The Call of the Shofar

shofarOn a recent trip to South Africa, I found a real prize. I located a wonderful ‘Shofar’, a trumpet made from an animal horn. I have long wanted to own such an instrument. As a student of the Old Testament, I often preach the soul-stirring accounts of events and people preserved there. Shofars are frequently referenced in these accounts. A Yemenite Shofar, made from a giant kudu horn, is now one of my most cherished possessions.    

There are many symbolic meanings associated with the shofar. Let me share just a few. One has to do with the Akedah, the narrative that is found in Genesis 22:1-24. It chronicles the day when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The inspiring account culminates with Abraham raising the knife to slay his son, only to have God stay his hand and bring his attention to a ram caught in a nearby thicket. Abraham sacrificed the ram instead. Because of this story, some Midrashim (ancient commentaries on the Hebrew scriptures) claim that whenever the shofar is blown, God will remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Also, it is believed that God will forgive the transgressions of those who hear the shofar’s blasts. The shofar blasts can remind us to turn our hearts towards repentance.

The shofar is also associated with the idea of crowning God as King on Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה‎, literally “head of the year”), the Jewish New Year. The Biblical name for this holiday is Yom Teruah.   The breaths used by the trumpet blower (the Tokea) to make the sounds of the shofar are also associated with the breath of life. “God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). 

Perhaps the most famous reference to the shofar occurs in the Book of Joshua, where shofarot (plural of shofar) were used as part of a battle plan to capture the city of Jericho: “Then the LORD said to Joshua… March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 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. 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 and the people will go up, every man straight in” (Joshua 6:2-5). According to the narrative, Joshua followed God’s commandments to the letter, and the walls of Jericho fell, allowing them to capture the city.

Our verbal witness as New Testament believers is our shofar sound to a needy world.  It can be used to call people to repentance. It can acknowledge that the Lord is ‘the breath of life’. It can be a testament that by following the Lord’s commandments the walls of opposition can come tumbling down. Let us lift our voices to the praise and glory of the Lord, but understand that the way we live must reflect the words we speak. “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8, NKJ).

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:1)

~ Brother Roy

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