The Shofar’s Call

By Jaime Sherman

For our anniversary a few weeks ago, my husband and I stayed three nights in a cozy little house along the Metolius River in central Oregon. We were excited about our time, knowing it would be a quiet, restful weekend together, but we had no idea how quiet it would be.

While the house was wedged up against others in a small resort area, we hardly heard a peep from the other guests. In fact, we could have heard a pin drop in that house, and while that was probably the case 20 years ago when we honeymooned there, we live in a much noisier world than we did in 2002. For one, we have six kids under the age of 16.

Say no more, right? 

But it was more than the absence of their voices and movements that made our retreat quiet. Our phones weren’t ringing or dinging, for we were tucked into the woods without one cell tower in site. And, oh, the lovely gift of not having an alarm wake us each morning. When we walked along the river, we heard the gentle gurgle of rolling water, birds chirping in the trees, and an occasional noise from a passerby, but overall it was quiet and peaceful. Then, on our final morning as we finished our walk along the river, we heard the gentle clang of a bell ringing from the belfry of the little country church down the road. It was a delightful sound breaking through the quiet morning.

As I’ve studied the Feast of Trumpets, I’ve thought back on that church bell and how it was gently calling the faithful to gather in the house of the Lord, much as the shofar, a curved ram’s horn trumpet, is still used in Jewish synagogues to call God’s people to worship and to announce special feasts days. The clanging bell and a sounding horn break through the silence — and even the distracting noises of this world — to send messages of welcome and reminder.

Come to me, all you who weary, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth…with trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! Psalm 98:4, 6

But that bell in the woods and countless shofars through the ages have sounded long and urgently as a type of code to deliver messages both spiritual and physical. In our world today, we know that an incessant clanging of a bell, the long blast of a horn, or the wail of a siren signals danger and the precariousness of life. In Bible times with various blasts from the shofar, priests warned of danger, declared war or its victory, announced the ascension of kings, and celebrated the rebuilt wall around Jerusalem, the dedication of the Temple, and the ark’s arrival at the Temple. They also communicated important information from the logistics of moving a vast number of desert campers to how soldiers were to engage in battle.

Priests also blew the shofar to signal daily and special sacrifices, new moons, and feasts, such as at Feast of Trumpets when the Israelites were to “observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24). “It is a day for you to blow the trumpets, and you shall offer a burnt offering, for a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (Numbers 29:1-2).

This feast coincides with the Jewish civic new year known as Rosh Hashanah, which will be celebrated this year on October 4-5. On this day, the shofar’s blast is sounded more than 100 times, calling the Jews into celebration but all the more into somber reflection about where they have fallen asleep to the ways and will of God. The feast begins 10 days of self-reflection and prayer with repentance, known as the Days of Awe in which the Jewish people prepare for the Day of Atonement, another of the fall feasts we will study in Leviticus 23:26-32. For Messianic Jews and other believers, the Feast of Trumpets points to Jesus’ Second Coming, while the Day of Atonement reminds us of the grace and mercy we have already received through His death in our place.

Some Bible scholars believe the psalmist and prophet Asaph, a contemporary of David, wrote Psalm 81 specifically for the Feast of Trumpets, for it begins:

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 trumpet at the new moon,
    at the full moon, on our feast day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
    a rule of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph
    when he went out over the land of Egypt.

These trumpet blasts wake an often forgetful people and remind them in the verses that follow that God freed them from slavery, responded to their prayers, and refined them:

I hear a language I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
    your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
    I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
    I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” Selah

The phrase “in the secret place of thunder” reminds us of when God delivered a love letter to His people at Mount Sinai: “There were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16). With this very loud trumpet blast, the Israelites were called to give their allegiance to God alone: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

“Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
    O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
    you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
    Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

But then, with stubborn hearts, the people turned from God’s best even though they saw Him provide for them:

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
    Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
    to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that my people would listen to me,
    that Israel would walk in my ways!”

God is merciful, giving people countless opportunities to turn from the counsel of their stubborn hearts and walk in His ways:

“I would soon subdue their enemies
    and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him,
    and their fate would last forever.
But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
    and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Here at the end of Psalm 81, Asaph warns of a dark, eternal fate for those who hate the Lord, who refuse to listen to His voice and follow Him. For them the final trumpet blast at Jesus’ return (I Corinthians 15:51-52, I Thessalonians 4:16) will be terrifying and signal their judgment, while for those of us who trust in His life, death, and resurrection, we will declare with the voices in heaven after the seventh trumpet blast, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

But for now we wait for the day God calls us home either through death or in His Second Coming. So, in the waiting, consider setting aside a little time to consider where you’re at with Jesus. Much like the Jews did between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, you have the opportunity to reflect on the condition of your heart. What sound do you need to hear today? Is it the long warning blasts of the shofar to realign you to the will and ways of the Lord or is it the gentle clanging from the belfry drawing you into worship?