In this teaching, Ross begins with the matter-of-fact statement that Moses is dead. According to Scripture, Moses, the great prophet of Israel dies outside of the promised land, which is one of two things called the heritage of the people of Israel. Ross shows that there is yet another thing referred to as the heritage of Israel and then goes on to describe how the two are connected to one another, to a picture of the future, and to the ancient festival of Sukkot.
“On the tenth day of the seventh month is a Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26).” According to the Bible, this tenth day of the seventh month, which begins on the evening of the ninth and lasts until the evening of tenth, shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest on which we should “afflict” ourselves (Leviticus 23:32). This day is considered the most holy day on the ancient Hebrew calendar – a Holy of Holies! But what should we do on this day to set it apart? What does it mean when it says to afflict our souls?
The primary texts that concern this holy day are found in the Torah (Leviticus 16 and Leviticus 23:26-32). Leviticus 16 contains an ancient ceremony performed by Israel’s High Priest. The central theme of the ceremony and of the day is “atonement.” “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the YHVH from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever (Leviticus 16:30-31).”
The word “atonement” is a translation of a Hebrew word (כפר) that occurs 14 times in Leviticus 16 alone. The basic meaning of this word is “to cover.” So this is literally a day of covering. What is it that is being covered on this day? The covering associated with Yom Kippur refers to the sins of the people. The ceremonies that brought about this “covering” involved two identical goats: one that was killed and one that was led away into the wilderness l’azazel (often translated as the “scapegoat”).
The detailed rituals and sacrifices described in the Torah for Yom Kippur were principally carried out by Aaron, but there remains a point that was then, and is now to be performed by all – citizens as well as the alien residing with you (Leviticus 16:29 and Leviticus 23:30) – to “afflict” the soul. The Hebrew here is anah (אנה) and means, “to be bowed down, afflicted” according to Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon. Some translations render this word as “deny yourself.” The word occurs twice in Leviticus 16 and three times in Leviticus 23 (Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:27, 29, 32). This means that this word occurs five times in the two passages that deal with Yom Kippur.
Given this information, a key theme that emerges at this time is “self-denial.” In the Bible, this word is associated with what we would call “fasting.” Examples are found in Ezra 8:21-23 and Psalm 35:11-14.
During this time of year we should be focused on returning to God through repentance. If we are to effect a change in our walk, we must turn to God and His ways with all of our heart and soul. This repentance can include fasting and mourning as we read in several passages, but it is not merely the participation in a fast or in the refraining from certain activities that will put one in right standing with God. The heart has to be right! I would encourage you all to read Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14. A careful reading of this passage indicates that a true fast involves a focus on the needs of others as well as a denial of self. When we learn to place the needs of others above our own needs, we will begin to walk in the ways of righteousness.
Isaiah 57:14 And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” 15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made. 17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. 18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, 19 creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says YHVH, “and I will heal him. 20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. 21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” 58:1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to YHVH? 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of YHVH shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and YHVH will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And YHVH will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. 13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of YHVH honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in YHVH, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of YHVH has spoken.”
Beginning at sundown this evening, traditional Jews begin their fast for Yom Kippur. In whatever way you commemorate the fast, consider well the true meaning of anah. The ceremonial aspects of the day are not currently practiced, but the heart of the matter is still required. Remember that this is an eternal statute! We can still perform the weightier portion of this day. Deny yourself! Afflict your soul! If we return to YHVH, He will return to us. May your sins be forgiven! May they be cast into the depths of the sea! “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before YHVH from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever (Leviticus 16:30-31).”
This paper is a preliminary study of an ancient and long forgotten practice – swearing by the name of YHVH. According to the Hebrew Bible, swearing by the name of YHVH was a common practice in antiquity. Men and women, prophets and kings, swore in the name of Israel’s God as commanded in the Torah of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:13, 10:20). After the close of the biblical period, the practice fell into disuse, but Israel’s prophets, claiming authority from God Himself, intimate that the practice will be restored leading to the redemption of Israel and bringing blessings to all the families of the earth.
Two texts from the Torah’s final book declare that swearing in the name of YHVH is a commandment.
“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 6:13 ESV)
“You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 10:20 ESV)
In these texts we see that swearing by the name is commanded, but the text is less clear as to how one would do it. The Hebrew Bible does provide us with examples of the ancient practice however, and these are instructive for the present study.
“And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.” (1 Samuel 19:6 ESV)
“But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” (1 Samuel 20:3 ESV)
“But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” (1 Samuel 28:10 ESV)
“Then King Zedekiah swore secretly to Jeremiah, “As the LORD lives, who made our souls, I will not put you to death or deliver you into the hand of these men who seek your life.” (Jeremiah 38:16 ESV)
In each of these examples we read that a biblical personality swore, and in the example from First Samuel 28:10 we see that the oath is “by the LORD.” The oath itself is confirmed by the phrase translated into English – “as the LORD lives.” The Hebrew phrase behind this translation is חי יהוה. The meaning in its basic form affirms that the words of the oath are as sure as the fact of existence of Israel’s God – YHVH lives!
