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The High Holy Days (part 1)

Post Title: From Trumpets to Atonement: 4 Life Altering Lessons

I find beauty and significance in this biblical season that often escapes many Christians. For the most part, we all know the Passover connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we rejoice in God’s outpouring of his Spirit at Pentecost. But I am suggesting to you that these divinely appointed times (moedim) can take on even more profound meaning to you and me as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth in the light of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

For me, the Fall feast season is like a spiritual symphony. It has various refrains and theological motifs that move with incredible beauty and rhythm. They culminate with the Feast of Tabernacles, a crescendo of praise, thanksgiving, and celebration. This heavenly symphony begins with the High Holy Days. First of all, let me give you an overview of what the sequence of events is:

  • The first day of the seventh month (Tishri) is the Feast of Trumpets (which is called Rosh Hashanah in Jewish tradition)

  • On the tenth day of Tishri is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)

  • The fifteenth day begins a seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)

  • There is an intriguing eighth day added to Tabernacles that we will talk more about later (Shemini Atzeret)

The Feast of Trumpets inaugurates ten days (called the High Holy Days, or Ten Days of Awe), culminating with the Day of Atonement.

Rather than explaining the rich history of rituals, customs, and ways the Jewish people have honored and celebrated this season, I want us to meditate on and grasp the spiritual implications of these things afresh. To those who appreciate the Jewish roots of the New Covenant, I have a caution for you. It takes much more than an attraction to ethnic Judaism, more than an interest in language and culture, more than a fascination with Hebrew styles of song and dance—as meaningful as that can be.

We must manifest an intense desire to serve the Holy One of Israel—through the death and resurrection of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus—in the power of his Holy Spirit.

My friends, we are living in a time where we must stay grounded in the entirety of Sacred Scripture to live for the glory of God. If we don’t stand firm in our faith, we will fall. Designed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and of Jesus—these feasts and holy days provide principles that can change how we live.

The first lesson we can learn from these Ten Days of Awe is our need to walk in the light of God’s holiness.

Pagan cultures celebrate a new year with noisy revelry and insane celebrations. In contrast, the biblical seventh month is a spiritual new year, a time for serious reflection upon the meaning of life. Yes, there are notes of celebration. But they are based upon the character and graciousness of the creator, evidenced by the world he made for us. It serves to commemorate and celebrate the birthday of the world and the creation of Adam and Eve.

The Ten Days of Awe are a time to focus on God as creator and ruler of the universe.

As such, it is a solemn, thoughtful time dedicated to concentrating on and confronting one’s mortality. It is a time to reflect upon the meaning of our life. Is it emptiness and vanity, or is there substance and value?

This festival of trumpets has many different names in Jewish tradition, but one, the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), is particularly helpful to us here. The High Holy Days are meant to be a time in which you are acutely aware of the reality of God’s judgment. The central image that undergirds this day is the idea of a trial. The Holy One of Israel is the judge, and your life hangs in the balance.

You are in the scales of the King of the Universe, and he is opening the books and evaluating you. Is your life one of righteousness, peace, and joy, or is it a life of self-centeredness and sin? Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

In our civil and religious cultures, God’s exalted status is diminished while human status is exalted to the point that there is no longer any distinction between the two. Biblically, to speak of God’s holiness means his distinctiveness, his absolute otherness. He is separate and marked off from all that is ordinary and common. And Trumpets, as the beginning of the spiritual new year, can help us once again know before whom we stand.

The second lesson we can learn from these Ten Days of Awe is our need to walk in the light of true repentance.

We learn this in fresh new ways as we seek to walk in the light of God’s holiness. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Remember, the prophet Isaiah had an intense encounter with the holiness of God. The lesson he learned was that of repentance. The biblical picture of repentance (teshuvah) is two-fold; to cease doing what is wrong and commence doing what is right. You must grasp this essential point.

Repentance is more than remorse, an important lesson that most of the church needs to hear. Repentance is more than kneeling and weeping at the altar while someone comes around to offer a tissue and comfort you. Repentance is not an emotional catharsis from which you walk away still in rebellion and self-centeredness. Judas was filled with remorse, but he did not repent.

Yes, repentance is accompanied by emotions, but it is more than that. The convicting work of God’s Spirit causes a course correction. You decide to stop doing what is wrong and start doing what is right— with the help of the Holy One. True repentance is a confrontation with and a confession of wrongdoing and a determination to start doing that which is right and good.

The ten holy days of awe and reverence are characterized by reflections that lead to repentance.

The ancient sages of Israel have much to say on the subject. For instance, they identify two levels of repentance. The first is out of fear, and the next is out of love. We are to repent out of fear in recognition that sin is destructive and, as such, offends him. Sin must be taken seriously; it violates God’s standards, given for the instruction and good of his creation and created ones.

Yet, there is motivation even more profound and higher than fear to repent out of love. Repentance out of love is a deep yearning to imitate God, to do what God does. It is a desire to be holy because he is holy, to be conformed to his image rather than trying to conform him to ours.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus the Messiah, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14

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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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