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In the Bible, Rosh Hashanah is never called New Year. That is a term that was later applied to the holiday because it occurred on the first day of the seventh month, which was the time of year when the Hebrew civil calendar began.

Biblically speaking, Rosh Hashanah is known as the Feast of Trumpets. This name is derived from God's command:

"Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets." (Num. 29:1)

It is interesting to note that the word trumpets is not in the text. The text reads: yom teruah yi-yeh lechem—literally "a day for you for blowing." Adding the word "trumpets" makes it clear that it called for an instrument, not just blowing air around at one another or bragging about one's accomplishments.

In some cases silver trumpets were used in ancient Israel, but the trumpet of choice for most purposes, including Rosh Hashanah was the shofar, or ram's horn. They come in various sizes and shapes, from the smaller comma shaped horn to the large triple twisted Yeminite horn.

God gave specific instructions how trumpets were to be blown, namely with three distinct notes—tekiah, shevarim and teruah.

Tekiah—one loud, sustained note with a sharp rise at the end

The tenth chapter of the book of Numbers describes the way trumpets were to be blown. In verse 10 tekiah is translated as "to blow:"

"Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow [the verb form of tekiah] the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your
God. I am the LORD your God." (Num. 10:10)

So the purpose of the tekiah sound was to signal the initial sighting of the new moon which began each month (see also Ps. 81:3), as part of the moedim —"appointed feasts" like Rosh Hashanah, and sacrifices.

But at that time when God was giving a specific instruction for this blowing of the trumpet, the tekiah sound already had a specific meaning. It originated from ancient times when shepherds would sound the shofar as a warning when a predatory animal threatened their flocks, which typically occurred at night. It was also used by watchmen guarding the cities of the Ancient Near East as a warning when an attack was coming upon them (Ezek 33:6). The watchman would blow the tekiah sound in order to get the attention of the people who were going about their business or, more often, asleep in their homes when the attacks came.

In other places the blowing of the tekiah sound was used for assembly of the people. In Numbers 10 a pair of trumpets were used as signals for the people.
God instructed:

"And when both [of the trumpets] are blown [tekiah], all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Yet if only one is blown [tekiah], then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you." (Num. 10:2,3)

In all of these cases, the tekiah sound was a specific signal to get the people's attention. You might call it "the wake up call."

Shevarim—a note that is broken into three medium length parts

The Hebrew word shevarim means "broken." It has the sense of something being broken into parts, such as a broken pot. But it also is used as a way of describing humility or sorrow. For example, after his infamous blunder and cover up involving Bathsheba, David cries out to God with remorse:

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:17)

You can actually hear the emotion conveyed in the second note—like a crying sound. And you can see it visually in the shape of the shofar, which is said to depict a man with his head bent in humility.

One of the ancient Jewish sages (Saul Lieberman) called the sounding of the shofar, "a prayer without words." This is especially true with the shevarim note. It is a picture of awareness of one's weaknesses or sinfulness and, in turn, crying out to God who is all-powerful and pure and righteous. So unless we become aware of our sin and its consequences, we will not turn to the One who can help us with them. These broken notes known as shevarim, then, depict the importance of awareness.

Teruah—a note divided into nine staccato parts

In some places in Scripture, teruah is translated as "blowing," which is the case in Num. 29:1 and also Lev. 23:24, the two passages that are associated with the Feast of Trumpets. But more often teruah is used as "alarm."

We saw how in Num. 10 the tekiah sound was used for assembling the people. But this passage goes on to describe another sound:

"But when you blow an alarm [teruah], the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out." (Num.10:5,6)

The teruah sound was the call to action. Once awakened from their slumber or busy-ness and made aware of their situation, it was a time to act. In the case of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, it was a time to get up and move. At other times it was a call to arms—a mobilization of the people for battle:

"And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm [teruah] with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies. (Num. 10:9)

The significance of the pattern of the notes

In the case of Rosh Hashanah, the same sequence of awakening, awareness and action was communicated through the blowing of the shofar and the specific actions associated with each note. On Rosh Hashanah:

  • The first note—tekiah—alerted the people that the annual Judgment Day was coming.
  • The second note—shevarim—made the people aware of their sins and the need to take on a broken, repentant spirit.
  • The third note—teruah—warned them of the impending action ten days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the sins of the people of Israel were dealt with through sacrificial atonement.

