The Beginning of Your Months: The Biblical Significance of the New Moon
By: Karen Engle, ICEJ Managing Editor
Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. —Genesis 1:14–18
Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the Lord your God. —Numbers 10:10
Most months, as the moon begins to change from its proud, full circle in the night sky to a waning crescent, I start looking for the New Moon on the western horizon, which appears at sunset just a few days later. Sometimes I forget to watch and happen upon it while driving or sitting in my backyard. Many months, I miss it altogether. But when I do see it, it always makes me pause.
Yes, it’s just the moon—but its cycles are more than an astronomical phenomenon. The One who created the moon, sun, and stars did so for a special purpose beyond providing us something beautiful to look at. As I have come to a fuller understanding of God’s feasts—His “appointments” He set with the children of Israel to meet with Him throughout the year—I’ve also come to understand the significance of the moon in Scripture and how profound God’s establishment of its phases are. Each New Moon indicated the start of a new month, but it was also a holy day set apart to mark God’s feasts or “appointed times” and worship Him. Scripture even indicates they have something to do with what’s to come.
The New Moon in the Bible
Our modern calendaring system depends on mathematical calculations and arrangements based on a solar-lunar system. But the biblical system God laid out in the Old Testament was different—and this impacted the timing of the entire Jewish calendar and holiday cycle. It was set from month to month according to the physical appearance of the first sliver of the New Moon. After the children of Israel had entered the promised land, the New Moon was affirmed by two witnesses who began watching for it at the end of each month. Once sighted, the new month was announced in Jerusalem with a long trumpet blast (Psalm 81:1–3) and an official message sent out by signal fires. Villages far from Jerusalem would see the fires and light their own, until all the Jewish communities in the region knew a new month had begun.
The entire Hebrew calendar depended on these declarations, for without them (considering there was no internet or television), no one would know when a new month had begun. It impacted the start of every month and, thus, the start of a new biblical year, which, according to God’s calendar, begins in the spring: “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you” (Exodus 12:1). Later in that same chapter of Exodus, we learn this “first month” would be the month of Passover.
Though modern-day Jewish people celebrate the beginning of the civil new year in the fall with Rosh Hashanah, the biblical start to the new year on God’s calendar, based on the sighting of the moon, was in the spring.
A Holy, Set-Apart Day
The New Moon celebrations were special days called Rosh Chodesh. The Hebrew word rosh means “head” or “beginning.” Chodesh derives from the root Hebrew word chadesh, which means “new,” “to make new,” or “to renew.” Thus, Rosh Chodesh in Hebrew means “head of the month”—or the first day of a new month on the Hebrew calendar.
Once the New Moon was confirmed, celebration followed with singing and dancing, for the first day of every new month was a holy day set apart for sacrifice, worship, and offerings to God:
Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months (rosh chodesh) you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:10)
On every Rosh Chodesh prior to Israel’s exile to Babylon, labor also ceased as an act of trusting God for provision. Back then, New Moon celebrations were superior even to Sabbath days: they were meant to refocus God’s people on Him and His desire for relationship with them and remind them of His faithful character and authority.
Sadly, over time, man’s rules, regulations, and traditions for keeping God’s New Moon celebrations (as well as His feasts and Sabbaths) overshadowed their true meaning. Outwardly the children of Israel honored the first day of each new month and gave their animals for sacrifice, but their hearts had turned cold toward God. Notice the pronoun shift in Isaiah 1:13–14:
Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. (See also Psalm 51:6, 16–17; Hosea 6:6)
Instead of God referring to these special days as His New Moons, Sabbaths, and feasts, He referred to them as your New Moons, Sabbaths, and feasts. For this reason, God said His soul hated what they had become. Indeed, with the destruction of the temple in AD 70, and in alignment with Hosea’s prophecy in 2:11, God stopped not only Israel’s appointed feasts and Sabbaths but “her New Moons” too.
