Monday, September 29, 2014

Shadows of the Fall Holy Days

As a child, I liked to make shadow puppets - on the movie projector in my classroom, at a sleepover after being threatened with bodily harm if I didn't stop giggling, wherever. I wasn't very good at it - I never progressed past the basic rabbit or dog. But it was fun anyway. Now that I'm a mother, I sometimes get called into my kids' bedrooms at night to vanquish eerie shadows. It's usually a toy at just the wrong angle in front of the nightlight, or a closet door left ajar.

We get a shadow when an object obstructs a beam of light. The object prevents the light from passing through and hitting a surface on the other side of the object. Looking at shadows can give us limited information about an object - if you see my shadow, you might be able to tell I am female. A good scientist might be able to deduce my height. But there are many things you can't tell - for example, my hair and eye color, let alone my talents or emotions. So shadows may give us some clues about the object casting them, but they give incomplete information. And they can't replace the real thing. If the light is right, I might cast a shadow on the kitchen wall while I cook. But if my family depended on that shadow to make dinner, they'd get pretty hungry.

So far in this series, we've looked at the implications of Colossians 2 and the Holy Days under the New Covenant. We've looked at the book's backstory and context and compared it with the background the Churches of God describe. We've turned to the Greek language and Jewish traditions of the day to fact-check COG claims. So now, with all that background established, we can look at the Holy Days themselves.

Before I go any further, I want to talk to you, reader. If you visit this blog regularly, chances are good that you sense something is off in the COGs and are looking for answers. There probably are times when you don't know what the questions are, or who you would ask. You've tried that with your brethren. They don't have the answers. They don't even understand your concerns. And your minister can't answer them - when he tries, he botches it so badly that you just end up with more questions. Great, no answers. And now you're on his List. So scratch that idea. I'm so sorry, reader. I've been there, and it's not a fun place to be. That's how I stumbled upon As Bereans Did. People here helped me, and now I'm here because I want to pay it forward. You can email me with your questions anytime you want at

Let me assure you, no one here at ABD is judging you, looking at you funny or calling your minister. We have all been in your spot. I'm not trying to ruin your Feast. I know you're sincere, you just have some questions. I know you are trying to obey, trying to please God the best way you know how. I'm writing this series because I - like you - was handed a set of assumptions about the Holy Days. To be blunt, that picture was based largely on speculation, contains a lot of inaccuracies and explains only the shallowest of reasons why mainstream Christians do not celebrate them. But given the assumptions we were handed, what other possible alternatives could there be? This series tries to answer some of those questions that you won't ask. That you won't even think to ask, because they won't occur to you. They certainly never occurred to me. But please remember, through all this, no one here is judging you or your motives.

With all that in mind, let's revisit the verses in question, Colossians 2:16-17:

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

The Greek word for shadow - "skia" means a shadow or a shade, according to Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament. Thayer's Greek Lexicon gives us a little more concrete description - an outline, sketch or image cast by an object and representing the form of that object, as opposed to the object itself.

From a literary standpoint, Paul seems to be contrasting the intangible, murky image of a shadow with the substance, the tangibility, the certainty of Jesus Christ. Or more specifically, of right standing with God by grace through faith in Him. The word "soma" means body, according to Zodhiates. Thayer's simply adds the word "physical" to the definition.

The phrase "things to come" is a word cluster; in Greek it is translated "mello" and generally refers to an event that is at the cusp of occurring.

The COGs probably shouldn't cling too tightly to the idea that "things to come" must refer to events in the distant future when it comes to the Holy Days. Christ's sacrifice and the giving of the Holy Spirit - two things the spring festivals picture - happened long before Colossians was written, yet their definition requires us to classify them as "things to come."

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern explains this phrase to mean,
"'These are a shadow of things which were yet to come,' meaning the good things that happened when Yeshua (Jesus) came the first time but were still in the future when kashrut (dietary laws) and the festivals were commanded." In other words, at the time they were instituted they foreshadowed that something better was coming in the Messiah.

