Shofar – Signs and Religlious Symbolism
Arthur L. Finkle
What does the sound of the shofar symbolize? There are various interpretations. Let us explore the biblical origins.
Herald the giving and receiving of the Law at Mt. Sinai
Exodus 19:16-19 provides:
“Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.17) And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.18) Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.19) And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.”
Exodus 20:18-20, “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.19) Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”20) And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”
The sound of the shofar also brings to God’s remembrance that exalted moment when “a very loud blast of the horn” (Exod. 19:16) was heard at Mount Sinai, and the children of Israel entered into an everlasting covenant with God. On that eventful occasion they responded with the memorable words: “All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!” (Exod. 24:7). This remembrance, too, awakens God’s attribute of mercy on behalf of the children of Israel.
The shofar reminds us of God’s promise of salvation. Indeed, a shofar will then be sounded to announce the establishment of God’s kingship on earth. (Abraham Milgram, , Phil: JPS, 1971.Jewish Publication Society)
Biblical citations foresee the proclamation heralding the Messiah:
“You will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. It will come about also in that day that a great shofar will be blown” (Isaiah 27:13)
Blow the 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 is coming, Joel 2:1
.” –Matthew 24:29-35
Indeed, the shofar will be sounded in the future:
- At the final ingathering of the exiles of Israel (Is. 27:13)
- To announce God’s miraculous end-time intervention to deliver the people of Israel (Zech 9:14,16)
- To herald the coming Messianic Age (Matt 24:29-31)
- At the Resurrection (I Thess 4:16, 17)
- To announce God’s Judgments (Rev 8-9) and the Day of the Lord (Zeph 1:14-16)
- In connection to the coming of the King Messiah (Rev 11:15-18)
The Shofar is mentioned on occasions of festivals and worship, like on the occasion of bringing up the Holy Ark (2 Samuel 6:15) and in the repentance of Asa and The People (Chronicles B 15:14).
Proclamation of Liberty
Leviticus 25:9-10 proclaims: ‘Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.10) ‘And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.”
If this particular passage sounds familiar, it is written on the “Liberty Bell”
Super-Human Courage and Strength
Both the Joshua story (Josh. 6:1-20) and the Gideon story (Jdg 6:11) refer top the courage that God provided fearful leaders in leading armies to further the covenant.
In the description of the conquests of Joshua and the People of Israel, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down after blowing the Shofars. And so it is written in the book of Joshua (6, 1-20) about the conquest of Jericho and falling of its walls:
“1 Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. 2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns* in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse…”
An Instrument, Used By God Himself
In various places in the Bible the Shofar is conceived as an instrument, used by God himself:
“Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet…” (Zechariah 9:14).
The sign is given with the Shofar, it is the symbol of God, it is God’s voice.
Signaling and alerting: Ehud and Nehemiah use it to summon their men (Judges 3:27; Nehemiah 4:12-14).
Weapon for frightening the enemy (Judges 7:22)
Announcing victory (Samuel A 13:3)
Announcing rebellion (Samuel B 20:1)
Cease fighting (Samuel B 20:22)
Warning sign about approaching enemy (Jeremiah 4:21; Hosea 5:8; and other)
The prophet is likened to a scout blowing the Shofar to warn the people (Ezekiel 33:1-6).
The scout’s Shofar and the army’s Shofar are joined together in the description of the day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:16).
It is also written: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown;” (Isaiah 27:13).
It was customary to blow the Shofar on coronations, like in the story of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:10) and of Jehu (2 Kings 9:13), as well as upon the coronation of God on the entire universe (Psalms 47:6; 68:6)
There is a documented episode in which the sound of the shofar has acted as a curative
Probably for the patient in the room, the shofar, an ancient instrument with years of accumulated cultural and spiritual meaning, sounded like hope. But there’s little space in the modern hospital for displays of faith. When one occurs so dramatically, and so audibly, the effect can be unnerving.
Indeed, Rev. Jim Babarossa had found that the sound o fthe shofar has curative qaualitites. See how is Step By Step World Outreach Ministries work.
