by John P. Pratt
Meridian Magazine (17 Sep 1999).
©1999 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.
The Lord revealed a calendar to Moses, which has become the Hebrew Calendar, on which many sacred events occurred on holy days, such as the birth and resurrection of the Savior. Many events of the restoration of the Lord's church in these latter-days also have occurred on Hebrew holy days.
Why did the angel Moroni make a point of meeting the Prophet Joseph Smith at precisely one year intervals in order to deliver the plates from which the Book of Mormon would be translated? Just how important are precise dates in the Lord's work? Several revelations have been given which imply that the timing of many of the key events of religious history has been precisely planned. For example, the timing of many events of the Savior's life had been foreshadowed by precisely timed symbolic rituals on the Hebrew calendar.
When the Lord revealed to Moses the law designed to prepare Israel to receive the Savior, he also prescribed in detail certain holidays (holy days) and rituals/ordinances which Christians now know symbolized the life, mission, and teachings of Jesus Christ. Those ordinances were to be performed on very specific days on a lunisolar calendar, similar to today's Hebrew calendar. "Lunisolar" (Luni = moon, solar = sun) means that the months begin with the new moon, and that the years are aligned with the seasons of the sun. As an example of symbolic ordinances, every year at the full moon of spring, the Passover lamb would be sacrificed. Long after the Lord commanded Moses to hold Passover every spring, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed at the very same time as were many of the Passover lambs. Thus, the calendar included more than symbolic representations; it also included the precise timing of the events symbolized.
It would be easy to assume that the Hebrew calendar is no longer important for Christians because it kept track of rites and events long since fulfilled. After all, the Savior came and fulfilled every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses. The Savior's mission, however, is not yet finished and His gospel and church are still rolling forth. Let us now look at some evidence that the Hebrew calendar is still tracking dates significant to the gospel plan.
There are two great festival seasons on the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew civil year begins and ends in the fall, with the midpoint of the year being in the spring. The spring festival of Passover at the meridian of the year apparently symbolizes the first coming of Christ at the meridian of time. The larger celebration in the fall apparently symbolizes events pertaining to the Second Coming at the end of time. In other words, the Hebrew year is like a miniature of the history of the world: The opening events in the fall are related to Adam and Eve and the beginning of history, the mid-year events symbolize the Savior's first coming, and the fall events have the double symbolism of also representing latter-day events and the second coming of Christ in the last days. The Lord has told us of this symbolism and that he thinks of all history as modeled by a single year. For example, referring to all the combined weeks, months and years of the planets, he states, "All these are one year with God, but not with man" (D&C 88:44).
Israelites were commanded to have "holy convocations" at Passover in the spring and at the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall in Jerusalem. Today, these meetings correspond in seasonal timing to the spring and fall conferences of the L.D.S. church at the "tabernacle" on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Let us now consider the Hebrew holy days of the fall: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The fall festival season opened with the Feast of Trumpets on the Fall New Year's Day (Rosh Hashanah) on 1 Tishri, being the 1st day of the 7th month (Lev. 23:24). Note that there are two New Year's Days on the Hebrew Calendar, the other one being the first day of the first month (Nisan) in the spring. Trumpets were sounded on that feast day, heralding the Judgment Day of God, and calling all to repent of sins and prepare to be reconciled to God. It is also believed to have been the day on which Adam and Eve were judged before being cast out of the Garden of Eden. It begins a ten-day period culminating with the Day of Atonement on 10 Tishri (Yom Kippur), which is the holiest day of the Hebrew year, a day of fasting and of reconciliation with God. The season culminated with the 8-day Feast of Tabernacles, from 15-22 Tishri. Both the first and last day of that feast were designated to be holy days on the Hebrew calendar. The first day is often called simply "Tabernacles" and the last day has been called the "Great Day of the Feast" (John 7:37).
What is the symbolism of the fall feasts? They can be thought of both as occurring at the first of the year (starting with New Year's Day), but also the Lord explicitly refers to them as also to be considered to come at the end of the year (Ex. 34:22), perhaps because with the Lord the first is the last and the last is the first (DC 29:30). Another name for the feast of Tabernacles is the Feast of Ingatherings, when the final harvest is gathered in at the end of the year (Ex. 23:16).
