of the ancient Israelites), and therefore, the new moon should be determined from its conjunction with the earth and sun while it is in its dark phase. While on the surface, this may seem like a valid argument, one important verse in the Scriptures, however, and some simple logic quickly disproves this notion. It is Genesis 1:14.
And Elohim said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons [moedim/biblical festivals], and for days, and years.”
In this verse we see that the sun and the moon are “signs” for seasons, days and years. The word “sign” is the Hebrew word owt (Strong’s H226; TWOT 41a) meaning “sign, signal, mark, token, emblem, signboard, standard.” In the Tanakh, owt describes such visible (not invisible) signs as Noah’s rainbow (Gen 9:12–13, 17), Cain’s mark (Gen 4:15), circumcision (Gen 17:11), and the Sabbath (Exod 31:13, 17; Ezek 20:12). In addition, owt is used some 80 times in the Tanakh to refer to miraculous signs. These include the plagues of Egypt (Exod 7:3; Deut 4:34, etc.), the sign of the virgin birth of the Messiah (Isa 7:11, 14); YHVH miraculous signs to Gideon (Judg 6:17) and King Hezekiah (2 Kgs 20:9; Isa 38:7). In addition, Aaron’s rod that budded was a sign or token (Num 17:25). Many more examples could be given.
What do all these examples of how the Bible uses the Hebrew word owt have in common? They were all a visible sign that one could see. This is the definition of the word owt and how it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures. Simply stated, the visible sliver of the new moon fits the definition of owt as used in Genesis 1:14, while the astronomical conjunction (when the moon is in its dark phase and is invisible to the eye because the earth is between the moon and the sun) does not. Psalm 104:19 is definitive biblical proof that the moon’s purpose is to determine the biblical feasts when it says YHVH “appointed the moon for seasons [Heb. moedim, which means ‘appointed times’ or ‘biblical holidays’].” The moon cannot be a visible sign to determine seasons or biblical festivals if it is hidden or dark.
The fact that ancient Israelites determined the new moon based on the sighting with the naked eye of the moon’s sliver has been substantiated repeatedly by historians and religious scholars over the past 2000 years.
This month. The Torah states that the new year starts when the new moon is sighted, which marks the first day of the month after the barley was found to be “green in its head” (Heb. aviv, or abib, Exod 9:31; 12:1–2; 13:4). This determines the entire calendar for the upcoming year including when to observe YHVH’s commanded annual feasts or holidays (Lev 23). Therefore, the moon and the barley acting together determine the start of the biblical new year. Furthermore, we learn in Psalm 104:19 that the moon’s purpose is to determine the biblical feasts when it says YHVH “appointed the moon for seasons [Heb. moedim, which means ‘appointed times’ or ‘biblical holidays’].” So the moon, in conjunction with the barley, determines the beginning of the new year, and establishes the timing of the biblical holidays.
In ancient Israel, the new moon was determined by visible sighting with the naked eye. When the first sliver or crescent of the new moon was visible, this marked the beginning of the first day of the month. There is absolutely no doubt that this is how the Israelites marked the beginning of the new month. The leading historical records and expert scholars are dogmatic and unanimous on this subject.
There are 12 and sometimes 13 new moon sightings in any given year, so how do we know which new moon is the beginning of the year? The Bible doesn’t leave us guessing on this point. It gives us one indicator, and one indicator only: the barley. This is not guess work or supposition, for the Word of Elohim is clear on this point, as we read in Exodus 12:2,
And YHVH spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying “This shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.”
If we read further in Exodus 12, we will see that this first month occurred at the time of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, with Passover beginning on the fourteenth day of the first month (verse 18). But how do we know which month is the first month? This is where the agricultural indicator comes into play.
In Exodus 13:4, we see that YHVH makes a connection between the barley and the first month of the year. He literally tells us which month in the spring is to be reckoned as the first month of the year. There we read, “This day you came out in the month of the Abib.” The word month here is chodesh (the Hebrew word for “month”), and the word abib (CHCT; Strong’s H24, alternative transliterated spellings include aviv or abib) means “fresh, young barley ears or literally green in the ears.” So literally, when YHVH called the first month by the name Abib, he was calling it the month of the “green barley ears.” Here YHVH clearly reveals in which season the new year was to begin. The new moon immediately following this agricultural occurrence marked the beginning of the new year. In Deuteronomy 16:1, YHVH issues this command to the Israelites, “Observe the month of the Abib, and keep the Passover unto YHVH your Elohim, for in the month of the Abib YHVH your Elohim brought you forth out of Egypt by night” (see also Exod 23:15 and 34:18).
How Do We Know When to Declare the Month to Be Aviv or Not?
