Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets. You shall offer a burn offering as a soothing aroma to the LORD… -Numbers 29:1-2
In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. –Leviticus 23:24-25
The above verses are the two singular texts that we have which speak about the holiday that we have come to know as Rosh Hashanah (the “head of the year”). Yet, when we read these verses we might start to raise a few questions. If the Scripture reads the seventh month, but this day celebrates the beginning of the Jewish New Year, haven’t we missed something? Isn’t Pesach the beginning of the Jewish calendar? Why then does the Bible not speak of “Rosh Hashanah”?
The true biblical name for this day is Yom Teruah (תרועה יום), which literally means the day of “shouting” or “raising a noise”, but it has also come to be referred to as the Feast of Trumpets. Then why does the Jewish world always speak of Rosh Hashanah? Of all of the moedim (holidays), Yom Teruah is unique in that it’s the only holiday that begins on a New Moon and, as you can read in the two passages above, God did not give an explicit reason in the Torah for its observance other than to rest and to provide a sacrifice. Some scholars believe that the name first began to shift during the time of the Diaspora under Babylonian rule. Yom Teruah slowly began to be celebrated alongside the pagan Babylonian New Years festival, which coincided with the first day of the seventh month. From very early times the Babylonians had a lunar-solar calendar very similar to the biblical calendar and the result led to the Judaizing of many Babylonian feasts. By the time of the destruction of Second Temple in 70 AD, the Jewish sages of the Mishnah had already redefined Judaism and associated Yom Teruah with the Rosh Hashanah.
Shofar and Trumpets
Understanding the role of the shofar (ram’s horn) in the entirety of the Bible is essential to fully comprehending the meaning and purpose of Yom Teruah— both during the period of time when God gave instruction to Moses on Mount Sinai and also for the future return of the Messiah. The shofar is the most mentioned musical instrument in all of Scripture. In the synagogues during Rosh Hashanah, it is blown at least 100 times in order to satisfy the commandment to make “noise” on this day.
Oftentimes, those who read the Bible in English can easily get confused about the proper use of the ram’s horn due to translation. When reading Scripture in English there are several places that refer to trumpets. However, there is a distinction as to what kind of trumpet is being used and for what purpose the word is being used based on the Hebrew. There are two words in Hebrew that are translated as trumpets in English. One is the silver trumpets (חצוצרות; cha-tzotz-rot) that were originally used to signal camp movements during the journey to the Promised Land (Num. 10:1-2). Later the silver trumpets were used by the Levites during various Temple rituals, especially during the offering of sacrifices (Num. 10:10). They were also sometimes used during times of warfare (Num. 10:9; 31:6; 2 Chr. 13:12-14).
These silver trumpets are to be distinguished from the ram’s horn trumpet (שופר; shofar) that was explicitly commanded to be sounded on Yom Kippur (Lev. 25:9) and the Jubilee Year. The first place where the Bible mentions the ram’s horn is in the story of Akedah Yizchak (the binding of Isaac) when Abraham was tested by God and told to bind his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice. We see the story unfold in Genesis 22:12-13,
He [God] said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.
As believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice that God would give on our behalf through His Son Yeshua. The next place that we see a mention of the ram’s horn is when God gives the Torah to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. God told Moses to go down from the mountain and consecrate them so that they would be clean and purified, for on the third day the Lord would sound the ram’s horn and come down to the mountain to be in sight of the people.
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lighting flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. –Exodus 19:16-17
Take notice that there was no man on the mountain to blow the ram’s horn trumpet. This trembling blast came from heaven and was heard by all of the men and women of Israel who were awaiting the presence of God. One could assume that this will be the same shofar of God (as referred to in Thessalonians 4) that will inaugurate the End of Days and be sounded at the Second Coming of the Messiah.
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (shofar); for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. -1 Cor. 15:51
Days of Awe
The ten days between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur (Day of Repentance) are called the “Ten Days of Awe or Repentance.” According to the rabbinical tradition, Yom Teruah is the day when the destiny of the righteous is written in the Book of Life and the destiny of the wicked is written in the Book of Death. The ten days of repentance are for the rest of the people to repent, pray and give charity before their fate is sealed in one of the two books.
For us as believers, we maintain that justice was served on the Tree through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins. It is through God’s grace and our faith in Him that we can trust for our names to be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 13:8). There are many things that we can learn from the Jewish observance of Yom Teruah. Though we do not know the exact day or hour of the return of the King to complete the establishment of His Kingdom on Earth, we are commanded to watch and be ready as to not be found sleeping on the Day of the Lord like in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25). We should always maintain a repented heart and remain watchful for the signs of His coming. The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our hearts and prepare us for the coming judgment.
It is also important that we pray for the Jewish people. During Rosh Hashanah and leading up to Yom Kippur, the people of Israel pray and fast and repent without the hope of eternal life or assurance of whether or not their names will be written in the Book of Life. They blow the shofar to remind the people of the substitutable sacrifice provided by the Lord to Abraham. Let us pray that during these sacred festivals, the Jewish people, to whom God first gave these commands, would come to know that their substitution was already given and that repentance and belief in their Messiah will seal their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life for all eternity.
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