Sabbaths and Moedim
Genesis 1:14, Leviticus 23:3 and Psalms 104:19 are often cited as proof that the weekly Sabbath days are Mo'edim and that their timing is determined by the moon.
This page presents the rationale for why the Sabbath day is determined by the moon, and discusses several objections.
Genesis 1:14 reads:
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years
The moon, along with the sun and stars, are for "signs, seasons, days and years". The word "seasons" in Hebrew is Mo'edim, which means "appointments".
Building upon this verse, Psalms 104:19 further clarifies which of these heavenly bodies are for appointments:
He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
The Hebrew word here translated as "seasons" is again Mo'edim. This clarifies that the moon is used to determine the timing of "seasons".
Building further upon Gen 1:14 and also Ps 104:19, Leviticus 23:2-4 proves that the Sabbath is one of YHVH's Mo'edim:
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts (mo'edim) of YHVH, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts (mo'edim). Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of YHVH in all your dwellings. These are the feasts (mo'edim) of YHVH, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons (mo'edim).
This passage proves that the Sabbath is a Mo'edim and its timing (like other mo'edim) is determined by the moon.
The Temple of Ezekiel 46
Ezekiel 46:1 is often used to assert that the New Moon Day cannot be one of the six working days due to the instructions concerning the East Gate being either open or closed. It's clear from the passage that, on the Sabbath, the East Gate will be open all day for worshipers.
Thus saith the Lord YHVH: The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the sabbath it shall be opened, and in the day of the new moon it shall be opened. (Eze 46:1)
However, a subsequent passage describes what should happen instead during mo'edim:
But when the people of the land shall come before YHVH in the solemn feasts (mo'edim), he that entereth in by the way of the north gate to worship shall go out by the way of the south gate; and he that entereth by the way of the south gate shall go forth by the way of the north gate: he shall not return by the way of the gate whereby he came in, but shall go forth over against it. And the prince in the midst of them, when they go in, shall go in; and when they go forth, shall go forth. (Eze 46:9-10)
So we see here that on mo'edim, both the prince and the people are to enter by the North and South gates instead of the East Gate as they do on Sabbaths and New Moons. This provides another distinction between the Sabbath as one type of mo'ed and the Feast Days as a different type of mo'ed. Just as we cannot generalize that all mo'edim (including the Sabbath) should use the North and South gates of the temple, we cannot generalize that the Sabbath is reckoned by the moon just because it is a mo'ed.
Context of Leviticus 23
The Sabbath is included in Leviticus Chapter 23 within a list of a specific type of mo'edim, which is clarified both at the beginning and the end of the chapter.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts (mo'edim) of YHVH, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts (mo'edim). (Lev 23:2)
These are the feasts (mo'edim) of YHVH, (even) holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons (mo'edim). (Lev 23:4)
These are the feasts (mo'edim) of YHVH, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto YHVH, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day (Lev 23:37)
The specific type of mo'edim being described in this chapter are those that include "holy convocations". These are:
- The Sabbath (v3)
- Passover and the First Day of Unleavened Bread (v7)
- The Last Day of Unleavened Bread (v8)
- The Feast of Weeks (v21)
- The Feast of Trumpets (v24)
- The Day of Atonement (v27)
- The First Day of Sukkot (v35) and the last day (v36)
Because this is a list of mo'edim (appointed times) that include a Holy Convocation, they may or not be reckoned by the moon. Leviticus Chapter 23 does, however, clarify how each day is to be reckoned:
- The Sabbath is the seventh day after six days of work (v3)
- The Passover is the fourteenth day of the first month at even (v5), followed by the First Day of Unleavened Bread on the fifteenth (v6) and the Last Day of Unleavened Bread seven days later (v8)
- The Feast of Weeks is reckoned from the Wave Sheaf Offering (v15-16)
- The Feast of Trumpets is the first day of the seventh month (v24)
- The Day of Atonement is the tenth day of the seventh month (v27)
- The First Day of Sukkot is the fifteenth day of the seventh month (v34)
- The Last Day of Sukkot will be the eighth day of the feast (v36)
All of the mo'edim listed above are reckoned from the beginning of each month, except for the Sabbath which is reckoned after six working days. It's not clear then from the context of this chapter that the moon is used to reckon the timing of the Sabbath.
The Assertion uses the following logic:
- The moon is for seasons (mo'edim)
- The Sabbath is listed as one of the mo'edim
- Therefore the timing of Sabbath is determined by the moon
This is a type of "invalid argument" called Affirming the Consequent. The form of this argument is typically:
- If P, then Q
- Q is true
- Therefore P
The fault in this argument is that there may be additional ways that Q can be true without P being true.
Note that a mo'ed is the singular form of mo'edim in Hebrew: one is a mo'ed, two or more are mo'edim.
In terms of this argument, it's assumed from Psalms 104:19 that the moon (P) is for all mo'edim (Q). Therefore if the Sabbath is a mo'ed (Q), it must be reckoned by the moon (P). However, there are some mo'edim (Q) that are reckoned other than by the moon (P).
We can find many examples in Scripture of mo'edim that are reckoned in different ways. Below are two examples:
Now there was an appointed sign (mo'ed) between the men of Israel and the liers in wait, that they should make a great flame with smoke rise up out of the city. (Jdg 20:38)
In this case, the men of Israel and those lying in wait agreed on a mo'ed upon which to attack. It should be clear that this is not referring to the moon.
Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, My offering, and my bread for my sacrifices made by fire, for a sweet savour unto me, shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season (mo'ed). And thou shalt say unto them, This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto YHVH; two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering. The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even; (Num 28:2-4)
This passage is using the word "mo'ed" to describe the timing of the daily sacrifice. The daily sacrifice is not reckoned by the moon, but by the sun (performed in the morning and evening each day).
By just these two examples we can show that the assertion that "all mo'edim are reckoned by the moon" is invalid, since some mo'edim are not. If this is the case, we must instead rely on other evidence to determine whether the Sabbath is a type of mo'ed applicable to Psalms 104:19.
Besides the passages already discussed regarding the moon and mo'edim, Bible scholars have also analyzed other extra-biblical texts in order to clarify the meaning of those passages. One such passage from the book of Ben Sira provides a perspective from the 2nd century BCE.
And the moon, too, prescribes its time
A rule for a fixed time and an eternal (astronomical) sign
To it belongs a festival (mo'ed) and from it derives a feast (chag)
Vanderkam notes that most commentators translate the third line as meaning that the moon "is the astronomical tool by means of which all liturgical festivals are dated", since both mo'edim and chag (pilgrimage festivals) are mentioned. However, three other earlier manuscripts of different translations support a different reading of the third line:
From the moon is a sign [or: are the signs] for a festival (mo'ed)
From this, Vanderkam asserts that this verse is describing the New Moon Day only, since (1) the subsequent verse also addresses the New Moon (context), and (2) Numbers 29:39 and Ezekiel 45:17 include the New Moon as a mo'ed. Consequently, Psalms 104:19 could simply be describing the fact that the moon announces the mo'ed of the New Moon Day, not necessarily all other mo'edim.
- Beware of the "Lunar Sabbath" - EliYah.com
- Ben Sira 43:6-7a
- James C. Vanderkam, The 364-Day Calendar