Quite often at the beginning of the biblical new year there is confusion as to whether the barley in the land of Israel is aviv (or abib) or not. After searching the land of Israel for aviv barley in the early spring, some search groups declare the barley to be aviv and some will not, even though both look at the same barley. Why the confusion, and who is right? Eventually each person has to make up their own mind, but below we will explain the criteria for determining whether the barley is aviv or not.
At this point, some of you may be saying, “Huh?” when it comes to the term aviv barley. What is aviv barley and what does that have to do with anything that pertains to me? So let’s quickly review some basic truths regarding the biblical calendar. It all has to do with when to keep the biblical feasts.
The Bible stipulates that months on the biblical calendar begin when the new moon is sighted. (I’ve already written several article on this subject, so I won’t give all the Scripture references here. For that info, go to http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/teaching.html#feast.) To know the dates of the biblical feasts, one must know when the months begin. To know this, one must know when the biblical new year begins—that is, when the first day of the first month of the biblical new year is.
On our modern Roman calendar, determining new year’s day each year easy to do. But this is not the case with the biblical calendar. This is why. The Roman calendar is based on the solar cycle, which is 365 1/4 days long. By contrast, the biblical calendar is a luni-solar calendar. This means it’s based on the solar cycle AND the lunar cycle. The latter is only 354 days long, or roughly 11 days shorter than the solar cycle. The biblical feast go off the lunar cycle, not the solar cycle. This means that if you base your year only on the lunar cycle, each lunar year will fall behind the solar cycle 11 days. In three years, that will be 33 days or a little more than a month. That being the case, eventually, this will move the biblical feasts backwards with respect to the solar calendar and the seasons. That means that in three years, we would be keeping Passover a month earlier, or in the winter and not in the spring. In a number of years, Passover would occur in December, then in the fall, and then in the summer, and in a few decades, we’d be back in the spring again. This cannot be, since the Torah declares that the feasts must fall “in their seasons” (KJV) or “at their appointed times” (NKJV) (Lev 23:4). They can’t all outside their appointed seasons. There are deep spiritual or theologically reasons for this, but we’ll save that for another discussion.
Because the lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, roughly every three years the lunar calendar needs to make an adjustment to stay in sync with the solar calendar. It needs to add a thirteenth month in order to keep up with the solar year.
Now how do we know when to add a thirteenth month? Well, the Bible doesn’t just spell it out in Greek-thinking logic like a mathematical equation. As with most biblical subjects that reflect Hebrew logic, we have to search the Scriptures for the answers and then put the pieces of the puzzle together. The same is true when figuring out issues pertaining to the biblical calendar including when the new year begins and when to add a thirteenth month.
We won’t go into much detail here, since this is a brief summary or overview of the subject. (Again, for the details, see the link above to my articles on the biblical calendar at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/teaching.html#feast.) Suffice it to say, the ancient (now wild-growing) barley in the land of Israel is the factor that determines whether to add a thirteenth month or not. In fact, the first month of the biblical calendar is called the month of the aviv (or abib, see Exod 13:4; 23:15), which is a technical agricultural term relating to the state of maturation the barley grain is in at the time of the new year.
Barley is the first grain crop to come ripe in the land of Israel in the early spring, and typically it comes ripe before the wheat harvest occurs in the late spring during the time of the biblical Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.
For the first month of the biblical calendar to be called the month of the aviv, the barley must be in the aviv state of maturation. This means that the barley grain is at the least parchable or it can roasted over a fire to make it grindable.
So in the biblical calendar, if we come to the end of the twelfth month, it is necessary to go searching through the land of Israel for aviv barley. If you find it in sufficient quantities, then this marks the beginning of the first month of the new year. If you don’t find it in sufficient quantities, then you add a thirteenth month onto the end of the current year. Again, roughly every three years, a thirteenth month must be added to the biblical calendar to keep the lunar calendar (which the biblical feasts are based on) in sync with the solar calendar (which the year is based on).
If one finds aviv barley, how much aviv barley is enough? There must be enough to make a sheaf or an omer’s worth of grain, which is a biblical measuring unit equal to about two liters. Why this amount? This is because the Torah commanded the priests to offer up an omer of barley grain on the Day of First Fruits (called the omer or first fruits offering) during the Feast of Unleavened Bread that falls during the second half of the first month of biblical calendar (Lev 23:9–14). So finding a few stalks of aviv barley in a field is not sufficient. There must be enough to make two liters worth of flour.
