Dr. John B. MacDonald
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This festival was a blast – literally.

The shofar

This festival is called Rosh Hashanah, which in Hebrew, means “New Year.” Often it is referred to as the Festival of Trumpets, but the word “trumpets” does not appear in the text. Literally, this festival was to be commemorated or marked with “loud blasts.” These loud blasts were made by blowing a ram’s horn, or shofar.

Israel also had trumpets made from hammered silver. These human products were blown at certain events such as new moon celebrations and fellowship offerings. They signified Israel’s active response to God.

On the other hand, the shofar was a ram’s horn – it was not a human product. As such it indicated something of God’s active and immediate presence.

Fear or joy?

The word translated “blasts” is the Hebrew word teruah which means “a blast of war, alarm, or joy.”

On one hand, the shofar was blown at times of alarm or threat. For example, at Mount Sinai we read that “on the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet [shofar] blast. Everyone in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16).

Again, Joel writes (2:1) “Blow the trumpet [shofar] in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand … .”

On the other hand, the shofar was blown at times of joy. Here are a couple of examples:

God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the [sound of a shofar]. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. (Psalm 47:5-6)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn [shofar] – shout for joy before the LORD, the King. (Psalm 98:4-6).

So at the Festival of Trumpets what kind of blast was this? Was it a blast linked with fear or with joy?

Understanding the significance of this festival will give us some insight.

God’s instructions

Here’s what the Lord’s instructions to Moses were (Leviticus 23:24-25):

Say to the Israelites: “On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with [blasts (teruah)]. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.”

Further instructions are found in Numbers 29:1-6 in which we learn the offerings were “an aroma pleasing to the LORD.”

So was it a shofar blasting that triggered fear, or that accompanied joy?

I’m inclined to say it was joy – but I’m also aware that it could have caused fear. Let me explain by indicating how this festival will be fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

What’s this about?

Another important point to note is that this festival fell on the first day of the seventh month of the Israelites’ calendar. This year (2014) it would have begun at sunset September 24th.

The previous four festivals were measured from the Passover. As we learned in the blog titled “Celebrating God’s Grace – five guiding principles,” the first four of these festivals were historically fulfilled in Jesus Christ at his first coming. The Passover was fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion, the "headwaters" for the Festival of Unleavened Bread; the First-fruits in His resurrection; Weeks or Pentecost in the Baptism in the Spirit.

The remaining three festivals, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, point us toward fulfilments in the future at the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In particular, this festival will be fulfilled by Jesus Christ at his second coming. He will come physically to earth. His coming will either mean joy or fear depending on where you stand regarding Jesus.

For those who have rejected Jesus, or ignored Him, or considered Him irrelevant in their lives – the physical coming of Jesus Christ will trigger alarm and fear.

For those who are loyal subjects of Jesus Christ we read these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:

Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For these people the sound of this trumpet marks the beginning of a new and exciting era. It declares the defeat of their enemies and oppressors. Jesus comes to set everything right. They receive a new and glorious resurrection body. It is the fulfilment for which they have waited and hoped.

What does this mean for us?

Sometimes we may think that announcements of what will happen in the future are so much “pie in the sky.” We might conclude that it has nothing to do with how we live our lives – but it does.

Robertson McQuilken states that “in the time before a prophecy comes to pass, it is designed to affect present thought and conduct, not to satisfy curiosity concerning the future.”[1]

So how can the prophecies of the coming of Jesus in the future affect how we think and act in the present?

Here are three suggestions:

First, it can press us to get right with God through Jesus Christ. It should cause each of us to settle this question clearly: “Am I a loyal subject of Jesus Christ?” If you can answer with a “Yes!” based on what God has revealed to us in Jesus and in the text of Bible, then the sound of the trumpet will become an experience of joy rather than fear.

Second, it can provide deep and positive hope about our future. The anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ should cause encouragement in our present. Paul writes about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. For instance, followers of Jesus who have died, or are growing decrepit, know that our present lives – lives that may be “nasty, brutish, and short”[2] – are not all there is.

Third, it can motivate us to serve. The expectation of the return of Jesus Christ should stimulate us to serve fully, energetically, and sacrificially. The last statement of 1 Corinthians 15 is this: “Therefore, my dear brothers [and sisters], stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Reflection

Give yourself some time to think about the future return of Jesus Christ and what it means for you. What other ways does it cause you to think and act differently in your present? 

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[1] J. Robertson McQuilken, Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1983), 216. Emphasis added.

[2] From Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.

 

Photo Credit: WARRIOR HUNTER via Compfight cc

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