The first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar (September 16 in 2023) is known as the Day of Trumpets (Yom Teruah in Hebrew). The Bible describes this day as a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets (Lev 23:24).
The type of trumpet traditionally blown on Yom Teruah is a ram’s horn, the shofar, an instrument effective at capturing the attention of anyone within earshot. Since it proclaims a memorial, the shofar’s piercing sound invites hearers to remember something.
Investigating the use of trumpet imagery in Scripture can help us identify what is to be remembered.
First, trumpets announce the sovereignty and kingship of God. God’s appearance at Mount Sinai and giving of the Decalogue were accompanied by shofar blasts (Ex 19:16,19; 20:18). Psalm 47, a psalm associated with the Day of Trumpets, pictures God ascending to his heavenly throne with the sound of a trumpet (verse 5).
Second, biblical prophets lift their voices like trumpets to declare the sins of the people and call them to repentance (Isa 58:1; Eze 33:1-9). The sound of the shofar announces the coming of the Day of the Lord, a time when God intervenes in human affairs to judge the nations and establish justice (Joel 2:1, 15; Zep 1:14-16). The Day of the Lord is a day of trumpet blast and battle cry (Zep 1:16).
Trumpets in the Bible, then, give a call to repentance and a warning of coming judgment from the Supreme Judge. Trumpets prompt God’s people to remember their Creator and King.
On the other hand, trumpet blasts call upon God to remember his people and act on their behalf. We see this in Numbers 10:9-10, where Israel’s priests are instructed to blow silver trumpets before the nation goes into battle so that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.
Based on these ideas, Jewish tradition views the shofar blast on Yom Teruah as an annual call to self-examination and repentance. As in Daniel 7:9-10, heavenly books are opened, books recording each person’s deeds. All are judged, and the verdict is finalized ten days later, on the Day of Atonement.
The Day of Trumpets was not the only time when the shofar was blown in Israel. Shofars were sounded on the first day of each month, the time of the new moon (Ps 81:3). The trumpet sounds on the new moons of the first six months can be seen as advance reminders of the evaluation to begin on Yom Teruah, and the sixth month is traditionally a time of preparation for that evaluation. The existence of so many reminders of coming judgment reflects God’s desire that each person repent of sins and be judged favorably.
These Jewish traditions predate the time of Jesus.
We see hints of them in the Book of Jubilees, a Jewish work from the second century BC. Jubilees 5:13-18 states that all people face divine judgment, and for Israel “it is written and ordained that He will show mercy to all who turn from all their guilt once each year.” Jubilees 31:1-3 says that when Jacob and his family prepared to appear before God at Bethel by removing all their idols (see Ge 35:1-4), they traveled to Bethel on the new moon of the seventh month. Beginning on Yom Teruah they made a concerted effort to put their lives in order, as their descendants would come to do each year.
The Day of Trumpets is not mentioned explicitly in the New Testament, but its images and themes are evident there. We see these images and themes, especially in Revelation 8-11, where seven angels announce a series of divine judgments with seven trumpet blasts.(1)
The trumpets of Revelation are blown in response to the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:1-5), which include prayers of martyrs for vindication (6:9-11). As in Numbers 10:9-10, we see that trumpets are associated with God remembering wrongs that have been done to his people and intervening to set things right.
Divine judgment includes vindication as well as punishment.
These seven trumpet blasts can be viewed as analogous to the trumpets blown on the new moons of the first seven months of the Hebrew calendar. The first six are preliminary and are intended as calls to repentance (see 9:20-21, which mentions that many do not repent). The punishments they announce are limited to a third of the possible recipients (8:7, 9, 11-12) and have a limited duration (five months in 9:5). The seventh, corresponding to the blast on the Day of Trumpets, announces Christ’s universal rule and judgment (11:15-18).
Elsewhere in the New Testament a final trumpet blast, called the last trumpet (1 Co 15:52), announces the Second Coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the saints. This trumpet may coincide with the seventh trumpet of Revelation. At the sound of this trumpet, Jesus will return. He will be joined in the air by resurrected and glorified saints, who then will accompany him to judge and rule the earth (Mt 24:29-31; 1 Co 15:51-57; 1 Th 4:13-18).
The trumpets and traditions of Yom Teruah remind us that we all face God’s judgment (Heb 9:27; Ro 2:3; 14:10; 2 Co 5:10). God is a God of justice, who punishes the wicked and vindicates the righteous; and a God of mercy, who desires that all come to repentance and receive a favorable judgment (2 Pe 3:9). Knowing these things, we may have confidence in the day of judgment (1 Jn 4:17) as we anticipate the last trumpet and the return of Jesus the Messiah.
(1) See Samuele Bacchiocchi, God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part 2: The Fall Festivals, Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1996, chapter 3.