I am a trumpet player; I grew up practicing, playing and studying to become the best trumpet player I could be. While pursuing a career in orchestral performance at Boston University I was apprehended by God and called into His service. Early on I found many opportunities to play, including my time with the Liberated Wailing Wall. I have to admit, it’s been awhile since I’ve practiced or played. Still, being a trumpet player is an important part of my life and my identity.
Playing the trumpet was important to the life and identity of ancient Israel as well. In fact, God commanded Israel to set aside an entire day as a special assembly to be marked by the blowing of trumpets. This month we are celebrating that important Jewish holy day, appropriately named Yom Teruah, or the Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:24).
You won’t find any “Happy Yom Teruah” greeting cards at your favorite stationery store because few contemporary Jewish people call this feast by its biblical name. The Feast of Trumpets is more commonly referred to as Rosh Hashanah. This literally means the head of the year, or more commonly the Jewish New Year.
Nowhere does the Bible link this festival to the New Year; in fact it falls on the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month and not the first. How does it come to be called the New Year?
Some point out that in western culture we have more than one New Year; January 1 is the most obvious. Yet the fiscal year ends on June 30 and begins anew on July 1, while a new school year usually begins in September.
So too, the twelfth chapter of Exodus records God’s command that the month when he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt (called Nisan and corresponding to our month of March) was to be “… your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). Accordingly, that is the month from which Israel counted the reign of kings. Yet for some reason, the religious calendar for the counting of years begins on the first day of the seventh month (called Tishri, corresponding with September). Perhaps this has to do with the significance of seven, or the fact that the Bible used the seventh month to calculate the Sabbatical years and the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). If all of this has you slightly confused, don’t worry, you are not alone.
Most Jewish people simply celebrate the Jewish New Year in the seventh month as per tradition, sending special greeting cards, holding family gatherings and enjoying special pastries and apples with honey to symbolize wishes for a sweet New Year.
But despite the name change, the blowing of trumpets remains the central religious element of the festival even to this day. During the synagogue services on this holy day, the trumpet is traditionally blown a total of 100 times. However, the trumpet we use for this holiday is not made of brass or silver. The instrument that takes center stage on this day is from a far more ancient tradition; it is a ram’s horn, also called a shofar.
If you have never heard the blast of a shofar I want to assure you, it is not the most aesthetically pleasing sound. The most common type is a short ram’s horn that makes a piercing, wailing sound. The much longer Yemenite shofar makes a lower and fuller sounding blast that is still rather eerie. Neither horn is designed to sound pleasing, but rather the blast of these trumpets is meant to get our attention, and that is exactly the point of the Feast of Trumpets. God has something to say and we had better take heed.
This world we live in constantly cries out for our attention, beckoning us to be consumed by our surroundings, captivated by our troubles, controlled by the pursuit of pleasure. But our Creator calls us to lift our eyes above the fray and distractions. He calls us to see ourselves and our circumstances from a different perspective, to reach beyond mundane and temporal realities and draw near to the spiritual and eternal truths that spring from the domain of the Holy One. Throughout the Scripture, God has used the trumpet, the shofar, to call Israel and all who will hear to pause… and listen to this deeper reality.
First, He used a trumpet to call our attention to the revelation of His Word at Mt. Sinai. While Moses was up on the mountain of God, the people down below were “blown away” by the loud blast of a trumpet: “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16).
Some have suggested that God intended that Feast of Trumpets to be an annual reminder of the central event in Israel’s history. God knows that we need reminders of the fact that He has spoken in time and space to reveal His will and His way. It’s a fact that people de-emphasized at best, and more often than not, it’s a fact that people doubt and dispute.
Why do people doubt that God has revealed His will? Is it because they doubt the veracity of Scripture? Or is it because believing Scripture would make them accountable to Someone other than themselves? The trumpet blast reminds us that God has revealed His truth in this world, that He’s set His own standards and expectations, and we are accountable to Him.
Even as the people of Israel trembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai when they heard the trumpet blast, we should tremble before a holy God and before the revelation of His Word. This leads to a second reason given for the blowing of the trumpet; it reminds us of our sin and calls us to repent.
It is no coincidence that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, follows closely on the heels of the Feast of Trumpets. The ten days between these two holy days are traditionally known as the Days of Awe and are to be spent in sober self-examination and preparation for that most holy of days, the day of Atonement, when we are to repent of all of our sins. Likewise, we who are His servants are invited by the Lord to “blow a trumpet” ourselves, so that others might be warned of their sin and respond to the call for repentance. The Scriptures tell us if we fail to sound that trumpet of warning we become responsible before God for the lives of those we failed to warn (Ezekiel 33:4-8).
Some might be reluctant to sound that warning because we don’t want to be judgmental. Remember, there is a difference between warning and judging. When sinners who have heard and heeded a warning then warn others, it is an act of compassion. We simply need to be clear that we are just as much in need of repentance as those for whom we sound the trumpet call.
Of course we also get to announce the good news—that forgiveness of sin is available through the finished work of Jesus Christ who is the Word made flesh, the ultimate revelation of God. Responding in faith to His revelation leads to repentance… and redemption, by the grace of God. This is the ultimate reality on which all of creation depends.
The day is soon coming when the last trumpet will sound announcing the completion of God’s plan for world redemption: “… For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). That trumpet will cause us to tremble with joy!
Revelation, repentance and redemption. These truths are the greater reality. God is calling us to lift our sight above the temporal and towards the eternal. In these trying days while we await that final trumpet blast, let’s not sound an uncertain note about God’s truth. Let’s blow that trumpet confidently, and may God give us strength to sound it loud enough for all to hear. Happy Feast of Trumpets.