Most often translated as the word “trumpet” in our English translations the shofar plays an important role in several well-known Bible stories. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Joshua’s epic march around the walls of Jericho (Jos. 6:1-27) but the shofar also factored into a decisive victory by Gideon as well (Jud. 7:15-25). And although the word trumpet brings to mind a shiny metal instrument with valves and tubing on its top and sides, the horn of a ram is generally what is being spoken of when mentioned throughout the Psalms (47:5; 81:3; 98:6; 150:3) and in several New Testament passages too (1 Cor. 15: 25, 50-52; 1 Thes. 4:13-18; Rev. 8:1-6). Most importantly the shofar takes center stage in one of Israel’s festival days but you would never know that since it was renamed during the Exile. That festival is listed in Lev. 23:23-25 and Num. 29:1-6 as “a day for blowing trumpets” (Yom Teruah) but is now known as Rosh HaShannah. The latter name means “the head or beginning of the year” but it’s clear from the layout of Lev. 23 that Passover holds that chronological distinction. The name switch was an easy solution for the exiles to continue following the festival calendar without drawing attention to themselves since their Babylonian and Persian neighbors were holding their New Year celebrations at the same time. After the Exile the new name for this holy day stuck and it has remained in place ever since.
The celebration of trumpets in Biblical times was commanded to be “a holy convocation”, a day of rest from work, and a time for offering sacrifices. Modern day observances are somewhat similar- no work, no school and a gathering of local congregations to hear the sounding of the shofar and to hear the stories of Abraham and Isaac (a ram whose horns were caught in a thicket spared the sacrifice of Isaac on an altar- Gen. 22:1-19), Joshua and Gideon. The theme of each story reflects the way God has provided for His people and is a reminder that He will continue to provide in the year to come. In Orthodox synagogues the shofar is sounded 100 times, while Reformed congregations sound 30 blasts. Apples dipped in honey are also a tasty addition to the celebration symbolizing the wish for a “good and sweet New Year”. The shofar blasts also announce a 10 day period of repentance which culminates on the next festival day, Yom Kippur.
Bruce Scott wrote in regards to some of the modern observances, “There is no reason given in Scripture for blowing the trumpets other than as a “memorial” or reminder (Lev. 23:24). But who needs to be reminded and of what? Jewish tradition views blowing the shofar as more of a reminder to Israel than to God”. In that way, the blowing of the shofar is like the ringing of an alarm clock. Awake! Reflect! Be ready! Of course we ALWAYS remember how faithful God is, don’t we? No, we do not! Devout Jews are not the only ones who need to be reminded of what God has done for them. It is beneficial for us to do the same! Just think about this: He is the God who destroyed a fortified city with seven shofars. He is the God who routed an army of 10,000 soldiers with an army of 300 men using only torches and shofars. He is the God who provided a ram caught in a thicket just when Abraham was about to make the ultimate sacrifice. Is there anything that is impossible for Him (Lk. 1:37)? That ram is a reminder that He also reconciled His wayward creation with another sacrifice of far greater value (Jn. 3:16-17). Your own personal stories include times when God has faithfully been by your side. Do you have “shofars” on your shelves that remind you of that? I hope you do!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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