Away In A Sukkah
(The Birthday of Y’shua)
Every year, I am confronted by Christians who ask me what I think about celebrating Christmas. Carol and I have raised five children, two from Carol’s previous marriage and three from mine. Hers grew up in the Catholic church, and mine grew up as secular Gentiles, raised by their mother and her second husband. In their later years, three of them were raised in our home and were exposed to and came to embrace a personal relationship with the L-rd, Y’shua. Although at home in Messianic worship and observance, they always expected a tree and presents at the end of the year. Year after year, we struggled and year after year, we succumbed to their happiness. This year, they are all grown, and we decided to spend the season renewing our understanding of the people, the place, and the time of His birth. That time was almost certainly not December 25th, and in this message, I will address that issue among others.
The New Testament itself is the source for the calculation of the date of the birth of the Messiah. The birth of Y’shua on the first day of Sukkot, and His brit Melah occurring on Simchat Torah (the last day of the feast) coincides with the one feast and the one week of the Hebrew year which commemorates the Sh’chinah (Glory of G-d) "tabernacling among men" and the Torah itself "coming to life."
This birth date would establish a Chanukah (around December 25) "miraculous conception" of the Messiah. And, this would more literally "fulfill" the inspired and revelatory purposes of both of these celebrations: Simchat Torah commemorates the advent of the Torah. And, as the Gospel of John tells us, "the Word became flesh." Chanukah is the commemoration of a miraculous eight-day supply of oil for the light in the Temple menorah, when the supply should only have been sufficient for one day. What better day for the Radiant Glory of HaShem to bring the "Light of the World" into the womb of a young Jewish virgin?
Let’s look at the time span of about nine months from the first day of Chanukah to the first day of Sukkot and the last day of Sukkot, 285 to 293 days, respectively. This is within the normal human gestation period or the period from conception to delivery. The first day of Sukkot is a viable option for the birth of Y’shua since the circumcision would have occurred on Simchat Torah and life is counted as beginning when a male child survives to the day of circumcision eight days after his birth, at which time he formally receives his name.
First, we must establish the date of Miriam’s (Mary’s) conception by marking the birth of Jochanan (John the Baptist), who preceded Y’shua in birth by six Hebrew months. In order to determine this date we must first determine the date of Zacharias’ angelic visitation. This is provided through the cycle of duties of the priests in the Temple and through knowing the "course" of service under which Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, served.
The Bible tells us clearly that Elisheva (Elizabeth, the mother of John) conceived immediately after Zacharias returned home from his priestly service. Luke 1:5 also states that Zacharias was a priest of the "course of Abijah." 1 Chronicles 24 divides the priestly families into 24 groups or "courses." 1 Chronicles 24:10 designates the "eighth course" as that of Abijah.
Each course had Temple duty two weeks out of the 50-week and four-day Hebrew year; one week in the first half of the year, another week in the last half. But since there are only 24 courses, this leaves two weeks and four days unaccounted for. These 18 days correspond to the 8 day Hebrew feasts of Passover, and Sukkot (Tabernacles), and the 2-day festival of Shavu'ot (Pentecost) when ALL of the priests would be assigned duty in the Temple to handle the abundance of sacrifices and other priestly duties necessitated by these mandatory pilgrimages by all of the men of Israel.
Zacharias’ first course of duty therefore fell from 27 Iyar to the eve of Shavu’ot (Pentecost) on the fifth day of the month of Sivan. During the two-day festival of Shavu’ot, Zacharias would have been obligated to remain and serve with all of the priests in Jerusalem even though he was unable to speak during this time.
So it was, that while he was serving as priest before G-d in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the L-rd. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the L-rd appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, according to Luke 1:8-13: "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
Zacharias would have returned home to his wife, Elisheva on 8 Sivan. So 8 Sivan becomes the earliest possible date for the conception of Yochanan by Elisheva. Luke 1 indicates that the conception occurred "soon after" Yochanan returned from his priestly duties. Knowing the desire of a childless man for a son, most probably very soon after.
Luke 1:23-27 gives us some details of this time: “And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days (of his Temple service) his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, "Thus the L-rd has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people." Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by G-d to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.”
