The meaning of Astronomy, I in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
I. THE HEAVENLY BODIES
1. The Ordinances of Heaven
2. The Sun
(1) The Names for the Sun
(2) The "City of the Sun"
(3) The Greater Light-Giver
(4) The Purpose of the Sun
(5) The Sun as a Type
3. The Moon
(1) The Names for the Moon
(2) The Lesser Light-Giver
(3) Phases of the Moon
(1) Solar and Lunar Eclipses
(2) The Wings of the Morning
(1) The Meaning of the Word
(2) Natural Seasons for Worship
(3) The Hallowing of the Seventh
(4) The Jubilee a Luni-solar Cycle
(5) The 19-Year Luni-solar Cycle
(6) The Jewish Ritual Preexilic
(7) The Luni-solar Cycles of Daniel
6. The Stars
(1) Their Number
(2) Their Distance
(3) Their Brightness
7. Morning Stars
The Stars as a Dial
8. Falling Stars
(2) The Star "Wormwood"
9. Wandering Stars
(1) Comets as a Spiritual Type
(2) Comets Referred to in Scripture?
II. THE CONSTELLATIONS
1. Nachash, the "Crooked Serpent"
3. The Seed of the Woman
4. The Bow Set in the Cloud
5. The Dragon of Eclipse
6. Joseph's Dream
7. The Standards of the Tribes
8. The Cherubim
9. Balaam's Prophecy
12. Mazzaroth, the Constellations of the Zodiac
(1) The "Scatterers," or the North
(2) The Ordinances of Heaven Established on the Earth
14. The Date of the Book of Job
1. The Circle of the Earth
(1) The Earth a Sphere
(2) The North Stretched out over Empty Space
(3) The Corners of the Earth
2. The Pillars of the Earth
3. The Firmament
(1) The Hebrew Conception
(2) The Alexandrian Conception
4. The Windows of Heaven
7. The Deep
(1) Meaning of the Word
(2) The Babylonian Dragon of Chaos
The keynote of the Hebrew writers respecting the heavenly bodies is sounded in Psa. 8:
"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him but little lower than God,
And crownest him with glory and honor.
Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
Thou hast put all things under his feet" (Psalms 8:3-6).
The heavenly bodies were inexpressibly glorious, and they were all the handiwork of Yahweh—without power or vitality of their own—and man, not by any inherent virtue, but by the will and grace of God, was superior to them in importance. Thus there was a great gulf fixed between the superstitions of the heathen who worshipped the sun, moon and stars as gods, and the faith of the pious Hebrew who regarded them as things made and moved by the will of one only God. And it followed from this difference that the Hebrew, beyond all nations of like antiquity, was filled with a keen delight in natural objects and phenomena, and was attentively observant of them.
I. The Heavenly Bodies.
1. The Ordinances of Heaven:
To the sacred writers, the ordinances of heaven taught the lesson of Order—great, magnificent and immutable. Day by day, the sun rose in the east, "as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber" (Psalms 19:5), and pursued unswervingly his appointed path across the sky, to his going down. Night by night, the stars, the "host of heaven," moved in their "highways" or "courses" (mecillah), and the words of Joel (Joel 2:7) respecting the Assyrian army might be applied to them. "They march every one on his ways, and they break not their ranks. Neither doth one thrust another; they march every one in his path." Some wheeled in northern circuits that were wholly seen; some swept in long courses from their rising in the East to their setting in the West; some scarcely lifted themselves above the southern horizon. Little wonder that this celestial army on the march, "the host of heaven," suggested to the Hebrews a comparison with the "angels," the unseen messengers of God who in their "thousands of thousands ministered unto him" (Daniel 7:10).
But, as the year revolved, the dial of stars in the North shifted round; whilst of the other stars, those in the West disappeared into the light of the setting sun, and new stars seemed to spring out of the dawning light. There was thus a yearly procession of the stars as well as a nightly one.
And to this "ordinance of the heaven" the Hebrews noted that there was an answer from the earth, for in unfailing correspondence came the succession of seasons, the revival of vegetation, the ripening of harvest and of fruits, the return of winter's cold. Of them God asked the question: "Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the earth?" (Job 38:33), and they recognized that to this question no answer could be given, for these ordinances of heaven were the sign and evidence of Almighty wisdom, power and unchangeableness. "Thus saith Yahweh, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night .... Yahweh of hosts is his name" (Jeremiah 31:35).
