Most people have heard by now – there will be a total eclipse of the sun visible in the United States on August 21. Where I live it will not quite be a total eclipse; about 90% of the sun will be covered around 2:30 in the afternoon. I’ve secured some of those special ISO 12312-2 compliant filter glasses and I plan to watch.
Some articles I’ve read refer to this as a “once-in-a-lifetime event.” Actually, it isn’t. According to space.com, about once every 18 months a total solar eclipse is visible somewhere on the earth. In fact, another one will be visible in the United States on April 8, 2024, and for this one my home – if I am still here – is in the center of the path for 100% coverage. So I guess after the one this month I should put my special filter glasses back so that I can use them again in a little less than seven years.
Several of the articles I read seemed to suggest some prophetic significance to this upcoming eclipse. When they are suggesting this one either is described in Scripture or is the definite precursor to some other event described in the Bible, I have to say – nonsense. As I mentioned earlier, these are common.
Those “Prophetic” Blood Moons
Remember all the talk of “Blood Moons” a few years ago? The blood moon, or total eclipse of the moon, is also a very common occurrence. These were special, though – a “tetrad,” or four total eclipses in a row without any partial eclipses in between. And of course all four were displayed in the heavens at the beginning of Biblical festivals. But here’s the thing, blood moon “tetrads” have happened throughout history, and when they do, they are always exactly six months apart. A lunar eclipse also only happens at the full moon. So, if one of them happens to fall at the beginning of either the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Feast of Tabernacles, which always starts at the full moon, then all four of them will. It just happens naturally.
These aren’t supernatural signs. They are natural, expected and predictable. A supernatural sign might be four “Blood Moons” in four consecutive months – something unnatural, unexpected and not predictable. Or better yet, four “Blood Moons” on four consecutive Sabbaths. That is something naturally impossible – something “supernatural,” like the sun standing still in the sky for a full day (Joshua 10:12-13), or a shadow going backwards ten steps (2 Kings 20:9-11).
So am I suggesting we don’t concern ourselves with these things or that there is no spiritual significance? Certainly not. The Torah tells us these heavenly bodies are “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14).
This eclipse of the sun is a natural event, occurring when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, causing the moon to fully or partially block the sun. Thus, it can only happen during the conjunction or astronomical new moon. The astronomical new moon occurs about every 29-1/2 days (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, 2.9 seconds) though the only time we “see” it is during a solar eclipse. A day or two after the astronomical new moon, we can see the first sliver of the visible new moon. About a week later, we can see a half moon, known as the “first quarter” because the moon is 1/4 of the way through its cycle. In another week, we can see the full moon, then about a week later another half-moon known as the third quarter. Finally, the moon disappears from the sky.
Biblical Reckoning of Time
What I have just described is the Biblical month (חדשׁ, chodesh, Strong’s Hebrew word #2320 – the new moon, month, the lunar month). A month is one complete cycle of the moon, and does not have any relationship at all to the months of our modern Gregorian calendar. In fact, almost nothing on our modern calendar corresponds to the Biblical calendar – the exception is the seven day weekly cycle ending on the Biblical Sabbath. From a Biblical perspective, the year does not begin on January 1 and there are not twelve months of 30 or 31 days that begin and end at midnight. Although there is some debate on the fine points, our Creator’s Biblical calendar is pretty simple: The day is determined by the rising and setting of the sun (Genesis 1:1-31). The month is determined by the cycle of the moon (Isaiah 66:23). And the year is determined by the seasons beginning in the spring when the new grain appears (Exodus 12:2).
We, as followers of the Messiah, need to set our minds on God’s calendar. Do you know where we are on the Biblical calendar? Certainly we must be aware of Gregorian dates, as in our modern society our school and business schedules, financial transactions, and a host of other things rely on that date reckoning.
But what month is it, and what day is it within that month? What significant days are approaching, and how far away are they? If you answered (at the time I am writing this) that it is the 13th day of August, that the Feast of Trumpets is coming up on September 21, the Day of Atonement is on September 30 and the Feast of Tabernacles will begin on October 4, you are not thinking Biblically.
Today (I am writing this on August 13, 2017) is the 20th (or 21st) day of the Biblical month, and we are about to end the third week – if you look at the moon the next few evenings, you will see a half-moon indicating the third quarter. We are in the fifth month of the year that began in the Spring. Yom Teruah (the Feast of Trumpets, commonly called Rosh Hashanah) is the first day of the Seventh month, a little over a month and a week away. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is on the 10th of the seventh month, and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) begins on the 15th of that month. And remember, these days begin with the night before the daylight portion.
So How Do I Keep Track?
You can find these dates on a “Jewish” calendar, which is usually superimposed over a regular Gregorian calendar. So you will see the month of “August” along with the month names “Av-Elul,” traditional names of the fifth and sixth Biblical months. The printed page probably starts with August 1/9 Av and ends with August 31/9 Elul. This does not really help much for changing our thinking to the Biblical calendar. We need a calendar page that starts with the first day of the Biblical month and ends with the last day of the Biblical month, regardless of the Gregorian date. Those are hard to find.
Some time back, my wife bought for me one of those perpetual wall calendars where you use sliding wooden blocks to reflect the correct days. At the beginning of each Biblical month, I put them in order for that particular month. Then I put a little paper marker in the tray in front of the blocks and count off each day as it passes. You could easily do something similar with a dry-erase calendar.
However you choose to do it, I want to encourage you to begin to think about time using God’s calendar. When you observe the solar eclipse later this month, realize this conjunction is the astronomical new moon, and prepare to look for the first sliver of the new moon over the next few evenings. This will be the beginning of the sixth Biblical month, traditionally called Elul. It is a very special time of preparation. In one month, it will be the beginning of the Fall Feasts, starting with Yom Teruah. Ten days later, or about 40 days from this new moon, it will be Yom Kippur. These 40 days are traditionally a time of introspection and repentance ending on Yom Kippur. Then we will rejoice at Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, under the light of the full moon. When we think in terms of the Biblical months, these commanded celebrations become even more alive.
*The exact dates I have mentioned are sometimes a matter of disagreement, and my descriptions reflect that the moon orbits the earth, which orbits the sun. It is OK if you do not agree, and this should not cause division. The concept of the revolution of years, months, and days is Biblically founded, as is the continual 7-day weekly cycle ending on the Sabbath.