Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Understanding The Month 'Abib'

Exodus 13:3-5, "And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no unleavened bread be eaten. 4 This day came ye out in the month Abib."

Deuteronomy 16:1, "Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night."

Note: When the author renders the word 'Church' as shown here, he is referring to the modern day, Corporate Structured, Business Entity, Institutional 'Church' System. When he renders the word in all lower case letters (church) he is referring to Christ's Authentic, Legitimate Home based Assembly, which He continues to build.

In March of 2012, a Leap Year, I sat in a chair on a Sunday afternoon with my church family. My best friend has a house which sits in the middle of several fields of grain. Across the dirt road from his front porch is a large field of corn. Actually the field only shown the remnants of last years harvest. The stalks were all dead, dried and brown. The Spring planting had not yet commenced. This was an early Spring though; rare in these neck of the woods. The weather had been fair all winter, and in the middle of March the Cleveland Pear trees had already veiled themselves in white. The temperature was in the low seventies and a slight breeze was in the air as we basked in this unaccustomed, pleasurable day. It was indeed a picturesque backdrop for my observation.

I would like to focus on what I thought was an actual month in the Jewish Calendar called Abib. For years I believed that the month Abib was akin to our Gregorian Calendar's month of April. My error was fed by the idea that since the time of Passover, which traditionally coincided with Easter, came around each April most years. It was assumed that April and Abib were one and the same month. How wrong I was! When the Bible says, "the month OF Abib, it does not mean to say God is referring to a particular month in the Jewish calendar. He is speaking of a time of maturing of crops IN the month this maturing occurs. We could say in comparison, "In the month of a young woman's engagement,..." The distinction is made that an engagement was made in a certain month, but which month is up for grabs. It could be that she got engaged in any of the 12 months during that year. In the same vein, the month of Abib could mean the crops maturity began in either March, April, May or June.

If we were to illustrate how this would work in America we would see that Abib could occur in, let's say, in late March instead of mid-April. Or it could be early April instead of late April, or early May instead of mid-April. The climate conditions at the time would be a major factor in relation to exactly when Abib would occur. This particular Spring was an early Spring unveiling Springtime conditions, which normally wouldn't appear until much later. The temperatures were warmer. The sun shown more throughout the day. The conditions were ripe for these crops to rise from their sleep in the soil. So many times our misunderstanding of Hebrew customs and seasons are one reason, we as Christians in the western world, can be so fraught with doctrinal errors.

As it turns out, Abib isn't a month in the Jewish Calendar at all. It is a simple description of an event. That event being the ripening period of the winter wheat, barley, rye and flax each Spring. This ripening is not a constant recurring event that comes by like clockwork, but more of a fluctuating event which differs from Spring to Spring. Sometimes the Abib (or ripening) would have happened earlier in the previous year. Sometimes it will happen later. The Spring of 2012 was an early Spring as far as weather conditions are concerned. This prompted the winter wheat, which was sown last winter around my friend's house, to sprout very early this year, culminating in the lush, dark green, grassy looking field we saw as part of our landscape that day. Here in the American North, we have other tell-tale signs we look for to know when a season is approaching. Every year we see the Canadian Geese fly south for the winter. We do not know how close winter is until we see them begin their journey. So it is with Abib.

Exodus 9:29-32, "And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD’S. 30 But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God. 31 And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled. 32 But the wheat and the rie were not smitten: for they were not grown up"

To understand how the month in Abib arrives we need to also understand the stages in which grain crops develop, mature and ripen. When the grain crops begin to sprout, they look like lush extra-dark green grass. In time the grass grows longer and longer until they reach their accustomed length. After more basking in the sun there appears some flecks of yellow among the stalks. This begins the first appearance of Abib. After more time has passed the stalks get more and more yellow in color until we see the customary, "amber waves of grain." When the wheat reaches this state, we have reached full Abib or ripening. An interesting note is that the wheat can be harvested in different stages of the ripening process. The stalks do not have to reach full maturity, or turn all yellow in color from top to bottom. A partial change in the color would be sufficient to harvest the crop for specific uses. The stalks could be harvested and roasted in the early stages of the Abib, when the flecks of yellow first appear. Or, they can be harvested for another use during mid-Abib, when half the stalk turns yellow. The major harvest is when the full stalk is all yellow.

