Feast Of Trumpets And The Sacrifice Of Isaac

Dear friends,

Here in Israel, we are in a season called Chagim:  Feasts, or Holidays. There are two Hebrew words that one hears endlessly during this season: Acherey Hachagim – “after the Holidays”. Everything is “frozen”, postponed, delayed for this time (pretty much like the Christmas/New Year season, with a slight difference, that Christmas/New Year season lasts two weeks, and our Chagim lasts almost a month – the Jewish month of Tishrei).

Here on this Blog, we will also be celebrating the Holy Days. Even though in our last post, we asked the final and the main question of our Hidden Messiah study: Why was Yeshua hidden from Israel? – we will look for an answer “Acherey Hachagim” – after the Holidays.  For now, we will talk about the Feasts, and since this is the week of the Feast of Trumpets (this is the biblical name and meaning of this Feast), that will be our subject for today.

The biblical Hebrew name for this holiday is Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה‎‎), literally “day [of] shouting/blasting”, translated as the Feast of Trumpets. You probably know this holiday as Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year. “Rosh” is the Hebrew word for “head”, “ha” is the definite article (“the”), and “shanah” means year. Thus Rosh HaShanah means Head [of] the Year, referring to the Jewish new year (by the way, one of four “new years” in Israel).

The term “Rosh Hashanah” in its current meaning does not appear in the Torah. Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as Zikhron Teru’ah  ([a] memorial [of] blowing [of Trumpets]); it is also referred to in the same part of Leviticus as ‘שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן’ (shabbat shabbaton) and a “holy day to God”. Numbers 29:1 calls the festival Yom Teru’ah (“Day [of] blowing [the Trumpet]”), and specifies different sacrifices that were to be performed.

Rosh Hashanah is also the Day of Judgment: Yom HaDin. According to the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah, three books are opened on this day: the Book of Life, for the righteous, the Book of Death, for the most evil, who receive the seal of death, and a third book, for an intermediate class. The intermediate class are allowed a period of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect and repent – the final judgment not taking place until Yom Kippur.

The Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah is Chapters 21 and 22 of the book of Genesis. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of these chapters in God’s mystery. In the past, my attention had always been drawn to Akedat Yitzhak in Genesis 22 and to the fact that Genesis 22 is read every Jewish New Year.  Why do we read the story of Isaac’s sacrifice every Rosh Hashanah? One of the traditional explanations says that the shofar, made of a ram’s horn, reminds us of the binding of Isaac and the ram God provided as a sacrifice in his place . I personally believe, the connection is much deeper. I wrote a book based on this story, and here are a few paragraphs from the Prologue:

“I ask you to visualize that mountain, the location of one of the strangest events in the history of Israel. See the aging father, who with his own hands binds his beloved son and who, with his very own hands, lays him on the altar. Knife in hand, he has already stretched out his arm to slay him, but… halted by a voice from heaven, he looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket by its horns, which he then sacrifices as a burnt offering in the place of the son originally intended for this sacrifice. When from the lofty height of millenniums afterwards, we look back down at this mountain and at these three figures, our hearts literally quiver with the awareness of near-physical contact with this special secret, with the foretaste of some incredibly important and only partially understood, not yet revealed, mystery of God. Here we brush up against something that without a doubt still belongs to God, but the incomprehensible inner turbulence, which agitates us to the point of outward trembling, testifies that this picture is like some episode from His forethoughts and plans for the history of the world, fashioned for our viewing. This long ago slaying of the sacrificial lamb, which took place perhaps even before the beginning of time but somehow still resounds today, exceeds all bounds of history, time and the passing world. Something incredibly important is taking place here. Something is taking shape against the backdrop of all the long ages of human history: an unsolved mystery stands behind these actions. Are you aware that every year during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, at the beginning of every Jewish year, this story entitled “Akedah”, the story of the binding and sacrifice of Isaac, is read in the synagogues? Why? What is so important for us that every time we enter a new year of our earthly walk, we again look at this story? Why did the father have to sacrifice his son? Who was this son, laid on the altar by his father? And this ram, caught in the thicket by his horns – what does he symbolize? I found an interesting passage in the Haggadah: “I heard from behind the Heavenly Veil these words: ‘Not Isaac, but the ram predestined for the burnt offering.’” …

Within this scene, this prologue not only to the history of Israel, but in fact to the entire history of mankind, is encapsulated the entirety of God’s design for the ages, His complete plan for humanity. It is not by coincidence that the location where all this takes place was later to become the main focal point of God in the visible world. It is the mountain of Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, on which the Temple will be built that the Lord will one day fill with His glory. ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering,’[1] Abraham tells Isaac, and although there on the mountain at first we see only two figures – Abraham and Isaac, father and son – after a time it turns out that there is someone else in the picture: the ram caught in a thicket by its horns.[2] The lamb, which God provided for Himself for the burnt offering!  Neither Abraham nor we the readers could see how and when he got there; he simply was there, and had been from the very beginning. In Jewish sources it says that the ram, this lamb, had already been slain before the creation of the world. This is why each time at the rebirth of the year we read about this story that somehow echoes from beyond the realm of time. In its light we can discern how, in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, at first there are two: God, and Israel who is called the son and firstborn, but in the dispensation of the fullness of the times[3] it turns out that there is also ‘the Lamb’, who from the creation of the world was destined for sacrifice. Remember the portion I quoted earlier from the Haggadah: “I heard from behind the Heavenly Veil these words: ‘Not Isaac, but the ram predestined for the burnt offering.’” The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world replaces, on the altar, the one whom God Himself has called His son and firstborn.” [4]