We have no writings of the early Hebrews other than the books of the Old Testament, and in them there is no record of any research into the mechanical explanation of the movements of the heavenly bodies. Nor should we expect to find in them a record of the research if such were made, since the purpose of Holy Scripture was, not to work out the relation of thing to thing—the inquiry to which modern science is devoted—but to reveal God to man. Therefore the lesson which is drawn from the observed ordinances of heaven is, not that the earth rotates on its axis or revolves round the sun, but that God is faithful to His purpose for mankind. "Thus saith Yahweh: If my covenant of day and night stand not, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David my servant" (Jeremiah 33:25-26). And "the glory of God" which "the heavens declare" is not only His almighty power, but the image which the order and perfection of the heavenly movements supply of the law which He has revealed unto man. The "speech" that they "utter," the "knowledge" that they "show" is: "The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the soul" (Psalms 19:7).
2. The Sun:
(1) The Names for the Sun.
Four words are translated "sun" in the Old Testament:
(a) Or simply means "light" and is usually rendered thus, but in one instance (Job 31:26), being in antithesis to "moon," it is given as "sun," the great light-giver.
(b) Chammah means "heat" and is used for the sun when this is in association with lebhanah or "snow-white" for the moon, as in Isaiah 24:23, 'Then the snow-white (moon) shall be confounded, and the heat (sun) ashamed,' the antithesis being drawn between the cold light of the silver moon and the fiery radiance, of the glowing sun.
(c) Shemesh, the Samas of the Babylonians, is a primitive word, probably with the root meaning of "ministrant." This is the word most frequently used for the sun, and we find it used topographically as, for instance, in Beth-shemesh, "the house of the sun." Four places of this name are mentioned in the Old Testament: one in Judah, a Levitical city, to which the two milch kine bearing the ark took their straight way from the country of the Philistines; one on the border of Issachar; one in Naphtali, a fenced city; and one in Egypt, supposed to be the same as Heliopolis or On, the city of Asenath, wife of Joseph.
(d) Cherec means "blister" or "burning heat," from a root "to scratch" or "be rough," and is an unusual term for the sun, and its precise rendering is sometimes in doubt. Once it is translated as "itch," when it occurs amongst the evils threatened in the "cursings" that the six tribes uttered from Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 28:27). Once it is certainly used of the sun itself when Job (Job 9:7) said of God, He "commandeth the sun (cherec or cheres), and it riseth not." Once it is certainly the name of a hill, for Mount Heres was near Aijalon, on the borders of Judah and Dan. In another passage, authorities differ in their rendering, for when Gideon overcame Zebah and Zalmunna (Judges 8:13), he "returned from the battle," according to the King James Version, "before the sun was up," but according to the Revised Version (British and American), "from the ascent of Heres." In yet another passage (Judges 14:18), when the Philistines answered Samson's riddle, both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) translation cherec as sun—"before the sun went down." We moreover get slight variants of the same word, joined with qir ("wall" or "fortress"), in Qir-Chareseth (II Kings 3:25; Isaiah 16:7) and Qir-Cheres (Isaiah 16:11; Jeremiah 48:31, Jeremiah 48:36). These are probably to be identified with the modern Kerak of Moab.
(2) The "City of the Sun".
But the most interesting reference is found in Isaiah 19:18 : "In that day there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan, and swear to Yahweh of hosts; one shall be called The city of destruction." The word here rendered "destruction" is in Hebrew herec, which has that meaning, but Gesenius and other authorities would substitute for the initial letter, he, the letter, cheth, which it so closely resembles, and so read it "The city of the sun." With this reading it was identified with On, that is, Heliopolis (the city of the sun), and on this belief Onias, the son of Onias the high priest, persuaded Ptolemy Philometor to allow him to build a temple to Yahweh in that prefecture, 149 BC (Ant., XIII, iii, 1).
(3) The Greater Light-Giver.
(e) Yet a fifth expression is used to denote the sun, and in one respect it is the most important and significant of all. In the creation narrative it is called the greater light or rather light-giver (ma'or): 'And God made the two great light-givers; the greater light-giver to rule the day, and the lesser light-giver to rule the night: He made the stars also' (Genesis 1:16). The extreme simplicity of this passage is most significant. In marked contrast to the Bah creation poem, which by its more complex astronomy reveals its later origin (see post, section II, 12, Mazzaroth), the sun and moon have no distinctive names assigned to them; there is no recognition of the grouping of the stars into constellations, none of any of the planets. The celestial bodies could not be referred to in a more simple manner. And this simplicity is marred by no myth; there is not the faintest trace of the deification of sun or moon or stars; there is no anthropomorphic treatment, no suggestion that they formed the vehicles for spirits. They are described as they were observed when they were first noticed by men, simply as "light-givers" of different brightness. It is the expression of man's earliest observation of the heavenly bodies, but it is real observation, free from any taint of savage fantasies; it marks the very first step in astronomy. No record, oral or written, has been preserved to us of a character more markedly primitive than this.
(4) The Purpose of the Sun.
