Elul: Preparing for the High Holy Days
If you knew your eternal judgment would soon be executed — yet you were given adequate time to prepare, would you do it?
If you knew you were going to stand before a judge, but were given time to seek pardon, would you make use of that time to ask for his mercy?
If you knew you were guilty of crimes that could cost you your life, yet were afforded your last rights, would you throw them away?
That is what the month of Elul is about.
The Traditional Meaning of Elul
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn,” (Matthew 13:24-30, KJV).
Elul is the twelfth month of Israel’s civic year. It occurs when the wheat fields are ripe, at which time they are inspected carefully in preparation for harvest. All of Christ’s harvest parables surround the event of His return as one who comes to judge the living and dead and to settle all accounts with His servants. The significance of Elul is therefore easily recognized within Christ’s parable of the wheat and tares, wherein He carefully inspects each, and which defines how His reaping of each will be dealt. Let it be known that the tares, which are darnel (a poisonous weed), are indistinct from wheat until the time of maturity when the heads of grain finally appear.
Elul is a key time, which officially begins the season of harvest, during which all of the Fall Feasts are celebrated: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Elul typically occurs during the Gregorian months of August and September, beginning thirty days before Rosh Hashanah (Israel’s civic new year), and forty days before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). During Elul, the shofar is blown every morning and the traditional prayers for mercy, known as Selichot, are repeated.
In Hebrew the word Elul means “search”. That meaning is very befitting, as it is a time when we all search our hearts with God. On a more allegorical note, interestingly, Elul is spelled with the Hebrew letters: aleph, lamed, vav, lamed which are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” which is from the Song of Songs 6:3: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” That intimacy is something a search like this readily brings.
Elul is known as the time when the King is in His field inspecting His harvest — both the wheat and the tares alike. When the time is right and all are fully ripe, He will thrust in His sickle and the reaping will begin.
Regardless of whether or not we choose to participate in this process, God initiates an intimate inspection of His fields during the month of Elul, which serves well to remind us.
You are going to be inspected.
What will the King find as He inspects you during this special season of Elul?
The month of Elul invites us to participate by initiating His inspection of us
before He reaps His harvest.
With that said, we need to understand what God’s harvest — and His inspection — are really all about. God is not going to reap His harvest without performing a full inspection. As we can clearly see, He must determine the wheat from the tares. Elul, therefore, is central to this process.
Elul both marks the beginning and is centered upon the season of harvest, which is celebrated in the three final and consecutive fall feasts: Rosh Hashanah (return of Christ and the reaping of His harvest), Yom Kippur (final great white throne judgment), and Sukkot (marriage supper of the Lamb and our eternal tabernacle with God in the New Jerusalem).
Rosh Hashanah is when the harvest is finally reaped. God’s sickle strikes. We see this at the return of Christ. But after the reaping, He must judge the living and the dead. That judgment is finally executed on Yom Kippur, when the wheat and tares, and the sheep and the goats are justly separated — one to everlasting life; the other to eternal damnation. Strangely enough, both of these parables contain subjects which are very similar to each other at first glance.
Judgment can be justly executed by God in one of two ways: either to life or death; mercy or damnation. Therefore, we must understand that judgment is not always to be equated with damnation. It can very much be an agent of mercy (hence, the Mercy Seat upon the Ark of the Covenant). All of us will stand before God, who is the Judge of our eternal souls. His judgment is righteous, true, and just. Yom Kippur is the day of God’s final judgment which is rendered to every living soul that has ever lived and died upon the earth (hence, His judgment of the living and the dead). In this judgment God is utterly impartial, warning us that He will give unto each of us according to our works and the deeds done while in the body. Therefore, Yom Kippur is the highest and holiest day of the Jewish year, and is otherwise known as The Day of Atonement. That atonement is only found in the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Messiah, who is the perfect Lamb of God. There will be judgment rendered unto life for those found in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and there will be judgment rendered unto death for those who are not. Every soul who is not atoned for will suffer eternal damnation, being eternally separated from God.
But God is very gracious in giving us annual practice whereby we participate with Him in repentance and preparation. That annual time is captured exclusively during the Hebrew month of Elul. He kindly offers us an opportunity for introspection so we may prepare for when Yom Kippur should come. The coming of that Day is associated with great trepidation and fear. In fact, Yom Kippur is the most feared and solemn day on God’s holy calendar. The fear of the LORD evoked by this specific day is taught by Christ Jesus, and to which every Jew is reverently aware. Because this Day of Judgment is absolute and final, how we prepare is of eternal consequence.
Although we have atonement in Christ, the traditional time of Elul is no less valuable to us as new covenant believers. In fact, it is a rich season full of truth and mercy, offering us timely reminders and opportunities to align ourselves with God, His Word, and His people. Therefore, Elul’s time of preparation is a generous kindness which is extraordinarily powerful.
Conducting the “Search”
The search God longs to perform is one where we seek Him intimately —
spirit to Spirit, heart to heart, and face to face.
How precious it is to be in His presence. How sweet it is to seek Him face to face. Allowing God to search us and know us is an intimate affair that we find repeated throughout the Bible. He can find and expose things to which we would otherwise remain blind. As we look intimately into His face, we can, like David, echo this invitation to the One who has known us intimately in all our ways from the womb heavenward:
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Psalm 139:23-24, KJV).
During the time of Elul we are encouraged to do the following:
1.) Remember the past year and all those whom we have wronged
2.) Reckon squarely with our decisions and take account of all that we have done or failed to do
3.) Reflect upon our words and deeds, and the secret motives within our hearts
4.) Repent of our sins, both to God and each other
5.) Reconcile ourselves with those we have wronged or offended
6.) Finally, be restored unto God
God is very gracious in extending this special time of preparation to us. How we use it is at our discretion. How we frame that search will determine its success. Let your search be intimately framed by Him and within Him.
Harvest is near. In this season of Elul may the King prove you to be ripe and mature wheat in His field. And when the plunder of His sickle finally comes — may you find yourself gathered into His barn.
Cheers & Shalom,
Image Credit: sponchia | Pixabay