Preparations of the Priestly Rituals
In Tamid, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Three, the shofar is sounded after every step of the early morning ritual, involving numerous steps (sacrificial cult, blessings of many steps interspersed with the sound of the shofar.
15) At every pause there was a teki’ah and at every teki’ah a bowing down.
Rabbi Shlomo Pliskin analogized the shofar to God’s voice.
Allow me one more leap of exegesis to complete the picture. The Bible describes how God took dust from the earth and breathed into it the breath, or “vapor,” of life, thereby forming a human being – an animal creature with the internal spark of the Divine (Genesis 2:7). The word yovel also means shofar, ram’s horn, into which the human being exhales his vapor in a symbolic commitment to uplift and inspire the animal world, and especially his animal self, with the essential eternity of the Divine. We may live brief lives, akin to vapor. Nevertheless, we have the ability to communicate, to exhale and express our Divine spirit, and thereby influence subsequent generations to achieve redemption. Indeed, as recited at the end of Yom Kippur, “the difference between man and beast is Eternity [ein-sof], for everything lies in the vapor of human, humane expression [hevel].”
Sound of the trumpet compared to a prophet’s voice
Ezekiel 33:2-9 – “Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, 3) ‘when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4) ‘then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. 5) ‘He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. 6) ‘But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.’ 7) “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. 8) “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. 9) “Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”
Call People To Repentance
Isaiah 58:1 – “Cry aloud, spare not; 1) Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
Hosea 8:1 – “Set the trumpet to your mouth! 1) He shall come like an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed My covenant And rebelled against My law.”
Blown to usher in the ark of the Lord (His Presence) as David danced
2 Samuel 6:12-15 – “Now it was told King David, saying, “The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with gladness.13) And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep.14) Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod.15) So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.”
1 Chronicles 15:28 – “Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the cornet, and with trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps.” (cornet is shofar and trumpets are the silver trumpets in this passage.)
Luke 2: 28-33 describes Gabriel’s announcement to Mary.
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
The gospel of Mathew describes the sound of the great trumpet heralding the revelation.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from Heaven, and the powers of the Heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the Clouds of Heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a ‘great sound of a trumpet’ (shofar gedolah), and they shall gather together His Elect from the four winds, from one end of Heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree (Israel); When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, you know that summer is near: So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door. Verily I say unto you, This generation that sees this shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Words shall not pass away. Matthew 24:29
Cultures assign many attributes to this ancient, atavistic instrument, the shofar. From the material (war calls, warnings, call to woprship) to the esoteric (Cabbla) to the Messianic, the shofar seems to symbolized human desires. Perhaps even Heavenly ones.
Scary Shofar Sounds Exodus 19:19
Arthur L. Finkle
This past week, we read Exodus 18:1 -20:23). Interestingly, this passage refers to the sound of the shofar. It also puzzles the reader.
Picture that the children of Israel have successfully fled the Egyptian taskmasters. Moses leads these former slaves. God tells him that there are special plans for this special assemblage – 600,000 strong.
19:6 You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.’ These are the words that you must relate to the Israelites.’
Moses relates God’s words with the elders of the assemblage who say:
19:8 All the people answered as one and said, ‘All that God has spoken, we will do.’
Moses brought the people’s reply back to God.
Thereafter, God promises to assure the Israelites by having them near Mount Sinai so that they too will understand their mission. God tells Moses that the people must ritually purify themselves prior to approaching the mount. (Ex 19:9)
God tells Moses that the people shall make a marker at the base of the mountain beyond which they will not traverse.
Sound of the Trumpet
19:13 But when the trumpet is sounded with a long blast, they will then be allowed to climb the mountain.’
The New International Version (©1984) translates this passage that the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. The issue was is the voice of God the shofar or some other voice?
Indeed, the King James Bible (1611) deciphers that when the voice of the trumpet sounded long and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice.
