13 May 2016

Jesus, Rosh Hashanah/Feast of Trumpets, and the Akedah

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Christian hope, eschatology, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Rosh Hashanah, Worship

trumpetsJesus Loved “Going to Church”

We continue our brief survey of the worship of Jesus himself as we head toward Pentecost Sunday on May 15, 2016. Some seem surprised that Jesus offered worship to God however the Gospels reveal that he worshiped in every way as a normal and typical Jew. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover “every year” (2.41-42) and John’s Gospel records Jesus constantly traveling to Jerusalem for all the other normal pilgrim festivals (John 5-11).  Jesus did not only go to the synagogue but revered the temple itself as “my Father’s house.”  He prayed the Psalms and other Jewish prayers.  He sang with the festive throng in the Temple.  He gathered to worship his Father for rededicating the Temple in Hanukkah (John 10.22ff). He even offered sacrifice and commanded other people to do the same.  The worshiping Jesus on earth has now become our heavenly human High Priest who continues to lead the great assembly of God’s people in worship as we saw yesterday in Jesus and Yom Kippur.   From Jesus of Nazareth we see public communal worship and, what we today call personal Spiritual disciplines, are united together rather than being in conflict.  Today we will explore Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of Trumpets.

New Year/New Creation

Rosh Hashanah, or Feast of Trumpets, marks the New Year and the creation of the world. It was a day of rest and sacred assembly (Lev 23:24; Num 29:1). The blowing of the shofar is frequently associated with the presence of the Lord in the Old Testament (Ex 19:19; Ps 47:5; Zech 9:14). Some suggest that the blaring of the trumpets was an attempt to replicate the thunder that Israel heard as Yahweh descended on Mount Sinai on the “day of church/assembly” (Acts 7.38). As such Israel is once again reminded of the loving God who carried her on eagles’ wings to himself (Exodus 19.4). Israel’s worship was directed to the Creator God who has redeemed Israel for the sake of all creation.  But true worship injected the twin themes of shalom and joy into the lives of God’s people (Deut 16. 11, 14, 15, etc). When Paul speaks of “edification” he is resting on these worship themes from the Hebrew Bible.

Probably the best place to turn to get some idea of Trumpets is the book of Nehemiah (as story also told in 1 Esdras). Nehemiah, convening an sacred assembly for the Feast of Trumpets. Ezra used this feast to gather the people as one in order to renew their covenant with the Lord. During this celebration the people listened to the Torah, read and preached, from “daybreak until noon” (Neh 8:3). Ezra ascended the pulpit built just for the occasion and the scribe “praised God” while the people shouted “Amen” and bowed in worship before the Lord (Neh 8:8).

So moved were the people that many began weeping (Neh 8:9). But it was not a time for weeping so Nehemiah instructed the people “go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks … do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh 8:10). Sensing the people’s mood, the Levites moved through the assembly calming the worshipers with the words “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve” (Neh 8:11). When the gathered people of God understood the words from God they “celebrate[d] with great joy” (Neh 8:12). The experience of God’s grace in corporate worship moves God’s people to overflowing generosity by giving portions of their fellowship offerings to “those who have nothing” (Neh 8:10).

Gloom and holiness do not make good companions in the biblical narrative. This narrative demonstrates the festive joy associated with Israel’s “holy convocations” as they mediated the divine presence in Israel. Rosh Hashanah boldly proclaims the new beginning offered to creation. Even struggling exiles like those in Nehemiah’s day found joy and shalom in the Presence of the Lord at the dawn of a new day!

Rosh Hashanah in Jesus’s Day

Three additional themes pervaded Rosh Hashanah in the Second Temple period.

First is God’s Sovereignty or kingdom.  Yahweh did after all create the whole world! Creator is directly tied to being King in the Hebrew Bible. Thus Psalm 47 was important in Jewish worship and read in the temple 7x on this day. The seven seems to be connected to week of creation. The joyous proclamation that God is King of “all the earth” was made to loud songs of praise and the blowing of the shofar.