The coming Savior was foreshadowed long before Sinai - the concept is not exclusive to the Sinai Covenant. In Genesis 3:15, God first hinted to Adam that a future descendant would overcome Satan. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants (Genesis 22:18). And God told David that a descendant of his would reign forever (1 Kings 2:45). The shadows in the Sinai Covenant were among several hints that Messiah was coming.

But how on earth could God's Holy Days be incomplete? This idea is almost inconceivable from a COG standpoint, which argues from the assumption that the Holy Days were intended for all time, for all of mankind. Consider another perspective - that of Stern and other Messianic Jews, who believe that God gave Israel the Sinai Covenant "in the context of Israel's peoplehood, and its details reflect what God knew Israel needed in order to grow spiritually" (p. 611). For Gentiles, Stern says, Jewish practices are in most cases nothing more than a shadow, since they do not arise out of their national experience, their heritage or cultural background.

"Therefore to cling to the prophetic shadow is to obscure the spiritual reality of which those things were a prefigurement," according to Expositor's Bible Commentary (Exposition of Colossians 2:17).

(This is probably a good time to remind you that, unless your last name is Levy, Goldman or something similar, your ethnic heritage probably is not Hebrew. At this point, genetic research has refuted British Israelism - the theory that Western Europeans and Americans are ethnically descended from the "Lost 10 Tribes of Israel." In short, you are a Gentile. A Gentile God loves, a Gentile for whom Jesus willingly suffered and died, but a Gentile nonetheless.)

For more information along these lines, please visit:

So why should we care what Messianic Jews have to say about the Holy Days? Because they are in the unique position to both understand what the Holy Days meant to those to whom God gave them and see the how the picture they painted was incomplete. Certainly we need to consider the Hebrew perspective, because the Holy Days were given to Israel. But this perspective isn't enough, since most Jews ultimately missed the signs and rejected Jesus when He came. At the very least, looking through a Messianic Jewish lens may give us a much more accurate picture than that of a 20th century advertising salesman born into a Quaker family.

As we begin, remember that these posts on Colossians 2 are not intended to exhaustively refute Christian celebration of the Holy Days, but to explain how they were shadows intended to point ancient Israel to Christ.

The Feast of Trumpets

To Israel, the Feast of Trumpets was a time for introspection and self-examination, (Getting Tested for Rosh Hashanah, David Brickner, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, September 1, 2004). The eerie sound of the shofar signified a call to repentance and reconciliation with man and God in preparation of the judgment pictured by the Day of Atonement.

The Feast of Trumpets was not associated with any historical or national event, but as a universal and personal celebration, according to Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi (God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 54). It was not observed joyfully, but in a spirit of moral and spiritual introspection, "as befits a plaintiff coming before the Supreme Judge and Ruler of the Universe, appealing for his life."

Ancient Israel had three types of trumpet calls that communicated different messages. The one connected to the Feast of Trumpets was an alarm, says Joshua Moss (Hearing the Sound of the Shofar, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, September 1993). The holiday could literally be translated "the Day of Alarm," Moss says, which better communicates its intent.

Shorter shofar blasts sounded each month at the New Moon anticipated the Feast of Trumpets and reminded the hearer that a call to repentance was coming (figuratively and literally, since this festival was held on the first day of the seventh month), according to Bacchiocchi (p. 56).

Why should Israel be called to alarm at the end of the summer harvest, when barns were full of grain and storehouses full of fruit? Remember Deuteronomy 8, which warns Israel not to forget God when their stomachs and their storehouses were full, Moss explains. God predicted that Israel would become prideful in good times and forget how He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and would be destroyed because of it. The trumpet blast called individual Israelites to assess their spiritual state and repent before the day of reckoning, pictured by the Day of Atonement.

During this period, Jews picture themselves on trial before God, with their life placed on the balance scales, according to Rabbi Irvin Greenberg (as quoted in God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 60).