The Douay-Rheims Bible (translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English undertaken by members of the English College, Douai in the service of the Catholic Church. The New Testament was published in Reims (France) in 1582, in one volume with extensive commentary and notes) explains this passage as the sound of the trumpet grew by degrees louder and louder, and was drawn out to a greater length. Then Moses spoke, and God answered him.
As promised, on the third day:
19:16 The third day arrived. There was thunder and lightning in the morning, with a heavy cloud on the mountain, and an extremely loud blast of a ram’s horn. The people in the camp trembled.
Moses led the people out of the camp toward the Divine Presence. They stood transfixed at the foot of the mountain that was trembling with fire and smoke.
Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary (English Presbyterian, originally written in 1706, Matthew Henry’s six volume Complete Commentary provides an exhaustive look at every verse in the Bible) on Verses 16-25 finds that that this terrible judgment, in which Israel heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire, and lived, Deut. 4:33. Never was there such a sermon preached, before nor since, as this which was here preached to the church in the wilderness. For,
I. The preacher was God himself (v. 18): The Lord descended in fire, and (v. 20), The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai. The shechinah, or glory of the Lord, appeared in the sight of all the people; he shone forth from mount Paran with ten thousands of his saints (Deut. 33:2), that is, attended, as the divine Majesty always is, by a multitude of the holy angels, who were both to grace the solemnity and to assist at it. Hence the law is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53.
II. The pulpit (or throne rather) was Mount Sinai, hung with a thick cloud (v. 16), covered with smoke (v. 18), and made to quake greatly. Now it was that the earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, and the mountains skipped like rams (Ps. 114:4, 7), that Sinai itself, though rough and rocky, melted from before the Lord God of Israel, Jdg. 5:5. Now it was that the mountains saw him, and trembled (Hab. 3:10), and were witnesses against a hard-hearted unmoved people, whom nothing would influence.
III. The congregation was called together by the sound of a trumpet, exceedingly loud (v. 16), and waxing louder and louder, v. 19. This was done by the ministry of the angels, and we read of trumpets sounded by angels, Rev. 8:6. It was the sound of the trumpet that made all the people tremble, as those who knew their own guilt, and who had reason to expect that the sound of this trumpet was to them the alarm of war
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (Rev. Gill is relatively unread. He preached in the same church as C. H. Spurgeon over one hundred years earlier in c1761. A font of information regarding ancient writings is found among his works.) accented there were thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, wakening and strike awe of the people to what they were to hear and receive, . In addition, these natural rumblings intended to add to the solemnity of the day to signify terror of the legal dispensation, and the wrath and curse that the transgressors the law might expect, even a horrible tempest of divine vengeance. See Hebrews 12:18.
Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary (German theologians c 1880) on the Old Testament claimed these natural phenomena were accompanied by a loud trumpet blast, which “blew long and waxed louder and louder” (Exodus 19:16 and Exodus 19:19; see Genesis 8:3). Such as blast the herald’s call, announcing to the people the appearance of the Lord, and summoning them to assemble before Him and listen to His words, as they sounded forth from the fire and cloudy darkness. This blast of the shofar (Exodus 19:19), was used in the service of God (in heaven, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; see Winer’s Grammar) was not the voice of God, but a sound resembling a trumpet blast. Whether this sound was produced by natural means, or, as some of the earlier commentators supposed, by angels, of whom myriads surrounded Jehovah when He came down upon Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), it is impossible to decide.
If the sound were produced by angels perhaps this sound is in the spiritual realm below that of God’s but higher than humankind’s.
Then, There was the sound of a ram’s horn, increasing in volume to a great degree. Moses spoke and God replied with a Voice. (EX. 19:19)
Zondervan interprets the natural thunder and lightning, and exceedingly loud trumpet blast (Rev 1:10; 4:1) and a thick cloud (Ex 19-9; 2Ch. 5:14) as an impressive display of cosmic activity. See Ps. 77:18; Heb. 12:18-19; Rev. 4:5; 8:5; 11:19).
Interestingly, Moses’ reaction is noty given. However, in Heb 12:21 his response was “I am trembling with fear.”
