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Equinox Question?

God's feasts and the equinox


In the United Church of God, an International Association, we
have accepted the Hebrew Calendar as the only calendar valid for
observing the Holy Days. We make no claims to having all
knowledge on this subject, but after extensive research
(thousands of pages from over 60 authors) we have concluded that
the calendar that has been preserved by normative Judaism is the
calendar that we should follow. This is not to say that there
haven't been changes. The Bible doesn't present a calendar, but
it assumes the existence of one, therefore, it is impossible to
know with certainty how this calendar was constructed. Even among
the Jews, the calendar was kept a secret and only those
responsible for publishing the dates of the Holy Days knew the
details.

While most calendar authors claim that their work comes from
Scripture, all must go outside the Bible to construct their
calendar. The Bible does not mention a 19-year time cycle, nor
does it give the length of a month or the order for intercalary
months. It doesn't provide enough information to know with
confidence when a year is to begin or what constitutes a year.

Equinoxes are not mentioned in Scripture, yet most calendars make
use of them. We find no definition of the New Moon in Scripture.

Since the Bible does not provide all the essential elements for a
calendar, where do we look for the calendar that we must use in
order to observe the Holy Days? The Jews make the claim that God
gave them the responsibility to "proclaim" the Holy Days in
"their appointed times."

"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: The feasts of
the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these
are My feasts... These are the feasts of the Lord, holy
convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times"
(Leviticus 23:2, 4; see also Numbers 10:10). [The NKJV is used
throughout this article.]

God gave the priests the responsibility of making judgments in
areas that are not specifically defined in the Torah. (As we
shall see later in this paper, this surely included the calendar.
God revealed the Holy Days and they were to be observed in their
seasons at specific times. Thus it is obvious that the priests
had to maintain calendar.) "And you shall come to the priests,
the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of
them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You
shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you
in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to
do according to all that they order you. According to the
sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the
judgment they tell you, you shall do, you shall not turn aside to
the right hand or to the left from from the sentence which they
pronounce upon you. The man who acts presumptuously and will not
heed the priest who stands to minister there he LORD your God, or
the iudge, that man shall die. So you shall put away evil from
Irael." Deuteronomy 17:9-12.

In New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3 about the
advantage of Jew, "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is
the profit of circumcision? Much in way! Chiefly because to them
were were commiited the oracles of God," Romans 3:1-2.

The Greek word for  "oracle" is logion and can be defined as
"saying" or "commandment." The simplest explanation is that Paul
is referring to the laws that form the Torah that were given by
God. These are truly the oracles of God. It seems clear that not
everything God gave to Moses was written down. But one fact
should not be ignored - the same group who preserved the Hebrew
text of the Bible must have also preserved a calendar. It is
impossible to observe the Holy Days without a calendar. Therefore
it would seem logical that a calendar of some sort has existed
since this time of Moses (obviuosly calendars were around even
before this time as the Bible clearly shows) and that the Jewish
people have been responsible for its preservation.
Bleow are comments on the Greek word that can be found in the
various lexicons. It seems clear that the Hebrew text of the
Bible is included in the oracles of God which were preserved by
the Jews, but what about the calendar? It would seem logical that
the same individuals preserved it too. If not, then who else
could have been given this task?

