Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Biblical Month of Elul

The new month of Elul begins at sunset on Saturday August 18th.  A biblical day begins at sunset and the new month begins at the first sighting of the new moon. The entire Biblical calendar was dependent upon knowing when the new month began. The observance of the LORD’s moedim, or appointed times which we think of as the traditional Jewish Holidays are tied to the biblical calendar and its determination of the beginning of each month. Without this information the set times for the festivals and holidays could not be determined.

Unlike today where we have a calendar that is precisely calculated and printed well in advance, in the times of the Temple, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was charged with declaring the beginning of a new month.  The Sanhedrin sent out runners and observers to various places around Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. When the observers spotted the sliver of the moon just at sunset, the runner would go to the Sanhedrin and report it. When two different runners returned with the sighting report, the Sanhedrin would then declare the New Month and order the signals fires on the tops of the hills to be lit.  The first signal fire was on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and continued to be lit from mountain top to mountain top conveying the news of the new month to all of the Diaspora in Babylon and beyond.

Significance of the Month of Elul.

Elul, the sixth month of the Biblical religious calendar, marks the beginning of preparation for the High Holidays. The entire month of Elul is a process of repentance, or Teshuva. The Shofar is blown every morning (except Shabbat) as a wake-up call to start doing Teshuva. The name of the month is spelled אלול, Aleph Lamed Vav Lamed.  Jewish tradition teaches that the letters of the name of the month of Elul form an acronym, Ani L'Dodi ve-Dodi Li and as such represent a verse in the Song of Songs "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (Song of Songs 6:3).

There are no specific holidays in Elul, but each day beginning with Rosh Chodesh (new moon or first day) of Elul continuing for forty days until Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles, devout Jews will recite Psalm 27 following the morning and evening prayers. In Aramaic, the most common language of the Jewish people at the time that the month names were adopted as well as during the time of Yeshua, the word "Elul" means "search," which is appropriate, because this is a time of year when the Jewish people engage in searching their hearts.

This same forty day period corresponds to the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai preparing the second set of tablets after the incident of the golden calf (Ex. 32; 34:27-28). He ascended on the 1st day of Elul and descended on the 10th of Tishri, 40 days later at the end of Yom Kippur, marking the completion of repentance.  This is also the most likely time of Yeshua’s forty days spent in the wilderness following his baptism by John where Yeshua was tempted by Satan himself and the time Yeshua was preparing for His earthly ministry.

Elul is also a time to begin the process of asking forgiveness for wrongs done to other people. According to Jewish tradition God cannot forgive anyone for sins committed against another person until they have first obtained forgiveness from the person who was wronged. It is also a process establish or restated by Yeshua himself.

Mark 11:25 NKJV 25 "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.

We also find this principle stated in the “Lord’s Prayer” and reemphasized in the subsequent two verses.

Matthew 6:9-15 NKJV 9 "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. 14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The month of Elul is a time of remembering one’s own mortality. Many people visit cemeteries during this time, because the awe-inspiring nature of this time of repentance.

The Selichot

As the month of Elul draws to a close, the mood of repentance becomes more urgent. Prayers for forgiveness called selichot are added to the daily cycle of religious services.  A key part of the selichot service is the repeated recitation of the "Thirteen Attributes." This is a list of God’s thirteen attributes of mercy that were revealed to Moses after the sin of the golden calf.  This is found in Exodus 34:6-7.

Exodus 34:6-7 NKJV 6 And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7 "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation."

Why is "The Lord" listed twice as an attribute?  The four-letter Name of God rendered here as "LORD” in all capital letters is the Name used when God is exhibiting characteristics of mercy.  See “The name “Yahovah” in the Ancient Hebrew” in this blog (  The Jewish Talmud explains that this dual usage indicates that God is merciful both before and after a person sins.

Some significant events in the month of Elul.

Years in ( ) are Jewish tradition

1 Elul - Moses ascends Sinai for 3rd 40 days (1313 BCE)
10 Elul - Noah Dispatches Raven (2105 BCE)
17 Elul - Noah Dispatches Dove (2105 BCE)
23 Elul - Dove brings Olive Leaf to Noah (2105 BCE)
25 Elul - The 1st day of Creation (3761 BCE)
25 Elul - Jerusalem Walls Rebuilt (335 BCE)

Shalom and be blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart

Please visit our web site at