Have you ever heard the stirring sound of a shofar? That ancient cry to the deep… It is a sound that the people of Israel are commanded to hear on the Feast of Trumpets, Yom haTeruah.
In Israel many will be making sure that they can still hear the sound of the trumpets on this special day, despite the lockdown. It’s a beautiful, haunting sound that seems to pierce right to your soul. In fact, the Hebrew root word (שָׁפַר) has the meaning of incision – it cuts to the very heart!
The Feast of Trumpets vs Rosh Hashanah
Jewish people now refer to the day as Rosh Hashanah which means “head of the year”, since it now heralds the Jewish new year according to rabbinic tradition, thought to have begun in Babylon. God has other ideas, stating in Exodus 12 that the first day of the first year is the beginning of the month of Passover in the spring. However, despite this discrepancy, the start of the fall feasts comes at the beginning of the agricultural cycle, and it’s interesting that God would set His own calendar so differently to all the surrounding peoples of the Middle East, breaking the annual cycle of agriculture in two. Half way through the agricultural year comes Passover, foreshadowing of the crux of history. God challenges the idea that our life and survival depends on food and points instead to the abundant and eternal life given to us through the Messiah.
But anyway, back to the Feast of Trumpets. Or, the Feast of Loud Noises as it might be expressed. A teruah is a blast of a horn, a loud noise. In Leviticus 23:24, God calls for a solemn assembly: “a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns” (zichron teruah – זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה). Did you notice the word “memorial”? This aspect of remembering is ironically often forgotten! In some ways the Feast of Trumpets is a bit of a mystery. God simply commands a rest, a sacrifice, and a memorial blast of the shofar. But why?
The memorial blast of trumpets: Pay attention!
The first time the shofar is mentioned is in Exodus 19 at Mount Sinai, where the people of Israel trembled at the sounds of thunder and shofars. It was a truly awe-inspiring and nation-defining moment. God is calling Israel to cast their minds back to Sinai and the covenant He made with us there.
Shofars and trumpets in Scripture have many connotations and are mentioned almost 80 times in different contexts: summoning the tribes to the door of the tabernacle, getting ready to up-tents and move on, as a warning, an announcement, inaugurating a new king, building, event or era, as a battle cry, a victory shout or the sound of rejoicing… Through the sound of the shofar, God calls His people to turn their minds and attention back to Him, back to heavenly matters.
Different sounds of trumpets mean different things, but they are all calling for attention. The trumpet blast conveys a message.
If you ever come to Israel and find yourself in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, you will most likely hear the call “Simu lev!” which means, “Pay attention!” at the beginning of some important announcement. But if we were to translate the words more literally into English, they are saying to you, “Put your hearts!”
I recently heard that one of the best gifts of love you can give anyone – including God – is your attention. There’s a huge difference between someone being emotionally present or emotionally absent – detached or engaged. Focused or distracted. You can physically be in a place, and use your time to be there, but giving attention is more than that. By paying attention to someone, we remember our interactions and our history with them. We remember our relationship and all that it means to us. We remember who we’re talking to.
Paying attention is the conscious decision to engage our hearts – the very essence of our being. We have the choice to “put” it in a certain place or direction.
In many ways, worship is paying attention to God, giving him our time and “putting our hearts” with him… Being present, engaged, and focused. We remember God’s worth and come towards Him to give Him the love and honor He is due.
But so often we rattle away, busily reading through whatever Bible passages we’re supposed to read, and maybe we might even think about it for a while, but are we thinking with God? Or separately from Him? Are we truly present with Him? Does he have our ear? Are we inviting Him to speak, and giving him room and space to do so? Do you ask Him what is on His heart, or what He would like to express to you? Does He have your undivided attention in your times together? Are you gazing up at Him, or at your own issues, your own life?
The blast of the shofar reminds us to forget self and remember God, putting His agenda at the front of our minds. It’s also an opportunity to remember our own personal “Sinai” event, where God invited us into covenant with Him and we said yes.
The call of the shofar
As we gaze up to God and give Him our attention, we become more tuned in to His agenda. God has purposes and plans that He is rolling out in our days, and He is looking for those who will work with Him. We need to be seeking God’s face to hear His instructions to us and to understand His word to the world in these times. God is calling us to be His trumpet blowers in this world, conveying His message.
For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8)
The trumpet blast calls out.
It’s a calling and an invitation.
It’s call to remember the God of Israel and an invitation to meet with Him.
There is still time for people to come to God in repentance, to be forgiven, embraced, and to be adopted into God’s loving family. Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:19 us to make sure the whole world gets to hear this good news. The time will come when a different kind of trumpet blast will be heard:
Then Adonai will be seen over them as His arrow flashes like lightning. Adonai Elohim will blow the shofar and march in whirlwinds of the south. (Zechariah 9:14)
One day the very last trumpet will sound, and everything will change forever.