In the above passage we read of Moses explaining that he was to ask the LORD to end the vicious hail storm, which was one of the ten plagues lavished upon Egypt. We read in verse 31 that the flax and barley was severely damaged. The explanation was that the barley was in the ear and the flax was bolled. Bolled means to be hard or brittle. Barley being in the ear meant that it was ready to be harvested because the grain had matured within the stalks ear. 

When barley, wheat, become very ripe, the stalks become golden-yellow in color and stiff. The rye and flax change colors too, only different than the wheat and barley. But all eventually become stiff and brittle. They would be in their final stage of 'Abib.' The flax and barley fields were at their peak of maturity and were ready to be harvested when God sent the plague of the hail storm. This was a major blow to the Egyptian economy because now there were no winter crops of barley and flax which could be put on the market after the destruction was rendered. Yet, the rye and wheat weren't damaged at all because they had not reached the stage of Abib, or ripening. The stalks were still dark green, soft and flexible. When the hail hit them they didn't break like the brittle stalks of the barley and flax which were rigid and breakable. They survived because they were not mature (or, "grown up").

The Jewish Calendar (a.k.a, the Biblical Calendar) is very foreign to most Bible students. It took me quite a while to wrap my little brain around their concept of what a year is and how it is divided. This Agriculturally based calendar system is derived from lunar activities as well as what weather conditions exist at the time Abib approaches. The Biblical Agricultural Year begins with the first New Moon after the barley in Israel reaches the stage in it's ripeness known as Abib.

The period between one year and the next is either 12, or 13 lunar months. Because of this, it is important to check the state of the barley crops at the end of the 12th month. If the barley is Abib (maturing) at this time, then the following New Moon is called the "New Moon of the Abib." If the barley is still immature, we must wait another month and check the barley again at the end of the 13th month. A 12 month year in Israel is called a "Regular Year," while a 13 month year is called a "Biblical Leap Year." This should not be confused with our Gregorian (Christian) Calendar, which involves the addition of a single day (Feb 29th) every four years. In contrast, the Biblical Leap Year involves an addition of a full lunar month, known in Israel as, "the Thirteenth Month or "Adar Bet" or "Adar Sheni." In general, it can only be determined whether a year is a Leap Year a few days before the end of the 12th month. Consequently, Israel can see multiple Leap Years every four years as opposed to one in four for ours.

Every year in our Christian Calendar has 12 months in it with no exception. But, the Biblical Calendar fluctuates from year to year on whether it will have 12 or 13 months. In a Biblical Calendar, the first month called Tishri coincides with our Christian Calendar's months of September-October, depending on whether that Biblical Year is a Leap Year. Tishri is the Jewish Civic New Years. I remember one September when I lived in the Netherlands, I was invited by a Jewish friend of mine to celebrate the Jewish New Year with him and his family. I thought it strange that their New Years would be held in September. What did [I] know? It certainly up-rooted my inner time-table to say the least. Anyway, when it comes to the Jewish Agricultural Calendar, it is the Jewish months of Nisan, Iyyar and Sivan which coincides with our months of March through early June, which are the traditional months Abib would emerge.

I hope this will aid us in understanding what Abib is, and how it relates to us when studying the Scriptures. For instance, when we read in Luke 6:1-2, "And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. 2 And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?," we see an interesting scene. Tell me; what season was Jesus walking through the corn fields in this passage of Scripture? If we know what Abib is and what time of the year corn matures, we have a concrete timetable on which to go by. There is also another interesting clue to observe. The Bible says that His disciples plucked, ate and rubbed the ears of corn. For this lesson we will forgo the Sabbath's importance since that has nothing to do with my point and we'll just concentrate on the actual plucking, eating and rubbing.

We know that corn is sown in the Spring and begins to ripen in the mid to late Summer and goes on ripening into November. Jesus and His disciples began to pluck, and eat something that was already ripe and ready to eat. This would bring us into the time frame somewhere between August and November. In other words, this event probably happened during the late Summer or even into mid-Fall season. Knowing that the children of Israel were led out of Egypt in the month of Abib, the Passover was celebrated in Abib, and Jesus was crucified and rose again in the month Abib, we know that the time of Abib was a different time of year than when Jesus walked through the corn fields with His disciples. Why do we know this? Because Abib happened once a year after the New Moon of Abib appeared after the barley is maturing. And it only happened approaching the barley harvest. I realize that this may not be a big deal in respect to other issues in the Bible, but it is good to know that we can not only know the place, but the time frame when these things are written about. I think it makes Bible study much more enjoyable.  

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