Observing new moons in the OT

I have not been able to find a biblical reason for observing new moons in the Old Testament. Where can I find it?

Uncategorized May 12, 2005

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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

I have not been able to find a biblical reason for observing new moons in the Old Testament. Where can I find it?

The Bible does not provide specific reasons for the observance of the new moon. We may be able to suggest some possibilities after examining the texts in which the role of the moon and the new moon is discussed. However, we will not have space to analyze all the biblical data.

1. Celebration of the New Moon: This was a special day of worship during which the people rejoiced before the Lord (Hosea 2:11), and rested from work (Amos 8:5; Num. 29: 1-3). People enjoyed a family festal meal (1 Sam. 20:5, 18) and apparently consulted God’s prophet (2 Kings 4:23). Sacrifices, together with grain and drink offerings, were offered at the Temple (Num. 28:11-15; 29:2-5). Every Israelite was expected to participate in this celebration.

2. Theological Motivation: The institution of new moon festivals seems related to the worship of the moon-gods in the ancient Near East. New moon celebrations honored those gods, and in some places those celebrations were performed every month. Among some Canaanites the most important day-the day of the full moon-was dedicated to the moon-god. Supposedly, moon-gods possessed knowledge and shared it with their worshippers. They acted as judges of heaven and earth and were considered the originators of life.

The Lord prohibited the adoration of moon-gods by the Israelites (Deut. 17:3). But He knew that the moon was an impressive astral body and that His people would be tempted to worship it (Deut. 4:19). Accordingly, God instituted the celebration of the new moon in Israel . This was to be a day to worship the Creator of the moon (cf. Gen. 1:16). It would remind the Israelites that God appointed the moon to rule over the night (Ps. 136:9) and mark the seasons (Ps. 104:19), that He established its orderly function (Jer. 31:35), and that God, not the moon, was the judge of the world. When He judges, the moon is inactive and loses its brilliance (Joel 3:12, 15). Besides, the moon was unable to give life to the dead (Jer. 8:1, 2) or to harm God’s servants (Ps. 121:6).

While the moon-gods claimed to control people’s destiny, the celebration of the new moon in Israel reminded God’s people that it was the Lord who blessed, protected, and provided for them. The new moon introduced a new fragment of time followed always by the experience or announcement of a new beginning. It was during a new moon that Noah, after the Flood, saw the tops of the mountains (Gen. 8:5) and dry land (verse 13). The Lord was restoring order to the earth after a cataclysmic event. The Israelites arrived at Sinai on a new moon and became God’s covenant people (Ex. 19:1). The tabernacle was finished on a new moon (Ex. 40:2, 17), thus beginning a priestly ministry that pointed to Christ.

While the moon-gods claimed to be dispensers of knowledge, the God of Israel was the true dispenser of knowledge. That may explain why God gave the prophets revelations during the new moon and why people consulted them. It was during a new moon that the Lord for the first time spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting (Num. 1:1). Ezekiel dated at least four of his revelations from God to the first day of the month (Eze. 26:1; 29:17; 31:1; 32:1; see also Haggai 1:1), all of them prophecies against the enemies of God’s people. The celebration of the new moon served to discourage the worship of the moon-gods among the Israelites.

3. Cultic Role of the New Moon: The primary function of the new moon festival was calendrical, that is to say it was used to set the time for the celebration of Israelite festivals. For instance, Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth of the month (Ex. 12:18) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the fifteenth of the month (the day of the full moon). The Feast of the Trumpets was celebrated on the first day of the seventh month, followed by the Day of  Atonement on the tenth day, and the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth of the same month (Lev. 23:24, 27, 34). The new moon prepared the Israelites spiritually and psychologically for their cultic appointments with the Lord. That seems to be another reason that the Lord instituted its observance.