THE MEANINGS OF THE FEAST OF TRUMPETS

by Jeff Smith and Doug Ward

We have had much to say in this issue about the beautiful symbolismof the fall festival season. We are aware, though, that this symbolism is currently a controversial issue in the WCG. For example, the following remarks about the Feast of Trumpets recently appeared on an internet forum in which we participate:

``As a Holy Day, Trumpets is perhaps the most `shadowed' of the Lev. 23 days. What it meant to Israel and what it foreshadows about Jesus are less clear than with the other days. Indeed, in Israel its meaning evolved over time as reflected in rabbinic practice and interpretation.

``In the WCG, we chose to assign to it a futuristic orientation related to the Day of the Lord and Jesus' second advent. We have little scriptural or historic precedent fordoing so, but then the new covenant gives us great latitude with regard toworship days.''

These remarks have provided us with much food for thought. In thisarticle,we would like to examine them in some detail.

We agree with the author of the remarks (who will remain nameless here) that ``the new covenant gives us great latitude with regard to worship days.'' Whatever form our worship takes on, the important thing is that we worship ``in spirit and in truth'' (John 4:24). The great works that God has performed in the past, carries out in the present, and has planned for the future are worth celebrating on an annual basis-in fact, leaders of other denominations have expressed their approval of such traditions. So in a sense, we need offer no justification for our Feast of Trumpets celebrations. In answer to the traditional festival question, ``Why are we here?'', we can rightfully answer, ``Why not?''

We also acknowledge that the Feast of Trumpets is the festival about which the Bible gives us the least amount of direct information. It is not associated with any particular facet of theExodus, and there is no scripture that explicitly tells us its meaning. TheBible introduces it simply as a ``remembrance blast'' (Lev. 23:34) and a ``day of blowing'' (Num. 29:1). But is it fair to say that there is ``little scriptural or historical precedent'' for associating the Feast of Trumpets with the events to occur at the close of this age? We think not. Our aimin this article is to carefully evaluate our traditional teachings on the meanings of the Feast of Trumpets and demonstrate how these teachings can be enhanced by further information from the Bible and history.

Our understanding of the meanings of the Feast of Trumpets has alwaysbeen based on the conviction that the annual festivals tell the story ofGod's plan of salvation, along with the observation that the events associatedin the Biblewith the blowing of trumpets fit remarkably well into their appropriate placein that story. We next examine the biblical support for this understanding.

The Festivals as Types

Revelation 13:8 tells us that God planned to send Jesus as our Savior ``from the foundation of the world.'' As Jesus taught His disciples after His resurrection, God inspired the Gospel to be proclaimed in various waysthroughout the Old Testament (Luke 24:44-46). One way in which Jesus' coming and mission are predicted is through a wonderful series of direct prophecies, such as Micah 5:2, Isa. 9:6-7,and Isa. 52:13-53:12 [6]. But even more frequently, theGospel is announcedsymbolically through special people, events, and ceremonies. These special symbols are called ``types'' (see the Glossary on p. 22). The New Testament writers explicitly recognized a number of different typesin the Old Testament, including the events of the Exodus as a type of the Christian experience (I Cor. 10:1-11), Adam as a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14),the flood as a type of baptism (I Peter 3:20-21), and the old covenant tabernacleand priesthood as types of Christ's heavenly priesthood (Heb. 8:5; 9:24). (See Chapter 1 of [2] for an enlightening discussion of biblicaltypology.)

Did God design the annual festivals as types? There is ample biblical evidence that He did, and that the New Testament church understood that He did. Thisis especially clear for the spring festivals. The Bible identifies Jesus as the true Passover lamb (John 1:29, I Cor. 5:7,I Peter 1:19) andas the Firstfruits of the spiritual harvest (I Cor. 15:20-23),the fulfillment of the wavesheaf offering of Lev. 23:9-14. It identifies leavening as atype of sin and the Days of Unleavened Bread as symbolic of the cleansingfrom sin that we receive as a result of Christ's sacrifice forus (I Cor.5:6-8). It sees the Christian church as a spiritual spring harvest, thebeginning of the salvation of mankind (Rom. 8:23, James 1:18).These connectionsare accentuated and reinforced by the fact that Jesuswas crucified on thevery day on which the Passover lambs were killed and resurrected on the dayof the wavesheaf offering; similarly, the spiritual spring harvest beganwith the coming of the Holy Spirit on the very dayof Pentecost. All of this symbolism has been well understood by the ChristianChurch through the centuries, as has been carefully documentedin [1, 4].

