Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Feasts of Israel


The autumn cycle of feasts began on the first day of the seventh month, the first day of the civil year, a new year’s day. “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.” (Lev. 23:23-25) Regulations were prescribed for a burnt offering, meat offering, drink offering and a sin offering on that day.

In the Pentateuch, the trumpet was used for calling the people together, “Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps.” (Numb. 10:2) Then again at Mount Sinai. “When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.” (Exod. 19:13) Furthermore, the voice of God was heard in connection with the sound of a trumpet. “And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice”. (Exod. 19:19) The sound of the trumpet was used also in battle, “Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand.” (Numb. 31:6)

Here then are the main associations of the trumpet in the Pentateuch.

(1) They were used to express joy and gladness.

(2) They were used to call God’s people together.

(3) They were used to help to direct the movement of the nation as they traveled.

(4) They were an accompaniment to the voice of God.

(5) They were used to prepare people for battle.


At the Feast, the trumpets were sounded as a celebration, in memorial of the creation of the world, “When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7) Rosh HaShanah (1st Tishri) was considered the first Sabbath day of Creation, although the Minhogimbukh ties it to the creation of Adam and Eve. “The Creator, blessed be He, created the first man on Rosh HaShanah. Therefore we start counting the year from that day”. This connection with the birthday of man appears in the work of the Talmudists who also connected it with the birthdays of Abraham and Jacob, and Sarah and Rachel, and Hannah. On Rosh HaShanah, not only did they sound trumpets but also the shofar. The shofar for the new year was made of antelope horn, with its mouth overlaid with gold, and the one who blew it would be flanked by two who blew trumpets. The shofar would sound a long note, while the trumpets would sound short notes. So the shofar’s sound would dominate, and the religious duty of the day would be fulfilled. At the end of the Feast of Trumpets, following a series of short blasts, a long trumpet blast called the Tekiah Gedolah, the great trumpet blast, would sound. Paul called it “the last trumpet” (1 Cor.15.52).

They sounded the trumpet and the shofar whenever there were feasts of gladness, or feasts of solemnity, as well as at the beginning of each new month, that is, at the time of the new moon.

Since the Feast of Trumpets was the first feast of the new year (on New Year’s Day), and the Jewish calendar was a lunar one, it was quite important to get the date right. “The first day of Tishre is the new year for the reckoning of years, for Sabbatical years, and for Jubilees”. The Mishnah contains the rules that governed the identifying of the new moon. They needed witnesses of caliber, and they required them to come in pairs. The council in Jerusalem would cross-examine them, and when they were satisfied with the testimony of the witnesses, the head of the court would declare, ‘It is sanctified’. They would then dispatch news of this date to Jewish congregations everywhere.

By the time of the Messiah, the day had taken on a greater sense of gravity. As the seventh day of the week was a holy day, so the seventh month was the holy month in the year. It was a festival of special solemnity. The Rabbis taught that God judged the world at the New Year: “… at the New Year … all who enter the world pass before Him like troops, since it is said, He who fashions the hearts of them all, who considers all their works (Ps. 33:15)”. So the first of Tishri began the Days of Awe which led up to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The Day of Atonement was the next feast day in the Levitical calendar, ten days later. All were judged at Rosh HaShanah, that is New Year’s Day, and the verdict was sealed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The worthy were written into the book of life. The unworthy were blotted out. This reflected some of the truth of the prayer of Moses when he interceded for Israel, after the sin of the golden calf. “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” (Exod. 32:32,33) However, severe decrees could be averted through repentance, prayer and deeds of charitable kindness. The liturgy of the Days of Awe carried these implications.

The blowing of the trumpets and the shofar, which recalled the horn-blasts at Sinai when the Torah was revealed, increased this feeling of solemnity. As a day of judgment (Yom Hadin) and a day of blowing the shofar (Yom Hateruyah) Rosh HaShanah also prefigured the end of days and the Last Judgment, when all shall appear before God.