Logion, (Eur., Hdt.+, mostly of short sayings originating fr. a
divinity: Hdt. 8, 60, 3; Thu. 2, 8, 2; Polyb. 3, 112, 8; 8, 30.
6: Diod. S.2, 14, 3; 2, 26, 9; 4, 65, 3 al.: Aelian. V.H. 2, 41.
Likew. LXX [TWManson. Goguel-Festschr. '50, 142f]: Ep. Arist.
177; Philo, Conr. Erud. Grat. 34. Fuga 60, Mos. 2. 262. Praem. 1,
Vi. Cont. 25; Jos., Bell. 6, 311) a saying, in our lit. only pl.
(as also predom. in secular wr.); of the revelations received by
Moses logia Ac 7:38. Of God's promises to the Jews Ro 3:2
JWDoeve, Studia Paulina  [JdeZwaan-Festschr.} '53, 111-23). Of
words fr. Scripture gener. See Walter Bauer. F. Wilbur Gingrich
and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New      
Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press), 1979.
33.97 logia, wn n (only in the plural): the content of various
utterances - 'sayings, oracles, message.' . . . 'you need someone
to teach you the first lessons about the message of God' He
5.12;....who received the living oracles to give to us' Ac
7.38.S. Johannes P.Louw and Eugene A. Nida, See Greek-English 
Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (New York:
United Bible Societies), 1988, 1989.
logia. wn properly. a little word. a brief utterance, in prof.
auth. a divine oracle (doutless because oracles were generally
brief); in Septuagint, the breast-plate of the high priest, which
he wore when he consulted Jehovah [once for Hebrew for words of a
man, Psalm xviii. (xix.) 15]: but chiefly for Hebrew for any
utterance of God, whether precept or promise. See Joseph H.
Thayer, Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.), 1909. 

While there is no calendar explicitly given in Scripture, it
should not be construed that there are no scriptures that give
information about the calendar. We readily agree that such
scriptures do exist. But one must be careful. Often an author
will refer to hints in the Bible and from these hints he develops
his own calendar. Is this what God intended? Do we have to find
hints in Scripture? Or did God give the Jews the responsibility
for preserving and developing the calendar? We conclude that He
did.

One scripture that is used for this calendar development is
Exodus 34:22. 

Some infer from this scripture that some or all of the Feast of
Tabernacles must take place after the autumnal equinox and since
there are years on the Hebrew Calendar when this is not true, the
Hebrew Calendar must be wrong. This is the logic which some use.

But what does this scripture really say? Does it say that the
Feast of Tabernacles can only occur after the autumnal equinox
(September 23 this century on the Gregorian Calendar)? And if it
does, why? What difference does the equinox make? One must also
ask what part the autumnal equinox played in any of the calendar
calculations in the ancient world. The Hebrew Calendar is based
on the revolution of the earth around the sun (determining the
length of a year) and the cycles of the moon (determining the
length of a month) and is not based on the equinoxes.

EXODUS 34:22 AND THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES

Let's look at this verse without any preconceived ideas. We
should note that even in some of the Church's literature from the
early 1980s this verse was used to support the idea that the
equinox must occur during the Feast or before. But is this true?
What does the verse say?

"And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of
wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end."
(NKJV)
"Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the Wheat
harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year."
(NIV)
"You shall keep the feast of Weeks with the first of the wheat 
harvest; likewise, the feast at the fruit harvest at the close of
the year." (NAB)

These three translations use three different terms - "at the
year's end," "at the turn of the year" and "at the close of the
year." It must be noted that not one of the translations uses the
term "equinox." or the word "after." Yet this verse is widely
used to support the idea that the Feast must take place after the
equinox.

By looking at the Hebrew of this verse we can begin to piece
together a proper explanation. In none of the English
translations do we find a requirement for the Feast of
Tabernacles to occur after the autumnal equinox. To interpret
this from the English is simply not proper. Exodus 34:22 from the
Hebrew text [has] no prepositions. See Biblia Hebraica
Stuttgartensia (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart), 1990.

The literal translation of this verse would be: "Observe (asah)
feast (chag) weeks (shabua) firstfruits (bikkuwr) wheat (chittah)
harvest (qatsiyr) feast (chag) ingathering (acyph) year's
(shaneh) end (tekufah)."

Literally this verse tells us that we are to observe the Feast of
Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest and the Feast of
Ingathering at the end of the year. The key word in all of this
is the Hebrew tekufah (underlined in the Hebrew text above). It
is true that in post-biblical Jewish writing this term is used
for equinox. But that does not address the usage of the word in
the Hebrew of the Bible. Even if one imposes the term equinox in
place of tekufah, there is still no concrete evidence for
concluding that this verse requires the Feast to begin after the
equinox. There is no such requirement in the verse. The Feast
always occurs near the autumnal equinox. This would clearly
fulfill the verse even if we conclude that tekufah means equinox.
The Feast is to be observed "at" or "around" or "near" the year's
end (tekufah) - all are permissible.