Given that the typology of the spring festivals has attained such remarkable fulfillment, is it not reasonable to infer that the fall festivals also foreshadow major milestones in the unfolding of God's plan? The WCG has given an affirmative answer to this question in the past, and several recentChristian sourceson the annual festivals (e.g., [1-3, 5]) concur. There are strong biblical and historical arguments in favor of such a view. First, there is the eschatological symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles. We know that the Feast commemorated God's protection of the Israelites while they lived in ``booths'' duringtheirforty years of wandering in the wilderness. Later, in the time of theprophets, it also came to picture the messianic kingdom, in which the righteouswould enjoy safe dwelling places (e.g., Isa. 32:18; 33:20;Zech. 14:11, 16). This connection between the Feast and the millennium wasrecognized by theChurch in its early centuries; in [4, Chap. 20], Danielou cites examplesfrom the writings of Methodius, who died around A.D. 311.

The association of the Feast with the messianic age is also reflectedin post-exilic Jewish festival liturgy [4]. Psalm 118 was traditionallysung on the seventh day of the Feast, and v. 26 (``Blessed be he that comethin the nameof the Lord ....'') was seen as a reference to the Messiah. Onecelebration of the seventh day of the Feast was the water libation ceremony,in which water was drawn from the pool of Siloam and poured out on the altar. The water in this ceremony came to be associated with the healing, purifying ``waters'' of the Holy Spirit that would be poured out in the messianic age (Isa. 44:3; Ezek. 47:1; Zech. 14:8). When Jesus proclaimed Himself on that day to be the source of the Spirit (John 7:37-39), He was saying that Hewas the Messiah and the fulfillment of the ceremony's symbolism. His audience recognized the import of His proclamation (v. 40-41).

A second indication of the typological nature of the fall festivals is givenby the fact that all of the annual festivals are listed together inLev. 23, implying that they form one unified whole. There is also an orderlyprogressionin their symbolism at several levels, suggesting that God intendedthem, asa unit, to tell a story. On one level, they tell the story of theannualharvest in Israel, from spring to fall. On a second level, they tellthe story of the Exodus,from the deliverance of Israel at Passover, to thegiving of the law at Sinai during the Pentecost season, to the wildernessjourney and arrival in the Promised Land pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles. A third level is the story of the salvation of the world, from Jesus'Passover sacrificeto the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on and after Pentecost,and on to the time when God will tabernacle with mankind forever (Rev. 21:3). Finally,the festivals tell the story of the salvation of individual Christians,from our acceptance of Christ's sacrifice to our receiving and followingthe lead ofthe Holy Spirit, and onward to eternal life. As nineteenth-centuryLutheran preacher Joseph Seiss wrote in [7], ``There are three general aspectsin which these remarkable festivals may be considered. They had importantrelations to the peace and prosperity of the Jews as a nation; they embodieda great religious idea; and they presented chronological prefiguration ofthe great facts of our redemption.''

Given the chronological progression in the typology of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, it is reasonable to believe that the festivals which fall between Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles-the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement-would have symbolism involving events to occur between the founding and growth of the Church and the establishmentof the millennial kingdom, events like the Day of the Lord, the first resurrection, and Christ's return to judge the nations and be crowned as king over the earth. We have endorsedsuch a belief in the past, as do references [1-3,5], pointing tothe fact that these very events are associated in the Bible with the blowingof trumpets (e.g., Joel 2:1-2, I Thes. 4:16-17, I Cor. 15:51-52, Matt. 24:30-31, Rev. 11:15-18).

In summary, the traditional WCG understanding of the meanings of the Feast ofTrumpets was based on some rather strong circumstantial evidence: (1)There is broadconsensus in the Christian world on the prophetic symbolismof Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. (2) This symbolismindicates that the typology of the festivals lays out chronologically thestory of God's plan of redemption.(3) Finally, the Feast of Trumpets fallsshortly before the Feast of Tabernacles in the calendar, and trumpet imageryis associated in the Bible with events to occur shortly before those picturedby the Feast of Tabernacles.