For a people under the Law, the implications of such a day were substantial. Individuals were required to consider how they had acted over the previous year. Had they obeyed, not only the 613 commands of the Torah, but also the countless refinements of those commands contained in the Oral Law? They were to consider themselves brought before the bar of God. Satan himself would be the prosecutor, accusing and denouncing. Since full obedience was impossible to those born in sin and shaped in iniquity, only the mercy of God would allow an individual to be inscribed in the Book of Life, and only the repentant could hope to receive the mercy of God. It was considered that God used a complicated system of weighing good deeds against bad deeds. According to the Talmud God has three books. Besides the Book of Life and the Book of Death there is another that is opened on Rosh HaShanah – a book for borderline cases. The righteous are immediately written in the Book of Life and the wicked are immediately written in the Book of Death. The destiny of those on the borderline hangs in the balance until Yom Kippur. Thus, Rosh HaShanah was a day of penitence, and a day of uncertainty. Those that received mercy and written in the Book of Life would enjoy a year of blessing; those who were not truly repentant and subsequently written in the Book of Death would be marked for a year of misfortune. Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur an acceptable greeting is, “Leshanah tovah tikatevu vetehatemu”, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”.

There are lofty prayers, given over to the praise of God, added to the Shemoneh ’Esreh (Amidah) litergies on Rosh HaShanah. They celebrate God as creator and king of the universe, and recall God’s mighty judgments in history. Also a prayer for the coming of the kingdom of heaven is included. They declare that God, the sovereign King has made His purposes known to all humankind, and since they have been told what God requires of them, they can be assessed as to how they have complied. New Year’s Day, the day of the Feast of Trumpets, is a day of judgment.

Nowadays, in the afternoon of Rosh HaShanah, (or on the second day if it falls on a Sabbath) there is the custom called ‘Tashlich’, ‘casting’. Jewish people go to the bank of a river or lake or ocean and recite appropriate verses while emptying their pockets and symbolically ‘casting all their sins into the depths of the sea’. It is based on a verse from Micah, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)

The Sabbath that falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is called ‘Shabbat Shuvah’, the Sabbath of Repentance. On this day the reading includes Hosea 14.1-9 which begins with Shuvah Yisrael, ‘Return, O Israel’. “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, And return to the LORD. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, We will not ride on horses, Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’ For in You the fatherless finds mercy.” “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, And lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, And his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; They shall be revived like grain, And grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit is found in Me.” Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; The righteous walk in them, But transgressors stumble in them”. (Hos. 14:1-9)

More Next Time

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Feasts of the Lord


The practice at the time of the Messiah called for a special delegation from the Sanhedrin to visit the barley fields the afternoon before the Passover and identify the location where the first sheaf was to be harvested. It would be bound in sheaves while it was still standing. The place and time of the ritual (the evening before the Feast of Firstfruits) would be publicized so that a crowd would gather and the sheaf could be harvested with great ceremony. Either one man with one sickle and one basket, or three men with three sickles and three baskets, would be allocated to perform the task. The ceremony included the involvement of the spectators. The agent of the Temple would ask the onlookers, “Has the sun set yet?” They were required to answer, “Yes”. This was repeated twice more. Then he would ask, “With this sickle”, and again they would answer “Yes”. This would also be repeated twice more. The ceremony would continue with the question, “With this basket”, with its answer “Yes”, and lastly “Shall I reap” with its response, “Reap”. Everything was repeated three times. In the Temple the ears were threshed and parched, winnowed and ground and sieved through thirteen sieves before oil and frankincense were added. Then one omer (5.1 pints) was offered to the Lord. The rest of the harvest could not be brought in until after the offering of the omer. Once the ceremony had been completed, the count of the fifty days to the Feast of Weeks could begin. This period is known as ‘the counting of the Omer’.