There is another possibility that must not be overlooked in our
studies. In fact, when combined with other verses in the Bible,
it is clear that the Hebrew tekufah as used in Exodus 34:22
doesn't refer to the equinox at all. The word in Hebrew (as used
in Scripture) has more of a generic meaning of "cycle" or
"circuit" or "completion of a cycle." When compared to other
verses it can be shown that the correct explanation is that the
Feast of Tabernacles (ingathering) is to occur when the cycle or
circuit of harvest has been complete. Clearly the Hebrew term for
"ingathering" refers to harvest. This is the descriptive phrase
attached to the Feast and it has reference to harvesting the
crops, hence the term "gathering." In reality the equinox has
little bearing on the completion of harvest. The harvest is
completed based on weather and the number of days since planting
and not based on the date of the equinox. We have no reason to
believe that the autumnal equinox was ever of any real concern to
the Jews.

USE OF TEKUFAH

By going to all the sources we have available, we can get a clear
picture of what is meant by this term tekufah. But before we look
at the definitions collected from outside the Bible, let's go to
the Bible itself and see how this term has been used. It isn't a
very exhausting process, since there are only three other verses
in the entire Old Testament that use the Hebrew word tekufah.
None of these verses confirm the use of tekufah as equinox. The
evidence will show that the usage of the term was much broader in
the days of the Bible.

Psalm 19:4-6, "Their line has gone out through all the earth, and
their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a
tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of
his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its
rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit [tekufah] to
the other end: and there is nothing hidden from its heat." Here
we have the sun described as a bridegroom going forth from its
tabernacle. It is described as a hero that runs along a path. One
could easily conclude that what is being described is the daily
journey of the sun (as it appears from earth) from the time it
rises until it sets. The conclusion of verse 6 mentions that
there is "nothing hidden from its heat" which would be a
reference to the daytime. This would appear to be discussing a
normal day. It certainly is not describing the equinox.

One can just as well conclude that the ends of the sun's circuit
would be at the two solstices (summer and winter). In the
Northern Hemisphere in the winter the sun rises at its furthest
point to the south of east and in the summer it rises at its
furthest point north of east. In other words, the solstices and
not the equinoxes would mark the ends of the circuit if that is
the meaning of the reference in Psalm 19:6. The equinoxes occur
in spring and fall. This is the middle of the sun's path when it
rises and sets directly over the equator, making the days and
nights of equal length. It would be quite a stretch to believe
the author used tekufah in Psalm 19:6 to mean equinox. He used
the word in the generic sense of a circuit and not the more
limiting "equinox."

2 Chronicles 24:23, "So it happened in the spring [tekufah] of
the year that the army of Syria came up against him; and they
came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the leaders of the
people from among the people, and sent all their spoil to the
king of Damascus."

In the New King James Version, the word tekufah is translated
"spring." In the AV it is translated "end of the year." It refers
to the time that the armies went to battle. This was certainly in
the spring of the year after the winter rains when the mud on the
roads had dried. But there is another term used in Hebrew for the
time to go to war. It is found in I Kings 20:22 and 26. The word
translated "return of the year" is the Hebrew teshuvah and it
means, "return." The return of the year is when the year has been
completed and a new year begins.

The first month of the Hebrew Calendar is always in the spring,
although not always ENTIRELY in the spring (there are years when
the equinox occurs AFTER the first day of Nisan or Abib). There
is no requirement that the first day of Nisan begin after the
equinox, but that the vernal equinox will always occur either
during the first month or just prior to the beginning of the
first month. In other words, there is never a year when the first
month is entirely BEFORE the vernal equinox. The return of the
year is comparable to spring and so translated in the New King
James Version. While there is a relationship between the equinox
and spring, the two terms are not synonymous. The equinox is an
astronomical event that is used to declare the first official day
of spring, but spring is a season that lasts for about three
months. Clearly 2 Chronicles is speaking of a season of the year
when travel and fighting were easier and not to a specific date
on the calendar. From a weather point of view, spring does not
depend on the equinox and it can begin before the equinox or
afterward. Once again, a more generic definition of the Hebrew
tekufah is apparent instead of the narrower one some seem to
prefer.