Trumpet Symbolism and the Feast of Trumpets

The argument outlined above can be substantiated further by evidence linking biblical trumpet imagery with the Feast of Trumpets itself. Such evidence is available in the Jewish theologyand festival traditions that had beendeveloped by the first century A.D. With a better knowledge of the religionof Jesus' time, wecan come to a deeper awareness and understanding of NewTestament festival imagery (see [2,3]).

A particularly interesting section of Scripture in this regard is the description of the seven trumpets of Rev. 8-9, 11. In this partof the book of Revelation (a book full of festival symbolism!) six trumpets announce plagues designed to call the world to repentance (see Rev. 9:20-21) before a seventh trumpet proclaims the judgment of the world (Rev. 11:18). There is a striking parallel here with Jewish festivaltraditions. In the Jewish tradition, the shofar is sounded on the first day of each of the first six months of the Hebrew calendar. Thesetrumpet blasts are also seen ascalls to repentance, reminders of the time ofjudgment that begins when theshofar is sounded on the Feast of Trumpets (the first day of the seventhmonth) and continues until the Dayof Atonement.

The context of this section of Revelation gives further indication ofits connection with the Feast of Trumpets. It begins in Rev. 8:1-5 withan offeringof incense and the prayers of the saints at a golden heavenlyaltar,giving the passage a worship setting. It is immediately followed,in Rev. 11:19, by the opening of the Most Holy Place of the heavenly temple,where the ark of the covenant is seen. The imagery here is that of the Dayof Atonement, the only time when the High Priest ministered before the arkof the covenant (Lev. 16). Again, in Jewish tradition, a judgment periodbegins on the Feast of Trumpets and reaches its culmination on theDay ofAtonement. That tradition seems to be reflected in the symbolismof Rev.8-11.

The theology of this passage provides yet another link with the Feastof Trumpets. Aswe mentioned on p. 23, the Feast of Trumpets is introducedin Lev. 23:24as a ``memorial of blowing of trumpets'' or ``remembrance blast'' (ziccaron teruah in Hebrew) ). The word ziccaron (``remembrance'') has special significance in the Jewish theology of the Feast of Trumpets[2,3]. In that theology, the festival calls upon people to remember God,and it also calls upon God to``remember'' His people and His covenant (Num.10:8-10). In Rev. 8:1-5, the prayers ofthe saints are a plea to God to rememberHis people (see also Rev. 6:9-10),and God responds powerfully by sendingthe seven trumpets. The kingshipof God (Rev. 11:15, 17) is also a themelong associated with this festival.In Jewish tradition, three ``pillars''of the Feast of Trumpets are kingship, remembrance, and the sound of theshofar. All three are picturedin Rev. 8-11.

The trumpet symbolism in Rev. 8-9, 11 does, then, relate closely to the Feastof Trumpets. There are possible Feast of Trumpets connections withsome other New Testament passages, too. For example, Paul states in I Cor.15:52 that the resurrection of the saints will occur ``in a moment, in thetwinkling of an eye, at the last trump.'' According to Chumney [3], theterm ``last trump'' in Jewishtradition refers specifically to the blowingof the shofar on the Feast ofTrumpets.

Another verse with significant language is I Thes. 4:16: ``For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall risefirst.'' Chumney explains in [3] that ``shouting'', the Feast of Trumpets, and the resurrection of the dead are all intertwined in Jewish thought. The source of this connection is the fact that teruah, the Hebrew word for the trumpet blast in Lev. 23:24, alsocan be translated as an ``awakening blast'' or ``shout''. As a result,biblical references to ``shouting'' (e.g., Isa. 12:6, 42:1,44:23; Jer. 31:7; Zeph. 3:14; Zech. 9:9) are associatedin Jewish traditionwith the Feast of Trumpets. Interestingly, both awakening and shouting areconnectedwith the resurrection of the dead in Isa. 26:19, which states inthe NIV:``But your dead willlive; their bodies will rise. You who dwellin the dust, wake up andshout for joy.'' Chumney also mentions a Talmudicreference [Rosh Hashanah, 16b] to the belief (familiar to many ofus!) that the resurrection of the dead will take place on the Feast of Trumpets.

