Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just passed us and signals the coming of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn and holy day of the year for Jews.
Rosh Hashanah means the “Head of the Year.” There are actually four New Years on the Hebrew calendar, but Rosh Hashanah is the “head.” Each new year on the Hebrew calendar is used as a “first day” from which to count a year for a specific thing. The closest our calendar comes to this is April 15th being the start of the fiscal year even though by all other measures the year starts on January 1st.
What makes Rosh Hashanah special is what kind of year it starts. The year that it starts is more important than the others, and because of this, it is the head over the other new years.
Rosh Hashanah is the “New Year of the Sabbatical Year.” From Rosh Hashanah the year is counted out to make sure that every seventh year the land is given a “sabbath” by laying fallow, and that after every seven sevens (49) years, the whole culture in Israel was given the 50th year as not only a sabbath but a “jubilee,” in which every form of bondage and burden was released and lands that were lost were redeemed to their ancestral owners.
This sabbatical new year is considered more important than 1st of Nisan, which is the start date to count in years the rule of a king. This sabbatical new year is more important than 1st of Elul, which calculates the year to determine the timing of giving tithes to the priests. Finally the sabbatical new year is more important than 15th of Shvat. Tu B’Shvat is used as the start date to calculate the age of trees. That might sound a little strange, but it was unlawful to eat from a tree until it was three years old. So, in this case, having a specific date to determine how long three years is becomes very important!
In these new years, I see God’s relationship with His people– with us. Four new years giving detailed care to kings, to priests, to sabbath, and to trees. All images of His kingdom and His peoples experience in it.
The biblical name for Rosh Hashanah is “The Feast of Trumpets.” It is established as “a solemn day of rest and a holy convocation for all time” in Leviticus 23 (paraphrase.) It was to be commemorated by the blasts of trumpets.
Rest and trumpets are not natural companions in my mind, so I looked up every verse relating to trumps, trumpet, trumpets, and trumpeters in the whole of the Bible– Old and New Testament.
What is the quality of a trumpet in the Bible?
The broadest categories of trumpets in the Bible are trumpets signifying God’s approval and trumpets signifying God’s disapproval.*
More specifically there are trumpets that: call to worship, sounds of praise, and jubilation. There are trumps that signal the presence of God, that announce God’s victory and His coming to protect or avenge His people. There are reverent trumpets whose sound lays prostrate the people before God’s terrifying holiness. Another kind of trumpeting signifies the moment in which God’s people can draw near to His holy place– the moment He gives His permission to interact with Him. And finally, trumpets that herald the second coming, the rapture, and the resurrection.
All of these trumpets depict the story arc of God’s covenant, loving relationship to man.
In several passages, the trumpets are used to initiate a “release,” verbatim. In Numbers 10, Exodus 19 and 20, Judges 7, and Revelation 8, the trumpet blasts specifically are what the people, warriors, or angels were waiting to hear to know that it was time to run up, throw caution to the wind, unleash, let loose, go wild, do what they came for and what they were made for, set free, release.
And unironically of course, as I see more and more how poetic God is, the Shmita, the name for that seventh year, the year of rest for the land– the whole reason for having a “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah– that carefully counted Shmita is known as: “the Year of Release.”
I still contemplate exactly why God has made the seventh day holy and commands us to remember it, but the Feast of Trumpets insinuates something cosmic, eternal, and divinely orchestrated in the Sabbath that is far more terrifying, powerful, and purposeful than I have considered before– something that we are obliviously a part of as we wait in worldly tension for a release into uninhibited relationship with Him.
*I’ll deal with the “disapproval of God” trumpet references in my upcoming Yom Kippur post.