"A thorough assessment is made: Is my life contributing to the balance of life? Or does the net effect of my actions tilt the scale toward death?" Greenberg writes. "My life is being weighed; I am on trial for my life. Who shall live and who shall die?".

Incomplete without a Messiah, the Hebrew Feast of Trumpets leaves questions gnawing at even the most repentant, humble man, according to Carolyne Rohrig (The Ultimate Guide to Rosh Hashanah, Jews for Jesus Blog, September 25, 2013). How do we know if we've recognized every sin we've committed? When do we know if we've repented enough? If we've been good enough? And if we fall short on either account, are our names are blotted out of the Book of Life?

"God provided a substitute, His Son Jesus who atoned for our sins by His death on the cross," Rohrig writes. "The gnawing doubt is gone. The only 'enough' that God requires is to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) because He's done it all!".

The Feast of Trumpets reminded Israel of their sins against God, their broken promises to their neighbors and their failure to lead a godly life. They repented for 10 days in preparation for the Day of Atonement. But even God's acceptance of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was not totally certain. Tradition holds that the high priest wore a rope so his body could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies in case God found his sacrifice unworthy and struck him dead. Now what? Are the sins of the nation forgiven? The checklist obedience system from Sinai meant that if you left a box unchecked, you could be at risk for eternal punishment. Only complete forgiveness through faith in Jesus can answer the gnawing questions the Feast of Trumpets left unanswered.

Like the COGs, some Messianic Jews believe the Feast of Trumpets may tie in with the return of Christ. While this theory makes sense, it is speculative, and we must be careful not to allow speculative prophecy to override the clearer instruction that tenets of the Sinai Covenant were not to be imposed upon Gentiles (see Acts 15:7-29 and Galatians 4:21-31, for examples of this instruction). Regardless, for Messianic Jews, the central theme of Rosh Hashanah is fulfilled in Christ's sacrifice.

"For us Jewish believers in Y'shua the kavanah, or central theme upon hearing the shofar, is joy in the knowledge that we have already allowed the seriousness of our sins to alarm us; we have heard and received the good news—that God has atoned for sin, and that He delivers us from calamity through the sacrifice of our righteous Messiah," Moss writes.

Now looking for a refresher on the COG's Feast of Trumpets? Look here and here.

The Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement is inextricably connected with sacrifice for sin. Jews fasted to demonstrate their godly sorrow for their sins, according to Bacchiocchi, hoping a repentant attitude on earth would influence the outcome of their heavenly judgment. This most solemn day of the year was the only one on which the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. One goat was sacrificed for the nations's sins and its blood was then sprinkled on the mercy seat. Substitutionary death for sin was familiar to Israel under the Sinai Covenant. Contrition alone did not forgive sin. A blood sacrifice was required.

The symbolism of the second goat - the Azazel - is still debated today. Some believe the goat was a symbol of Christ - the sins of the nation confessed over his head, then lead outside the city (Hebrews 13:12). Others believe the goat was an encouraging symbol of Psalm 103:12 - a reminder that God removed repented, forgiven transgressions from the sinner, as far away as East is from the West. Still others use scriptural clues as well as etymological and extrabiblical resources from the period to conclude the goat represented Satan. Regardless, the Azazel goat was an interesting symbol, but it has no bearing on the real problem with the Day of Atonement - the weakness of the mediator.

The Day of Atonement was incomplete because it lacked a perfect mediator - an individual who stands between two estranged parties and seeks to reconcile them, says Efraim Goldstein (The Role of Mediator, Jews for Jesus, Issues, Vol. 5, No. 2). It was the role of the High Priest to do so, but even his sin could be a barrier. Before he could enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest was required to sacrifice a bull as an offering for his own sin (Leviticus 16:6). If God did not accept his sacrifice, he would be smitten. Tradition has it that the High Priest wore a rope around his waist so that he could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him down. This practice shows just how uncertain righteousness obtained through man's actions really is. If our forgiveness depends on the efforts of a flawed human - either mediator or sinner - the outcome is uncertain at best.

