Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Feasts of Israel: "Feast of Trumpets"

Each major Israelite feast recognized a specific aspect of God’s saving work. Since sharing a table signified peace or fellowship, feasts as religious observances demonstrated a peaceful relationship between God and Israel. The most significant texts regarding the feasts of Israel are found in Leviticus 23 (describing the festivals), Numbers 28-29 (emphasizing the offerings), and Deuteronomy 16 (focusing on the pilgrimages).

As we consider this first feast of the Jewish year, we must realize this month is an especially holy month for the Jews. Not only do they celebrate three particular feasts, but because of God’s decrees, four additional Sabbaths are to observed as well. Remember Sabbath indicates a day of rest, not just a day of the week.

The first of these feasts is what is commonly known as the Feast of Trumpets. The Jewish word is Teruah which means “blowing.” We will come to the biblical relevance of this feast in a moment, but for now, let me take a few minutes to discuss the current observance. Most Jews today refer to this day as Rosh Hashanah. Rosh means “head” and shanah is the term for year. This term is used in Ezekiel 40.1, and was celebrated after the exile as we find in Nehemiah 8.2. The Bible says that by the end of the day they were rejoicing because they had heard the Word of the Lord (Neh. 8.12).

This holiday is meant to show Israel’s acceptance of God as their King and to plead for His mercy. It is the second most holy day of the year. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the Jewish year and we will observe that holy day next week.

In America (and elsewhere), many people make resolutions for each new year, but the Jews have distinct beliefs ascribed to the day as they begin their new year. What they believe, and therefore what they pray, is often based upon how they interpret Deuteronomy 11.12 – specifically, that “The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it (the land), from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

One thought on this verse is that God decides at the beginning of the year what will happen by the end of it.
Let me state that this is a less than complete understanding of God’s omniscience. Ephesians 1.4 says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. God does make decisions seemingly ahead of time, but that is because God is outside of time. He is not bound by time; He created it! Thus, God does know what will happen one year from now, but not because He is making that decision now. And also not because He is enforcing it upon us. God can know (and does know) because He is not fixed to a moment in time like we are. I cannot fully fathom this concept, but the reality is that as you read this, God can be present before Creation, at Creation, at the cross, here with you, and waiting for us to join Him tomorrow, next week, next year, and for eternity. For God, none of those fixed points in time matter. They only matter for us – and that is one reason we can trust Him – forever God is faithful!

Another central idea for this day (which is related) is that God decides on Rosh HaShanah what each person will earn that year. That is, what your harvest will be, and even whether you will live or die. Thus, many of the prayers concern having a name being written in the Book of Life. Here is a writing from a rabbi (Rabbi Keruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan) based upon this concept:

Three books are opened [in heaven] on Rosh Hashanah: one for the completely wicked [whose bad deeds definitely outweigh their good], one for the completely righteous, and one for the intermediate [average persons]. The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the Book of Life; the completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the Book of Death; the doom of the intermediate is suspended from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Death (RH 16b).(1)

Again, an understanding of the gospel of grace will dispel this as myth. Why? Because it is not about what we do to earn salvation. Our salvation comes from God and is made possible by the death of Christ. We will see more of this next week when we talk about the atonement. What you might remember from this text is the last portion. The idea of judgement begins at Rosh HaShanah, but it is not complete until Yom Kippur (which again, we will review next week).

So, I have just dispelled two major thoughts related to how Jews celebrate this holy day although both are derived from an interpretation of Deuteronomy 11.12. I hope that leads you to ask a question? Why, then, should this day be studied? Before I answer that question, let me provide a couple of distinct reasons that Jews consider this holiday so important.

1) They consider Creation to have begun on this day.
2) They consider the sacrifice of Isaac to have happened on the second day (their holiday is two days long).
3) They believe Hannah became pregnant with Samuel on Rosh Hashanah.

So, if those beliefs are true, this is an important day to the Christian faith as well. But whether or not those events happened on this day, the people of God were told to commemorate this day. So, I want to share a little about this feast that the Lord prescribed to Israel, and then determine what, if anything, may apply to us today.

The Bible provides four main elements to this holy day. Let me provide a little insight.

1. The feast is to begin on the first day of the seventh month (Lev 23.24; Num 29.1).

Realize God provided the ancient Israelites with the times for their years, and our celebrating of January 1 as the new year did not begin until 1753. The Jewish New Year begins at sundown and continues for two days – this year’s dates being Oct 2 – Oct 4.

2. The feast is a memorial proclaimed by the blowing of the trumpets (Lev 23.24).

The feast itself is the Feast of Teruah (“day of blowing”). This is not the same trumpets that were called for gathering the people’s together; rather these trumpets were usually used for war. In ancient times, that was a primary purpose for the trumpet – a summons for war. Numbers 29.1 calls for a blowing of the trumpets, but not because of war, although the idea of judgment was at hand and thus creating a war-like urgency was a part of the concept.

