Moses was startled! He had spent forty years shepherding. He knew each rock and rill, each barren spot and where the grass grew tall. As shepherds do, he knew each of his sheep by name, and probably had named some of the predators as well. Not much happened during those shepherding years—a birth here, a loss there, a bit of rain, cold nights, hot, sunny days, and always the same terrain.
In forty years Moses had seen it all, and it was all much the same—until that day he glimpsed a fire in the distance. He would have known from the small size of it that it was not a brush fire or a grass fire. Maybe he thought it was the campsite of a new shepherd and ambled over to greet the stranger.
But when Moses approached the fire, he was startled! Though the bush was ablaze, he saw no black charred branches nor crumbling ash. As he contemplated the phenomenon of a bush that resisted fire, the voice of God above the crackle of the flame brought him out of his reverie of wonderment and captured his consciousness: Take off your sandals. You are standing on holy ground!” The burning bush and God’s voice both were attention getters, to say the least.
Sometimes God uses startling, awesome, even painful methods to get our attention. He must do this because we humans are strange creatures, not much different from the sheep that Moses herded. Like sheep, we are mindful only of the flock around us and the grass before us. We may be vaguely aware of the predators that stalk us, and we only become aware of the Shepherd when He calls out to us, prods us with His rod or rescues us with the crook of His staff.
Sometimes we become so preoccupied in our routines and so self-absorbed that God must shock us into awareness. Like sheep, however, we tend to run when startled. God must not only get our attention, but also make us stand still and not scamper away like frightened sheep. The only time a startled sheep will not scamper away is when he is surrounded by the very thing that startled him. It may be a fire, a wolf pack or thunder that seems to be coming from everywhere all at once.
Often when God acts to startle us into a stand-still awareness, the experience seems to be coming from everywhere. A good example of that is Isaiah’s experience in the Temple the year King Uzziah died. The glory of God and His entourage filled the Temple. There was nowhere Isaiah could hide. He was engulfed by the sight of the glory and the penetrating sound of the cherubim’s “Holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah froze in awe. He stopped, listened and heard. He repented and consequently was cleansed so that God could use him.
God captured Isaiah’s attention to get him going! In seeing God’s holiness Isaiah discovered who he was—an unholy servant in dire need of repentance and cleansing. Like Isaiah, we must know who God is before we can know who we are. When we see ourselves in contrast to His holiness, we can act upon that knowledge, repent and be renewed.
So it had been with the slave nation Israel. When Israel left Egypt, the nation needed to be startled by God. After more than 400 years the people had to be reminded of who they were by a fresh experience with the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had to experience the flashing lightning and overwhelming thunder that shook Mount Sinai to its very foundations. They had to hear God speaking with the voice of a trumpet so loud, prolonged and terrifying that they were transfixed with fear, surrounded by the presence of the Almighty, with nowhere to run. They had to experience that moment of shocked sanity when they begged Moses to represent them so that they no longer needed to be confronted by this awesome, terrifying holiness of the living God.
Nevertheless, after the Israelites received the Law, their fear and awe diminished so that the tendency to disobey became stronger and overcame them. For those lapses of faith they were sentenced to wander forty years outside the Promised Land. Then once again Israel needed to remember who she was and who God was. To help her remember, God instituted the Passover feast—an annual reminder of the powerful redemption from Egypt, the lightning-and-thunder dread at Mount Sinai, and the awesome miracles of the wilderness journey. Passover, to be regarded as the beginning of months in the spring, was a time to purge out all leaven (symbolic of sin) and to begin a new spiritual walk with God. Yet the Passover memorial did not ensure Israel’s continued attention to purity.
God commanded the fall feasts as a second occasion for self-inspection and repentance. In a sense, those celebrations were another new beginning. It was time once again to toss out the old and bring in the new—a second “spring housecleaning” for Israel. It was an occasion for the Israelites to review the accumulated buildup of sin on their souls and to look inward and recheck their connections. The Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Booths were God’s official timetable for Israel’s repentance, renewal and regeneration.
God’s terrifying appearance on Mount Sinai had been heralded by the sound of a trumpet so prolonged and loud that it struck fear into every heart. So too, His call to introspection, repentance and renewal was to begin with the jarring blast of a trumpet. At Mount Sinai the awesome sound was the trumpet of God. At the Feast of Trumpets the device was of human design. Whether the trumpet calls of ancient times emanated from rugged ram’s horns or the silver instruments of the Temple, the sounds were neither sweet nor mellow. They were jarring blasts—signals to alarm people or at least move them to action. This was especially true of the ram’s horn (shofar). Certain situations required the immediate attention of all the Israelites in the vicinity. Usually those signals were not sounded melodiously as from a bugle but in a series of short and long blasts. The sound of the trumpet could be a call to put out a fire, a warning of impending attack or a summons to assemble to hear an official announcement. Whatever that cacophonous blast meant, it was a signal either to come or to go—to get in motion and do it right now.
Like ancient Israel, we who belong to the Lord today need to hear His call to clean our spiritual houses. In our spiritual lives the words “awe,” “fear” and “respect” are all akin. We need to renew our awe of God. We need to remember who we are and what we need to be because of who God is.
If we are to be of any use to God, like ancient Israel and like Isaiah, we need to be startled into awareness. We must become alert, focus our attention on Him and thus enable our minds to transcend their usual neuron paths and thought processes. We must allow the terrifying light of God’s holiness to illuminate the sin in our lives. Recognizing that we are totally unclean, we must repent and call upon Yeshua’s atoning blood to cleanse us. Only then can we begin to explore our wondrous potential as clean vessels for God.
To do this, we need to set aside regular times for reflection and renewal. For some, a daily cleansing under the shower of God’s mercy will suffice. For others, it must be almost a moment-by-moment occurrence.
Sometimes the houses of our spiritual identities accumulate so much clutter and trash of sin that we see it as part of the furniture. Our spiritual lives accumulate dirt like the windows of a real house that gradually become dirtier, and we become accustomed to squinting in order to see out of them.
The insidious grime of sin builds up until somehow, some way, we notice the accumulation and undergo a spiritual housecleaning. Sometimes the dirt buildup goes unnoticed for so long that God must shock us into awareness. That shaking is usually a painful experience. Yeshua warns:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:19, 20).
If we were wiser, we would schedule our spiritual housecleanings ourselves on a regular basis. We would remember that He is standing at the door, waiting to be invited in.
So, as we contemplate the fall feasts of Israel, let’s contemplate our own relationship to the holy, awesome Creator, the One who cannot be looked upon by human eyes, the One who can pierce our consciences and our hearts with a terrifying trumpet blast as He did at Sinai. Let’s allow ourselves to be transfixed by His trumpet call. Let’s allow the thought of it to spur us on to put our spiritual houses in order.
Let’s wash anew in the cleansing blood of Yeshua; let’s use the broom of repentance to sweep away the accumulated dust of slothfulness. Let’s use the scouring pad of God’s Word to remove the grime of sinful attitudes. Let’s allow God to make us shine with the polish of His grace, and let’s offer ourselves as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to Him.
Let’s do all this, knowing that soon the trump of God will sound once more. This time it will herald the return of our Savior, Yeshua. And if that is our blessed hope, we will not be caught unaware. We will not be startled on that day, or frightened. Rather, we will take delight in that sound, for it will be the first note in the transcendent melody and beautiful rhythm of our everafter in God’s presence. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!