All works shall fear you, and all creatures shall bow in worship before you. All of them shall do so as one group, performing your will wholeheartedly. (Shemoneh Esreh, Yom Kippur Machzor)
As Rosh HaShanah fast approaches, Jewish communities throughout the world are praying, repenting, and making amends as they prepare for this most auspicious time of year.
Jewish people everywhere are wishing one another l’shanah tova (happy New Year) and asking HaShem to inscribe them in the Book of Life. Rosh HaShanah marks the beginning of the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) which culminate with Yom Kippur. This time of year is also known as the high holidays.
Yet, according to Jewish tradition it is not just Israel who is judged during this time but all the nations of the world: “On Rosh Hashanah all human beings pass before him as troops” (m.Rosh HaShanah 1:2). Even as the Jewish people are repenting and praying that they will be sealed for life in the coming New Year, so is God also judging the nations and weighing their sins and merits:
Just as a person’s merits and sins are weighed at the time of his death, so, too, the sins of every inhabitant of the world together with his merits are weighed on the festival of Rosh HaShanah. If one is found righteous, his verdict is sealed for life. If one is found wicked, his verdict is sealed for death. The beinoni (intermediate one) verdict remains tentative until Yom Kippur. If he repents, his verdict is sealed for life. If not, his verdict is sealed for death. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 3:3)
All nations pass before the King and are judged on Rosh HaShanah and their final verdict is sealed on Yom Kippur.
The universal aspect of the high holidays is brought out even more by the fact that the book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur. The Prophet Jonah is the only prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures who is sent to a foreign nation in order to urge them to repent. In that sense Jonah was a prototype of the first apostle to the Gentiles. Early apostolic tradition pointed to the salvation of Nineveh as evidence that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). The Epistle of Clement comments along those lines:
Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were aliens to the covenant of God. (1 Clement 7:7)
Jonah even spreads the knowledge of HaShem while on the ship to Tarshish. When the men on the boat realize the cause of the horrible storm is Jonah they cry out to the God of Israel before they throw Jonah into the sea:
Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. (Jonah 1:14-16)
According to Jewish tradition, the men repented, renounced their idolatry, and swore their allegiance to HaShem, becoming God-fearers (“they feared the LORD”). The Midrash states that there were representatives of each of the seventy nations on board the ship (Pirkei de’Rabbi Eliezer 10). Therefore, in the story of Jonah we find a fascinating picture of the gospel going forth to all nations. The ship represents the world and the seventy nations it contains. They are able to be saved only through the willing martyrdom of a man who is innocent in his conduct toward all people. In turn, it was through the death of Messiah Yeshua that the nations of the world are saved from death and brought into the knowledge of the God of Israel.
In turn, these themes seal Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur as appointed times that pertain not just to the Jewish people, but to all the people of the world. Therefore, it is appropriate that both Messianic Jews and Gentiles take this time of year to seek the Creator and his forgiveness. As we all hear the shofar on Rosh HaShanah may our hearts be stirred by the Holy Spirit to continue repenting, seeking forgiveness from God and man, and mending our ways until we reach Yom Kippur. Indeed, may all our names be inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life!