The Feast of Trumpets is the only festival in the Bible that is named after a (more-or-less) musical instrument. There were apparently two different kinds of trumpets used in religious services in ancient Israel: a long silver trumpet used for calling assemblies and announcing feast days, Sabbaths and new moons, and a ram’s horn trumpet called the shofar that was usually used in warfare and later in royal coronations.
We are not told directly in the Scriptures which version was used in the Feast of Trumpets, but Jewish tradition has assigned the shofar to that duty. (My own private suspicion is that the plural used in the description suggests that all of Israel’s trumpets were used in this particular festive occasion. But who am I to mess with tradition?)
In previous messages about the Feast of Trumpets I have highlighted various ways that trumpets were used in Israel as analogies for the Feast, based on the uses described in the first paragraph. This time we will explore the trumpet as used by God Almighty himself.
In The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997) co-author Kevin L. Howard notices that God himself is described as blowing a trumpet on two important occasions. The first occurs in Exodus 19 as God gathers the newly-freed Israelites to Mt. Sinai to enter into a covenant with them.
The trumpet is blown to announce the arrival of God Almighty to the top of Mt. Sinai, increasing in volume as He approaches in fire and cloud and earthquakes. The effect must have been overwhelming to the gathered Israelites.
Strangely enough, it was not the incredible trumpet-blasts, the fire, the smoke or even the earthquakes that frightened the people enough that they could not stand it. Not until they heard God speak did they panic and move away (Ex. 18: 18-21).
According to Howard the trumpet that is sounded on this occasion is the shofar.
God had gathered his people Israel for the express purpose of forming them into his own nation. Israel was to officially enter a covenant with him to be his special people. He was making them into a holy priesthood to show his glory to the rest of the world. It was a momentous occasion, worthy of a personal appearance by the great King and Creator of the universe. The trumpet was sounded to herald his appearance and the solemnity of the occasion.
It is on this occasion that the people of Israel were to accept God as their ultimate ruler and authority – in essence, their King. This is where the blowing of the shofar intersects with the idea of royal coronation. God was being accepted by Israel as their King. The shofar-blast announces the impending coronation of Israel’s King.
It was an awe-inspiring event that changed the course of Israel’s history.
From that moment on they were God’s own special people, and Yawheh was their one and only God. Even if they failed to uphold their end of the covenant, God would be glorified through them. God would be responsible to bless them for obedience or curse them for disobedience. In either case, the world would know that Israel’s God was at work behind the scenes creating the magnificent prosperity or the calamitous destruction of the nation.
The shofar is associated with the God of both deliverance and destruction. In ancient times deliverance for Israel resulted in the destruction of Egypt as a military and economic power.
The second instance of God blowing a trumpet will herald a second exodus. The world’s military and economic superpowers will, like the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, try to resist the establishment of Jesus’ rule over the earth. Speaking of a future time of deliverance of Israel from foreign oppression, the prophet Zechariah says,
The LORD will appear over them and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The LORD of hosts will protect them and they shall devour and tread down the slingers. (Zech. 9:14-15)
The passage goes on in gory metaphorical detail about how God will help them fight their enemies at the time he is sounding the shofar (presumably as a war-trumpet).
The context of this passage can be found in verses 9-10:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nation; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
If I understand the passage correctly, the “chariot” and “war-horse” do not refer to Israelite military forces, but rather those of invaders who are to be driven out of God’s land.
In the book of Revelation there are seven trumpets sounded that bring to a close the era of human self-rule under demonic influence. Each blast begins a chain of events that leads to the return of Jesus Christ in glory and power to rule over the world.
Finally, the last trumpet sounds, and an angel announces that the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ, and that he shall reign forever and ever! (Rev. 11:14-19) The announcement carries a message of joy for some and terror for others. It is a time for rewarding the saints and prophets. It is also the time of God’s wrath on unrepentant nations and a time “for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
Howard mentions that even Jewish tradition connects the resurrection of the dead with Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets.
The Apostle Paul, formerly a Jewish rabbi, seems to have the same connection in mind in 1 Cor. 15:51-52.
Listen, I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 he goes into more detail:
For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the lord in the air; and so we will be with the lord forever.
As with God at Mt. Sinai so it will be with Jesus and his saints. He will gather his people from all around the world, living and dead, into a huge congregation in the clouds. From then on they will be his perpetual covenant-people and he will be their crowned King.
The last trumpet heralds the arrival of the Great King and the gathering of his people into an eternal kingdom that is based on a new covenant.
The timing of the festival presents an interesting analogy for Christians.
It is the only festival given by God to Israel that is observed on the day of a new moon. The rest revolve around the full moon (Passover and Tabernacles) or upon a count from a previous festival (Atonement and Weeks/Pentecost).
In ancient times (and some Asian calendars) the month was literally based on the moon’s phases. The Jewish and Babylonian calendars began each month when the first sliver of light appeared on the moon. The new moon actually had to be observed before the new month could be officially declared by (you guessed it) the blowing of trumpets.
The trumpet-blasts on the Feast of Trumpets announced the beginning of the next agricultural year, upon which the rotation of Sabbath-years and Jubilee-year cycle depended. It represented a fresh start in several ways, depending upon where in those cycles it happened to be.
There is an analogy for Christians based upon the idea of watching for that thin sliver of light as the moon is rising at the end of the month. Designated observers had to send a message to the High Priest once they saw the moon’s light, but only then. Once the High Priest had enough reliable observations reported, he ordered the trumpets sounded.
The idea of watching for the new moon parallels Jesus’ admonition for his disciples to be alert and watch for his return. To them Jesus says,
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man… Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Does this mean that Christians must be constantly tuned into the news and current affairs networks for each breaking story that may indicate Jesus may be returning? Do we have the Bible open with one hand and the newspaper with the other?
Only if it’s Jerusalem in 70 AD and the Roman army is approaching.
For the rest of us, Jesus puts it this way,
“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if the wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed, and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with the drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If I am reading this warning correctly, we do not need to worry about having missed a news headline.
We are charged with the responsibility of doing Jesus’ work until the great angelic trumpet gathers us together or until we are dead – whichever comes first.