Two purposes for the great heavenly bodies are indicated in Genesis 1:14-15. The sun and moon are appointed to give light and to measure time. These, from the human and practical point of view, are the two main services which they render to us.
Their purpose for measuring time by their movements will be taken up under another heading; but here it may be pointed out that when it is stated in the Book of The Wisdom of Solomon (7:18) that King Solomon knew "the alternations of the solstices and the changes of seasons," the reference is to the whole cycle of changes from winter through summer back to winter again. From winter onward the places of sunrise and sunset move northward along the horizon until midsummer when for some days they show no change—the "solstice" is reached; then from midsummer onward the movement "turns" southward until midwinter, when again a "solstice" is reached, after which the places of sunrise and sunset again move northward. This changing place of sunrise is also referred to when God asked Job (Job 38:12-14): Hast thou "caused the dayspring to know its place," and the passage goes on, "It (the earth) is changed as clay under the seal; and all things stand forth as a garment." As the shapeless clay takes form under the pressure of the seal, as the garment, shapeless while folded up, takes form when the wearer puts it on, so the earth, shapeless during the darkness, takes form and relief and color with the impress upon it of the dawning light. In the New Testament when James (James 1:17) speaks of "the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation (parallage), neither shadow that is cast by turning (trope)" he is using astronomical technical terms for these same apparent movements of the sun.
(5) The Sun as a Type.
But the apparent unchangeability of the sun makes it, as it were, a just measure of eternal duration (Psalms 72:5, Psalms 72:17). The penetration of its rays renders "under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9) a fit expression for universality of place, and on the other hand the fierceness of its heat as experienced in Palestine makes it equally suitable as a type of oppression and disaster, so the sun is said, in Scripture, to "smite" those oppressed by its heat (Psa. 121-6).
But it was in its light-giving and ministering power that the Hebrew writers used the sun as a type to set forth the power and beneficence of God. Words are the symbols of ideas and it was only by this double symbolism that it was possible to express in intelligible human speech, and to make men partly apprehend some of the attributes of God. So we find in the Psa. of pilgrimage (Psalms 84:11) "Yahweh God is a sun and a shield"; Malachi (Malachi 4:2) foretells that "the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings." But the old Hebrew writers were very guarded and careful in the symbolism they used, whether of word or illustration. Men in those days terribly perverted the benefits which they received through the sun, and made them the occasion and excuse for plunging into all kinds of nature worship and of abominable idolatries. It was not only clear thinking on the part of the sacred writers that made them refer all the benefits that came to them in the natural world direct to the action of God; it was a necessity for clean living. There is no bottom to the abyss in which men plunged when they "worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever" (Romans 1:25).
In New Testament times, though men were no less prone to evil, the fashion of that evil was changing. "The pillars of Beth-shemesh" were broken down (Jeremiah 43:13), idolatry was beginning to fall into disrepute and men were led away rather by "the knowledge (gnosis) which is falsely so called" (I Timothy 6:20). The apostles could therefore use symbolism from the natural world more freely, and so we find John speaking of our Lord as "There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world" (John 1:9), and again, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5); and again, that the glory of the New Jerusalem shall be that "the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23); while the great modern discovery that nearly every form of terrestrial energy is derived ultimately from the energy of the sun's rays, gives a most striking appropriateness to the imagery of James that 'Every good gift and perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning' (James 1:17 the English Revised Version).
3. The Moon:
(1) The Names for the Moon.
Three words are translated "moon" in the Old Testament, not including cases where "month" has been rendered "moon" for the sake of a more flowing sentence: (a) Lebhanah, "white"; a poetic expression, used in connection with chammah, "heat," for the sun.
(b) Chodhesh, "new moon," meaning "new," "fresh." As the Hebrews reckoned their months from the actual first appearance of the young crescent, chodhesh is most frequently translated "month." Thus "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month" (Genesis 7:11), and in the great majority of cases, the word for month is chodhesh, "new moon." In Isaiah 66:23, "from one new moon to another," should be literally, "from new moon to new moon." Once it is rendered "monthly" (Isaiah 47:13), when it is used to denote the astrologers who fixed the omens of the opening month. Chodhesh, therefore, when translated "new moon" is not a designation of the actual heavenly body, but denotes the first day of the month. It is a term directly or indirectly connected with the calendar.
(c) Yareach, probably "wandering," a very appropriate primitive term for the moon, since her motion among the stars from night to night is sufficiently rapid to have caught the attention of very early observers. Its use therefore as the proper name for the "lesser light" indicates that the systematic observation of the heavenly bodies had commenced, and that the motion of the moon, relative to the stars, had been recognized.
Yerach, "month," is twice translated "moon" (Deuteronomy 33:14; Isaiah 60:20), but without any great reason for the variation in either case.
(2) The Lesser Light-Giver.
