Teruah – Getting at the Meaning

According to the Bible, the first day of the seventh month marks a special day on the Hebrew calendar. The day is popularly known as the Feast or Festival of Trumpets. There are two main texts in the Torah that provide all that we know of this holy day.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:23-25)

“On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets, (Numbers 29:1)

Aside from these two texts we have little else in biblical literature to inform us about the day. It is referred to as a Shabbaton, a Zikron Teruah, a Mikra Kodesh, and Yom Teruah in the Hebrew of these verses. The blasting, or blowing of trumpets is found in the English of both passages, but it is worth pointing out that neither the word for a ram’s horn trumpet, nor the silver trumpet is in the texts. Rather, what we find is the Hebrew word teruah.

If this day, listed among the festivals in Leviticus 23, is called a Memorial (Zikron) or Day (Yom) of Teruah, it is important that we know the meaning of the Hebrew teruah. Psalm 89 says the following:

Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, (Psalm 89:16 [verse 15 in English Bibles])

The Hebrew behind the English translation “festal shout,” is the word Teruah. So, this text says that those who know Teruah are blessed, or happy. It stands to reason then that we seek out a definition for this Hebrew word.

The Hebrew word Teruah, according to The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Koehler Baumgartner, means:

“on the one hand it means alarm or scream, and the other hand shout or jubilation; they are both also found in the verb רוע to shout or to rejoice; of these meanings alarm can probably be taken to be the more original or the older one; according to the individual situation it can be taken to mean cry (especially war cry) and a loud shout of joy…”

Teruah can be produced with the voice, or with trumpets – both the ram’s horn and, or the silver trumpet. Examples of the word in the Hebrew Bible follow:

Voice

I Samuel 4:5-6 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, [In this passage the Hebrew word teruah is translated as shout]

Psalm 27:6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. [Sacrifices of shouts of joy – Hebrew sacrifices of teruah]

Psalm 33:3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. [with loud shouts – with teruah]

Job 8:21 He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting. [with shouting – with teruah]

Job 33:26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy, and he restores to man his righteousness. [shout of joy – teruah]

Trumpets – Silver Trumpets

Numbers 10:5-6 When you blow an alarm, the camps that are on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out. [Alarm – teruah]

Numbers 31:6 And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. [alarm – teruah]

Shofar – Ram’s Horn Trumpet

2 Samuel 6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn. [literally, with teruah and with the voice of shofar]

Zephaniah 1:16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements. [a day of shofar and teruah]

Psalm 47:5    God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. [gone up in teruah…in a voice of shofar]

Shofar is also associated with teruah in the famous story of the walls of Jericho (See Joshua chapter 6, particularly vv 2-11, 13, 16, and 20). The sound of a loud shofar is mentioned in the narrative of the giving of the Torah at Sinai (see Exodus 19:16-20) and was used to announce the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-10). It was also used to announce the coronation of kings in the Hebrew Bible (Solomon, Jehu, etc).

The coming redemption is associated with the sound of a great shofar, and according to one reading of a verse in Isaiah 18, the resurrection of the dead is heralded by the sound of a shofar!

Isaiah 27:13 And in that day a great trumpet (Shofar) will be blown, wand those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Isaiah 18:3    All you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on [or IN] the earth, when a signal is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet is blown, hear!

And perhaps one of the most interesting eschatological usages of shofar, actually presents YHVH blowing a shofar!

Zechariah 9:14    Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.

These are merely a sampling of the passages which employ words associated with teruah, and the means whereby one makes teruah. One would be remiss for not including Isaiah 58, where the prophet is told to lift his voice “like a shofar” to declare the sins of the people to whom he was sent. So, on this day called Zikron Teruah and Yom Teruah, at the time of this special Sabbath, and on a day referred to by Ezra as a day holy to YHVH (See Nehemiah chapter 8):

We should:

  • Cry aloud and not hold back
  • Lift up our voices and call an alarm
  • Call for an assembly of YHVH’s people
  • Declare YHVH as our king and as King over the entire world
  • Announce the arrival of the 7th biblical month (Psalm 81:3)
  • And affirm the prophetic, and coming redemption as well as the resurrection of those who presently sleep in the dust.

A teaching on this subject of the word Teruah and it’s significance was given from the United Israel Center South. In this teaching Ross takes a look at linguistic clues, and passages throughout the Hebrew Bible in order to get at the meaning of the day.

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