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Foundations of Faith Series

The Feast of Trumpets - Sound the Shofar
Marji Hughes

Today, we're beginning a study of the Fall Feasts, starting with The Feast of Trumpets. During the next couple weeks, we'll be looking at the historical background of this "appointed day of God," the traditional Jewish observance, the prophetic significance and the practical implications to be found in its customs for Believers today.

According to the Jewish Calendar, we are currently in the season known as Teshuvah - Repentance. Next Friday evening at sundown will mark the beginning of Yom T'ruach or Rosh Hashanah, which in turn begins a time known as The Days of Awe. The season ends with Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. I can imagine there's already all kinds of questions going through some of your minds - like "WHAT in the WORLD do all those weird words mean? Hopefully, I'll have cleared up any confusion I've created by the time we're finished with the study.

 There are, altogether, nine "celebrations", seven of which were given to Israel at Mt. Sinai as recorded in Leviticus 23. The major (Levitical) days are bunched in two groups in two different times of the year. The spring holy days of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits in Nisan (March/April) and Weeks (Pentecost) in Sivan (May/June) occur within a fifty day time span. A long summer intervenes until the fall holy days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, in the month of Tishri (September/October). The other two, Hanukkah (Dedication), which occurs in the winter month of Kislev, (November/December) and Purim, which occurs in the month of Adar (February/March), were added later to commemorate specific events in which God showed His power and protection of His chosen people.

There are deep spiritual truths to be found in each of these Holy Days - beautiful portraits of Messiah which God has "painted" within the celebrations. We have discussed the first 4 of these Appointed Days of God, as well as the significance of the summer interval, in detail in earlier studies.

Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Shavuot have come and gone. That long summer interval is almost past, and we are fast approaching the time described in the following verses:

The LORD said to Moses, "Tell the people of Israel: 'In the seventh month, the first day is to be for you a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar." (Leviticus 23:23-24)

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a holy convocation; do no regular work, it is a day of blowing the shofar for you." (Numbers 29:1)

Now, right off the bat, we begin with a couple points of confusion. First, while we are told that this is "a "day...for remembering...announced with the blasts of the shofar," we're not told what we're supposed to remember! The other Biblical Festivals are explained in greater detail. Leviticus 23 explicitly tells us, for example, that Passover is a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt and its accompanying miracles, Pentecost is an agricultural festival, Yom Kippur is a purification ceremony, and Tabernacles is both a harvest festival and a memorial of Israel's wilderness experience. But when the same chapter comes to speak of the first day of the seventh month, we find only a few vague details, with apparently no explanations or deeper meanings offered. The only other direct reference to this day, found in Numbers 29:1, offers little in the way of clarification either.

Now, the ancient rabbi's were not ones to be intimidated by "mysteries" and by searching through the Scriptures for references to shofars and trumpets blasts, they suggested several different "remembrances." Other meanings attached to the festival were handed on from generation to generation through the oral tradition. The early medieval sage, Rav Saadiah Gaon codified these various explanations of the Feast of Trumpets and listed them. These are known as The Ten Remembrances, which we'll discuss in more detail during next week's study. Each of these remembrances highlights a unique aspect of the festival.

The second point of confusion is, although this day is called in Scripture "Yom T'ruach" - "day of blowing/ sounding" - it has come to be known as Rosh Hashanah - "the head of the year" and is recognized among the Jewish people as their New Years Day. Scripture, however, indicates that the year is to begin in the spring, the month of Nisan, during which Passover occurs. Apparently, this change occurred during the Babylonian exile.

Trying to sort this out can get confusing, since there are other "New Years" in Jewish thought as well: Nisan 1 is the new year for royalty - counting the years of the reign of a king, although the coronation always occurred on Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) regardless of when his rule actually began. Tishri 1 is the new year for agriculture and the counting of years. Elul 1 is the new year for the tithing of animals and Shevat 1, (although some say the 15th) the new year for trees, determining when the first fruits can be eaten, etc.

So, why do the Jewish people consider Tishri 1, Rosh Hashanah, the New Year? It has to do with one of the Ten Remembrances I mentioned earlier. As I said, we will discuss this in more detail next week, but briefly, the shofar is used in Scripture to announce the coronation of a king (1 Kings 1:39, Psalm 47:5, Psalm 98:6). Because of the significance of the number 7, Tishri being the seventh month, 7 being the number of completion, it is thought that Tishri is the yearly anniversary of God's completion of creation - marking the anniversary of the coronation of the King of the Universe. This is a simplistic explanation and we will be able to see the reasoning behind these thoughts a little clearer when we do go into greater detail, but I want to go on and discuss the main theme of this Holy Day, the one that ties all the others together. That is the theme of "teshuvah" - repenting or returning.  

On the Jewish calendar, the forty day period between Elul 1 and Tishri 10 are known as "Teshuvah" which means "return" or "repentance." It is considered a time for each individual to examine themselves and seek to restore relationships - both with one another and with God. During this time, the shofar is sounded daily in the synagogue to alert the faithful that the time of repentance is at hand. Psalm 27 is recited twice each day. Many Orthodox men take mikvah (ritual immersion) during this time to symbolize cleansing their ways. The last ten days of this season - the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - are known as The Days of Awe. They are days of intense soul searching and repentance and even fear as the people prepare to enter the presence of the judge of all creation.

It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah, three books are opened up in heaven, based on an idea expressed in Hosea 14:1-9. Those who have returned to God are inscribed in the Book of Righteousness. Those who are wholly wicked, and destined for destruction are inscribed in the Book of the Wicked. All others are recorded in the third book and have ten more days in which to repent. The fate of every individual for the coming year is then determined on Yom Kippur. The destiny of every individual for the coming year is said to be preordained on this day. For this reason, the traditional greeting among Jewish people during this time is "La shana tova tikatevu" - May your name be inscribed for a good year."

