Aviv Barley and the Start of the Biblical Year

By: Karen Engle, ICEJ USA Managing Editor 

“This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. … On this day you are going out, in the month Aviv.” —Exodus 12:23

The first month of the biblical year is called Aviv in the Bible (later changed to Nisan while the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon). Deuteronomy 16:1 affirms that in the month of Aviv, Israel was to celebrate Passover because it was in this month that He “brought them out of Egypt by night.” As so many things in the Bible have deeper meaning below the service, the name Aviv does too—so let’s unpack it.

The Importance of Aviv Barley

The word aviv means “in the ear” or “green ears of grain” and refers to the ripeness of the barley crop. The biblical new year did not begin until the first new moon after the barley crop had reached this particular stage of ripeness. It had to be brittle enough that it could be destroyed by hail but not fully ripe—and we know this from the story in Exodus 9:31–32, which mentions a plague of hail that devastated crops at this stage:

“Now the flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear (aviv) and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the emmer [spelt] were not struck down, for they are late in coming up. (ESV)”

The wheat and emmer survived the hail because they were still green and flexible. But the barley was too brittle and was destroyed.

Scripture does not tell us how many months are in a year. The only instruction was that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread had to occur in the same month the sickle was put to the standing barley—the first month of the year. As the twelfth biblical month neared its end and the moon began to wane (around January/February), priests checked the state of barley daily. If it was aviv barley the next new moon would kick off the new year. If it was not aviv, they waited another month and rechecked its state at the end of the thirteenth month.

Why the Ripeness of Barley Mattered

A few weeks after the new year began, priests would pick the firstfruits of the now-ripe barley for a “wave-sheaf” offering to the Lord on the Sunday following Passover (Leviticus 23:10–11). From the day the wave-sheaf offering was made, they were to count off 7 weeks (49 days) and the next day—Shavuot, or Pentecost—bring another new grain offering to the Lord: two loaves of bread made from fine flour.

If the barley was not ripe at just the right time, neither offering could be made. Correctly identifying the barley as aviv barley before starting the new year allowed God’s people to present the grain offerings He required for the Feasts according to His instruction—and timing.