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Restoring Yom Teruah: What You May Not Know about Rosh HaShanah

Last week, Israelis began excitedly preparing for Rosh HaShanah, the secular Jewish New Year. As you may know, Israel observes two main new years. According to Exodus 12:2, the new year which God gave us starts in the spring. The secular or civil new year is celebrated the first day of the seventh month (“Tishrei”).

Rosh HaShana literally means “Head of the Year.” The holiday falls this year on September 20-22. It is traditionally celebrated with liturgical worship, merry greetings and gatherings, gift giving, and sounding the shofar. A hearty consumption of apples and honey symbolizes hopes for a sweet new year. Prophetic words about the upcoming year (which will be 5778) now add to the mix, as more and more Christians celebrate this special day.

It is good that Gentile followers of Messiah are engaging in the biblically Hebraic roots of our faith. We Messianic Jews encourage your authentic celebration of the feasts. What you may not know, however, is that some of the most critical, biblical aspects of Rosh HaShana are overlooked by many Jews and Christians due to a focus on extra-biblical traditions. Restoring the purity of God’s appointed day in your celebration could bring even greater blessing to you, others—and Him.

What are some ways we can restore the foundations of this week’s feast known as Rosh Hashanah? First, Rosh HaShanah as the Jewish new year is not a biblical feast. It is not mentioned or even directly referenced in the Scriptures. The feast that is commanded on what has been popularized as Rosh HaShanah is actually the Day of Blasting Trumpets (Numbers 29:1) or according to Leviticus 23:24, Memorial of Trumpet Blasting. The Hebrew name for the day is Yom Teruah.

There is reason to believe Rosh HaShanah was likely observed by the ancient Israelites. It developed as a major holiday during the Jewish exile in Babylon in order to accommodate the pagan culture in which Israel had become immersed. Eventually it overshadowed any national emphasis on the new year God actually designated for His people, which is the first day of the first month, called “Nissan.” Unfortunately, Rosh HaShanah also eroded much of the significance of Yom Teruah. This is reflected in the fact Yom Teruah is the only feast rarely called by its biblical name.  So to start, to help restore the pure essence and meaning of the day, Rosh HaShanah ought rightly be called, and observed as, Yom Teruah.

One rationale for the replacement of Yom Teruah with Rosh HaShanah, and resulting new year focus, is the rabbinic belief that Yom Teruah marks either the creation of the world, or of Adam and Eve, or both. (Believing in both could impact the meaning of seven “days” of creation.) This is based partly on a complex, mystical word play on the first word of Scripture, “bereishit.” In any case, I believe we would do best to call the day as God calls it, namely, a day to sound trumpets:

“On the first day of the seventh month, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets. As an aroma pleasing to the Lord, prepare a burnt offering….a grain offering… [and other offerings] by fire…” (Numbers 29:1-6, NIV)

“On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a Shabbat [Sabbath] rest, a memorial of blowing [shofars], a holy convocation. You are to do no regular work and you are to present an offering made by fire to Adonai.” (Leviticus 23:23-25, TLV)

According to the Scriptures, God wants us to honor what we call Rosh HaShanah as a Sabbath. Instead of our usual daily work, we are to gather in holy assembly with His people. He instructs us to make temple offerings and sacrifice, but thankfully, the atonement of Yeshua fulfills this command. In Yeshua, we are to approach Yom Teruah (and everyday) with a spirit of sacrificial surrender: “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) Perhaps most importantly, the Scriptures say God wants us blasting trumpets loudly and repeatedly throughout the day. According to tradition, the shofar was (and is) sounded in Israel 100 times.

Understanding certain Hebrew nuances of the name Yom Teruah can help us grasp deeper realities of the day. The Hebrew word which is translated “sound trumpets” or “blow trumpets” in Numbers 29 and Leviticus 23 is teruah. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew root for teruah means (1) to disfigure or shatter by breaking; (2) to split ears by loud noise, such as by shouting for joy, sounding an alarm or intense crying; and (3) loud destruction or triumph. Based on the root meanings teruah, Yom Teruah can be translated as a day of loud clamor or noise, loud acclamations of joy, piercingly loud alarms, shattering battle cries and jubilee. This is significant!