The main passage dealing with this feast is Leviticus 23.15-21. Called the Feast of Weeks (Shavu’ot) it took place the day after the seventh Sabbath after the Feast of Firstfruits. Seven weeks plus one day equals 50 days, which gave rise to the name Pentecost, which name is used for this feast in the book of Acts. This festival, like the Feast of Firstfruits, was an agricultural festival. It was the celebration of the beginning of a harvest, but this time, it is the start of the wheat harvest not the barley harvest, and its place in the timetable of the feasts of YHWH make it the concluding festival of the spring cycle. Thus, its name in Talmudic literature is often ‘Azereth’, the concluding festival to Passover.

At this festival, several offerings were to be brought to the Lord. Burnt offerings, drink offerings and meat offerings. Seven lambs, one bullock and two rams together with their meat and drink offerings. “Among the offerings were two yearling lambs offered as a well-being offering (‘shelamim’). This is the only such offering made on behalf of the public. It functioned as a communal offering of thanksgiving.” There were also sin offerings and peace offerings, but unique to this festival is the offering of two loaves of bread for a wave offering. These loaves were baked from the grain of the first sheaves of the wheat harvest. Unlike the bread at Passover, they were to be baked with leaven. Leaven was not normally permitted in the offerings to YHWH. This prohibition was repeated several times in the Pentateuch, especially “No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire.” (Lev.2.11) So when the Lord’s instruction to Moses required it, “You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD,” (Lev. 23:17), there must have been a strong reason.

Moses identified this feast as an opportunity to bring a freewill offering to the Lord, which should reflect the blessing received from God. “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.” (Deut. 16:10) The character of the feast was to be one of rejoicing.


At the time of the Messiah, this festival was one of the most popular, with large groups of pilgrims traveling from all over the Roman Empire. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem was the centre of the world, and the Temple their holy shrine. They converged on the city from every direction. Coming from many countries and traveling together, for them, all roads led to Jerusalem.

The Feast of Weeks is a one-day festival. The Mishnah describes the order of the events. On the morning of the feast an official from the town where the priests of the main priestly course were staying would say, “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to (the house of) the Lord our God”. (Jer. 31:6) Carrying the fruit of the land, they followed an ox whose horns had been overlaid with gold. Accompanied by the music of the flute and decorating their baskets of fruit as they walked, they traveled towards Jerusalem. When they came near the city, the high officials and tradesmen of Jerusalem met them. Continuing their journey, still accompanied by music from the flautist, they proceeded to the Temple. On reaching the Court of Prayer and then the Court of the Priests, the Levites sang, “I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, And have not let my foes rejoice over me”. (Psalm 30:1) With the basket of fruits still on his shoulder the leading Israelite read a Torah portion – Deuteronomy 26.3-11, beginning with, "I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.” On reaching verse 5, “A wandering Aramean was my father”, he took the basket of fruit from his shoulder, which was then waved before the Lord. The rest of the Torah portion was read, the basket placed next to the altar, and with a bow the offerer left. Then the ceremony of the ‘wave offering’ took place, when the two loaves of leavened bread were waved before the Lord.

As the day continued, the rich brought their fruit in baskets made of silver and gold, while the poor brought their fruit in baskets of peeled willow. Both baskets and fruit were given to the priests.

Over time, this festival attracted many traditions. These added to its character on several levels.

It was celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the Law. From the information provided in Exodus chapter nineteen, the Rabbis calculated that the Mosaic code had been delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai on the date that coincided with the Feast of Weeks. The earliest references that make that connection are in the Talmud (Shabbat 86b; Pesahim 68b) but David Stern quotes from the Encyclopedia Judaica where Louis Jacobs suggests that “the transformation into an historical feast took place before the present era”. Maimonides makes the connection of the counting of the Omer with the giving of the Torah. He wrote, “We count the days that pass since the preceding Festival, just as one, who expects his most intimate friend on a certain day, counts the days and even the hours. This is the reason why we count the days that pass since the departure from Egypt and the anniversary of Lawgiving. The latter was the aim and object of the exodus from Egypt.”