Several Christian commentators have identified these three holy days as symbolic of three key events in the history of mankind. The Feast of Trumpets seems to correspond to the voice of warning and call to repentance given to the inhabitants of the earth to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. LDS interpreters have recognized this as tied to the Restoration of the Church, where the gospel is being preached as with the sound of a trump to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, declaring that the hour of his judgment is come (Rev. 14:6-7). There is some evidence that anciently the Feast of Trumpets was celebrated by seven priests each blowing a trumpet in succession. That certainly is reminiscent of the seven angels who will each sound the trumpet in the last days (Rev. 8:6, D&C 88:92-110), preparatory to the second coming of the Savior. The Day of Atonement is usually identified as representing the Second Coming of the Savior, and the Feast of Tabernacles as representing his Millennial reign.
Each of these feasts, however, can have multiple meanings and fulfillments. For example, consider the Feast of Trumpets. There are several times when the seven angels each give a blast on his trump. There are seven plagues (Rev. 8:7 - 11:15), there are the seven trumps which begin the resurrection followed by the Second Coming (D&C 88:94-106), and then the seven trumps when the secret acts during each 1000-year seal will be revealed (D&C 88:108-110). Before these fulfillments, the angels also sound their trumps saying, "Prepare ye, prepare ye, O inhabitants of the earth; for the judgment of our God is come" (D&C 88:92)
Most of the angels give only a short blast on the trump, but one of the blasts is designated to be "loud and long," which is the blast at the resurrection of the just which precedes the Second Coming (D&C 29:13, 43:18, 88:94). But those key identifying words "loud and long" are also used in the preaching of the gospel: "lift up your voice as with the sound of a trump, both long and loud, and cry repentance unto a crooked and perverse generation, preparing the way of the Lord for his second coming" (D&C 34:6, see also D&C 124:75). If we study the symbolism of the Hebrew feasts, we could recognize many of the key words the Lord gives us such as "long and loud" that we might otherwise overlook.
Similarly, the Feast of Tabernacles, while probably symbolic of the Marriage of the Lamb and events after the Second Coming, may also tie to preparatory events, such as the gathering of Israel. The Lord has told us repeatedly that "the field is white, already to harvest" (D&C 4:4, 33:3), and the Feast of Ingatherings is the feast of the harvest. It is, however, the feast at the completion of the harvest, which will not be completed for some time.
Thus, of the Hebrew fall holy days, the principal one that we can say has definitely already had at least a first fulfillment would be the Feast of Trumpets, because we are already preaching the gospel as with the sound of a trump, and the Lord has declared that the angel with the everlasting gospel has already returned (D&C 133:36; 88:103; compare Rev. 14:6).
The angel Moroni, who is depicted sounding the trump atop our temples the world over, delivered the sacred plates to the Prophet Joseph Smith on Saturday, 22 September 1827, the very day of the Hebrew Feast of Trumpets that year. In fact, it was a realignment of that feast with the mean autumn equinox, which falls on 22 Sep each year. The precise moment of the equinox usually falls on either 22 or 23 September, but 22 Sep can be considered as an average value. So when the angel Moroni told the Prophet Joseph to meet every year on the same date, each of those dates fell on that day of the mean autumn equinox, when days and nights are of equal length. But on the day on which the plates were delivered to the Prophet, that equinox realigned also with the Feast of Trumpets.
This year the Feast of Trumpets occurs on Saturday, 11 Sep 1999, the Day of Atonement is on Monday 20 Sep 1999 (with the fast beginning on the evening before), and the Feast of Tabernacles from Saturday, 25 Sep through Saturday, 2 Oct 1999. Thus, the Saturday session of LDS conference will occur on the Great Day of the Feast. Conference often coincides with one of these holy days because they are both always timed to occur at this season of the year. Hopefully, understanding the symbolism of the Hebrew festivals will help us to appreciate the Lord's calendar and the importance of the timing of many of history's religious events.