Collectively, the Hebrew meanings of teruah describe Kingdom breakthrough. Not just humankind, but the earth and spirit realms may be affected by the ear-piercing cries, wails and triumphant declarations and decrees released this day through the shofar. One (admittedly exra-biblical) possibility is that heaven’s shofars are sounded over the earth realm on Yom Teruah. As we come into agreement with the declarations and decrees of YHVH by likewise blowing trumpets, His Kingdom on earth is released in greater measure.

When Yom Teruah was divinely instituted, the Israelites would have associated shofar blasting with their first and only direct, national encounter with YHVH. The literally heaven and earth shaking encounter took place at Mount Sinai. After a great and mighty shofar blast, God gave His people the gift of His holy Law. (Exodus 19:13, 16-19; 20: 18). Therefore, to the ancient Israelites, Yom Teruah would have served as a memorial—but also reaffirmation or renewal—of divine covenant: “If you obey Me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. … The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” (Exodus 19: 5, 8) If you, too, are in covenant relationship with God, Yom Teruah can be a special day to remember and reaffirm or renew covenant as the shofar blasts.  

Before long, trumpets were associated in Israel with other key events. They were used to call sacred assemblies. They sounded military battle cries to which God promised to respond: “When you go into battle … sound a blast … then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies.”  (Numbers 10:1-10) If you assemble (with or without others) before God this Yom Teruah, or are engaged in battle (and who isn’t?) why not ask Him to apply trumpet blast victory to your situation?

A final primary purpose of trumpets was to declare the coronation of a king or anointing of a high priest.  (1 Kings 1:34; 39, 2 Kings 9:13; 11:12-14, 2 Samuel 15:10) Therefore, on Yom Teruah, observant Jews still declare the kingship of YHVH over creation. Yom Teruah is also an ideal time to declare Yeshua as King and High Priest over your life, your nation, Israel and all the earth.

With Yeshua as its focus, Yom Teruah is not just a memorial or new year celebration. It can serve as a prophetic act of intercession, worship, repentance and re-alignment with YHVH. It is also a form of spiritual warfare. “Dream” with me, for a moment. What might possibly happen if on Yom Teruah, Holy Spirit filled shofar blasting resounded across Israel and the nations? What Kingdom breakthroughs could transpire if His people around the world gathered in their respective nations, in unity by the Spirit, and sounded trumpets for a day to affirm covenant with YHVH, declare Yeshua’s kingship, and posture themselves for Kingdom advance?

In addition to all the above, Yom Teruah is a prophetic foreshadow of Messiah’s return and resurrection of the dead. When Yeshua comes to earth, heaven’s trumpets will sound loudly. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:52, Matthew 24:30-31) Some believe that on a future Yom Teruah, followers of Yeshua will be caught up in the air to meet Him. Others say Yom Teruah is the day on which He will physically return to judge humankind. Still others say both could take place simultaneously.

Observant Jews who do not believe in Yeshua (and some who do) have traditionally regarded Yom Teruah as a day of judgment. It is said that heaven contains books in which every person’s words and deeds are recorded. There are also books of life and death, and all are opened on Yom Teruah.  On Yom Teruah, God carefully reviews the books. Some rabbis believe satan is given access to heaven’s court on Yom Teruah. There he stands and accuses humankind, proverbially throwing the book at us. God hears satan’s case, then gives us ten days to repent of our sin. Ten days later He closes the books and seals our destiny for the upcoming year. The day of sealed or final judgment is known as Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 23:26)

Such a scenario could well foreshadow the end of this age. After followers of Yeshua are caught up to join Him in the marriage supper of the Lamb, those remaining will have ten days, so to speak, to turn to God before they are judged. If this is so, the trumpet call this Yom Teruah offers an ideal time to praise God for the gift of forgiveness of sin, and to pray for the salvation of others. He desires that none perish, but that all gain everlasting life. Pray especially for Israel’s salvation as our people gather in synagogues this Yom Teruah, read His Word, and leave hoping to be inscribed in God’s book of life.  

Yom Teruah is a day to hear, and then do, what the Spirit is saying through the shofar. It is a day to engage with fresh revelation of and from God. It is a day to celebrate a fresh start—and new year, if you will. I encourage you to eat the scroll that is trumpeted on Yom Teruah, and then, feel free to enjoy your apples and honey, too!