The direct references in Scripture to the moon as a light-giver are not numerous, but those that occur are significant of the great importance of moonlight in ancient times, when artificial lights were few, expensive and dim, and the lighting of streets and roads was unthought of. To shepherds, the moon was of especial assistance, and many of the people of Israel maintained the habits of their forefathers and led the shepherd's life long after the settlement of the nation in Palestine. The return of the moonlit portion of the month was therefore an occasion for rejoicing and for solemn thanks to God, and the "new moon" as well as the Sabbath was a day of special offerings. On the other hand one of the judgments threatened against the enemies of God was that the light of the moon should be withheld. The threat made against Pharaoh is "I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light" (Ezekiel 32:7); and in the day of the Lord denounced against Babylon, "The sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine" (Isaiah 13:10). But among the glories of the restoration of Israel it is promised that "the light of the moon (lebhanah) shall be as the light of the sun (chammah)" (Isaiah 30:26).
(3) Phases of the Moon.
There is no direct mention of the phases of the moon in Scripture; a remarkable fact, and one that illustrates the foolishness of attempting to prove the ignorance of the sacred writers by the argument from silence, since it is not conceivable that men at any time were ignorant of the fact that the moon changes her apparent shape and size. So far from the Hebrews being plunged in such a depth of more than savage ignorance, they based their whole calendar on the actual observation of the first appearance of the young crescent. In two passages in the Revised Version (British and American) we find the expression "at the full moon," keceh (Psalms 81:3; Proverbs 7:20), but though this is what is intended, the literal meaning of the word is doubtful, and may be that given in the King James Version, "at the day appointed." In another passage already quoted, there is a reference to the dark part of the month. "Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon (yerach, "month") withdraw itself"—the "withdrawn" part of the month being the time near new moon when the moon is nearly in conjunction with the sun and therefore invisible.
The periodical changes of the moon are its ordinances (Jeremiah 31:35). It was also appointed for "seasons" (Psalms 104:19), that is, for religious assemblies or feasts (mo'adhim). Two of these were held at the full of the moon, the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles; one at the new moon, the Feast of Trumpets; but the ordinary new moon did not rank among the great "appointed feasts" (mo'adhim). As light-giver, assisting men in their labors with the flock and in the field and helping them on their journeys; as time-measurer, indicating the progress of the months and the seasons for the great religious festivals, the moon was to the pious Hebrew an evidence of the goodness and wisdom of God.
The "round tires like the moon" worn by the daughters of Zion (Isaiah 3:18 the King James Version), and those on the camels of Zeba and Zalmunna (Judges 8:21 King James Version, margin), were designated by the same Hebrew word, saharonim, translated in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) as lunulae, and were little round ornaments, probably round like crescents, not discs like the full moon.
Jericho possibly means "the city of the moon," and Jerah, "moon," was the name of one of the sons of Joktan.
(1) Solar and Lunar Eclipses.
The sun and moon were not only given "for days and years" (Genesis 1:14), but also "for signs," and in no way do they better fulfill what was in the old time understood by this word than in their eclipses. Nothing in Nature is more impressive than a total eclipse of the sun; the mysterious darkness, the sudden cold, the shining forth of the weird corona, seen at no other time, affect even those who know its cause, and strike unspeakable terror in those who cannot foresee or understand it. In bygone ages an eclipse of the sun was counted an omen of disaster, indeed as itself the worst of disasters, by all nations except that one to whom the word of the prophet came: "Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them" (Jeremiah 10:2). To the Hebrew prophets, eclipses were "signs" of the power and authority of God who forbade them to be alarmed at portents which distressed the heathen.
The phenomena of both solar and lunar eclipses are briefly but unmistakably described by several of the prophets. Joel refers to them twice (Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31), the second time very definitely: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood," and this was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:19-20). John also says that when the sixth seal was opened "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood" (Revelation 6:12). When the new moon in its revolution or turning comes exactly between the earth and the sun, and its shadow—the "shadow that is cast by turning" of James 1:17 —falls on the earth, the sun is completely hidden and its glowing discovered is replaced by the dark body of the moon; "the sun is turned into darkness." When the shadow of the earth falls upon the full moon, and the only rays from the sun that reach it have passed through an immense thickness of our atmosphere and are therefore of a dull copper-red color like clotted blood, "the moon is turned into blood."
(2) The Wings of the Morning.
