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 symbolism of 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 for doing so, but then the new covenant gives us great latitude with regard to worship days.''
These remarks have provided us with much food for thought. In this article, we would like to examine them in some detail.
We agree with the author of the remarks (WCG pastor Ted Johnston) 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 the Exodus, and there is no scripture that explicitly tells us its meaning. The Bible 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 aim in 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 always been based on the conviction that the annual festivals tell the story of God's plan of salvation, along with the observation that the events associated in the Bible with the blowing of trumpets fit remarkably well into their appropriate place in 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 ways throughout 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 . But even more frequently, the Gospel is announced symbolically through special people, events, and ceremonies. These special symbols are called ``types''. The New Testament writers explicitly recognized a number of different types in 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 tabernacle and priesthood as types of Christ's heavenly priesthood (Heb. 8:5; 9:24). (See Chapter 1 of  for an enlightening discussion of biblical typology.)
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. This is 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) and as 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 a type of sin and the Days of Unleavened Bread as symbolic of the cleansing from sin that we receive as a result of Christ's sacrifice for us (I Cor.5:6-8). It sees the Christian church as a spiritual spring harvest, the beginning of the salvation of mankind (Rom. 8:23, James 1:18). These connections are accentuated and reinforced by the fact that Jesus was crucified on the very day on which the Passover lambs were killed and resurrected on the day of the wavesheaf offering; similarly, the spiritual spring harvest began with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the very day of Pentecost. All of this symbolism has been well understood by the Christian Church through the centuries, as has been carefully documented in [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 recent Christian sources on 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'' during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Later, in the time of the prophets, it also came to picture the messianic kingdom, in which the righteous would enjoy safe dwelling places (e.g., Isa. 32:18; 33:20; Zech. 14:11, 16). This connection between the Feast and the millennium was recognized by the Church in its early centuries; in [4, Chap. 20], Danielou cites examples from the writings of Methodius, who died around A.D. 311.
The association of the Feast with the messianic age is also reflected in post-exilic Jewish festival liturgy . Psalm 118 was traditionally sung on the seventh day of the Feast, and v. 26 (``Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord ....'') was seen as a reference to the Messiah. One celebration 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 He was 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 given by the fact that all of the annual festivals are listed together in Lev. 23, implying that they form one unified whole. There is also an orderly progression in their symbolism at several levels, suggesting that God intended them, as a unit, to tell a story. On one level, they tell the story of the annual harvest in Israel, from spring to fall. On a second level, they tell the story of the Exodus, from the deliverance of Israel at Passover, to the giving of the law at Sinai during the Pentecost season, to the wilderness journey 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 sacrifice to 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 following the lead of the Holy Spirit, and onward to eternal life. As nineteenth-century Lutheran preacher Joseph Seiss wrote in , ``There are three general aspects in which these remarkable festivals may be considered. They had important relations to the peace and prosperity of the Jews as a nation; they embodied a great religious idea; and they presented chronological prefiguration of the 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 establishment of 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 endorsed such a belief in the past, as do references [1-3,5], pointing to the fact that these very events are associated in the Bible with the blowing of 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 of Trumpets was based on some rather strong circumstantial evidence: (1)There is broad consensus in the Christian world on the prophetic symbolism of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. (2) This symbolism indicates that the typology of the festivals lays out chronologically the story of God's plan of redemption. (3) Finally, the Feast of Trumpets falls shortly before the Feast of Tabernacles in the calendar, and trumpet imagery is associated in the Bible with events to occur shortly before those pictured by 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 theology and festival traditions that had been developed by the first century A.D. With a better knowledge of the religion of Jesus' time, we can come to a deeper awareness and understanding of New Testament 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 part of 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 festival traditions. In the Jewish tradition, the shofar is sounded on the first day of each of the first six months of the Hebrew calendar. These trumpet blasts are also seen as calls to repentance, reminders of the time of judgment that begins when the shofar is sounded on the Feast of Trumpets (the first day of the seventh month) and continues until the Day of Atonement.
