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Do You Hear the Sound of the Shofar? (part 2)

Post Title: A Call to Return

I want to look at this mysterious Feast of Trumpets (Yom T'ruah) that inaugurates the seventh month, a spiritual new year characterized by the unique sound of the shofar. There are biblical, historical, and traditional dimensions related to it that were active in the time of Christ.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blasts [t'ruah], a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD. - Leviticus 23:23-25

The Hebrew word t'ruah is literally blowing or sounding.

In some contexts, it can be translated as a shout. Notice it is not given a title in this text, simply a description. Hebraically, it is the blast of a shofar. If you see the word trumpets added, you should replace it with the shofar, a ram's horn. What makes this day and everything in the month that follows distinctive is the shofar's unique sound and associations. According to Jewish tradition, the shofar is sounded 100 times during this festival.

When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. ... From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD (Ezra3:6).

After the Babylonian captivity of seventy years, the exiles returned under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. They began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord though the foundation of the Lord's temple had not yet been laid. In other words, it is on the first day of the seventh month that the altar is restored in what is to be the temple of the Lord. Not only is the place of sacrifice restored, but the Word of God is restored.

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Torah before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. - Nehemiah 8:1-2

Ezra, a man we know so little about is, considered second only to Moses in his influence upon the people of Israel. Why? Because he restored the reading and exposition of the Torah to Israel.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law (Neh. 8:9).

Dear friends, God says, "The person I esteem is the one who trembles at my Word." I suggest to you that their weeping here is a weeping borne of repentance. Israel has been under judgment for their sins. Now they have been restored by the grace of God and as the Torah is read in their midst and explained to them, they weep.

This is a season for repentance and yet, it is also a season for hope because the way the Torah describes God is as One who abounds in grace, in steadfast love (hesed in Hebrew). Nehemiah says, "Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Drawing on this historical incident, the first day of the seventh biblical month is associated with sober reflection and repentance. And yet, in Jewish tradition, you are forbidden to fast because it is a day of sweetness. One of the traditional ways of commemorating that is to eat apples dipped in honey.

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!

Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.

Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.

-Psalm 81:1-3

The word shout in verse one is the word t'ruah, the very word for the festival of T'ruah. Indeed, this seems to be an allusion to this festival which again points to the goal of repentance—the restoration of relationship that produces joy.

In the years before and during the life of Jesus, the dominant image of this festival is the image of a judge who comes to the bench. It is a time in which you consider yourself as coming before the judge of heaven and earth where your life is put into His scales of justice. Will you be found wanting? It is a sobering thought and why the Jewish new year, unlike our pagan new year, is not a time for silliness and drunkenness but a time for serious reflection. Know before whom you stand and repent.

Remember, this somber day begins a ten-day countdown to the Day of Atonement. It is a reprieve so that you can repent before the final determination is made on Yom Kippur as to whether your sins will be covered or whether they will be judged. When it comes time for judgment, you want mercy.

My friend took my picture for publication. While reviewing the photos, I commented, "Jim, these pictures simply don't do me justice". Jim said, "Brother Dwight, you don't need justice. You need mercy." [laughter]

Guess what is the favorite text used throughout the liturgy of this season?

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty." - Exodus 34:5-7

Here God describes Himself! He pronounces His name twice and He gives thirteen attributes that describe Him. This is the God before whom you want to come on the Day of Judgment. Yes, He is merciful, gracious, kind, and compassionate, but those attributes only become active in your life if you appropriate them in repentance.

Sacrifice is essential and repentance is essential; you must have both. Yes, God is merciful but His mercy is of no avail to those walking in ways of wickedness. Rebellion blocks God's grace and therefore opens you up to His judgment.

Beware of defaulting here to that Old Testament mischaracterization of God as the angry Lawgiver. A picture we were all basically weaned on. It is so frustrating to hear well-meaning people parroting this mentality that falsely pits law versus grace. God gave the Torah for life!

You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess (Deut 5:33).

Yet the Word of God that was meant for your good becomes the Word that curses your sin if you walk in disobedience. Torah is not sinful, says Paul. Rather, it exposes and judges sin and makes sacrifices available for the penitent. Jesus says the same thing about the New Covenant.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:5-6).

The feast of the blowing is a call to return. The shofar is sounding, "Do you hear it?"


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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.


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