Evidence of the true condition of the children of Israel’s hearts shows in Amos 8:5, where Israel found the New Moon requirements an inconvenience and could not wait for the celebration of the new month to be over so they could return to being their own masters—working to make money and pursuing selfish gain.
Signs and Seasons
The heart condition of the children of Israel toward New Moon celebrations is saddening considering why God created the moon and its cycles to begin with.
Within the story of creation in Genesis 1:14–16 is God’s establishment of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky. And though we enjoy the beauty of that creation as day turns to night, stars begin to poke through the vast, dark sky, and the moon appears, God created these astronomical miracles for more than astronomy or simply giving us light. He created them for timekeeping.
Genesis 1:14 tells us they were to serve as “signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (ESV). At first read, these reasons seem simple enough, but there’s something profound about two words in that verse that reveals a deeper purpose. So let’s unpack them.
The word “seasons” in English is the Hebrew word mo’ed, which means “appointment”—the very word God chose to describe His feasts or special times throughout the year He required His people to meet with Him. The English Standard Version says God set the sun, moon, and stars apart to “mark the seasons” or to “mark” God’s appointed times. His requirements for how to keep His feasts are orderly and precise (see Leviticus 23). However, the exact date they were to be celebrated wasn’t always predictable because each feast date depended on the start of a new month—and thus, when the New Moon was sighted.
The New Moon and God’s establishment of its cycles cannot be underestimated; consider that after Babylonian exile, without knowing the start of a month according to God’s calculations, Israelites still living outside of Jerusalem would not have known when to journey to the temple to appropriately keep the feasts.
A Shadow of What Is to Come
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:16–17 that God’s New Moon celebrations are a shadow of what is to come—they were a practice for future things.
Consider that through the prophet Isaiah, God says: “It shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me” (66:23). Here Isaiah connects the New Moon with future worship.
Ezekiel in his vision about the millennial kingdom connects the East Gate—which Christians know to be the gate Jesus entered at his first coming on Palm Sunday and will enter again at His return—with the New Moon:
Thus says the Lord God: “The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened. … Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the entrance to this gateway before the Lord on the Sabbaths and the New Moons.” (1, 3)
According to Ezekiel, the New Moon festival will be observed during the millennial kingdom, and the inner eastern gate of the temple will play a role in worship on this set-apart day, opening every Sabbath day and every day of the New Moon. On those days, Jews and gentiles alike will gather to worship God.
Finally, Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29 discuss a special New Moon day connected with the only feast that falls on the first day of the month: Yom Teruah (the Day of Trumpet Blowing). This feast carries a bit of mystery with it: in biblical times, since no one knew exactly when the New Moon would be visible, it was impossible to know the exact date Yom Teruah would start. Thus, many associate this feast with two things: the trumpet of God that will accompany Jesus at His return and Jesus’ reminder that “of that day and hour no one knows” (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:36).
What does all this mean? Some things that God established we won’t completely understand this side of heaven, and God’s full intention for the New Moon celebrations are among them. However, knowing the New Moon is connected with the sound of the trumpet, praise, temple offerings, rest, and worship of the King of kings in Jerusalem lets us know that timekeeping associated with the New Moon in the Bible is somehow connected with God’s kingdom in Israel to come.
For now, enjoy looking for the first visible crescent of the moon each month when it appears in the night sky, and be reminded that God is faithful—and He knows exactly what time it is.
New Moon Scriptures in the Bible
Though not exhaustive, the following is a list of passages in the Bible that mention the New Moon.
In the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the Lord your God.
Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.
Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, law of the God of Jacob.
2 CHRONICLES 2:4
Behold, I [Solomon] am building a temple for the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to Him, to burn before Him sweet incense, for the continual showbread, for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, on the New Moons, and on the set feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel.
Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.
EZEKIEL 46:1, 3
Thus says the Lord God: “The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened. … The people of the land shall worship at the entrance to this gateway before the Lord on the Sabbaths and the New Moons.”
I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts.
When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?
Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.