Bacchiocchi lauds the Hebrew Day of Atonement as superior to other religious atonements because it set aside one day each year "for the people to experience freedom from the crushing isolation of guilt and a new reconciliation with God" (p 134). To Bacchiocchi I say, great, what about the other 364 days? Spending the majority of the year crushed under guilt and isolation is a good indication that something might be missing.

Observing the Day of Atonement differentiated between genuine and false believers, Bacchiocchi explained (p. 156). Genuine believers who repented throughout the year, brought appropriate sin offerings and celebrated the day the proscribed way were pronounced clean. But false believers who failed to do these things were not pronounced clean. Which leads one to wonder - just how righteous did the believer have to be in order to be pronounced clean? How many sins could he forget to repent of? How many offerings could he miss, even accidentally, before he became a false believer?

These kind of uncertainties haunted Louis Goldberg for much of his adolescence and early adult life. His synagogue teachers answered the young Jewish man's questions from the Old Testament, but he was still plagued by doubt (A Jewish Believer and the Atonement, Jews for Jesus, Issues). Did God really hear his prayers? And was simply repenting even sufficient? The Sinai Covenant required a blood sacrifice for sins. But there was no blood in his synagogue's modern celebration. What real assurance did he have that his sins had been forgiven?

Goldberg's honest concerns have merit, in my opinion. The Day of Atonement was part of the Sinai Covenant, which was a package deal, according to James 2:10. It was all or nothing. You can't alter Leviticus 16 to fit your wants, needs or culture. That goes for both Jews and the Churches of God. If you can't carry it out today as prescribed, maybe there's a problem. Bacchiocchi himself recognizes this problem, yet fails to carry the thought through to its logical conclusion.

"When the hope of obtaining forgiveness and atonement through the sacrificial system was shattered by the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the Jewish leadership was faced with a crisis they had not encountered since the Babylonian captivity," he writes (p. 161). "Without a temple, without an altar, without sacrifices, how could the Day of Atonement, the most crucial day in the Jewish consciousness, continue to be observed?".

Instead of considering that perhaps the festival's purpose had been fulfilled, Bacchiocchi commends the Jews for their creativity in reshaping the holiday. To me, Hebrews 8:13 comes to mind: "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The festivals had become obsolete in Christ's sacrifice, and their practice in the scripturally-mandated way would vanish after the Temple was destroyed. Bacchiocchi described the Jews' efforts to adapt the festivals as noble, but could they just as easily be considered futile?

Goldberg vascillated between agnosticism and practicing Jewish rituals for years, but his questions about the adequacy of the rituals remained. An outspoken Christian co-worker forced him to confront his questions by challenging him to read the New Testament. He was surprised to find that the picture of Jesus' atoning sacrifice Paul's words painted was based on what Moses already taught.
"This is an atonement by which we know that our sins have been forgiven. It is a redemption by which we have the assurance that our names are recorded in the Book of Life, not for just one more year, but for all eternity. My study led me to these conclusions. The forgiveness of sins that I had begun to seek as a child was accomplished through Y'shua (Jesus)," he writes.

The Day of Atonement, as celebrated by Israel, was a shadow of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. But the need for annual sacrifices each Yom Kippur ended; finding their fulfillment in Jesus - the perfect mediator, sacrifice and high priest. As God and man, Jesus was able to span the chasm that sin created. He was the goat sacrificed, His blood offered for mercy, for forgiveness of the sins of the people. Believers can rejoice in the knowledge that they have been forgiven, not just for a day, but forever, through the shed blood of the Messiah.

A COG perspective on the Day of Atonement can be found here.

In my next post, we'll take a look at the Messianic Jewish understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles, and consider scriptures that discuss the Holy Days in the apostolic age as well as after Christ's return.

------- Other posts in this series -------
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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

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