Clap your hands, all you peoples [= Gentile nations];
Shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, Most High, is awesome,
a great King over all the earth.
He subdued the peoples [nations] under us …
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of the Trumpet
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, Sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.

God is King over all the nations;
God sits on his holy throne
(Psalm 47)

It is easy to see why, when Jesus proclaimed the “kingdom of God” that people were excited and the Romans were threatened!

Second is Remembrance which is an appeal to remember the covenant. The rabbis suggested that the horn of a cow was not allowed for that would remind God of the “golden calf” thus a rams horn is used to remind God of the sacrifice of Isaac (or the rescue of).  We will return to this momentarily.

Third, Shofarot which recalls the history of the blowing of the shofar itself. The whole festival recalls judgment, but proclaims judgement is not as an end in itself. Rather the focus was on the aversion of judgment or mercy!

In the NT there are a number of passages that contain allusions to the traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah. Jesus and Paul allude to the Feast of Trumpets. In Mt 24.29-31 the regathering of God’s faithful in the context of judgment and restoration draw themes of this great day … the day of the new beginning.

Paul’s reference in 1 Thes 4.16 draws on this tradition as well. The Prophet John uses the themes from Rosh Hashanah in 11.15-18, like in Ps 47, the sovereignty of God is proclaimed with the loud sofar.

abrahamThe Akedah or The Binding of Isaac

Probably the most important tradition associated with Rosh Hashanah in Jesus’s day however is what is called the Akedah or “the binding.” Genesis 22 does not say when Abraham bound Isaac. However, from ancient times it was believed to be the first of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah … The Feast of Trumpets!

It is a shame that most Christians are utterly unaware of this Jewish tradition that is clearly “hidden” in plain view on the pages of the New Testament. There are numerous parallels of this tradition with the story of Jesus himself. For example:

Isaac was both a promised child and the result of a miraculous birth (like Jesus).
He was the symbol of Hope (like Jesus).
The rabbis stress that Isaac was “innocent” having done nothing deserving of death (like Jesus).
Isaac, whatever age he was, was obedient to the will of his father even in extreme circumstances (like Jesus).
Various Jewish representations of the Akedah suggest that Isaac died of terror on the altar (Jesus crying out Ps 22.1) but was “resurrected” by the voice of heaven.
The blood of the Passover Lamb was even identified with the blood of Isaac in some tellings of the Binding (Jesus is identified as the Lamb of God)

The NT clearly assumes familiarity with these traditional Jewish beliefs. “He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type” (Heb 11.19). This passage makes considerable sense against the backdrop of the tradition of the “the Binding.”

The ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus is certainly illuminated by knowledge of Rosh Hashanah in the Hebrew Bible, and the traditions that Jesus, Paul and the early Way breathed and drew on to express the heart of the Christian faith.

Final Notes

So on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate that God created the world out of, and for, love. On this day we celebrate that God is King of “all the earth” (read Ps 47 at least!). On this day we celebrate that God remembers his covenant of love with all the world, with Abraham, with David, with you and me. On this day, we celebrate all the multiple deliverances the Gracious One has wrought in the history of his people … joining those in Nehemiah’s day weeping over our faithlessness but bursting with tears of joy at his forgiveness. On this day we celebrate that a Jew named Jesus who was faithful in all his Father’s will and has been raised in the flesh to bring in the New Creation … to BE Rosh Hashanah itself!

On this day become acquainted with your biblical heritage and let the rhythm of the bible proved the cadence for your life as in Nehemiah’s day … the “pattern.”

(In just speaking of “this day” I want it understood that today, May 13, 2016 is not literally Rosh Hashanah.  I am simply attempting to get us into the mindset of Israelites and Jesus as they gather in sacred assembly to worship together for this Spiritually wonderful time of corporate worship.  Remember this blog is part of a short series on Jesus’s own worship that is taking us to the “actual” day of Pentecost on Sunday).

Be Blessed.

Leave a Reply