But a solar eclipse is not solely darkness and terror. Scarcely has the dark moon hidden the last thread of sunlight than a beautiful pearly halo, the corona, is seen surrounding the blackness. This corona changes its shape from one eclipse to another, but the simplest form is that of a bright ring with outstretched wings, and is characteristic of times when the sun has but few spots upon it. This form appears to have been the origin of the sacred symbol of the ring or discovered with wings, so frequently figured on Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian monuments. It is possible that these coronal "wings of the sun" may have been in the mind of the prophet Malachi when he wrote, "Unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings" (Malachi 4:2). The metaphor "wings of the morning" of Psalms 139:9 is however more probably due to the long streamers, the crepuscular rays, seen at dawn when the sun rises behind a low bank of clouds.
Total eclipses of the moon must frequently have been visible in Palestine as in other countries, but only two or three total eclipses of the sun were visible there during Old Testament history; that of 831 BC, August 15, was total in Judea, and that of 824 BC, April 2, very nearly total. It has been suggested that two eclipses of the sun were predicted in the Old Testament—that of Nineveh, 763 BC, June 15, in Amos 8:9, and that of Thales, 585 BC, May 28, in Isaiah 13:10, but the suggestion has little to support it.
(1) The Meaning of the Word.
The sun and moon were appointed "to give light upon the earth," and "for signs," and "for days and years." They were also appointed "for seasons" (mo'adhim), i.e. "appointed assemblies." These seasons were not primarily such seasons as the progress of the year brings forth in the form of changes of weather or of the condition of vegetation; they were seasons for worship. The word mo'edh occurs some 219 times; in 149, it is translated "congregation," and in about 50 other instances by "solemn assembly" or some equivalent expression. Thus before ever man was created, God had provided for him times to worship and had appointed two great lights of heaven to serve as signals to call to it.
The appointed sacred seasons of the Jews form a most complete and symmetrical series, developing from times indicated by the sun alone to times indicated by the sun and moon together, and completed in times indicated by luni-solar cycles.
(2) Natural Seasons for Worship.
The sun alone indicated the hours for daily worship; at sunrise, when the day began, there was the morning sacrifice; at sunset, when the day closed, there was the evening sacrifice.
The moon indicated the time for monthly worship; when the slender crescent of the new moon was first seen in the western sky, special sacrifices were ordained with the blowing of trumpets over them.
The sun and moon together marked the times for the two great religious festivals of the year. At the beginning of the bright part of the year, when the moon was full in the first month of spring, the Passover, followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was held. At the end of the bright part of the year, when the moon was full in the first month of autumn, the Feast of Tabernacles was held. These may all be termed natural seasons for worship, obviously marked out as appropriate. The beginning and close of the bright part of the day, and of the bright part of the year, and the beginning of the bright part of the month, have been observed by many nations.
(3) The Hallowing of the Seventh.
But that which was distinctive in the system of the Jewish festivals was the hallowing of the seventh: the seventh day, the seventh week, the seventh month, the seventh year were all specially marked out. The sun alone indicated the Sabbath by the application of the sacred number seven to the unit of time given by the day. For the period of seven days, the week was not dependent upon any phase of the moon's relation to the sun; it was not a quarter month, but a free week, running on independently of the month. The Jewish Sabbath therefore differed from the Babylonian, which was tied to the lunar month. The same principle was applied also to the year; every seventh year was set apart, as a period of rest, the Sabbatic year.
Every seventh day, every seventh year, was thus observed. But for the week and month, the principle of hallowing the seventh came into operation only once in each year. The Feast of Pentecost, or as it was also called, the Feast of Weeks, was held at the close of the seventh week from the morrow after the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread; and the new moon of the seventh month was held as a special feast, the Feast of Trumpets, "a holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work" (Leviticus 23:24-25). The other new moons of the year were not thus distinguished.
The weekly Sabbath, the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feasts of Trumpets and of Tabernacles, with one other day of solemnity, were in an especial sense, the mo'adhim of the Lord.
The seventh day was especially the day of worship, and to correspond, the seventh month was especially the month of worship; and this, not only because it was ushered in with peculiar solemnity, and included one of the chief great feasts of the year, but because it furnished the culminating ceremony of the entire Jewish system, the great Day of Atonement, held on the tenth day of the month, and therefore on a day not marked directly by any phase of the moon. The Day of Atonement purged away the offenses of the past year, and restored Israel to the full enjoyment of the Divine favor.
(4) The Jubilee a Luni-solar Cycle.
The Jewish month was a natural month, based upon the actual observation of the young crescent. The Jewish year was a natural year, that is, a solar tropical year, based upon actual observation of the ripening of the grain. But there is not an exact number of days in a lunar month, nor is there an exact number of months in a solar year; twelve lunar months falling short of the year, by eleven days; so that in three years the error would amount to more than a complete month, and to restore the balance a thirteenth month would have to be intercalated. As the months were determined from actual observation, and as observation would be interrupted from time to time by unfavorable weather, it was necessary to have some means for determining when intercalation would take place, irrespective of it. And this was provided by carrying the principle of hallowing the seventh, one stage farther. Not only was the seventh of the day, week, month and year distinguished, but the seventh week of years was marked by the blowing of the trumpet of Jubilee on the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement meant the restitution of Israel to the Divine favor; the blowing of the trumpet of Jubilee every forty-ninth year meant "the restitution of all things"; every Hebrew in servitude returned to freedom, all land, mortgaged or sold, returned to its original owner.