The context of this section of Revelation gives further indication of its connection with the Feast of Trumpets. It begins in Rev. 8:1-5 with an offering of incense and the prayers of the saints at a golden heavenly altar, 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 Day of Atonement, the only time when the High Priest ministered before the ark of the covenant (Lev. 16). Again, in Jewish tradition, a judgment period begins on the Feast of Trumpets and reaches its culmination on the Day of Atonement. That tradition seems to be reflected in the symbolism of Rev.8-11.
The theology of this passage provides yet another link with the Feast of Trumpets. As we mentioned on p. 23, the Feast of Trumpets is introduced in 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 of the saints are a plea to God to remember His people (see also Rev. 6:9-10), and God responds powerfully by sending the seven trumpets. The kingship of God (Rev. 11:15, 17) is also a theme long associated with this festival. In Jewish tradition, three ``pillars'' of the Feast of Trumpets are kingship, remembrance, and the sound of the shofar. All three are pictured in Rev. 8-11.
The trumpet symbolism in Rev. 8-9, 11 does, then, relate closely to the Feast of Trumpets. There are possible Feast of Trumpets connections with some 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 the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.'' According to Chumney , the term ``last trump'' in Jewish tradition refers specifically to the blowing of the shofar on the Feast of Trumpets.
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 rise first.'' Chumney explains in  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, also can 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 associated in Jewish tradition with the Feast of Trumpets. Interestingly, both awakening and shouting are connected with the resurrection of the dead in Isa. 26:19, which states in the NIV: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.'' Chumney also mentions a Talmudic reference [Rosh Hashanah 16b] to the belief (familiar to many of us!) 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.
We conclude, along with [1-3, 5], that it is inaccurate to say that there is ``little scriptural or historic precedent'' for connecting the Feast of Trumpets with the events to come at the close of this age. Our traditional case for the meanings of the Feast of Trumpets is admittedly indirect, based as it is upon the clearer typology of the other festival days, but it can be strengthened with help from the festival allusions present in several New Testament passages, most notably Rev. 8-11. The light provided by Scripture and history shows that the meanings of the Feast of Trumpets are certainly not 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 Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. Typology is not an exact science. There is general agreement on the Christian meanings of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, but which prophetic events one associates with the Feast of Trumpets and which with the Day of Atonement may differ, depending upon the particular prophetic scenario one is following [2,3,5]. This is not surprising, since the two festivals are closely linked and both have connections with trumpet symbolism. (For the Day of Atonement, this connection is through the announcement of the Year of Jubilee-Lev. 25:9-and through the traditional blowing of the shofar 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 Testament is the most important source for understanding the background and context of the New Testament, but the Jewish tradition that developed after the time of 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, we in the WCG tended to concentrate too much on the future aspects of fall festival symbolism. However, all of the festivals have past and present, as well as future, significance [1-2]. For example, the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets, broadly considered, includes the ways in which God has “remembered'' His people throughout history. The ultimate expression of God's remembrance of us is found in the coming of Jesus-in the flesh, 2000 years ago; in the lives of believers today (John 14:23); and in power at His glorious return. There is indeed much for us to celebrate on the Feast of Trumpets, as on all of God's annual festival days.
1. Samuele Bacchiocchi, God's
Festivals in Scripture and History, Part I: the Spring Festivals.
Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, MI, 1995.
2. Samuele Bacchiocchi, God's
Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: the Fall Festivals.
Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, MI, 1996.
3. Eddie Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994.
Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy. University of Notre Dame Press,
Notre Dame, IN, 1956.
Howard and Marvin J. Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord. Thomas
Nelson, Nashville, 1997.
C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament. Zondervan, Grand
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, Illinois, and has been a member of the WCG since 1974. He has written a book entitled The Gospel Medley, a single narrative of the four gospels that is as yet 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 Analyst for Caterpillar, Inc., and has been married to his wife Julie for 13 years. They have three children: Victoria(11), Olivia(9), and Raymond(6).
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