Understanding the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah)
By: Karen Engle, ICEJ USA Managing Editor
As summer winds down, the Jewish people begin thinking of the fall feasts, beginning with Yom Teruah—September 15–17 this year. Also known as the Feast of Trumpets, Yom Teruah is a unique feast God set with Israel that’s unlike any other. The Bible doesn’t offer much information about this holy day—the only instructions God gave Israel for how to celebrate it are found in Leviticus 23:23–25 and Numbers 29:1:
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. (Leviticus 23:24–25)
And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets. (Numbers 29:1)
On Yom Teruah, Israel was to blow trumpets, rest, assemble as a nation, and make an offering of fire to God. Over time, because of the focus on blowing trumpets, Yom Teruah became known as the “Day of Blowing Trumpets” or the “Day of the Awakening Blast.” It might appear to be a straightforward feast—but for ancient Israel, knowing when to celebrate Yom Teruah was tricky.
The “Hidden” Day
Yom Teruah was to be celebrated on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month (known as Tishri in Hebrew), our September/October. In biblical times, a Hebrew month was either 29 or 30 days, and determining those days depended on the moon cycle. As the moon began to wane from the previous month (Elul, in Hebrew), anyone watching the evening sky could know the general time frame that the next month, Tishri, would begin—they just didn’t know the exact day. Once two witnesses confirmed that the first sliver of the new moon was visible, the month of Tishri began—and thus, the first fall feast: Yom Teruah. Because the exact start of Yom Teruah was unknown, several other idioms for this feast developed over time, two of which are “The Hidden Day” and “The Day and the Hour No Man Knows.”
Though God’s purpose in establishing Yom Teruah isn’t clear, the name itself gives us a clue: teruah means “alarm, signal, battle cry, or shout of joy.” Think of Jericho when Israel’s armed men marched around the city, gave a loud shout (teruah), and as the children’s song goes, the “walls came tumbling down.”
There are also numerous instances in both the Old and New Testaments where the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn) or trumpet is related to an activity; reading those Scriptures can bring insight to what this peculiar feast might be pointing to. For example, a trumpet blast was used to announce a new month and coronate kings. But they were also blown:
- to sound alarms for Israel (Numbers 10:5–6; Ezekiel 33:3; Joel 2:1)
- to call the people to assemble (Exodus 19:13; Psalm 81:4–6)
- to announce a Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:9–10)
- when making offerings and sacrifices (Numbers 10:10)
- to prepare the way for military cam- paigns (Numbers 10:9; 2 Chronicles 3:12; Judges 7:22)
- to wage war (Joshua 6:4–20)
- for temple worship and praise (2 Chronicles 15:14; Psalm 47:6; 89:16)
- to convey a message (1 Corinthians 14:8)
Isaiah says the sound of the shofar will also signal Israel’s redemption during the Day of the Lord at the end of the ages:
So it shall be in that day: the great trumpet will be blown; they will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (27:13; see also Joel 2:1)
Most importantly, the trumpet sound is related to hailing God as King over all. Psalm 98:6 says, “With trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.”
Though Yom Teruah isn’t mentioned clearly in the New Testament, in Jesus’ day, it was marked by a blast of the ram’s horn that alerted God’s people to remember Him, wake up and pay attention, and repent before His judgment fell. Outside of these fragments of information, Yom Teruah is still a bit of a mystery for Jews—and gentiles.
Yom Teruah, Rosh Hashanah—or Both?
Today, few people remember the biblical name for this feast; instead, it is widely known as “Rosh Hashanah,” which means “head of the year,” marking the beginning of the Jewish new year. Some denominations in Judaism blow the shofar 100 times during Rosh Hashanah to call people to confession and repentance. On this day, a series of reverberating shofar blasts make three sounds, but it’s the last one that is particularly moving—one long uninterrupted blast held as long as possible.”
Though it’s a day of joy, it also carries solemn tones, for on Rosh Hashanah, Jews remember God as Judge and believe it is the day the Book of Life and heaven’s gates are opened. Rosh Hashanah initiates 10 days of introspection and repentance, known as the “Days of Teshuvah” or “Days of Awe,” that lead to the next feast on God’s calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
Teshuvah means “to return” or “to come back” or, more simply, to turn toward God. During these 10 days, the shofar is sounded daily to alert the faithful that the Book of Life will soon close and the time to repent is at hand. Jewish people take time to repent of their sins for the previous year and do good deeds in hopes they will not be “blotted out” of the book before it is “closed” on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is thus a wake-up call to correct wrong behavior and return to and worship God alone.
The Sound of the Trumpet
Despite our vague information about this feast, Scripture offers other clues that can help us put the pieces together. Several end-time prophecies connected to Jesus’ return include the trumpet sound. When we consider them alongside what we know about when trumpets were sounded in ancient Israel—and why—we get a glimpse of how Jesus might fulfill Yom Teruah:
- A trumpet sound will precede the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:1) when Jesus returns as King to overthrow gentile nations dominating Jerusalem.
- The “last trumpet” will accompany the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:52).
- The last of seven trumpets will sound when “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
- Zechariah 9:9–14 and Isaiah 27:12–13 connect the blowing of the shofar with Israel’s salvation, the ingathering of the exiles, and the coming of her King.
- The dead will be resurrected at the sound of the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).
- The Lord will come down “with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God,” and all the saints will be “caught up” to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:14–16).
Yom Teruah clearly foreshadows the season of Jesus’ return to Earth—yet even learned scholars debate the details of this feast and how exactly Jesus will fulfill it. The Christian need only dig into a study of God’s Word about this feast, the sound of the trumpet, and that sound’s connection to repentance, battle, waking from slumber, watching, coronation, worship, praise, preparation for judgment, and restoration to God to come up with some ideas.
Clearly, Yom Teruah—the Feast of Trumpets—is a prophetic harbinger of the return of Jesus.
Keep learning about the significance of God’s feasts in the September issue of Word From Jerusalem, when we will explore the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur.
What Does the Trumpet Sound Represent?
The word “trumpet” shows in Scripture for the first time in Exodus 19:19 at Mount Sinai: “When the blast of the trumpet (shofar) sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.” Here, Moses connects the trumpet sound that thundered with lightning flashes and a thick cloud on Mount Sinai with God’s voice.
In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews says of this event at Mount Sinai: “You have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire … and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore” (12:9). And in Revelation 1:10, John describes being in the Spirit when he heard behind him “a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last’” (Revelation 1:10; see also Revelation 4:1). Notice all these verses seem to connect the words “sound,” “voice,” and “trumpet” one to each other.
Because the trumpet sound in the Old Testament relates to God’s voice, and because Jesus declared himself the Alpha and Omega in Revelation (the Word of God made flesh who spoke creation into being; see Psalm 33:9), we can relate the sound of a trumpet blast to Jesus’ voice. The trumpet sound is the mere “shadow” of the voice of God that will be heard when Jesus returns to Earth, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, “and with the trumpet of God” when the dead in Christ rise first.
This makes Psalm 89:15 even more beautiful: “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound (Heb. teruah = shout, signal, alarm, or joy)! They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.” Those who “know” the voice of Jesus are indeed blessed:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27)