I Samuel 1:20, "So it came to pass in the process [tekufah] of
time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name
Samuel, saying, 'Because I have asked for him from the LORD."

This is the story of the birth of Samuel. The term "process of
time" is used in the New King James. Other translations use
different terms: "course of time" (NIV); "due time" (NASB); "end
of her term" (New American); and "when the time was come about"
(AV). There is no doubt but that this verse is speaking of the
end of Hannah's pregnancy when she gave birth to Samuel. There is
no reference at all to the equinox in this verse! Once again it
is obvious that the term tekufah generally refers to the
conclusion of a circuit, a cycle or a term. In this case it is
the term of pregnancy that came to a conclusion. This is a
specific time period that has a beginning and an end. It can be
predicted just as certain cycles in the heavens can be. But there
are other cycles or circuits as well, such as the agricultural
cycle that has a definite beginning and ending. It also repeats
itself each year - there will always be "seedtime and harvest"
(Genesis 8:22) as long as the earth remains.

These are the only four places that you will find the Hebrew
tekufah used in Scripture. Based upon this usage, it is concluded
that tekufah is a broad term that can be used for (1) a general
term for the end of the year, referring to the end of the harvest
season; (2) the rising and setting of the sun; (3) the time of
going to war, the springtime; or (4) the term of a woman's
pregnancy. To substitute the word "equinox" in any of these
verses would make no sense, so why should one substitute it in
Exodus 34:22?

Below is an examination of how scholars have defined and used the
term tekufah. [tekufah] n.f. coming round, circuit - circuit
(completion). Richard Whitaker, editor. The Abridged
Brown-Driver-Briggs HebrewEnglish Lexicon of the Old Testament
(Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.), 997.

The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee concordance of the Old
Testament offers these synonyms: "revolution of the year;" "come
about;" and "circuit." (The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee
Concordance of the Old testament (London: Samuel Bagster and
Sons, TD.), 1890.

[tek-oo-faw'] coming round, circuit of time space, a turning,
circuit 1a) at the circuit (as adverb) See Enhanced Strong's
Lexicon (Oak larbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.), 995.

The Talmud uses the term tekufah in reference to the equinox, but
one must keep in hind that the Talmud was written much later than
the text of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Talmud was composed
between the years 200 and 600 C.E. This is over 1,500 years after
the ime of Moses. Much can change in a language in 1,500 years.

Clearly the Scriptures (and other study resources) demonstrate
that the term tekufah is a generic term that can be used for any
type of cycle or circuit that has a repeating pattern to it. This
could include the equinox, though the Bible does not use the term
in this fashion.

There is always a danger when one tries to read a meaning
backward into the Scriptures. Languages change constantly and to
fully understand the Hebrew of the Old Testament one must find
how that term is used in other places. This is the key to
understanding tekufah.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EXODUS 23:16
AND LEVITICUA 23:34

There are two other verses which shed light on our understanding
of Exodus 34:22. As in all cases of exegesis we must take the
Bible as a whole and not isolate single verses in an effort o
establish our argument. These additional verses explain the
nature and character of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a harvest
Feast and it was established to occur on a certain date on the
calendar. There is no mention of the equinox in any of the
discussion of the Feast of Tabernacles (unless you use Exodus
34:22 incorrectly for that argument).

Exodus 23:15-16, "You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread
(you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you,
at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came
out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast
of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in
the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year,
when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the
field."

Leviticus 23:34, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: The
fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of
Tabernacles for seven days to the LORD."

The date for observing the Feast of Tabernacles is determined by
a calendar ("fifteenth day of this seventh month") and not by the
equinox. There is no reference given in Scripture as to the date
of the equinox, therefore one concludes that it isn't relevant
for the dating of the festivals.