Now at this point in the discussion some well-meaning, Torah-pursuant people will disagree about the need to find a full omer-amount of barley on the first day of the new month. Say, for example, you find only a few stalks of aviv barley, but not enough to make an omer, won’t there be enough barley that will have ripened within two to three weeks to make an omer for the first fruits offering? Maybe, but we don’t know for certain. It’s speculation to say yes. Those who say yes are speculating that weather conditions will be such that there will be enough aviv barley to make an omer offering in time for First Fruits Day. But what if the weather suddenly turns cold, or cloudy and the barley doesn’t ripen in time after you have declared the new year? What then? What if you have declared the new year based on finding only a few stalks of aviv barley, but not enough to make an omer and all Israel is now preparing to keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Each family is separating out their Passover lamb on the tenth day of the first month in preparation for slaughtering it on the fourteenth day on Passover as the Torah commands. Moreover, people are making plans to travel to Jerusalem or wherever YHVH has chosen to place his name in Israel in order to keep the Passover and Unleavened Bread as the Torah mandates. What happens if, after all of this, there isn’t sufficient barley for an omer offering because the weather conditions in the land of Israel weren’t conducive for the barley to ripen? You have just thrown the whole nation of Israel into chaos. Thousands of lambs that were separated for the Passover sacrifice now have to be put back into the flock and travel plans have to be postponed for a month. All the temple preparations have to be put on hold, and all the plans that the priests and Levites have made as they were preparing to officiate at the spring feasts now have to be put on hold. The thousands of lambs that were brought to Jerusalem and sold by merchants to the Jewish pilgrims who were coming there to celebrate the feast now have to be returned to their pastures or stalled and fed for an extra month. Moreover, in ancient times people traveled by foot, and it took days to get somewhere and provisions had to be stored and transported, so postponing a trip wasn’t easy to do. Though these issues aren’t factors for modern man, they were issues when the Tanakh (Old Testament) was written, and this is the cultural context in which we are to understand the Torah’s commands. If we try to understand and apply scriptural truths outside of this context, we run the risk of coming up with a false hermeneutic and twisting the Scriptures anyway we want. It is this wrong approach to interpreting Scripture that has led the church (and rabbinic Judaism) to the place it is today with all of its unbiblical and manmade doctrines and traditions. This is something we are trying to get away from. We don’t want to leave behind the lies of the church (and rabbinic Judaism) in pursuit of biblical truth only to create our own unbiblical lies and traditions!
For these reasons, we have chosen the more cautious, less speculative approach that involves finding sufficient aviv barley to make an omer by the first of the month, rather than speculating what might be in two or three weeks.
As more and more people are returning to the ancient paths of YHVH’s Torah, people are wanting to follow the biblical calendar instead of unbiblical manmade calendars such as the current calendar of rabbinic Judaism. This means that many people are now going out and searching for barley in the land of Israel. This is good. However, as with everything, there are differing opinions on a lot of issues.
Who is right?
That’s up to you to decide.
For the reasons stated above, we have chosen to take a more cautious and less speculative approach that involves finding sufficient quantities of aviv barley at the start of the new near and well before the omer offering. Others will take the more speculative and risky approach and declare that there will be an omer’s worth of barley somewhere in the land of Israel in time for the omer offering. And they may be right. But who knows for sure until it happens? What if it doesn’t happen after they have already declared the new year? Then what?
If there is sufficient quantities of aviv barley by the first day of the year, there is absolutely no doubt that there will be sufficient quantities by First Fruits Day. By taking this approach, we believe that we are on more solid ground logically and biblically.
Both sides of the issues have their valid arguments, but we have chosen the more cautious approach over the more speculative one.
One more point needs to be made. The Torah mandates that one can’t eat any barley from their crop until the First Fruits Day offering is made (Lev 23:14). What if a farmer’s field of barley came ripe before First Fruits Day? Could he harvest his crop as long as he didn’t eat of it until the omer offering was made? There is no prohibition in the Torah from doing this. Some may point to Deuteronomy 16:9 as such a prohibition to cutting one’s barley before First Fruits Day.
You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain.
Now let’s compare this passage to a more detailed instruction found earlier in the Torah and one which is more specific to First Fruits Day.
Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. ‘He shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to YHVH.’ (Lev 23:10–12)
In this passage, we find two action occurring: reaping the barley harvest and subsequently bringing that harvest to the local priest who lived in the farmer’s village or region. Nowhere does this verse say that the reaping of the grain and the day the priest must make the wave offering (on First Fruits Day) are on the same day. That is to say, if a farmer’s field of barley comes ripe earlier than First Fruits Day, he is not prohibited from reaping; he simply is prohibited from eating the barley before First Fruits Day (Lev 23:14). Therefore, the barley farmer has the Torah’s permission to reap his crop before First Fruits Day (as long as he doesn’t eat from it). This insures that he won’t lose his crop (i.e. the barley seed won’t fall to the ground) while waiting for the omer offering to be made on First Fruits Day.
Since the Leviticus 23:10–12 passage is the primary command pertaining to First Fruits Day and gives us more specific information and occurs prior to the Deuteronomy 16:9 passage, basic rules of biblical interpretation (or hermeneutics) require use to interpret the latter passage in light of the former passage and not vice versa.