And this period of 49 solar years was astronomically a period of restitution, for the sun and moon returned nearly to their original positions relative to each other, since 49 solar years are 606 lunar months with an error of only 32 hours. So that though the Jubilee period is not a perfect lunar cycle, it was quite exact enough to guide the Jewish priests in drawing up their calendar in cases where the failure of observation had given rise to some doubt.
The beginning of each month was marked by the blowing of the two silver trumpets (chatsotserah: Numbers 10:2, Numbers 10:10). The beginning of the civil, that is to say, of the agricultural year, was marked by a special blowing of trumpets (teru'ah), giving the name "Feast of Trumpets" to that new moon (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1). And the beginning of a new cycle of 49 years was marked by the Jubilee, the loud trumpet (shophar: Leviticus 25:9). Thus the cycle of the Jubilee made symmetrical, completed, and welded together all the mo'adhim of the Lord—the two great lights were set "for seasons."
(5) The 19-Year Luni-solar Cycle.
The cycle of the Jubilee was sufficient for the purposes of the religious calendar so long as the nation inhabited its own land, since from its small extent there would be no conflict of time reckoning and it would be easy to notify the appearance of the new moon from one end of the country to the other. But after the captivities, when the people were scattered from Gozan of the Medes to Syene on the Nile, it was necessary to devise some method by which the Jews, however far they had been dispersed, would be able to reckon for themselves as to when the moon was new for Jerusalem. We have lately learned from the discovery of a number of Aramaic papyri at Syene that there was a colony of Jews there who used a calendar constructed, not from observation, but from calculation based upon a very exact luni-solar cycle (E. B. Knobel, "Ancient Jewish Calendar Dates in Aramaic Papyri," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, LXVIII, 334). This cycle, known to us by the name of its supposed discoverer, Meton, is one of 19 years, which is only two hours short of 235 complete months. As this Jewish colony appears to have been founded after Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem by some of the refugees who fled into Egypt with Johanan the son of Kareah (Jer. 40 through 44), this acquaintance with the Metonic cycle cannot have been due to Babylonian influence. Nor can it have been due to Egyptian, since the Egyptians did not use or require any such cycle, their year being a solar one of 365 days. Indeed no other nation appears to have been aware of it until, a generation later, Meton, the Athenian, won immortal fame by announcing it. The evidence of these Syene papyri renders it probable that Meton did not himself discover the cycle but learned it from Jewish sources. Many of the Semitic nations used, like the Jews, a natural month in conjunction with the natural year, but the Jews were the most likely to have discovered this cycle, since they alone had their worship centralized at a single shrine which became, in consequence, their standard observatory for their observation of the new moon. These observations, therefore, would all be comparable, and during the 400 years that the Temple stood, it must have been quite clear to them that the 19-year cycle not only gave them seven, the sacred number, of intercalated months, but brought the setting places of the new moons to the same points of the western horizon and in the same order.
It is clear from the evidence of these Syene papyri that the Jews, there, used the 19-year cycle both for fixing the day of the new moon, and in order to determine when a thirteenth month had to be intercalated, an illustration of the futility of "the argument from silence," for so far from there being any notice in Scripture of the use of a cycle for determining intercalation, there is no mention of intercalation at all.
(6) The Jewish Ritual Preexilic.
Ever since this date of the Captivity, the 19-year cycle has been used by the Jews, and it gives to us the "Golden Number" which is employed in fixing the date of Easter in our own ecclesiastical calendar. Since the 19-year cycle has been in use ever since the Captivity, the 49-year cycle, the Jubilee, cannot have been an exilic or post-exilic innovation. In this fact we find the decision of the controversy which has so long divided critics as to whether the ritual legislation of the Jews dated from before or from after their captivity. We may take Kuenen as representing the more recent school: "Even the later prophets and historians, but more especially and emphatically those that lived before the Exile, were unacquainted with any ritual legislation, and specifically with that which has come down to us" (The Hexateuch, 273-74). "In determining its antiquity we must begin by considering its relation to Deuteronomy, to which it is evidently subsequent. .... This comes out most clearly in the legislation concerning the feasts. Other indications though less unequivocal, plead for the same relationship. In the next place the legislation itself gives evidence of the date of its origin, and those data which justify a positive inference point to the Babylonian captivity. .... It would follow that the 'legislation of sanctity' arose in the second half of the Babylonian captivity, presumably shortly before its close; and there is not a single valid objection to this date" (ibid., 276). Kuenen was evidently unaware of the astronomical relations concerned in the ritual legislation, and was unable to anticipate the striking discoveries made from the Syene papyri. More recent knowledge has reversed the verdict which he pronounced so confidently. The traditional view, that the Hebrew ritual preceded the Captivity, was correct. For the Jubilee, with which the Day of Atonement was bound up, was both the culmination and the completion of the entire ritual, and, since the period of the Jubilee, as a luni-solar cycle, was preexilic, the ritual, as a system, must have been preexilic likewise.