The Oath of Kings, Prophets and Commoners
Israel’s kings employed this oath. Saul used it (I Samuel 14:39, 19:6, 28:10), David did as well (I Samuel 20:3, 25:34, 26:10, 2 Samuel 4:9, 12:5, 14:11, 22:47; I Kings 1:29-30; Psalm 18:46); Solomon uttered this oath (I Kings 2:24), as did Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:16). Several of Israel’s prophets (Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah and Hosea) either swore by the name, or made reference to the practice (I Kings 17:1, 18:10, 15, 22:14, 2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6, 3:14, 5:16, 20, Jeremiah 4:2, 5:2, 12:16, 16:14, 15, 23:8, Hosea 4:15, 2 Chronicles 18:13). The practice was not restricted to kings and prophets. Abigail, the wife of the infamous Nabal swore by the name to David (I Samuel 25:26), Achish did likewise (I Samuel 29:6), Ittai the Gittite (2 Samuel 15:21), the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:12), the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:30), and Boaz (Ruth 3:13) all swore by the name YHVH.
Do Not Swear
After the close of the biblical period, perhaps due to various exiles of the people of Israel, the practice fell into disuse. The phrase found so frequently in the Hebrew Bible disappeared from the lips of the people of Israel. According to the “Jewish Encyclopedia,” Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher (25 B.C.E. – 50 C.E.) is quoted as saying, “The bare word of a virtuous man should be like an oath, steadfast, inviolable, and true. Should necessity absolutely require an oath let a man swear by his father and mother instead of by the name of the highest and first Essence.” Jesus and his brother James seemingly discouraged the taking of oaths as a general rule, preferring a simple yes or no (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12). Were it not for a word from Israel’s ancient prophets, one might relegate the swearing by the name of Israel’s God to the biblical period as a matter of antiquated religion.
Learning and Teaching Others to Swear by the Name
In a passage that describes a future restoration of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah gives a prophecy that indicates a resurgence of the practice of swearing by the name of YHVH.
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.” (Jeremiah 16:14–15 ESV)
Here, the oath is mentioned twice: the first time referring to the oath as it was known among the ancients, and once as it will be declared among the latter day children of Israel. In yet another prophetic passage, Jeremiah warns Israel’s neighbors, who in past times taught Israel to swear by their gods to “learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name – as YHVH lives,” or they will be destroyed (Jeremiah 12:14-17)! It is also Jeremiah who gives perhaps the most significant prophecy concerning the restoration of the ancient practice of swearing by the name YHVH.
“If you return, O Israel, declares the LORD, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” (Jeremiah 4:1–2 ESV)
This remarkable word from the prophet Jeremiah ties the reinstatement of the ancient practice of swearing by the name YHVH to the return of latter day Israel and promises that if the practice is done in truth, justice and righteousness, that the nations of the world will bless themselves in him, an obvious allusion to the promises of the Abrahamic plan (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 26:4, 28:14).
Jewish Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11639-oath
In this week’s teaching, Ross covers an important topic. It was delivered on the Sabbath of Return, the Sabbath between Yom Teruah and Yom HaKippurim. The lesson is meant to prepare people for the repentance that is required during this holy season. According to the Biblical narrative, the sins of the people led to what Scripture refers to as the hiding of the face – a term that describes a separation between God and His people. What brought about this hiding of the face? How did the biblical writers describe this hiding of the face? And finally, what leads to the reversal of the hiding of the face?
The Bible refers to this season as the “turn of the year” in Exodus 34:22. It is a time to reflect on our deeds and to turn to God.
There is something quite moving about being in sync with God’s appointed times (moedim). They are listed in Leviticus 23. In the very first verse we learn that these are the “festivals of YHVH.”
The Jewish people have kept these festivals since antiquity and have developed their own rich traditions around each of these. Christians are beginning to see the great value in studying them and incorporating them into their walk often as a way to be more like Jesus (Yeshua). These moedim clearly have meaning for anyone that seeks to adopt the ways of the Creator.
Beginning at sundown this evening, according to the Jewish calendar, we enter the 7th biblical month. The first day of the 7th month is known in the Bible as Yom Teruah, (a day of blasting, shouting), more commonly known as the Feast of Trumpets, and traditionally as Rosh HaShanah (or New Year’s day).
Anciently, the new month was determined based upon the sighting of the new moon (a thin crescent), while the modern Jewish calendar is determined by calculation. The subject of the Hebrew Calendar is a very interesting and hotly debated subject – but one that is quite rewarding. So whether you follow the Jewish calendar or prefer to spot the thin crescent moon in the sky with your own eyes, the time is fast approaching!
An Ancient Sermon delivered on Yom Teruah
The 8th chapter of Nehemiah contains a sermon that was preached on this very day (Yom Teruah) nearly 2,500 years ago! It is there referred to as “a day Holy to YHVH.” The Torah has two main references to this Festival (Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6). The key word for this particular holy day is the Hebrew word Teruah. It is from the root “rua'” which means to “raise a shout” and is often associated with a battle cry or with making a loud noise. The ram’s horn trumpet or shofar is often connected to this day of noise.
See the following passages for other examples of the word – Psalm 47, Psalm 66:1; Psalm 81:2; Psalm 100:1, and Joshua 6:5.
This coming Sabbath is called Shabbat Shuvah – the Sabbath of Repentance. From the 1st day of the 7th month, we enter a 10-day countdown towards Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. I would encourage all of you to examine yourself and seek to make mends. The gates of repentance are always open.
I pray that each of you will meditate on these things as we enter this Holy 7th month. Look for the new moon and when you see it, make some noise!
Shalom as we anxiously await Yom Teruah – the Day of Shouting!
Photo of the crescent moon was taken by my friend Glenn Judah.