These examples indicate that it is reasonable to associate the Feast of Trumpets with the Day of the Lord and the resurrection of the saints, since the Bible and Jewish tradition give hints of such connections.

Concluding Thoughts

We conclude, along with [1-3, 5], that it is inaccurate to say that there is ``little scripturalor historic precedent'' for connecting the Feast of Trumpets with the events to come at the close of this age. Our traditional case for themeanings of the Feast of Trumpets is admittedly indirect, based as it is uponthe clearer typology of the other festival days, but it canbe strengthenedwith help from the festival allusions present in several NewTestament passages, most notably Rev. 8-11. The light provided by Scriptureand history shows that the meanings of the Feast of Trumpets are certainlynot shrouded in shadow.

Still, we have much yet to learn about the meanings and history of the Feast of Trumpets and the other annual festivals. Here are three suggestions for modern-day students of festival symbolism:

Don't be dogmatic, especially in regard to the Feast of Trumpetsand the Day of Atonement. Typology is not an exact science. There is general agreement on the Christian meanings of Passover, Pentecost,and the Feastof Tabernacles, but which prophetic events one associates withthe Feast ofTrumpets and which with the Day of Atonement may differ, depending upon theparticular prophetic scenario one is following [2,3,5]. This is not surprising,since the two festivals are closely linked and both haveconnections with trumpet symbolism. (For the Day of Atonement, this connectionis through the announcement of the Year of Jubilee-Lev. 25:9-and throughthe traditional blowing of theshofar at the close of that day.)

Learn about Jewish tradition. The WCG has come to see that there is much of value in the nearly 2000 years of Christian thought, and the same is true of the many centuries of Jewish thought. The Old Testamentis the most important source for understanding the background and context oftheNew Testament, but the Jewish tradition that developed after the timeof Malachi is also a very valuable aid to our understanding. In particular,it can help us to recognize the implicit festival symbolism in the New Testament, especially in the writings of the apostle John.

Focus on Christ in the past, present, and future. Years ago, wein the WCG tended to concentrate too much on the future aspects of fallfestival symbolism. However, all of the festivals have past and present, as wellas future, significance [1-2]. For example, the meaning of the Feast ofTrumpets, broadly considered, includes the ways in which God has``remembered''His people throughout history. The ultimate expression of God's remembranceof us is found in the coming of Jesus-in the flesh,2000 years ago; in thelives of believers today (John 14:23); and in powerat His glorious return. There is indeed much for us to celebrate on theFeast of Trumpets, as onall of God's annual festival days.

References

  1. Samuele Bacchiocchi, God's Festivals in Scriptureand History, Part I: the Spring Festivals. Biblical Perspectives, BerrienSprings, MI, 1995. (For sample chapters, see http://www2.andrews.edu/~ samuele.)
  2. Samuele Bacchiocchi, God's Festivals in Scriptureand History, Part II: the Fall Festivals. Biblical Perspectives, BerrienSprings, MI, 1996. (Volumes I and II can be purchased for $15 each from Biblical Perspectives, 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, MI 49103.)
  3. Eddie Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. Destiny ImagePublishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994. (This book is available on theinternetin its entirety at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/2175, andcopies may be purchased for$12 from Hebraic Heritage Ministries International,P.O. Box 81, Strasburg, Ohio 44680.)
  4. Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1956.
  5. Kevin Howard and Marvin J. Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord.Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1997.
  6. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995.
  7. Joseph A. Seiss, Holy Types: or, the Gospel in Leviticus: a Series of Lectures on the Hebrew Ritual. Charles C.Cook, New York, 1900.

About the Authors: Jeff Smith lives in Peoria, Illinios,and has been a member of the WCG since 1974. He has written a book entitledThe Gospel Medley, a single narrative of the four gospels that is asyet unpublished. He also creates children's plays from scripture to be performed within the local congregation. Jeff graduated with a B.S. from Case Western Reserve University in 1978 and earned an MBA from Bradley University in 1994.

Jeff works as a Senior Systems Analystfor Caterpillar, Inc., and has beenmarried to his wife Julie for 13 years. They have three children: Victoria(11), Olivia(9), and Raymond(6).