“On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest [Shabbaton], a sacred assembly [mikreh kodesh] commemorated with trumpet blasts [Zichron Teruah]. (Leviticus 23:24)
In Leviticus 23:24, Rosh HaShanah is called Shabbaton Zichron Teruah, which is translated as a special Sabbath holiday of remembrance with the blasting of the shofar.
That is why a central observance of this holy day is the sounding of the shofar, which heralds God as King of the Universe. The shofar played a role when He came to the Israelites in a dense cloud at Mount Sinai.
There in His presence, on the morning of the third day, three months after they left Egypt, amidst booming thunder and flashes of lightning, the shofar sounded.
We can only imagine the intensity of the scene. It was so powerful that “everyone in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16)
Who blew the shofar from that thick cloud on Mount Sinai with all the people of Israel gathered below? Was it an angel of the Lord or did Elohim—God Himself—blow the shofar?
The shofar is an instrument of great spiritual significance.
The purpose of the sound of the shofar is to wake God’s people out of their spiritual slumber, to cause them to see the signs of the times, and to remind them to examine the spiritual condition of their lives.
This is the message of teshuvah (repentance), which in Hebrew literally means to return. Teshuvah, therefore, is turning from our sins and returning to God.
So, why do we blow the shofar on Yom Zichron Teruah? Although we know it is a commandment, the reasons are not specifically stated.
“On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets [Yom Teruah].” (Numbers 29:1)
Occasions to Blow the Shofar
In the Biblical times of Israel, the shofar was blown for several reasons:
- To mark the arrival of a new moon;
- To celebrate a simcha (joyous occasion);
- To proclaim liberty to the captives;
- To hail a king at his coronation;
- To warn of impending judgment;
- To gather troops to battle;
- To sound an alarm;
- To call a sacred assembly and time of fasting;
- To confuse the enemy camp; and
- To draw God’s attention.
Some of these purposes are demonstrated in the prophecies of Joel:
Sounding the Shofar as an Alarm
“Blow the trumpet [shofar] in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord comes, for it is close at hand; a day of darkness and gloominess….
“Tear your heart, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord, your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:1–2, 13)
Sounding the Shofar to Call an Assembly
“Blow the trumpet [shofar] in Zion! Sanctify a fast. Call a solemn assembly.” (Joel 2:15)
The Shofar of Mercy: the Binding of Isaac
“Abraham said, ‘God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’” (Genesis 22:8)
Since the shofar is a ram’s horn, it may be understood to represent God’s mercy as demonstrated in the Book of Genesis when God spared the life of Isaac.
In obedience to God’s command, Abraham had prepared to offer up his son on the altar as a sacrifice; however, true to Abraham’s faith, God stayed His hand and provided a ram caught in the thicket for the sacrifice (Genesis 22).
Although some may blow the ram’s horn (shofar) to remind us of God’s mercy to Abraham, God has revealed His mercy to us even more so through Yeshua (Jesus).
He did not spare the life of His only Son, Yeshua, but gave it up for us in order that our names may be written in the Book of Life (Romans 8:32).
With this in mind, it is entirely fitting that we, along with the entire household of Israel, greet one another at this season with the traditional blessing: May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life!
“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27, see also Revelation 3:5, Exodus 32:32, Psalm 139:16)