Celebrating the High Holy Days
Old Covenant Instructions Fulfilled in Jesus and the New Covenant
Shalom in the great name of our Messiah Jesus,
We had an exciting summer of ministry. First of all, we enjoyed celebrating the 70th anniversary of the modern State of Israel with 600 fellow believers from 14 countries who joined us in Jerusalem! We had various Israeli teams lead us in worship each evening after touring all day. Then we listened to some great messages on the topic of Israel’s restoration to the Land. It was wonderful!
Back home, we held another Shalom Brooklyn outreach with dozens of Chosen People Ministries staff and volunteers “hitting the streets” in New York City to talk with Jewish people about the Lord. We especially focused some of our efforts toward reaching very religious Jewish people, and we are continuing to learn how to approach these precious people. We also held two children’s camping programs in the United States (East and West Coast) and a few in Israel, as well.
I was especially blessed by this year’s Living Waters retreat, where we spent a long weekend with 30 Israeli young adults between the ages of 18 and 35. Lawrence Hirsch, our Australian director, taught through the book of First Peter. It is exciting to see this new generation of young Israelis who love the Lord growing in their faith and desire to reach their fellow young Israelis!
The summer was fruitful, but now, along with Jewish people across the globe, we are turning our hearts and minds to the fall festivals of Israel according to the Hebrew calendar. These festivals include the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).
The first holiday we celebrate is Rosh Hashanah, as the Bible instructs in Leviticus 23. The Hebrew name of the holiday, Yom Teruah, literally refers to the sound the trumpet makes.
“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation’” (Leviticus 23:24).
In Jewish tradition, the holiday became known as the New Year and usually refers to the beginning of the civil year for the Jewish people. However, according to the Bible, Passover initiates the new year and is described as the beginning of the “religious year.” You would have to understand thousands of years of Jewish tradition to figure this out!
Allow me to make reference to the book The Fall Feasts of Israel, which I wrote with my wife, Zhava, and which was published by Moody Press. We have included a full explanation in the book of how this tradition developed. You can order the book on the enclosed card or by going online to our Chosen People Ministries store at chosenpeople.com/store.
THE MEANING OF THE TRUMPET
On Rosh Hashanah, trumpets are sounded in synagogues all over the world and the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 is read. This story is called the Akedah, which means “binding” in Hebrew. The blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, reminds us of the ram caught in the thicket, which was sacrificed as a substitute for Isaac.
According to the Jewish sages, the blowing of the shofar and the reading of the Akedah on Rosh Hashanah remind us of the righteousness of our father Abraham and of his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Classical Judaism teaches that forgiveness of sin comes through repentance, merit that is earned by our good works, and obedience to the Law.
Traditional Judaism also reminds us that, if our efforts fall short of pleasing God, we have merit available to us from the overflow and abundance earned by Abraham in this one act of obedience. This makes up for where we are deficient. Therefore in Judaism, the blowing of the shofar and the reading of the Akedah point us to a deeper understanding of God’s mercy and grace and to His forgiveness in spite of our human failure to merit atonement. This teaching of classical Judaism, in a sense, points us to the merit earned on our behalf by Jesus, God’s Son, at the cross.
As the Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
JOHN 3:16 AND GENESIS 22 – A COMPARISON
The story of the binding of Isaac and its themes of mercy, grace, and God’s provision for sin, remind me of a verse in the New Testament well known throughout the ages and found in the Gospel of John: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The comparisons between this text and the story of Isaac are profound and give us insight into the continuity of God’s plan between the Old and New Covenants. They also further unlock the mystery of God’s grace during this holiest season of the Jewish year.
In Genesis 22:2, we are brought into a conversation between God and Abraham. God spoke to Abraham and said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
God calls upon Abraham to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering. He describes Isaac as Abraham’s only son, and Jesus is described the same way in John 3:16. In John 17:24, Jesus acknowledges that He is loved by His Father, “For You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
This is only the beginning of the similarities. We also should note the willingness of Abraham to offer his son. In Genesis 22:1, Abraham says, Hineni, literally, “I am here” and available to do whatever you ask. This was Abraham’s response to God’s calling before he ever knew what would be required of him. This is a striking parallel, as God, the Father of our Messiah Jesus, is also willing to offer His only Son as a sacrifice because He is motivated by His love for us.
There are also many ways in which Isaac points to the “only Son,” Jesus, in John 3:16. Both Jesus and Isaac are children of a promise. The birth of Isaac was predicted in a prophecy in Genesis 15:1-5. Jesus’ birth was also predicted in the prophecies of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6-7. Both Isaac and Jesus were born in miraculous ways. Abraham and Sarah were well past childbearing and Mary was a virgin.
Both Jesus and Isaac were innocent. Though Isaac was not sinless, nor was he an innocent child, he certainly did not deserve to be sacrificed. Jesus WAS sinless and did not deserve to die because of His sins. The prophet Isaiah also predicted this in chapter 53:6-9.
Both Jesus and Isaac were obedient to their father. During the binding of Isaac in verse 9, Isaac did not struggle or wrestle with his father who was an old man by this time. Isaiah prophesied that the Servant—Jesus—would submit to God’s will without struggle (Isaiah 53:7). We see this prophecy fulfilled in Luke 22:39-42 where Jesus says to His Father, “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
It is also curious to see that Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain. “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together” (Genesis 22:6). Isaac carried the means of his own sacrifice to the place where he would be slain. In a similar manner, Jesus carried the cross up the mountain to Calvary, where He would be crucified on the very wood He carried.
There is one further point of comparison between John 3:16 and Genesis 22. The sacrifice of Isaac is a prophetic picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. In Genesis 22:5, Abraham has the other young men, who are accompanying the two of them, remain with the donkey while he and Isaac continue on their journey. Abraham is either revealing the magnitude of his faith or he is in some way trying to trick these other men by implying that he and Isaac would return after whatever he was to do on the mountain was complete.
It is clear to me that Abraham, a man of great faith, believed that, though Isaac would die, somehow he would live as well. God had promised that Isaac would be the father of an entire nation and Abraham believed that God kept His promises. Abraham seemed to believe in the resurrection of Isaac; just one more way Isaac was a type—a prophecy—of His greater son, Yeshua, who would clearly die and rise from the dead. This is what is meant in Hebrews 11:17-19: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac, your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
We might wonder why God would go to such lengths to show us all of this by making such an odd request of an old man to sacrifice his only son. The answer is evident. The Lord was teaching Abraham, and us, that forgiveness of sin doesn’t come through the sacrifice we provide. Only through the sacrifice He provides in His own beloved Son, Yeshua the Messiah, can men and women, Jews and Gentiles, find atonement for their sins. In so many beautiful ways, the story of the binding of Isaac is a prophetic portrait of the true Messiah to come!
I pray that you will have a blessed holiday season. Please remember to pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People as we share the Good News of the Messiah’s death and resurrection during our High Holiday services and outreach efforts during this sacred time.
And we rejoice that, as John wrote, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Jesus perfectly fulfilled this passage and, through faith in Him, we receive the gift of everlasting life, which is our prayer for the Jewish people during this very special season of the year.