Rosh Hashanah

In my ongoing study of the Jewish feasts, I’ve learned that there are three fall holy days, all occurring within a three week period. Rosh Hashanah is the first. Also called the Feast of Trumpets, its name literally means “Head of the Year,” not because it is the beginning of the Hebrew calendar (it takes place in the seventh month) but because its message of repentance is so important it is considered the start of a new spiritual year. It marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy days which conclude ten days later with Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah is a time to take stock of the heart and turn it once again toward God. It’s a collective regathering of the people. Lev. 23:23-25 spells out God’s instructions. Specifically, a trumpet (a ram’s horn called a shofar) is to be sounded. In ancient times, the shofar was blown in anticipation of a king’s appearance. Each year on this holy day, the Jews spiritually “appear before God” in anticipation of judgment. The shofar is a reminder to prepare, to make sure their lives are aligned with God’s commands. This repentance is closely tied to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Traditionally, the forty days before Yom Kippur (thirty days before Rosh Hashanah) are an important time of preparation, and the shofar is sounded each morning.

Rosh Hashanah takes place just prior to the fall harvest and provides an excellent time to thank God for his provision. The symbol of the harvest is very significant when contemplating the prophetic nature of this feast. It is important to note that while all three of the spring festivals have been fulfilled, the fall feasts have not. In many places, scripture speaks of the harvest as the time God will bring about a new order. “Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe’’’ (Rev. 14:14). So we may assume these three fall festivals will be fulfilled during the end times. And as the spring festivals were fulfilled rapidly, within fifty days of each other, my guess is that once God brings the first fall feast to completion, the others will follow relatively soon.

So how will God fulfill Rosh Hashanah? The shofar may give us our best clue. It is often mentioned in reference to the gathering of the saints. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God (shofar), and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (I Th. 4:16-17). It seems Rosh Hashanah is a picture of the rapture. God says no man knows the day or the hour, so this could be dangerous speculation, but God orchestrated some powerful events on Passover, First Fruits and Shavuot. Could it be that the rapture will take place on Rosh Hashanah? What an exciting possibility!

There seems to be a second fulfillment to Rosh Hashanah that I don’t fully understand. Scripture indicates a gathering of the Jewish remnant in the later days that will be commenced with a shofar blast. Matthew 24:31 reads, “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” And Isaiah 27:12-13 says, “In that day the LORD will thresh from the flowing Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you, O Israelites, will be gathered up one by one. And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” Is this the same as the rapture? Or Christ’s second coming? It remains mysterious to me.

Until its fulfillment, however, the Feast of Trumpets will continue to be observed. Traditionally, this involves a special meal at sundown with slightly altered blessings. The customary candlesticks should be white this time, to signify the purity being sought through repentance. The wine is sweetened, and challah is round instead of braided and contains raisins, in anticipation of a full, sweet year. Several other sweet foods are eaten as well, like tzimmes (carrots and honey), honey cake and apples dipped in honey, all to signify the sweetness of life brought into accord with God.

Rosh Hashanah has one more interesting event. It is traditional for a family to visit a body of water and toss pebbles into it, illustrating how God removes our sin when we ask forgiveness. “You will hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). The New Testament tells us how God has already made provision for the forgiveness of sins through his Son, the Messiah. He has promised that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). This ancient Tashlich service is a beautiful illustration of grace.

Rosh Hashanah is a sober time, a time of serious contemplation and repentance, but it is also a time of joy and hope, both for God’s provision (spiritually as well as physically) and for the assurance that God DOES forgive. Both themes, you will notice, point straight to the Messiah. What beautiful lessons God laid out in this holy day! How excited I am to be leading my family in their discovery this year!

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