The kingdom of this world/Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;/And He shall reign forever and ever…
—“The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah
Time… it is the one unifying constant, besides death, across the earth. We all march to the beat of its drum. Minutes stream into hours. Hours step into days, and days creep into years. Yet time does not just mark the passing of one generation into the next, or one season from the other. Within God’s calendar, time marks new beginnings, the passing away of the old, and the sanctification of the new. Humanistic and pagan cultures relegate time to the purely scientific or occult, to the meaningless or the chaotic. But is that really all that time means or encompasses?
The Long Rotation
As an astronomical reality, a year is the time Earth takes to complete one orbit around the Sun. As an earthly phenomenon, it is the time it takes for sunrise or sunset to move along the horizon until it has reached both a northern and a southern extreme and then returned to its starting point. The extremes mark what we call the solstices, the shortest and longest days of the year. The midpoint between the extremes, through which the sun passes twice, marks the equinoxes, the two days during the year when daytime and nighttime are roughly equal in length.
In the ancient world, shepherds and farmers, who every day lived their lives beneath the skies, could watch each year march through its paces by marking where the sun rose and set each day. Where greater accuracy was necessary, kings or priests might raise huge stones to track the sunrise through the year. But the cycles were evident to all, as they are to us today. And from a religious standpoint, that begs the question: Are these cycles relevant?
The Cycles Of Sanctification
For the pagan world, time was by nature cyclical. It rose out of chaos and returned to chaos. There was no creation and therefore no judgment. And because of this, there was no purpose and no meaning to the endless cycles of history. The cycles of nature simply bore witness to these religious assumptions, though they were often greeted with religious and magical ritual.
Secular humanism since the Enlightenment has treated Nature and its cycles as purely mechanical phenomena. Humanist astronomers have measured the rotations and revolutions of the planets and stars as convenient time markers. But what they mark, these folks tell us, lies wholly in the hands of autonomous man. At the dawn of the Enlightenment some hoped “the ever circling years” would lead to a golden age. Now however, confidence in a coming utopia has dipped to a new low. Thanks to physicists like Stephen Hawking, even the belief in linear time is slipping away.
Biblical faith insists that time is a divine creation. It had a beginning, and it moves forward on God’s terms toward His goals. History will eventually culminate in Resurrection and Judgment. In the meantime, we live through familiar cycles—years, seasons, months, and days—which move us slowly forward toward the End. We live with both rhythm and variety, with old familiar things as well as the new things, as God advances His kingdom in history. C.S. Lewis has Screwtape tell us the following:
God gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before. (Letter XXV)
And so God’s kingdom spirals to victory through linear time, with the repetitive years and seasons serving in the sanctification process of God’s people. Charting all of this, however, has always been tough sledding for astronomers and mathematicians. Even ancient Israel had to tinker with months and dates to make their calendar work.
Israel’s calendar was lunar. Each month began with the new moon and lasted 29 to 30 days. Together, the twelve months constituted a year of 354 days. An extra month was intercalated every two or three years to bring the lunar calendar back into harmony with the solar year of 365.242 days. But there are more complications.
Ancient Israel had two ways of calculating the year. Each had its own starting point. The civil year began with the 1st of Tishri, about the time of the autumnal equinox. However, the liturgical year began with the first of Nisan, about the time of the spring equinox. It was God who imposed the liturgical or religious reckoning at the Exodus (Ex. 12:2). The month of Israel’s redemption was to begin her seven-month cycle of festivals. In terms of this reckoning, the 1st of Tishri became the first day of the seventh month. Israel called it the Feast of Trumpets. It celebrated the beginning of the end of the festal cycle and prepared Israel for the Day of Atonement that came ten days later (Lev. 23:24; Num. 29:1). It was supposed to be a time for soul searching and repentance. But before the Exodus, the 1st of Tishri had been the first day of the year. Today the Jewish people celebrate it as Rosh Hashanah, the head of the days.
Originally, then, the 1st of Tishri was Israel’s New Year’s Day. More than that, it was the anniversary of Earth’s creation. And it was the anniversary of Noah’s departure from the Ark, man’s second beginning (Gen. 8:13). In the thinking of the rabbis, Rosh Hashanah became a type and forerunner of Judgment Day. It looked to the coming Day of the Lord and the new creation that would follow. It pointed to Messiah’s kingdom.
Blowing Biblical Trumpets
Scripture itself has little to say about Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of Trumpets. However, it has a lot to say about trumpets in general. Under the Old Covenant, God appointed trumpets to serve a number of functions (you can read about this in Numbers 10:1-10). The priests blew trumpets over the sacrifices to lift them up musically before God. They also used trumpets to assemble the congregation for worship or for battle. They blew a trumpet to announce each new moon (Ps. 81:3) and they always sounded a trumpet on the Day of Atonement to announce the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:9).
In Exodus the divine trumpet blast signaled God’s arrival and enthronement on Sinai (Ex. 19:13-19). In Joshua God uses seven trumpets—ram’s horns—to bring down the wall of Jericho (Josh. 6). In Kings and Chronicles, trumpets celebrate the ascension of the Ark into the Temple (God’s enthronement) and the ascension of human kings to their thrones (1 Kings 1:39; 2 Chron. 5). In the Psalms, trumpets announce God’s reign over the heathen (Ps. 47:5; 98:6). And in the Prophets, trumpets foretell coming judgment as well as call God’s people to repentance (Jer. 4:5; 6:1, 17; Ezek.33:3; Isa. 58:1; Joel 2:1, 15). Ultimately, a trumpet will herald the Last Judgment (1 Thes. 4:16).
The Seventh Trumpet
The Book of Revelation gathers all these interrelated ideas together in the judgments of the Seven Trumpets. In Revelation 8—11, John sees seven angels blow seven trumpets, one for each of the new moons in Israel’s liturgical cycle. Each trumpet blast brings cataclysmic judgments. The seventh trumpet, the one corresponding to Rosh Hashanah, announces the coming of the Messianic kingdom:
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15).
Heaven breaks forth in praises that celebrate Christ’s accession, His vindication of His saints, and His judgments upon the world. For the New Testament, as for the Old, New Year’s Day points to Messiah’s reign in grace and judgment, both in history and at the end of history. The new year is an image of the new age, the rule of the promised King.
So how does all this talk of time and festivals and judgments and trumpets come together? How do we see the hand of God in the passing of one year into the next? To contrast, we see the beginning of January in the purely human sense as a largely arbitrary starting point for measuring a new year. Rosh Hashanah, on the other hand, celebrates very real events in history, especially the actual beginning of history.
This concept of a new year and a new start is God-given and resonates in the human soul. We know instinctively that the beginning of a new year is not only a great time to reconsider our goals and priorities, but to recognize our sins and follies as well. For many of us in the self-reliance movement, preparing for the coming year could prove pivotal. But most importantly, January of 2012 is a time to understand our real need for divine grace.
So we’re talking about more than New Year’s resolutions here. After all, the language of resolutions is, in a way, humanistic. It assumes that the only thing we need to do is make a few better choices this year and we’ll be fine. What we’re talking about, as we look back at 2011and forward to 2012, is the need for true heartfelt repentance and the need for a new heart that deeply desires to make better choices. For this new heart, we need simply to submit to Jesus Christ.
All the best from us at Off The Grid News as we prepare with new hearts in hope.
For Further Reading:
David Ewing Duncan, Calendar, Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year (New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1998).
Stanley L. Jaki, God and the Cosmologists (Washington, D.C.: Regenery Gateway, 1998).
David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987).
G. B. Caird, A Commentary on The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1966).