(7) The Luni-solar Cycles of Daniel.
The seasons for which the sun and moon were appointed are mentioned in yet another connection. In the last vision given to Daniel the question was asked, "How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" and it was answered, "It shall be for a time, times (dual), and a half; and when they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished" (Daniel 12:6-7). From the parallel passage in Daniel 7:25, where it is said of the fourth beast, "He shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time ('iddan) and times (dual) and half a time," it is inferred that mo'edh in the first instance stands, like 'iddan in the second, for a year; or the period is equivalent to half a week of years. The parallel passages in Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14; Revelation 13:5 have caused these years to be taken as conventional years of 360 days, each year being made up of 12 conventional months of 30 days, and on the year-day principle of interpretation, the entire period indicated would be one of 1,260 tropical years. This again is a luni-solar cycle, since 1,260 years contain 15,584 months correct to the nearest day. To the same prophet Daniel a further chronological vision was given, and a yet more perfect cycle indicated. In answer to the question, "How long shall be the vision concerning the continual burnt-offering, and the transgression that maketh desolate, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?" the answer was returned, "Unto two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (Daniel 8:13-14). Whatever may be the prophetic significance of the passage its astronomical significance is clear: 840,057 days are precisely 2,300 solar years, or 28,447 lunar months, or 30,487 anomalistic months, the anomalistic month being the period in which the moon travels from perigee to perigee. It is the most perfect lunisolar cycle known, and restores the two great lights exactly to their former relationship. This fullest "season" indicated by the sun and moon is given as that for the cleansing of the sanctuary, for the bringing in, as it were, of the full and perfect Jubilee.
It is not possible at present to decide as to whether the Jews had learnt of this cycle and its significance from their astronomical observations. If so, they must have been far in advance in mathematical science of all other nations of antiquity. If not, then it must have been given to them by Divine revelation, and its astronomical significance has been left for modern science to reveal.
6. The Stars:
As with the sun and moon, the stars are regarded under the two aspects of light-givers and time-measurers; or, in other words, as marking the seasons.
(1) Their Number.
But two other ideas are also strongly dwelt upon; the stars and the heaven of which they form the "host" are used to express the superlatives of number and of height. "Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them" (Genesis 15:5); "As the host of heaven cannot be numbered" (Jeremiah 33:22) are a few of the passages in which the stars are used for limitless number. Those separately visible to the naked eye at any one time do not exceed 2,000 in number, but it was just as evident to the Hebrews of old, as it was to Ptolemy, the astronomer of Alexandria, that beside the stars separately visible, there is a background, a patterned curtain of light, which indicates by its granular and mottled appearance that it is made up of countless myriads of stars, too faint to be individually detected, too close to be individually defined. The most striking feature of this curtain is the grand stellar stream that we call the Milky Way, but the mind easily recognizes that the minute points of light, composing its pattern, are as really stars as the great leaders of the constellations. Later astronomy has confirmed the testimony of the prophets that the stars are without number. The earliest star catalogue, that of Hipparchus, contained a little over one thousand stars; the great International Photographic Chart will show the images of more than fifty millions, and there are photographs which show more than a hundred thousand stars on a single plate. The limit that has been reached is due only to the limited power of our telescopes or the limited time of exposure of the photographs, not to any limitation in the number of stars. To us today, as to the Psalmist of old, it is a token of the infinite power and knowledge of God that "He telleth the number of the stars; He giveth them all their names" (Psalms 147:4 the King James Version).
(2) Their Distance.
As regards the height, that is to say, the distance of the stars, this is immeasurable except in a very few cases. By using as a base line the enormous diameter of the earth's orbit—186,000,000 miles—astronomers have been able to get a hint as to the distance of some 40 or 50 stars. Of these the nearest, Alpha Centauri, is distant about twenty-five millions of millions of miles; the brighter stars are on the average quite ten times as far; whilst of the distances of the untold millions of stars beyond, we have no gauge. For us, as for King Solomon, the "heaven" of the stars is "for height" (Proverbs 25:3), for a height that is beyond measure, giving us therefore the only fitting image for the immensity of God. So Zophar the Naamathite asked, "Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do?" And Eliphaz the Temanite reiterated the same thought, "Is not God in the height of heaven? And behold the height of the stars, how high they are!" (Job 11:7-8; Job 22:12). And the height of the heaven, that is to say, the distance of the stars, stands as a symbol, not only of God's infinitude, but of His faithfulness and of His mercy: "Thus saith Yahweh: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Yahweh" (Jeremiah 31:37). And the Psalmist sings, "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him" (Psalms 103:11 the King James Version).