Awake, aware and act—these, then, are the three principles that form the basis of the biblical holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Moreover, they can be found in many events recorded in Scripture that involve the blowing of trumpets.

Another passage involving trumpets is Israel's conquest of Jericho in Joshua 6. This familiar story describes the capture of the first city of the land of Canaan that God had given to Israel. The men of Israel marched around the city for six days. Then we are told:

"Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall [tekiah] blow the trumpets. And it shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear [kol ha-shofar] the voice of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with [teruah gedolah] a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead." (Josh. 6:4,5)

So the order here was tekiah by shofar, the voice of the shofar and a vocal teruah. In other words, in light of the specific meaning of the sounds, the conquest only took place after the city and warriors alike were awakened, the men of Israel were aware of what to do, and the resulting action was the crumbling of the walls and the capture of the city.

Awake, Aware and Act are the elements of salvation

In the world of the Bible, the lives of most people were centered around the production of food. It was a way of life that followed the seasons. So every year, at the end of the summer, when the busy harvest time was concluded and the storehouses were full, there was a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. And probably for the first time in a long while, there was time for a nice nap.

But suddenly, with the arrival of Rosh Hashanah in the fall, the people would be confronted with the sound of the shofar, calling them to awaken from their naps and their satisfaction. It was a time to look inward and to prepare for Yom Kippur when their sins would be covered in the act of atonement. So people would consider their own actions, perhaps seeking out others to ask for forgiveness, and to turn to the Lord in contrition.

Has anything changed since then? Yes and no. Today most people don't rely on growing and harvesting things in order to make a living. But we still get caught up in the busy affairs of life. It is easy to go from day to day without considering spiritual matters. It is simple human nature.

And so God sees fit to wake us up. Sometimes He does that by bringing people into our lives who declare His message. Or God may allow tragedy to come upon us, when we are suddenly confronted with our mortality and our prospects for the hereafter.

There has been a significant change, however, in the way the solution to our sin is solved. Yom Kippur was the one day each year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, symbolically covering the sins of the people. Year after year this act we know as atonement had to be repeated. That is, until the death of Yeshua, the perfect High Priest who, as a man represented all humanity, yet never sinned and therefore provided an atonement that never needed to be repeated. Thus it should be no surprise that God allowed the Temple of Jerusalem to fall in 70 A.D. since the issue of atonement had been settled forever.

Each of us has our own story to tell of the way God has worked in our lives. We could tell about how we were awakened to the fact that because of our sin, we face judgment and eternal separation from God. We could explain how we became aware of the solution that our sins can be covered by receiving the atonement of Yeshua and how our prideful spirits became broken with that awareness. We could describe how we then acted on that understanding by confessing our sins and repenting from them, and by believing that Yeshua died for us personally.

But for many people, it is an unfinished story. You may have been shaken up because of a trial in your life and you may have heard the Gospel message many times. You may even consider yourself to be a spiritual person. But unless you act on these things by believing in Yeshua as Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world, being merely awakened and aware would be meaningless.

In the same way that it would be incomplete for the people of ancient Israel to observe the Feast of Rosh Hashanah and to neglect the even more ominous Day of Atonement, we have to act on what we know for it to have relevance. We have to believe in Yeshua and to acknowledge that he died for me.

Awake, Aware and Act are the elements of God's ultimate plan for this earth and all who inhabit it

Do you ever wonder what prophecy actually being fulfilled looks like? In many ways, it just looks like any other day. Looking back, consider the day when Jesus was crucified. Do you think the average person, whether Roman or Jew, looking on the scene thought to themselves, "Wow, the sins of the entire world are now being atoned in fulfillment of prophecy"? It is more likely they were thinking along the lines of, "This guy is an innocent victim of the political system" or "Good riddens. I'm glad this troublemaker is gone."

