By Jeffrey Berg
One of the first signs of autumn in the Jewish community is the sound of the shofar, or ram’s horn, bellowing through the leaves. When one hears the blast of "Tekiah" and the staccato sound of "Shevarim" from the Shofar, the Jewish soul is awakened to the thought that Rosh Hashanah is here!
I can remember being in junior high school in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, which was mostly Jewish. The school year would begin in September. Two or three weeks later, all of a sudden 70% of the kids would be taking two days off! Outside of Israel, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days. Then ten days later, every one of them would take off again for another holiday, Yom Kippur. As a young person, "I thought these kids have it made getting all these holidays off!" What I didn’t know then is that the Jewish kids had to endure very long synagogue services. I believe that in those early years, God was already preparing me for the ministry He would give me among His special Jewish people. I learned a lot about Jewish life and customs just from being around my friends.
The Biblical Basis
The biblical basis of this ancient Jewish holiday, now referred to as Rosh Hashannah, is traced back to Leviticus 23:24, 25. "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD." This is the ancient holiday known as "The Feast of Trumpets."
The Renaming of this Feast
After the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., a change occurred in the observance of Jewish biblical festivals. The Temple custodians, the Sadducees, faded off the scene as the destruction of the Temple rendered their services unnecessary.
Pharisaical Judaism, centered in the Oral Law and the synagogue, became normative Jewish religious practice. In the Mishnah, part of the Oral Law, the Feast of Trumpets is called Rosh Hashanah.
The rabbis claimed to have calculated "The Feast of Trumpets" back to the day of creation. The name "Rosh Hashanah" means "the beginning (or head) of the year." This year the Jewish New Year will begin September 19th, the year 5770 according to the Jewish calendar, dating back to creation.
In the Jewish biblical calendar, what is known as Rosh Hashanah takes place in the seventh month, Tisherei. But, note what the Bible says in Exodus 12:2, "This month (Nisan) shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." Exodus 12 refers to the celebration of Passover during the month of Nisan in the spring. In the authority of Scripture, in God’s eyes, Passover is celebrated in the beginning of the New Year by the Jewish people.
The Book of Life
Rosh Hashanah begins with the blowing of the shofar. When the shofar is blown, it is a solemn call for the Jewish person to look within to reflect on one’s sin. Sin is emphasized because ten days later is the holiday of "Yom Kippur," or "The Day of Atonement." In rabbinic theology, at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah when the shofar sounds, the gates of Heaven are opened. During this time, three books are opened in Heaven. One book is "The Book of Life," and the other is "The Book of Death." There is also a third book for those who are not totally wicked or totally righteous. Most Jewish people believe they are in this third category. Their desire is to be inscribed in The Book of Life. They have ten days to make things right with God between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At sundown on Yom Kippur when the Day of Atonement ends and the shofar is blown, the gates of Heaven close and the fate of the Jewish person is sealed in one of those books for another year. Our heart’s desire, and we trust your heart’s desire, is to see Jewish people written in "The Lamb’s Book of Life" (Daniel 12:2, Revelation 21:27).
Prayers for Forgiveness
Weeks before the Jewish High Holy Days arrive, special penitential prayers of forgiveness are recited called Selichot. Since Jewish people know that their sins must be forgiven on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, they are thinking of their sins and of forgiveness during these days before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During this period of time leading into the High Holy Days, Jewish people, especially the religious, are really conscious of their sin. We have had some situations over the years when a Jewish friend of ours would come and ask forgiveness of a sin they had committed against us. They wanted to be clean and right before God. If only brothers and sisters in the body of Christ could be this sensitive to sin in their lives, there would be real revival in our churches!
Jewish people will go the synagogue on both days of Rosh Hashanah and recite many, many prayers from their High Holiday Prayer Book for forgiveness. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, ultra-orthodox religious Jewish people go to the banks of a river or other body of running water, and shake their pockets or garments over the water. Some throw breadcrumbs into the water symbolizing casting away their sins. As they do this, they recite Micah 7:19 – "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea . . ." This ceremony is called "Tashlikh" (guttural "kh") since "Tashlikh" in Hebrew means "Thou wilt cast." It is interesting that this Scripture says that God casts our sins into the depths of the sea and not man!
The Prophetic Significance of Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is the day of the sounding of the shofar, or ram’s horn (Numbers 29:1). There are four distinct shofar sounds1 that have great spiritual significance. The sounds proceed in this order according to the Rosh Hashanah Prayer Book. In the synagogue service, the rabbi will call out "Tekiah!!" Another rabbi, or participant, will then blow the shofar to the Tekiah blast. He will call out each shofar sound according to the prayer book, and the corresponding sound will be blown.
"Tekiah – Shevarim – Teruah – Tekiah"
The Tekiah sound is a long clear steady blast. The worshipper is reminded of the way in which God created him, upright in heart and strong. Through sin, he has become warped and twisted like the shape of the shofar. The word actually means in Hebrew "to strike, to drive in, fix as a nail."
The Shevarim sound consists of nine staccato blasts which produce a sobbing sound. The word "Shevarim" in Hebrew means, "to be broken, afflicted, distressed, to cause to break through of the fetus." This sobbing sound reflects the spiritual breakdown that comes through sin. Jeremiah 17:9 states, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Mankind is sinful, with no righteousness before a holy God!
The Teruahsound consists of three short broken blasts that resemble the sound of a "shout," or "the sound of the trumpet!" Many interpret this sound to reflect "the cry of man’s heart for redemption!" This shofar blast reflects the re-gathering and repentance of Israel. "Blow ye a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand (Joel 2:1). Joel 2:1-3:21; Isaiah 27:12, 13; Isaiah 43:5-7 and Ezekiel 36 & 37 all speak of this glorious redemption that God alone can perform!
The Teruah blast also portrays the calling up of the church at the rapture. "For the Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). 1 Corinthians 15:51,52 also reflect the spirit of this blast.
The Final Tekiah is the result of man being restored to God through true repentance. Isaiah 61:10 says it well, "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels." The apostle Paul also heralds, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1, 2).
One saying that is proclaimed throughout the holiday of Rosh Hashanah is, "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year." Let us pray that many Jewish people will be inscribed in "The Lamb’s Book of Life" for eternity. Romans 10:1 pleads, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved." May the door of the Jewish heart open and surrender to the Gospel Shofar that is calling, "Come to Me!"
1. To hear the sound of "tekiah" and "shevarim" go to www.biblicalgallery.com/ShofarSounds.HTM