Assuming that Elisheva conceived on 8 Sivan, she would have hidden herself the five months of Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishri and the first week of Cheshvan. So the angel, Gabriel would have been sent to Miriam in the sixth month of Elisheva’s pregnancy or during the latter part of Cheshvan or early part of the month of Kislev. We know that the conception took place sometime after the appearance of the angel from two accounts:
Luke 1:28-35 tells us: “And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the L-rd is with you; blessed are you among women!" But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with G-d. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Y’shua. "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the L-rd G-d will give him the throne of his father David. "And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you;; therefore, also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of G-d.”
And then, Luke 2:21: “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Y’shua, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
The most appropriate time and the most appropriate celebration for an unusual conception by Miriam would have been the first day of Chanukah, which commemorates a "miracle" of light and which is probably the day that Miriam was herself overshadowed by the Ruah Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) and conceived.
The evening of the 24th of Kislev marks the beginning of Chanukah, which celebrates the occasion of the rededication of the Temple when oil for the menorah expected to last only one day actually lasted eight days. Chanukah, also called the Feast of Dedication, would have occurred from the 164th to the 172nd days of Elisheva’s pregnancy or just as she was about to enter her third trimester.
So, we read of the events in Luke 1:36-37: “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. "For with G-d nothing will be impossible.”
Until G-d could send an angel to speak to Joseph about Miriam’s unusual conception, Miriam went to live with Elisheva and her husband Zacharias, to assist her cousin with the demands of her pregnancy. She remained with Elisheva for three months. Again, assuming a conception on 8 Sivan, Elisheva would have been, during the week of Passover, at full-term, especially for a child born from the womb of a mother of advanced years
Luke 1:56-57 “And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.”
Remember that Y’shua himself identified Yochanan as having the mantle of Eliyahu. Interestingly, the Jewish people to this day, set a place for Eliyahu (Elijah) during the Passover Seder meal. Passover would therefore be the most appropriate week for the birth of Eliyahu and of Yochanan HaMikvot (John the Baptiser). Making the 8th day of Passover the day which actually coincided with Yochanan’s circumcision .
Exactly six months later, from Nisan 15 to Tishri 15, the first day of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) follows the Passover. If Miriam conceived on Kislev 24, the first day of Chanukah, Y’shua would have been full-term (in a younger woman) on the 15th to 22nd of Tishri. Again, since life is reckoned to begin after a male child is circumcised and the child is customarily not given a name unless it survives to be circumcised, either date qualifies as a "birthday" for Y’shua.
The 22nd of Tishri (8th day of the Feast), is Simchat Torah, which literally means "the rejoicing of the Torah." On this day, the rabbis in the synagogues take the Torah scrolls out of their sacred places and dance with them around the synagogue and even in the surrounding streets as though the Torah had come to life.
John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.”
During the Feast of Tabernacles, every male Israelite is required to come to Jerusalem and dwell in tents or primitive lean-tos called sukkot. The Hebrew word sukkot describes "stables" or lodging places for animals as reflected in Genesis 33:17. And Jacob journeyed to Sukkoth, built himself a house, and made Sukkoth (booths) for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Sukkoth.
Dwelling in these booths seven days and nights out of every year, which were no better than shelters constructed for animals, served to remind the Hebrew people that these were their ancestor’s normal shelters for the 40 years their ancestors lived in the wilderness.
Could this animal shelter be the traditional place known by the Greek term "manger" in which the Child was laid? Having "no room in the inn" on the Feast of Tabernacles these holy pilgrims to Jerusalem could have found a place in one of these Sukkot.
According to scripture, they could not return to their homes immediately because they must register for the census imposed by Herod. This massive annual visitation to Jerusalem during Sukkot was the most logical time for Herod to impose his census and tax. It is important to note that the Chanukah season, which coincides with the traditional December 25th birthdate for Y’shua, does not make such a demand for the sons of Israel to journey to Jerusalem, and would have been a very impractical time to collect a tax and to count the population.
Matthew 2:7-8, 16 states that Herod inquired "diligently" of the wise men (magi). These magi are believed to be Parthian mystics who lived East and North of the Euphrates at the end of the Persian empire. Parthia was a kingdom whose power rivaled Rome in the First Century. The royal class (from which Parthian kings were chosen by a combined vote of the magi and the royal class) were known as "Kings of Kings." Apparently this custom carried over from earlier Persian rule. For instance, both Artaxerxes and Nebuchadnezzar, are referred to in Scripture by this title. (Ezra 7:12, Ezekiel 26:7 and Daniel 2:37).
