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This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Feasts of Israel


The autumn cycle of feasts began on the first day of the seventh month, the first day of the civil year, a new year’s day. “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.” (Lev. 23:23-25) Regulations were prescribed for a burnt offering, meat offering, drink offering and a sin offering on that day.

In the Pentateuch, the trumpet was used for calling the people together, “Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps.” (Numb. 10:2) Then again at Mount Sinai. “When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.” (Exod. 19:13) Furthermore, the voice of God was heard in connection with the sound of a trumpet. “And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice”. (Exod. 19:19) The sound of the trumpet was used also in battle, “Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand.” (Numb. 31:6)

Here then are the main associations of the trumpet in the Pentateuch.

(1) They were used to express joy and gladness.

(2) They were used to call God’s people together.

(3) They were used to help to direct the movement of the nation as they traveled.

(4) They were an accompaniment to the voice of God.

(5) They were used to prepare people for battle.


At the Feast, the trumpets were sounded as a celebration, in memorial of the creation of the world, “When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7) Rosh HaShanah (1st Tishri) was considered the first Sabbath day of Creation, although the Minhogimbukh ties it to the creation of Adam and Eve. “The Creator, blessed be He, created the first man on Rosh HaShanah. Therefore we start counting the year from that day”. This connection with the birthday of man appears in the work of the Talmudists who also connected it with the birthdays of Abraham and Jacob, and Sarah and Rachel, and Hannah. On Rosh HaShanah, not only did they sound trumpets but also the shofar. The shofar for the new year was made of antelope horn, with its mouth overlaid with gold, and the one who blew it would be flanked by two who blew trumpets. The shofar would sound a long note, while the trumpets would sound short notes. So the shofar’s sound would dominate, and the religious duty of the day would be fulfilled. At the end of the Feast of Trumpets, following a series of short blasts, a long trumpet blast called the Tekiah Gedolah, the great trumpet blast, would sound. Paul called it “the last trumpet” (1 Cor.15.52).

They sounded the trumpet and the shofar whenever there were feasts of gladness, or feasts of solemnity, as well as at the beginning of each new month, that is, at the time of the new moon.

Since the Feast of Trumpets was the first feast of the new year (on New Year’s Day), and the Jewish calendar was a lunar one, it was quite important to get the date right. “The first day of Tishre is the new year for the reckoning of years, for Sabbatical years, and for Jubilees”. The Mishnah contains the rules that governed the identifying of the new moon. They needed witnesses of caliber, and they required them to come in pairs. The council in Jerusalem would cross-examine them, and when they were satisfied with the testimony of the witnesses, the head of the court would declare, ‘It is sanctified’. They would then dispatch news of this date to Jewish congregations everywhere.

By the time of the Messiah, the day had taken on a greater sense of gravity. As the seventh day of the week was a holy day, so the seventh month was the holy month in the year. It was a festival of special solemnity. The Rabbis taught that God judged the world at the New Year: “… at the New Year … all who enter the world pass before Him like troops, since it is said, He who fashions the hearts of them all, who considers all their works (Ps. 33:15)”. So the first of Tishri began the Days of Awe which led up to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The Day of Atonement was the next feast day in the Levitical calendar, ten days later. All were judged at Rosh HaShanah, that is New Year’s Day, and the verdict was sealed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The worthy were written into the book of life. The unworthy were blotted out. This reflected some of the truth of the prayer of Moses when he interceded for Israel, after the sin of the golden calf. “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” (Exod. 32:32,33) However, severe decrees could be averted through repentance, prayer and deeds of charitable kindness. The liturgy of the Days of Awe carried these implications.

The blowing of the trumpets and the shofar, which recalled the horn-blasts at Sinai when the Torah was revealed, increased this feeling of solemnity. As a day of judgment (Yom Hadin) and a day of blowing the shofar (Yom Hateruyah) Rosh HaShanah also prefigured the end of days and the Last Judgment, when all shall appear before God.

For a people under the Law, the implications of such a day were substantial. Individuals were required to consider how they had acted over the previous year. Had they obeyed, not only the 613 commands of the Torah, but also the countless refinements of those commands contained in the Oral Law? They were to consider themselves brought before the bar of God. Satan himself would be the prosecutor, accusing and denouncing. Since full obedience was impossible to those born in sin and shaped in iniquity, only the mercy of God would allow an individual to be inscribed in the Book of Life, and only the repentant could hope to receive the mercy of God. It was considered that God used a complicated system of weighing good deeds against bad deeds. According to the Talmud God has three books. Besides the Book of Life and the Book of Death there is another that is opened on Rosh HaShanah – a book for borderline cases. The righteous are immediately written in the Book of Life and the wicked are immediately written in the Book of Death. The destiny of those on the borderline hangs in the balance until Yom Kippur. Thus, Rosh HaShanah was a day of penitence, and a day of uncertainty. Those that received mercy and written in the Book of Life would enjoy a year of blessing; those who were not truly repentant and subsequently written in the Book of Death would be marked for a year of misfortune. Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur an acceptable greeting is, “Leshanah tovah tikatevu vetehatemu”, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”.

There are lofty prayers, given over to the praise of God, added to the Shemoneh ’Esreh (Amidah) litergies on Rosh HaShanah. They celebrate God as creator and king of the universe, and recall God’s mighty judgments in history. Also a prayer for the coming of the kingdom of heaven is included. They declare that God, the sovereign King has made His purposes known to all humankind, and since they have been told what God requires of them, they can be assessed as to how they have complied. New Year’s Day, the day of the Feast of Trumpets, is a day of judgment.

Nowadays, in the afternoon of Rosh HaShanah, (or on the second day if it falls on a Sabbath) there is the custom called ‘Tashlich’, ‘casting’. Jewish people go to the bank of a river or lake or ocean and recite appropriate verses while emptying their pockets and symbolically ‘casting all their sins into the depths of the sea’. It is based on a verse from Micah, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)

The Sabbath that falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is called ‘Shabbat Shuvah’, the Sabbath of Repentance. On this day the reading includes Hosea 14.1-9 which begins with Shuvah Yisrael, ‘Return, O Israel’. “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, And return to the LORD. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, We will not ride on horses, Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’ For in You the fatherless finds mercy.” “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, And lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, And his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; They shall be revived like grain, And grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit is found in Me.” Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; The righteous walk in them, But transgressors stumble in them”. (Hos. 14:1-9)

More Next Time

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