The Feast of Tabernacles is a harvest festival and not an equinox
festival. It occurs after the harvest season, which is generally
around the time of fall or autumn. Some years on the Hebrew
Calendar the Feast of Tabernacles will actually begin before the
autumnal equinox, but with the slight shifting of the equinoxes
over the years. There is no danger of the Feast occurring
entirely prior to the equinox any time in the future. Some argue
that since this is permissible that it has indeed happened with
the Hebrew Calendar. This is really a moot point, since there is
no prohibition on the Hebrew Calendar (or in the Bible) for this
to occur. It simply doesn't happen today and there is no
definitive proof that it has ever happened. If you use the rules
of the calendar today and extrapolate backward in time you may
encounter dates that appear to be prior to the equinox. One must
be careful in jumping to conclusions about these dates. But you
should also remember that this is not a significant issue with
the Hebrew Calendar. The focus is on the harvest and not on the
autumnal equinox!

Exodus 23:16 is a very telling scripture. The same language is
used here in English as we find in Exodus 34:22. There is a
slight difference in the word translated "end." This word is not
tekufah, but tzet ha shannah (end of the year). Since the wording
is so similar (especially in English), we can learn more of what
is meant in Exodus 34:22. Here the meaning is quite clear. The
focus is on the harvest - "the Feast of Ingathering at the end of
the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from
the field." When does the Feast of Tabernacles occur? We read
that it is at the end of the year - when the fruit has been
gathered from the fields. The Feast begins on the 15th day of the
seventh month. This requires a calendar that takes into
consideration the growing and harvest seasons of the various
crops. The Feast of Tabernacles is called the Feast of
Ingathering. It is the final festival (including the eighth day)
of the year and it is the celebration of the great harvest. To
tie the date to that of the equinox is to read something into the
account that is not there.

SUMMARY

Much is made about the interpretation of Exodus 34:22 by some who
oppose the Hebrew calendar. They arrive at their conclusions by
reading more into the text of this verse than is warranted. But
even if one concludes )erroneously) that the Hebrew word tekufah
means equinox, Exodus 34:22 does not require one to observe the
Feast of Tabernacles after the autumnal equinox. On the Hebrew
Calendar the Wave Sheaf Offering occurs after the vernal equinox.
This prevents there ever being a problem with the crops in the
fall. If there are green ears during the Days of Unleavened
Bread, the barley and other grains can be harvested by Pentecost,
and the other crops will be harvested in plenty of time prior to
the Feast Tabernacles in the fall. 
There is no need to anipulate the calendar to accommodate the
autumnal equinox. This is all a part of the regular cycle or
circuit of the agricultural year. The ripening of crops is
determined by the time of panting and the weather, and not by the
uinox. The equinox is simply the day the sun rises and sets
directly over the equator causing and night to be of equal
length.

There are many lessons to be learned about the Bible and the
calendar. One very important lesson is that Scripture is not of
any "private terpretation," 2 Peter 1:20. Sometimes we can be
swayed because someone says it is so, but in reality the position
must be supported by Scripture and not personal opinions. This is
the case with Exodus 34:22. 
Whatever interptation you accept of the Hebrew word tekufah,
Exodus 34:22 is not being violated by the Hebrew Calendar. The
United Church of God uses the Hebrew Calendar for determining the
dates of the Holy Days and, while there are still certain aspects
of an agrarian society that are relevant as symbols in those
observances, we celebrating God's plan, which is spiritual and
not physical.
This should be our focus - observing the Holy Days in the true
spirit of worship. God surely did not intend that the calendar be
used as an excuse for debate and endless arguments.

- Reprinted with permission. @ 2003 by United Church of God, an
International ssociation, PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH
5254-1027. This article is not to be sold. It is free educational
service in the public interest. Visit the United Church of God on
the Internet www.ucg.org and view this paper directly
www.ucg.org/papers. All scriptures are quoted from The Holy
Bible, New King James Version @1988 Thomas Nelson, Inc., NashIle,
Tennessee unless otherwise noted.
     
                              ..............

Entered on Keith Hunt's Website July 2003


 
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