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The Shofar

by Alfred Esch

The shofar or ram’s horn maybe the best-known of all musical instruments mentioned in the Bible. In the Old Testament ‘shofar’ is mostly translated as ‘trumpet’. Beginning with Exodus, we read of a ‘very loud trumpet blast’ (19:16), a sound that undoubtedly was familiar to the people of Israel.

Though we speak of a ram’s horn, shofars can also be made of the horns of goats or even antelopes. After removing the marrow from within, we have a hollow pipe. This pipe can be straight or curved and twisted. Blowing the mouthpiece, at the sharp end of the horn, the typical sound is produced. That, in fact, is not as easy as it sounds. To blow the shofar requires a lot of skill, effort and air! It is not possible to produce separate notes on the shofar. The melody is made up of a sequence of short and long blows.

Joshua 6:4 shows us that it was one of the tasks of the priests to blow the shofar. This was done on ceremonial occasions, but also at times of war. Marching-orders were given by blowing the trumpets and with the same shofar the signal was given for the people to gather. Both in times of joy and peril the shofar was sounded over Israel. To this day it is a call to awaken us and urge us to return to God. In the houses of the orthodox Jews every Friday afternoon the shofar announces the Sabbath.

Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is especially associated with the blowing of the shofar. Traditionally the shofar sounds a hundred times at that occasion. At Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the shofar is heard just once, at the end of the fasting period.

In the Old Testament we think of the ram, caught by its horns in the thicket (Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac). That pointed to the sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha.

In the New Testament the sounding of the trumpets points toward His return from heaven (1 Thess.4:16) because...surely the shofar will sound!

Let us have our ears open, ready to hear the shofar when He comes back!