As for the memorial, “the trumpets were sounded as a triumphant memorial to God’s great provision for his people through the Sinai covenant.” (2)

The blowing was not through a literal trumpet, but from a shofar. Blowing the shofar announces the coronation of God as King, an important theme of Rosh Hashanah. It also emphasizes two other major motifs of the holiday—remembering God as the Creator of the world (after the blowing of the shofar, a prayer is recited that begins “Today the world was born”) and the Revelation at Mount Sinai, where the ram’s horn was sounded. (3)

According to the Talmud, the ritual commandment to hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah can be fulfilled using a shofar made from an antelope, gazelle, goat, mountain goat, or ram (RH 27a). All of these are kosher animals that have horns with removable cartilage. This second feature is important because a shofar must be hollow, since it is derived from the word “shefoferet” meaning “tube.” The Talmud explicitly forbids using a cow’s horn because it is known as a “keren,” not a “shofar,” adding that it is forbidden because our advocate on Rosh Hashanah should not be a reminder of the Golden Calf, our great sin and accuser. We do not want our past transgressions to bias God against forgiving our current sins (“the accuser may not act as defender”; RH 26a). The Rabbis strongly recommended the use of a ram’s horn as a shofar because of its association with the story of the Akedah (see p. 194) (RH 16a). A ram’s horn is also desirable because it is curved, which is symbolic of our bowing in submission to God’s will. (4)

The blowing came to symbolize a return to the homeland. For instance, in Isaiah 27.13 we find, “And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.” Furthermore, in addition to the traditional belief that the shofar will announce the resurrection of the dead, according to a medieval legend Elijah will blow the shofar three days before the arrival of the Messiah. (5) This speaks a bit to the importance of the trumpet sound to Christian. More on that in a few minutes.

3. The day requires a holy convocation and solemn rest (Lev 23.24-25).

Holy means to be set apart. Convocation means a gathering of the people. Solemn is to be formal, serious, or sincere. Rest is the idea of “to cease and desist” which is really the meaning of Sabbath. Thus, on the first day of the 7th month, our holy God called His people together to rest from their ordinary labor (do no ordinary work) and be dedicated to Him. As Christians, we are called to do no less, but as we find in the New Testament, we are not limited to doing this on a once-a-week basis – the early church met daily. Regardless, we are to be a people who find our value in the Way over our value in the work. We should take our time to be holy with our God now as they were then.

4. The feast requires the people to make sacrifices (Numbers 29.2-6).

Moving to the book of Numbers, we find that this day was also a day for sacrifice. Now, the actual numbers for this feast are given, but as this was the first day of the month, they would also have had offerings for the new moon and other offerings (see Numbers 29.6). Thus, in total for this feast, the offerings (a pleasing aroma to the Lord) would have been:

  • 3 bulls, 2 rams, 16 lambs
  • 1.6 bushels of flour
  • 6 gallons of oil
  • 6 gallons of wine

So, these are the four main aspects the Lord requires for the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah). I mentioned in June at the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) that each of the feasts has three main lessons: God’s Protection, God’s Provision, and God’s Promise. Let’s review these now and we will also see how these lessons apply to us.

  • Protection: Leviticus 23.24 – Memorial – God’s Protection Through Prior Year(s) – Our Thanksgiving
  • Provision: Leviticus 23.25, Numbers 29.2-6 – Offerings to the Lord (sacrifices from His provision) – Our Giving
  • Promise: 1 Corinthians 15.52, 1 Thessalonians 4.16, Revelation 11.15 – The King will return, gather His elect, and reign forevermore!

So, what can we, as Christians, living in the 21st century AD take from a command given to Israel in about the 15th Century BC take from this?

One Word: Dedication

That is what this day is truly about. The dedication that the Creator King has for His people and the dedication that we, in turn, should have for Him. Whether we agree with the traditions or not, each tradition that accompanies this date has a defined reason. For instance, the use of honey expresses the idea of sweetness, but was also chosen because the Hebrew word for honey has the same numeric value as “Father of Mercy” (406) – the divine attribute which is prayed on this day. Likewise, pomegranates are important because of the number of seeds. The seeds themselves represent fertility and abundance, but the number – believed to be 613 – is the number of commands found in the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy). And carrots are used because the Yiddish word for “more” is – meirin which is the Hebrew word for carrot.

While we may learn some interesting facts on words and traditions, it all points back to the need for dedication. And as I said earlier, this week points forward to next week when Yom Kippur is celebrated. It is a ten-day window of opportunity to get right with God before His judgement for the year is sealed.

Again, that may not reflect our understanding as Christians, but some principles do overlap. And we should be most concerned with being right with God before our judgement is announced. God is a merciful God (cf Exodus 34.6-7), and Jesus did promise an abundant life, but such a life if only made possible through, and in Him (John 10.10; 15.5).

Learn: As you reflect on these feasts take time to consider how the promises of God are fulfilled in the feasts He has prescribed for the people of Israel. Then consider how Jesus came to fulfill those ideas the first time, or how He will when He returns.

Live: Seek God’s mercy today. Confess your sin to Him and ask for His mercy upon you.

Love: Realize God provided instructions for these feasts in order that the Israelites honor Him. How can you better love and honor God today?

Lead: Lead others to better understand how the feasts instituted so long ago can still have some relevance.

1. Eisenberg, R. L. (2004). The JPS guide to Jewish traditions (1st ed., p. 185). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.
2. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 785). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
3. Eisenberg, JPS guide to Jewish traditions, 195.
4. Ibid., 191-192.
5. Ibid., 191.

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