by John W. Ritenbaugh
From time to time the question arises whether a Christian should keep, observe, celebrate or mark the new moons. In the Old Testament, their importance to the Old Covenant ritual is clearly stated, and even the New Testament includes one reference to them in the context of religious observance. Their connection to the marking of time and the proper observance of the holy days is evident throughout the Bible. No book, chapter and verse directly annuls them.
So, in following the command to prove all things, let us examine relevant scriptures and see what the Bible leads us to conclude.
Not Holy Time
"New moon" first appears in the Bible in Numbers 29:6:
Besides the burnt offering with its grain offering for the New Moon, the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, as a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD.
It is important to note that there is no command from God to observe them in either Testament. Instead, they are presented as a recognized and ongoing practice to which God adds special sacrifices and offerings. These additions elevate them above an ordinary day, but not to the level of a holy day.
At the beginning of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish; three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull; two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram; and one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with oil, as a grain offering for each lamb, as a burnt offering of sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD.
Their drink offering shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, one-third of a hin for a ram, and one-fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering for each month throughout the months of the year. Also one kid of the goats as a sin offering to the LORD shall be offered, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.
Add to this the command given in Numbers 10:10:
Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the LORD your God.
All these commands given by God—everything that He commands about the new moons—regard specific offerings. All other information from the Scriptures about their observance is implied.
Without question, the Israelites regarded them with a deference not given a common day. Given the Israelite's proclivity either to add or take from what God said, that is not unexpected. But God nowhere—except for the Feast of Trumpets—designates the new moons as holy time.
Adding to God's Commands
He does not command the Israelites to come before Him. He does not tell them to abstain from work, nor does He say they cannot prepare food or buy and sell. Neither does He instruct them to feast. Yet we can clearly infer from Scripture that the Israelites were doing all of these things.
I Samuel 20 tells the story of how David and Jonathan determined whether or not Saul intended to kill David. These events occurred at the time of a new moon, but the context does not show what time of the year it was.
And David said to Jonathan, "Indeed tomorrow is the New Moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king to eat. But let me go, that I may hide in the field until the third day at evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked permission of me that he might run over to Bethlehem, his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family'" (I Samuel 20:5-6).
This shows that feasting on the new moons was not looked upon as something unusual but expected as a matter of social custom. It was not evil nor did God disapprove, but as He had not commanded it, feasting on a new moon was a social custom.
Perhaps feasting on the new moons began with families customarily making an annual sacrifice on one of them, as David mentions his family doing in Bethlehem (verse 6). Again, God nowhere commands Israel to do this. Commentators feel this feast was probably a thank offering on which the family feasted after God's portion was burned on an altar. They chose the new moons for these affairs, since they were not encumbered by the restrictions of God's law as the weekly and annual Sabbaths were.
Amos 8:5-6 gives an interesting insight into how far the Israelites may have gone in adding to God's commands about the new moons. In relation to the rapacious attitudes and practices of the Israelites, Amos charges:
Saying: when will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath that we may trade our wheat? Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the balances by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—even sell the bad wheat?
There is a small chance that the new moon in question is the Feast of Trumpets. But if it is not Trumpets, it sets up an interesting situation: As the Israelites' ruling class wallowed in wealth, it drifted farther and farther from a true worship of God. In practicing some stringent traditions that God had nowhere commanded, they had attached their own ideas to His law!
This strict observance did not at all impress God favorably! Totally out of harmony with God's aim of "justice run[ning] down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24), they missed the intent of God's law entirely! He desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:7).
These verses strongly imply that the Israelites did not conduct business during the new moon, but God never commands such a restrictive practice. Clearly, the day was different from common days because of God's assignment of special offerings. But in their occasional bursts of zeal (Romans 10:1-3), the Israelites apparently believed that if the little God required of them was good, then more would be better!
A Time Marker
In the sense that holy means "different," the new moons are holy. God's addition of sacrifices on the new moons sets them apart as different from common days, thus attention is drawn to them. Why? Because they accurately kept the Israelites aware of the passage of time. They specifically kept them on target for the far more important festivals of Leviticus 23, commanded assemblies at which all Israelite males were to appear before God (Deuteronomy 16:16).
Though the festivals are kept on the same dates each year (except for Pentecost), those dates fall on different days of the week, which must be calculated from a new moon. Passover falls 14 days after the new moon of Abib (Nisan). The Feast of Trumpets falls on the new moon of Tishri. Atonement, Tabernacles and the Last Great Day occur ten, fifteen and twenty-two days later, respectively.
The new moon of Abib (Nisan) begins the sacred year. Tishri, the seventh month, and all the fall festivals arrive six new moons later. Five or six new moons later (depending on whether it is a leap year), Abib begins again along with the spring festivals. Thus the new moons kept the Israelites on track with God's plan and the working out of His purpose.
From Colossians 2:16, the sole reference to a new moon in the New Testament, it appears as though the early church observed them in some way, and they were castigated by their neighbors for doing so. Exactly how they kept them is not clear. Surely they did not observe them as Israel did, that is, with the assigned sacrifices and the blowing of trumpets. Hebrews 5 through 10 make abundantly clear that those sacrifices typify Christ's many-sided work and are no longer required as part of the worship of God.
If it were not for their link to God's festivals, the new moons could almost be taken as an anachronism today. But since the festivals are still to be kept and dating them is tied to the new moons, and in the absence of a direct command to celebrate or convene on them, it seems right to mark them by paying attention to their coming and going, at the very least.
A Tool To Be Used
Any spiritual guideline for us in observing them must be drawn from the fact that God commanded sacrifices on them. As alluded to earlier, Israelites frequently chose to make an annual thank or peace offering to God on the new moons. A portion of this offering was burned on the altar to God, a second portion was given to the priest and his family and then a third portion was returned to the offerer. The offerer's portion provided the Israelite, his family and invited friends with a feast following the solemnity of the offering at the altar.
The thank offering means exactly that: an offering given because the offerer was thankful to God for the mercies and other gifts extended to him. The days of sacrificing are not over—they have just been changed to spiritual ones.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).
One commentator mentions that these two verses form one of three notable definitions of Christian service, along with Romans 12:1-2 and James 1:27, contained in the New Testament. Much could be said about prayerfully expressing our praise and thanks to God. Perhaps, without letting it become a ritual, we could use the new moons as a special time for giving thanks, as the Israelites apparently did. Whatever good God had in mind in requiring them to mark the days with sacrifices, the Israelites let slip because He later told them He hated their new moons (Isaiah 1:14; Amos 8:2-8).
Though definitely not on the level of a festival, the new moons are associated with them much like the preparation day is associated with the weekly Sabbath. The lesser one points to and helps prepare us for the arrival of the greater, more important one. The preparation day, though not commanded, plays an important role in effective Sabbath keeping. Thus, it and the new moons are more like tools than commanded observances, but very important tools that should not be neglected. At the very least, carefully mark their passing. If you establish a custom for keeping them, remember it is your custom, not God's.