The night before Rosh Hashanah, a special midnight service is held called "Selichos" - Repentant Prayers. The Holy Day itself begins at sunset, with the traditional candle lighting and a festive meal, which includes traditional dishes that symbolize the focus of the day. There are services again in the synagogue that night and again the following morning, this one lasting up to 6 hours. The afternoon of Rosh Hashanah will find many traditional Jews at the ocean, lake or river, to observe a custom known as Taslich. The word comes from Micah 7:19: "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and cast (taslich) all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." This is then illustrated as the people cast bread crumbs or pebbles into the water and rejoice in Gods promise of forgiveness.

Yet, even with these hints of hope, few would use that word to describe the main feeling they associate with Rosh Hashanah and the coming Yom Kippur. Much like the Christian Churches at Easter, the synagogues during the High Holy days are "Standing Room Only." Jews who never go to synagogue at any other time of year attend the special services on these days, searching their hearts and seeking an often elusive sense of forgiveness and peace with God. No, the mood of this season is not hopeful, but rather somber or even fearful. Deep down, all mankind knows that our best efforts are still not enough. During a time of intense soul searching - this truth becomes even clearer. When we look deep within our hearts, we see just how true are the words of Scripture that say: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) It is my prayer that God use this time of soul searching to not only open the eyes of the Jewish people to their desperate need for forgiveness, but also to open their hearts to recognize that the only place that forgiveness can be found is in the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua.

I want to end our study today with a short study of the significance of the shofar itself. A shofar is simply a trumpet made from the horn of an animal. According to rabbi's, only the horns of animals fit for sacrifice are to be used, so it was and still is usually made from the horn of a wild goat or ram. The horn is cleaned by boiling and then softened by heat and oil until it is possible to shape into a straight or curved form. The mouthpiece must be formed from the tip of the horn, but precious metal can be used to ornament it: gold for Rosh Hashanah - silver for fast days. It's scraped thin to lighten it, highly polished, and occasionally inscribed with geometric designs or scripture.

To those who have never heard it blown, the sound is difficult to describe. Words like "haunting" "primitive" "harsh" come to my mind, but these aren't really adequate. The shofar speaks with a commanding, demanding voice. In ancient biblical times, the sound of the shofar was the call to arms, the alarm for any disaster, the signal to assemble. It was used to sound the beginning of the Sabbath, announce the New Moon, and proclaim the anointing of a new king. It calls up the remembrance of Sinai when the sound issued from a thick cloud and the people trembled. The shofar accompanied the solemn, seven-day procession of the sacred Ark around Jericho as the terror-stricken inhabitants saw their city walls crumble to dust in the echo of its blast. We are told such a sound will announce the time of the Great Day of the Lord.

The most important modern use of the shofar is during Rosh Hashanah, when it is used to call the Jewish people to a time of repentance and spiritual awakening. It can be used to make various sounds, each with a unique name and meaning. According to the rabbi's, the four sounds associated with the blowing of the shofar during Yom T'ruach are:

Tekiah - blast - a pure, unbroken sound that calls man to search his heart, forsake his wrong ways and seek forgiveness.

Shebarim - broken notes - a broken, staccato, trembling sound that symbolizes the sorrow that comes to man when he realizes his misdeeds and desires to change his ways.

Teruah - alarm - a wave-like sound of alarm calling upon man to stand by the banner of God

Tekiah Gedolah - the great blast - a prolonged, unbroken sound - the final appeal to sincere repentance.

I want to share some of the thoughts about the shofar my husband has shared with me, based on ancient Jewish writings and his conclusions as a Messianic Believer.

As we said earlier, a shofar is a trumpet made from the horn of an animal, most often a ram. While the horn is attached to the animal, it is known as "keren." The purpose of keren is to defend against and attack or kill an enemy. It is a symbol of strength, power and judgment -concerned with the external.

When the horn is removed it becomes known as "shofar" which means 'mouth piece.' The purpose of shofar is to sound a warning, to prevent death and destruction. It is a symbol of mercy and is concerned with the internal - the voice emerging from the shofar. The sounding of the shofar before the "great and dreadful Day of the Lord" is an act of mercy, a final call to sincere repentance.

We know that Yeshua is the Memra or Word of the Lord, as we see in the Jewish Targums and in the prolog to John's gospel. The Word before coming to earth was the 'Keren' of God: Proclaiming Gods power and justice as symbolized in the trumpet blast on the mountain when the law was given - written in stone -the Law External. It was a terrifying sound (Exodus 19:16).

When the Word became flesh the Horn was removed from its position of Power. The keren became the 'shofar' or 'mouth piece' of God - the Law Internal. According to the rabbi's, the shofar can not be cracked or damaged, lest its sound be altered. Yeshua was the perfect Shofar of the Father, so the sound was not altered when we heard it (John 12:49-50).

This day is known in Scripture as "Yom T'ruach." "Yom" is the Hebrew word for "day." "Ruach" means blowing, or wind. It is also the word for "spirit." When the horn is removed, it is hollowed. The sound can only be produced when it is blown into. In the same way, we are told that Yeshua "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:6.) It was the Spirit moving through Yeshua, which enabled Him to produce the pure sound of the Father.

We, too, are called to be shofars, as the Spirit of God moves through us. Unlike Yeshua, who emptied Himself, we are hollow by nature, empty of meaning until filled by the breath of God. By God's Spirit in us we become His voice - sounding forth the call to repentance (Matthew 10:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:20).

 

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