Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago. (Micah 7:18-20)
Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” and that’s why it’s often called The Jewish New Year. But it’s not at all like the New Years celebrations we’re used to in the western world. In the first place, it occurs on the first day of the 7th month of the year. When the Jews were in Egypt, the Lord changed the beginning of their year from the fall to the spring. (Exodus 12:1-2) But since Jewish tradition holds that the birth of the world took place in the fall, they kept the New Year observance where it was. So in effect, they are celebrating the world’s birthday on Rosh Hashanah.
The Hebrew name for this day is Yom Teruah, often translated as Feast of Trumpets. This is because over its two day observance, the shofar, a trumpet like instrument made of a ram’s horn, is blown up t0 100 times.
Happiness & Humility
To the Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah combines a time of happiness with a time of great humility. Happiness, because they are celebrating the birth of the world. Great humility because the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah, and ending with Yom Kippur, are a time when each individual is required to take stock of his or her own behavior over the preceding year. These ten days constitute the High Holy Days of Judaism. They are often referred to as the Days of Awe, because their tradition also holds that during these ten days, the Lord decides who will live and who will die in the coming year. So to the Jewish people Rosh Hashanah is a time of great religious significance, second only to Yom Kippur itself.
According to tradition, the Jewish calendar tracks the number of years since the creation. But some believe that in ancient times God didn’t note the passing of time when His people were either out of their land or under the rule of a foreign oppressor due to a judgment He had brought against them. Proponents of this view believe there could be as many as 200 such years between the time the Israelites subdued the land under Joshua and the Romans put an end to the ancient nation.
If they are are correct, it fits nicely with the parallel view that the Age of Man will have a 6000-year duration (six being the number of man). Of course it might be just another of man’s misguided attempts to predict the Lord’s return, and in any case the 6000 year time span is only an approximation. Time will tell.
Irrespective of these speculations, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year Festival that took place this past week, presents a wonderful opportunity to see once again the consistency of Scripture in revealing God’s plan for man.
Throw Away Our Sins
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after spending all morning in the synagogue, observant Jews perform a ceremony called Tashlich, from the root word meaning “to cast away.” It’s based on Micah 7:19, “… and You will hurl (ve-tashlich) all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Every year on this day they go to a flowing body of water, preferably one in which fish dwell, and empty their pockets of breadcrumbs they’ve brought along for the purpose. By tossing the crumbs into the water they symbolically “throw away” their sins. A fish never closes it’s eyes, so it represents the all seeing God who knows all our sins.
After that, they return home to enjoy a festive meal with family where the meal emphasizes sweet tasting foods. This is to symbolize their desire that the coming year will be a good and sweet year. The second day is more of the same with lots of time at the synagogue and more delicious food with family and friends.
As I noted above, Rosh Hashanah begins the 10 Days of Awe culminating in Yom Kippur, their annual Day of Atonement. During these 10 days they attempt to seek forgiveness for all the wrongs they’ve committed in the past year to make themselves right before God. (In Judaism, you have to obtain forgiveness from the person you’ve wronged before you can ask God to forgive you.) It’s an effort to make sure that when the books are closed on Yom Kippur they will be inscribed for another year of life.
Symbolism for Us
As Christians we can make much of the Tashlich ceremony; the breadcrumbs containing yeast symbolic of sin, and the fish who eats the crumbs representing our Lord Who took our sins away.
But to me the most illumination comes from reading the passage on which the tradition is based.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.” (Micah 7:18-20).
This is the most eloquent definition of Grace to be found anywhere in the Old Testament, and along with scores of others written therein portrays our Creator as a compassionate, forgiving, merciful God.
What is this God of the Old Testament versus God of the New? He is the same yesterday today and forever. (Hebr. 13:8) The difference is that the Old Testament looked forward to the cross while the New Testament looks back at it. As Micah clearly states, as soon as the sin problem is addressed He delights to show mercy.
The benefit we have as New Testament believers is that we don’t have to wait up to a year to do this. Anywhere at anytime “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) It’s our Tashlich. Happy New Year.