(3) Their Brightness.
The stars are not all of equal brightness; a fact alluded to by Paul when he wrote that "one star differeth from another star in glory" (I Corinthians 15:41). The ancient Greek astronomers divided the stars according to their brightness into six classes or magnitudes, to use the modern technical term, the average star in any particular magnitude giving about two and a half times as much light as the average star of the next magnitude.
Just as the number of the stars and their ordered movement led them to be considered as a mighty army, "the host of heaven," and as a type of that other celestial host, the holy angels, so the individual stars are taken as fitly setting forth, by their brightness and exalted position, spiritual powers and intelligences, whether these are the angels of God, as in Job 38:7, or rulers of churches, as in Revelation 1:20. The same image is naturally applied in a yet higher sense to Christ Himself, who is the "star out of Jacob" (Numbers 24:17), and "the bright, the morning star" (Revelation 22:16; II Peter 1:19).
7. Morning Stars:
The Stars as a Dial
In ancient times there were two methods by which the progress of the year could be learned from observation of the heavens. The sun was "for seasons," and the change in its place of rising or of setting supplied the first method. The second method was supplied by the stars. For as the Hebrew shepherds, such as Jacob, Moses, David and Amos, kept watch over their flocks by night, they saw the silent procession of the stars through the hours of darkness, and knew without clock or timepiece how they were progressing. They noticed what stars were rising in the East, what stars were culminating in the South, what were setting in the West, and how the northern stars, always visible, like a great dial, were turning. But as the eastern horizon began to brighten toward the dawn, they would specially note what stars were the last to rise before their shining was drowned in the growing light of day. These, the last stars to appear in the East before sunrise, were the "morning stars," the heralds of the sun. As morning followed morning, these morning stars would be seen earlier and earlier, and therefore for a longer time before they disappeared in the dawn, until some morning, other stars, unseen before, would shine out for a few moments, and thus supplant the stars seen earlier as the actual heralds of the sun. Such a first appearance of a star was termed by the Greek astronomers its "heliacal" rising, and the mention in Scripture of "morning stars," or "stars of the twilight" (Job 38:7; Job 3:9), shows that the Hebrews like the Greeks were familiar with this feature of the ordinances of heaven, and noted the progress of the year by observation of the apparent changes of the celestial host. One star would herald the beginning of spring, another the coming of winter; the time to plow, the time to sow, the time of the rains would all be indicated by successive "morning stars" as they appeared.
8. Falling Stars:
Meteors are not stars at all in the popular sense of the word, but are quite small bodies drawn into our atmosphere, and rendered luminous for a few moments by the friction of their rush through it. But as they have been shown not to be mere distempers of the air, as they were considered at one time, but bodies of a truly planetary nature, traveling round the sun in orbits as defined as that of the earth itself, the epithet is quite appropriate to them. They are astronomical and not merely terrestrial bodies. Meteors are most striking either when they are seen as solitary aerolites or when they fall in some great shower. The most celebrated shower which seemed to radiate from the constellation Leo—and hence called the Leonid—gave for centuries a magnificent spectacle every thirty-three years; the last great occasion having been on November 14, 1866. Those who saw that shower could appreciate the vivid description given by John when he wrote, "The stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind" (Revelation 6:13), for the meteors fell like autumn leaves, driven by a great storm, as numerous and as fast. The prophet Isaiah also used a very similar figure (Isaiah 34:4).
(2) The Star "Wormwood."
Such great meteoric showers are most impressive spectacles, but solitary meteors are sometimes hardly less striking. Bolides or aerolites, as such great solitary meteors are termed, are apparently of great size, and are sometimes so brilliant as to light up the sky even in broad daylight. Such a phenomenon is referred to by John in his description of the star Wormwood: "There fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch" (Revelation 8:10). Such aerolites are not entirely consumed in their passage through our atmosphere, but portions of them reach the ground, and in some cases large masses have been found intact. These are generally of a stony nature, but others are either almost pure iron or contain much of that metal. Such a meteoric stone was used as the pedestal of the image of the goddess Diana at Ephesus, and the "
DISCLAIMER: Church of the Great God (CGG) provides these resources to aid the individual in studying the Bible. However, it is up to the individual to "prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). The content of these resources does not necessarily reflect the views of CGG. They are provided for information purposes only.