The Pharisees associated the date of this festival with a number of other events that were involved in the history of the relationship between YHWH and humankind, events that include covenant agreements. The book of Jubilees places the covenant with Noah at this time, and the renewal of the covenant with Abraham, the birth of Isaac and the renewal of the covenant with Jacob, so the association of this date with the giving of the Law is easily understood. On the feast day they would reference that event by reading pertinent extracts from the T’nach. Readings included Exodus chapters 19 and 20. Since the appearance of God on Mount Sinai was a theophany, further readings from Ezekiel chapters 1 and 2 and Habakkuk 3 were added. Present Jewish practice encourages the study of key passages of the Torah the night before the celebration of the festival.

The date of this festival also coincided with the anniversary of the death of Israel’s greatest king, David. Because of this, a number of Psalms were read, as well as readings from the book of Ruth, David’s ancestor. The readings from Ruth were especially appropriate because the events of the book of Ruth took place during the period from the Feast of Firstfruits to the Feast of Weeks and beyond. Furthermore, the history of Ruth tells of a Gentile fully embracing Jewish culture including the Law.

More Next Time

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel

The Feasts of the Lord


During the feast of unleavened bread, there was another feast, a feast within a feast, the Feast of Firstfruits. The main passages in the T’nach that deal with this feast are Leviticus 23.9-14 and Numbers 28.26-31. The Levitical passage includes: “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 the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Lev. 23:10,11) The timing of this day is clearly given, “the day after the Sabbath”. Which Sabbath? One interpretation is that it is the Sabbath that falls within the feast of Unleavened Bread. Since the feast of unleavened bread lasted for seven days, it had to include a weekly Sabbath, and the day following that particular Sabbath, was the day to celebrate the feast of Firstfruits and bring an offering to the Lord. The other interpretation is that it is the day following the feast Sabbath. This means it would always be on the 16th Nisan, that is, the Passover was celebrated on the 14th Nisan, the feast of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th Nisan (a feast Sabbath), and the feast of Firstfruits took place on the 16th Nisan.

This is not a feast that could have been celebrated in Egypt, nor in the wilderness. It was an instruction that took effect only when they reached Canaan, “the land which I give you”. This land, the land of Israel was considered more holy than all other lands, because they bring “from it the omer and the firstfruits, and the Two Loaves”.

The barley harvest was the first of the grain harvests, and the first sheaf gathered was to be offered to the Lord. It was a token that the first and the best belonged to the Lord. Israel could not enjoy any of the harvest until the firstfruits had been offered to YHWH. It was an expression of gratitude to God for blessing their land and supplying their daily bread. According to Seder Zera’im, the commandment included two things: “(1) the bringing of the first-fruit, and (2) a declaration to be made by him who brings it, that he owes everything to the kindness of God toward the Israelites, from the times of the Patriarchs up to the present day.” God gave to man the fruit of the ground as his portion. God said to Adam and Eve, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food”. (Gen. 1:29) Therefore, returning the firstfruits back to God is an acknowledgment that the harvest has come as His gift to us. As Newberry points out, the meat offering, of which the principle ingredient was grain (there was no meat in it) is really a gift offering, and acknowledges the gifts of God. Returning the firstfruits to God is the background to the text: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”. (Matt. 6:33)

It is worth reflecting that the Genesis account, where God’s judgment is pronounced on Adam and his posterity, includes the declaration, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) Here then, is a direct connection between man and the earth. Edersheim reports the teaching of the Rabbis regarding the dignity of labor, “that while becoming the servant of the soil, he wins from it the precious fruits of golden harvest”.

In addition to the first sheaf of the harvest, a male lamb, without blemish and without spot, was offered to the Lord, as well as a drink offering of wine, and a meal offering.

The situation of this feast, within the Feast of Unleavened Bread, identifies a nation that is in dependence on God, as well as in fellowship with God.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Handmade shmura matzo
 Sacrifices and Offerings

The Feasts of Israel


The Feast of Unleavened Bread was the second of the annual feasts and abutted the Festival of Passover. It is the first of the pilgrim feasts. The eating of unleavened bread was for seven days, but the pilgrimage lasted just one day. Most considered the first day of the feast as the occasion of the pilgrimage, as indicated by Leviticus 23.6, while others, relying on Exodus 13.6, considered the last day of the festival, the day of pilgrimage. Those who came to Jerusalem at the beginning of this feast, as a matter of course, would also be present for the Feast of Passover.

