The Jewish Feasts: Part 10, The Days of Awe

©Ron Thompson 2020

As Israel’s hot summer months come to a close, we enter the Fall Feast season. The first two of these Feasts define the most solemn days of the Jewish year, and the final one, the most joyous. The first two are intimately connected: Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets (also known as Rosh Ha-Shanah, Head of the Year, the Jewish secular New Year), on Tishri 1, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement on Tishri 10. These two days and the intervening eight days are called, collectively, the Days of Awe (Heb. Yamim Noraim). The entire 10-day period is devoted to intense personal, individual repentance, prayer and righteous deeds (Heb. T’shuvah, tefilla, and tzedakah) and to acts of reconciliation. Joyous celebrations such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs do not take place during these days.

The “Book(s) of Life” are a concept that most Christian denominations don’t give much attention to, though there are quite a few somewhat obscure scriptures about them. There are mentions in Exodus, 1 Samuel, Daniel, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Hebrews, and of course, Revelation. Plus several Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal books. I won’t go into the Christian theology here, but I must talk about the Jewish, because it is extremely relevant to the Days of Awe.

The Book of Life (or Book of the Living, Heb. Sefer Hayyim) have taken on huge significance in the writings of Rabbi Akiva, and the Jewish Talmud states that,

 “Three books are opened in Heaven on Rosh Ha-Shanah, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are forthwith inscribed in the Book of Life, and the thoroughly wicked in the Book of Death, wile the fate of the intermediate is suspended until the Day of Atonement.”

Most people would certainly have considered themselves among the intermediate, but who really knows, so pretty much everyone must consider themselves as such. Thus, the 10-day span of the Days of Awe are marked by ritual cleansing (immersion), prayer and fasting, intense introspection, acts of repentance and, frankly, fear. But wait; the consequences are so dire for those not written in the Book of Life, that the rabbis very early decided than 10 days was not enough, and the tradition grew of starting a month early, on Elul 1.

©Ron Thompson 1008. On Masada, a typical Jewish baptistry (Heb. mikvah).

So here is what the period looked like: On Elul 1, all Jews went to the most convenient mikvah (ritual baptistery), spring or river for immersion and cleansing from sin, then, for 40 days, the process of virtual self-flagellation would proceed, culminating in the Pilgrim Festival of Yom Kippur, to be covered in Part 12. Of course, all intervening Sabbaths and the Day of Trumpets/Rosh Ha-Shanah Feast were scrupulously observed. At the conclusion of the 40 days, Jews from around Israel and the Diaspora convened at the Temple Mount for the most important Feast of the year.

The Parapet of the Temple, adapted from Rose Guide to the Temple,
© Copyright 2012 Bristol Works, Inc.

Consider now a late summer in AD 29. It is Elul 1, and John the Baptizer is standing by the water near the village of Bethany Beyond the Jordan, not too far from Jericho (Luke 3). He is baptizing devout Jewish men and women from the district, and chastising those simply obeying their legalistic impulses. He raises his head and sees, walking towards him, his cousin Jesus of Nazareth, who some 33 years earlier had caused him to jump in his mother’s womb. Jesus speaks to John, then steps into the water and is baptized, not for His own sin, but in order to conform to the ritual necessities expected of Him, and to receive the blessing given Him by Father and Spirit that day.

Following His baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for the requisite 40 days of prayer and fasting. At the end of this time, on Yom Kippur, Satan appears to Him and tests Him in three ways:

Luke 4:1-12 (CJB)
[4:1] Then Yeshua*, filled with the Ruach HaKodesh* [Holy Spirit], returned from the Yarden* [Jordan] and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness [2] for forty days of testing by the Adversary. During that time he ate nothing, and afterwards he was hungry. [3] The Adversary said to him, “If you are the Son of God, order this stone to become bread.” [4] Yeshua* answered him, “The Tanakh* [Old Testament] says, ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’

[5] The Adversary took him up, showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, [6] and said to him, “I will give you all this power and glory. It has been handed over to me, and I can give it to whomever I choose. [7] So if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” [8] Yeshua* answered him, “The Tanakh* says, ‘Worship ADONAI* your God and serve him only.’”

[9] Then he took him to Yerushalayim*, set him on the highest point of the Temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, jump from here! [10] For the Tanakh* says,

‘He will order his angels
to be responsible for you and to protect you.
[11] They will support you with their hands,
so that you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’”

[12] Yeshua* answered him, “It also says, ‘Do not put ADONAI* your God to the test.’”

The Gospels differ in the order presented, but I think that Luke is most likely chronologically correct by putting Him last on the “highest point of the Temple“, the parapet on the southeastern corner of Solomon’s Porch (see diagram). Yom Kippur being a required Pilgrim Festival, as many as a million people would have been below him in the Temple courts, the Plaza outside, or down in the City of David or its surroundings. Many would have only to raise their eyes to see the drama if Jesus had failed this test.

The Temptation of Jesus does not get the attention it deserves! It is, in my opinion, one of the key events in all of human history.

Jesus, just like Adam, was placed on earth without a sin nature, meaning that they did not have the innate propensity to challenge God’s will. But both were human, and both could be persuaded by temptation. Adam and his mate were tempted by Satan in three ways that we have come to call, The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes, and The Pride of Life. They failed this test and condemned all their descendants to a life of sin. Jesus was tempted in the same fashion and resisted on all counts! He passed all three tests. Had He not done so, we would have no Savior!

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 9, Weeks
Next in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 11, Trumpets

Author: Ron Thompson

Retired President of R. L Thompson Engineering, Inc.

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