While we have the advantage of a detailed depiction of what the End Times in Scripture, by and large our world is deep asleep when it comes to God's timetable. Most people go about their daily lives oblivious to prophetic events unfolding around them. The most common answers to today's ominous questions reflect an indifference to the prophetic message of the Bible.

  • Another war in the Middle East? That's just normal in that part of the world.
  • Nations threatening the destruction of Israel? It's just grandstanding. They will never actually try to pull it off.
  • AIDS, West Nile virus, e. coli outbreaks, swine flu? We’ll just find the cures.
  • Floods, droughts and hurricanes on the increase? Technology will just have to adapt to these changes.
  • Earthquakes around the world? What else is new? Too bad all those people have to suffer. But the reality is, according to the U.S. Geological Survery, the rat of major quakes has increased dramatically since the beginning of the millennium.
  • False Christs leading people astray? Those are just insignificant groups who don’t fit into the mainstream.

This day in which we live is like reading right out of Matthew 24 which describes the events leading up to the return of Yeshua. It is only natural to wonder, what is that final event when God says, "enough, watch out below." We don't know the answer. In fact Scripture makes it clear that,

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." (Matt. 24:36)

This much we do know—He will return because He always keeps His Word. So when He promises to take us to the place he has prepared for us in heaven (Jn. 14:2) I can surely count on that assurance. But He also has to return in order to clean up this mess we have made here.

  • It will only be Yeshua who will bring an end to war.
  • It will only be Yeshua who will preserve Israel as a nation (Jer 31:35-37).
  • It will only be Yeshua who will bring an end to sickness of every kind and bring about a new earth.
  • It will only be Yeshua who will be recognized as the true Messiah, Creator of the Universe and Sovereign over everything that exists.

"He will make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). And when he comes, what will the final signal be? A very familiar sound:

"Tekiah!—Blow a trumpet in Zion, and teruah—sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; surely it is near." (Joel 2:1)

In the New Testament, the return of Yeshua is described in similar fashion:

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Messiah shall rise first." (1 Thes. 4:16)

So when Yeshua returns to claim his faithful ones and to bring an end to conflict in this world, it will be heralded by three sounds.

  • shout—Gr. keleuma
  • voice—Gr. phone
  • trumpet—Gr. salpinx (which literally means "reverberation")

The New Testament was written in Greek, so in this passage Hebrew terms are not used. But we can know what terms are equivalent by comparing the Hebrew Tanach (Old Testament) to its Greek translation called the Septuagint, which was written by 72 Jewish scribes about 200 years before the time of Yeshua. So when we see a Greek word used in the NT, we can identify the corresponding Hebrew word by seeing how the Greek term is used in the Septuagint. In the case of 1 Thes. 4:16. we discover:

  • shout—Gr. keleuma = Heb. teruah
  • voice—Gr. phone = Heb. kol
  • trumpet—Gr. salpinx (reverberation) = Heb. tekiah

In other words, the return of Yeshua will be accompanied by the familiar sounds of the that brought down the walls of Jericho and the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Just as a shofar, a voice and a shout brought down the walls of Jericho, a shofar, a voice and a shout will bring down Messiah to this earth. And when He comes we are promised:

"Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thes. 4:17).

His kingdom will be manifested in all its glory, with God's people, both Jew and Gentile alike, who have been redeemed through faith in Yeshua HaMashiach, dwelling in His presence forever.

When the heavenly trumpet blows, it is clear that it will be a good news/bad news kind of situation. No doubt for a great host of people, it is going to be a devastating shock. But for those whose souls are ready to meet Him, it will it be a joyous blessing.

So whenever the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah, it is a reminder of this great hope and blessing to come. May we all be awakened to the reality of our spiritual needs. May we be aware of what is to come and what God expects of us in the meantime. And may we all be found faithful in acting obediently, just as He will be faithful in coming again to claim us for eternity.

For that reason, as we are reminded, "therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thes. 4:18). Yeshua is indeed coming again.


Dr. Galen Peterson
© 2010 American Remnant Mission