The magi also believed that the blessing of Jacob to Judah, that the scepter (of rule) should not depart from Judah (Genesis 49:10) meant that even the nations (other people groups) should be ruled by kings of Israel. This belief coupled by the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem convinced them that a true "King of Kings" selected by the hand of G-d, was to be found among the House of David within Judea.
As a "king of the Jews" Y’shua was an early candidate for kingship in the Parthian empire, which had always remained friendly to Judah, and which many scholars -- including the first century historian, Josephus – wrote, comprised the vast hordes of the assimilated northern kingdom who had escaped Assyrian exile.
At any rate, Herod had inquired of these knowledgeable magi and must surely have known when Y’shua was born although they did not return to him as he had commanded.
Luke 2:17: “Now when they (the magi) had seen him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this child.”
This would make it dangerous for Joseph and Miriam to bring Y’shua to the Temple for his formal dedication 40 days after his birth unless Herod had died. Indeed an angel warned Joseph and Miriam to flee to Egypt until that time. The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the First Century, documents in detail the death of King Herod.
Josephus relates that Herod became very ill immediately following an act of impiety against the priesthood, at which time an eclipse of the moon occurred. This eclipse, the only one mentioned by Josephus, happened March 13, 4 BC. Herod’s death occurred "about September" meaning he would have been ill for several months before dying in the fall, according to Josephus’ record. The seven days of Sukkot fall in mid-September to October, according to the Julian calendar. This means that Herod, who first grew sick in the spring of 4 BC, died after the Feast of Tabernacles and shortly after Joseph and Miriam had fled with the infant, Y’shua. But they returned, after Herod’s death, in time for his dedication in the Temple, when Y’shua was 40 days old, around Kislev 12 or the day we now call Thanksgiving Day. An interesting aside is that many believe our observance of Thanksgiving is due to the Pilgrim’s keeping the Torah’s tradition of this Feast of Tabernacles.
During this presentation of the infant Y’shua in the Temple, the prophecies of Simeon and Hanna were delivered to Joseph and Miriam. Those prophecies from Isaiah, coincide with the readings of the prophets read in the synagogue only one time a year ... the week of Kislev 12.
Then, there is the prophecy of Simeon as he beheld the infant Y’shua in the Templewhen he was 40 days old.
Luke 2:21-25a : And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Y’shua, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the L-rd (as it is written in the law of the L-rd, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the L-rd"), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the L-rd, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons." And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel…”
These words by Simeon paraphrase the two-pronged mission of Messiah recorded in Isaiah 49:5-6:
“And now the L-rd says, Who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the L-rd, and my G-d shall be my strength), Indeed He says, 'It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the household of Israel; I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
As Y’shua may have hinted, the first mission of "restoring the preserved of Israel" would be last, and the last mission "becoming a light of salvation to the Gentiles" would be first.
So, how have we gotten so confused in our observation of the birth of Y’shua? Many speculate and accuse the Church of heresy and of pagan practice. Many bring condemnation upon the Church for straying so far from Torah and from the Times of the L-rd. That is not my mission; that is not the purpose to which I have been called. I have been called to be a "light for the gentiles." I have been called to the Gentiles who now comprise the majority of the Body of Messiah. I have been called to present to you the truth, but with the love of Aaron, who always sought unity for the sake of the Word of G-d and always went out of his way to bring peace to the people of G-d. It is that peace that I bring to you.
Was Jesus born on December 25th? Probably not. Was He born? Absolutely. Is He the very nature of G-d, bodily sent to reveal the Father to His children? Without question. He was, in fact, probably conceived on the day to which we ascribe His birth. When does life begin? At birth? At conception? When your youngest graduates from college, gets married and has a good job in a state far away? Life for us must begin when we allow Y’shua, the Giver of life to rule and to reign in our hearts. He is the reason we celebrate Christmas; He is the focus of our lives and of our ministry. This December when the people around you are getting all excited and are decorating their homes with trees and lights, be gracious to them.
Realize that 2000 years ago, in a town just South of Jerusalem, the King of kings was born so that He could die for us all. Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. Perhaps you can help them to focus on the manger (or the Sukkah) not on the gifts under the tree. Perhaps you can help them to focus on Jesus, not Santa Clause. We are not going to change w thousand years of tradition with this message. But we can change our hearts, we can change our plans, we can change our future.