[1] Gen. 22:8

[2] Gen. 22:13

[3] Eph. 1:10

[4] If you are Son of God, Come down from the Cross; here is the link to the  book: https://www.amazon.com/Julia-Blum/e/B00LUY0JN8/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_8?qid=1474990243&sr=8-8


About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Luis Enrique Antolín

    First of all,excuses by my bad english. I think that must be appointed that akedat,binding,oo Isaac doen´t mean exactly a sacrifice, by sins,for instance,but an offering. Offering of ascension is tranlated into ispnish in my bilingual Tanaj, hebrew and spanish,came from Israel,from e-Teacher.
    Perhaps the “God will provide” points some kind of hope in Abraham that God finally preservres his son but Abraham acts whit “no trick”, he is in fact about to kill isaac till the moment he hears the voice from heaven.

    I believe is just in that key of offering the own,only and promise son as a christian have to read this story in its relationshp with the cross of the Christ.

  2. Sharon Stern

    Well, I just wonder if Avraham, in the midst of his crushing turmoil and anguish on Mt. Moriah; knife in hand and his son of promise; through whom his covenant with HaShem to have descendants innumerable to count about to slay —- how could any of it made sense to him? Did he have faith enough to believe that HaShem would resurrect his son so that the promises would be fulfilled? And I wonder even more; did HaShem pull back the veil of time, that Heavenly Veil you quote from the Hagaddah – “Not Isaac, but the ram predestined for the burnt offering” —- and did he perhaps have a glimpse at or even a long look at the future redemption that would take place at this exact same location and see ‘the lamb who was slain before the creation of the world?”

    Yes, Abraham knew in his heart that somehow, in some way, HaShem would provide for Himself the burnt offering. As Francois so eloquently stated in an earlier post, indeed, only man is sinful. The ram is sinless, doesn’t deserve to die for my/yours/all of our torahlessness! And yet, before the foundation of the earth, HaShem saw the need for such substitutionary sacrifice and hints/shadows/images dimly cast from the mirror of time give us flashes of recognition of this theme; this reality that ‘all have fallen short of the glory of HaShem’ and that atonement requires the shedding of blood.

    What is stunning, breathtaking, and heartbreaking is that this redemption would be through the sacrifice of His sinless and only begotten Son, Yeshua, the Messiah – our Redeemer; and that His ‘other Son – Israel – shares in this redemptive sacrifice as ‘the word of HaShem goes forth from Jerusalem to all the nations”.

    May we all drink deeply from this well of painful truth as we examine ourselves carefully during these Days of Awe. May we all ask HaShem to cast His penetrating light deep into the corners of our hearts and be privileged to see those areas that are not pleasing to Him and rectify them so we may ‘enter through the gates of repentance’ and find ourselves written in the Book of Life for one more year. May we be infused with fresh oil to live the redeemed life, sowing life and hope into those around us who so desperately need the love of the Father and the Redemption that flows from what happened on the lonely and sad outcrop in Jerusalem so very long ago. May the theme of this prologue come to completion in our times, swiftly and soon — v’imru —- Amen!

  3. Migdalah

    Hi Julia,

    ‘In Jewish sources it says that the ram, this lamb, had already been slain before the creation of the world’, could you give references of where this idea is presented in Judaism.


    1. Julia Blum

      Great question, Migdalah, I’ve been waiting for someone to ask this question! The Jewish tradition equates the redemption of Isaac with that of the entire people of Israel: “…since Isaac was redeemed it is as though all Israel had been redeemed”. Therefore, the ram is thus considered a creature of great importance and is included in the list of the things created at twilight at the end of the 6th day of Creation (Pirkey Avot, 5:9). That means that it is both in and outside of Creation. The text doesn’t say explicitly: “it was slain” – however, its importance and significance come from the fact that it would be the ram of Akedah and would replace Isaac on the altar. It means that in fact, the ram was “created to be slain” – and it was created on the very first Sabbath eve at twilight.

      1. Migdalah

        Thank you Julia.

  4. Luis Enrique Antolín

    A mistake,it lacks the word “sin”.Because the clear parallelism betwenn akedat Yittzhak,the binding,the sacrifice of Isaac and the cross of Christ for a christian,the commentaries have been based on sin and sacrifice. My argument as a christian is that,even according thisparallelism appears a significant difference.

    In the case of Christ, the son isn´t preserved from death. God does not demand the sacrifice of the son but offers His own Son,and both of them,the Father and the Son,Yehoshua ,a human being in full communion with God, get directly involved in such an important matter as evil,sin, and also pain and suffering.God does not stay outside as just a witness, He and the Christ penetrate into the very,very inside of the matter. Perhaps,Ithink,the real and actual way to solve such a serious problem and to answer such a difficult question.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thanks for the explanation. First of all, re your comments: as a moderator of this blog, first I have to “approve” the comments, and only then they are published, Your comments came at my night time (I live in Israel), and therefore they were not approved and published immediately ( and you didn’t see them right away).

      As for Isaac’s sacrifice – of course, in the original story, in Genesis 22, we don’t have a single word about sin. But this is exactly my point: this is the Prologue not only to the history of Israel, but in fact to the entire history of mankind – and as in every prologue, there are themes which are heard already, but are not really developed yet. The main theme: Father sacrifices his Son – won’t be fully developed and understood until Yeshua’s sacrifice on the Cross.