Moses climbed the mountain to receive Torah (obligations) to perform whatever God requires. (Ex. 19:20)
Thereafter, God tells Moses that the people must not cross the boundary at the bottom of the mountain, lest they die.
Indeed, Moses replied to God, ‘The people cannot climb Mount Sinai. You already warned them to set a boundary around the mountain and to declare it sacred.’ (Ex. 19:23). God repents and says that only Aaron., Moses’ brother can accompany him beyond the boundary.
At this point there is an inconsistency in the reading. In Ex. 19:13, God says the assemblage can climb mountain to receive the Divine Word. Yet we find later on (Ex 19:23) the that the people cannot traverse the boundary at the base of the mountain, except for Aaron
The issue arises, why did God seemingly change his mind? Did the great blast of the shofar assist in this change of direction? Did God not trust anyone to receive The Word other than Moses and Aaron?
If so, did the shofar sound mean that the Divine Word, although meant to be adhered to by all, could only be given directly to Moses and his brother?
Why Such a Negative Experience?
These passages in Exodus confusedly bring to light the difficulty and discomfort that God exposed the Israelites – with lightning, thunder a, trembling and the blare of the shofar.
When the people experienced these terrors they were shaken. Moses’ ultimately telling them that all of this was precisely God’s Intent, (20:17) “
…Don’t be afraid, for God Has Come to test you and in order for His Fear to be upon your faces, so that you will not sin,” unambiguously states that the association that the people made between the giving of the Torah and a sense of terror and intimidation was fully in accordance with the Divine Plan.
But the most literally terrifying aspect of the giving of the Torah is the awe-inspiring sounds, images, and bodily sensations to which the Jews are exposed during this period. (19:16) “…And there was thunder and lighting and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the very powerful sound of a Shofar…”(19:18) “And Sinai was completely obscured by smoke…and its smoke was like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain shook exceedingly.” (19:19) “And the sound of the Shofar became ever louder and stronger…” The response of the people to this cacophony of sounds, terrifying sights, and general diastrophism could have easily been predicted: (19:16) “…And the entire people trembled.” (20:15) “…
The great Hassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev taught:
There are those who hear the Shofar on Rosh HaShana, and then continue to hear the Shofar every day of the year. But there are those, on even higher levels, who heard the Shofar at the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, and who continue to hear that Shofar every day of their lives.
What did this mystical master mean? He declared that those who hear the Shofar as a Warning, stirring, a wakeup call, a call to repentance and an alarm will continue to hear this sound throughout the year in terms of possessing the attributes that the Shofar bestirs.
For those hearing the ceaseless sound of the Shofar in a different spiritual dimension have possessed these attributes from the time of Mount Sinai (when God presented revelation and a guide of principles b which to measure your moral life) to today and for evermore.
Indeed, the mystics believe that Rosh Hashanah, the feast of the blasts of the Shofar, takes away some of the light of the world to regenerate souls to achieve powers that they never would have achieved had there not been the shofar blasts.
Jewish Mysticism has been of major historical importance in the development of Western Esoteric traditions since the Renaissance. The phenomenon of “Christian Kabbalah” is a central phenomenon, reciprocally influencing Jewish mysticism in the modern period.
In this system, the heavenly imperative is sensed even though not having a physical presence
Another Chassidic teaching is that, although there are differing sounds from the Shofar, (short staccato sounds and other extended, unbroken sounds), the Torah tells us to do teru’ah on Rosh Hashanah, which by its word, suggests making broken sounds, or sounds that break obstacles.
Yet, with regard to the Great Shofar of the future Redemption, it says “On that day the Great Shofar will be takia,” alluding to the unbroken, drawn-out sound called tekiah. This is a sound of strength and confidence, rather than brokenness. “Tekiah” comes from the word teka, which can mean physical intimacy or coupling. (Bavli Talmud, Yevamos, 54a.) Therefore it’s a sound that “gathers” and unites. http://iyyun.com/teachings/holidays/sounds-of-the-shofar.