Passover was on the 14th Nisan, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th Nisan. As with the Passover, the significance of the Festival of Matzoth rested in Israel’s history, the Egyptian exodus. The bread they ate on the night of the Passover was unleavened, reflecting their poverty and servitude (“this is the bread of affliction, the poor bread our ancestors ate as slaves in the land of Egypt”). When they ate the Egyptian Passover, they were dressed for a journey. They had been born in Egypt, and had lived there all their lives, but they were not Egyptians. They were bound for another land, the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey and they had to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The Feast of Unleavened Bread maintained the image of the slave nation leaving in haste with no time for the bread to rise.

The Feast’s duration was seven days, a significant period, the first day of which was to be treated as a Sabbath, “On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it,” (Lev. 23:7), the last day also. The LORD required certain prescribed sacrifices during the festival; burnt offerings, meat offerings, sin offerings and drink offerings.

Perhaps the regulation, which is the most familiar, is that which prohibits leaven in all its forms during the festival. “And no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days”. (Deut. 16:4) The use of leaven was also banned from all offerings made to the Lord by fire. This was largely because fermentation implied decay and corruption. Jesus used the action of leaven to symbolize heresy. He warned His disciples to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians, that is, the doctrine of these political groups. Paul warned against the leavening effect of sin. In the Exodus account, the eating of anything leavened during the festival was considered a capital crime. “For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land.” (Exod. 12:19) This was a further element in the education of Israel. They were required to differentiate between “holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean”. (Lev. 10:10) This was the basis for those restrictions that were included in the Pentateuch, regarding the sacrifice and eating of animals, the impurity of carcasses, the pollution of vessels and articles contaminated by unclean creatures, and other impurities, including leprosy. The putting away of leaven indicated a putting away of that which symbolized spiritual corruption. Israel was a chosen generation, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people”, so that they could “proclaim the praises of Him who called (them) out of darkness into His marvelous light,” (1 Pet. 2:9) therefore they needed to ‘put away’ leaven.


The regulations that governed the feast at the time of Jesus are contained in the Mishnah. They begin, “on the night preceding the fourteenth [of Nisan] they seek out leaven by the light of a candle”. The search had to be thorough and complete, and any discovered leaven had to be burned. For those who might suffer financially by the destruction of everything leavened, it was permitted to sell that which was leavened to a Gentile, and then to buy it back after the feast. During the festival, they ate only that which was unleavened, and as laid down in the T’nach, they treated the first day of the feast as a Sabbath. During the feast there would be appropriate readings.

On the first day, Leviticus 22.26-23.44. This contains the main passages regarding the feasts of the Lord. Also Numbers 28.17-25, which repeats the regulations regarding the Festival. This passage is read every day for seven days.

On the second day, Exodus 13.1-16, a passage that deals with the Exodus and includes particular regulations for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

On the third day, Exodus 22.24-23.19, a passage that contains regulations to govern social justice, a reminder of the regulations for the Festival of Unleavened Bread and repeats the requirements that relate to the Feast of Firstfruits.

On the fourth day, Exodus 34.1-26, an important passage regarding the Mosaic covenant but which also includes instructions to keep all the feasts including the three Pilgrim Festivals.

On the fifth day, Numbers 9.1-14, the passage that permits the Passover to be celebrated, in certain circumstances, in the second month of the year instead of the first month.

On the sixth day, Exodus 13.17-15.26, which deals with the overthrow of Pharaoh’s army when Israel was delivered from Egypt. It concludes with the miraculous healing of the bitter waters of Marah.

On the seventh day, Deuteronomy 15.19-16.17, a section of the Law which repeats the regulations regarding the Feasts.