Nazarene Space

Scary Shofar Sounds


Arthur L. Finkle


This past week, we read Exodus 18:1 -20:23). Interestingly, this passage refers to the sound of the shofar. It also puzzles the reader.


Picture that the children of Israel have successfully fled the Egyptian taskmasters. Moses leads these former slaves. God tells him that there are special plans for this special assemblage – 600,000 strong.


19:5 Now if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be My special treasure among all nations, even though all the world is Mine.

19:6 You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.' These are the words that you must relate to the Israelites.'

Moses relates God’s words with the elders of the assemblage who say:


19:8 All the people answered as one and said, 'All that God has spoken, we will do.'

Moses brought the people's reply back to God.


Thereafter, God promises to assure the Israelites by having them near Mount Sinai so that they too will understand their mission. God tells Moses that the people must ritually purify themselves prior to approaching the mount. (Ex 19:9)


God tells Moses that the people shall make a marker at the base of the mountain beyond which they will not traverse.


Sound of the Trumpet


19:13 But when the trumpet is sounded with a long blast, they will then be allowed to climb the mountain.'

“Trumpet” or Yovel in Hebrew, the ram's horn mentioned Exodus 19:16 (Rashi; Ibn Ezra; Targum). See Joshua 6:5. Also see Leviticus 25:10.


The English Standard Version (©2001) interprets that as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.


The New International Version (©1984) translates this passage that the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. The issue was is the voice of God the shofar or some other voice?


Indeed, the King James Bible (1611) deciphers that when the voice of the trumpet sounded long and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice.


The Douay-Rheims Bible (translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English undertaken by members of the English College, Douai in the service of the Catholic Church. The New Testament was published in Reims (France) in 1582, in one volume with extensive commentary and notes) explains this passage as the sound of the trumpet grew by degrees louder and louder, and was drawn out to a greater length. Then Moses spoke, and God answered him.

As promised, on the third day:



19:16 The third day arrived. There was thunder and lightning in the morning, with a heavy cloud on the mountain, and an extremely loud blast of a ram's horn. The people in the camp trembled.

Moses led the people out of the camp toward the Divine Presence. They stood transfixed at the foot of the mountain that was trembling with fire and smoke.


Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary (English Presbyterian, originally written in 1706, Matthew Henry's six volume Complete Commentary provides an exhaustive look at every verse in the Bible) on Verses 16-25 finds that that this terrible judgment, in which Israel heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire, and lived, Deut. 4:33. Never was there such a sermon preached, before nor since, as this which was here preached to the church in the wilderness. For,

I. The preacher was God himself (v. 18): The Lord descended in fire, and (v. 20), The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai. The shechinah, or glory of the Lord, appeared in the sight of all the people; he shone forth from mount Paran with ten thousands of his saints (Deut. 33:2), that is, attended, as the divine Majesty always is, by a multitude of the holy angels, who were both to grace the solemnity and to assist at it. Hence the law is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53.

II. The pulpit (or throne rather) was Mount Sinai, hung with a thick cloud (v. 16), covered with smoke (v. 18), and made to quake greatly. Now it was that the earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, and the mountains skipped like rams (Ps. 114:4, 7), that Sinai itself, though rough and rocky, melted from before the Lord God of Israel, Jdg. 5:5. Now it was that the mountains saw him, and trembled (Hab. 3:10), and were witnesses against a hard-hearted unmoved people, whom nothing would influence.

III. The congregation was called together by the sound of a trumpet, exceedingly loud (v. 16), and waxing louder and louder, v. 19. This was done by the ministry of the angels, and we read of trumpets sounded by angels, Rev. 8:6. It was the sound of the trumpet that made all the people tremble, as those who knew their own guilt, and who had reason to expect that the sound of this trumpet was to them the alarm of war


Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible (Rev. Gill is relatively unread. He preached in the same church as C. H. Spurgeon over one hundred years earlier in c1761. A font of information regarding ancient writings is found among his works.) accented there were thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, wakening and strike awe of the people to what they were to hear and receive, . In addition, these natural rumblings intended to add to the solemnity of the day to signify terror of the legal dispensation, and the wrath and curse that the transgressors the law might expect, even a horrible tempest of divine vengeance. See Hebrews 12:18.

Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary (German theologians c 1880) on the Old Testament claimed these natural phenomena were accompanied by a loud trumpet blast, which "blew long and waxed louder and louder" (Exodus 19:16 and Exodus 19:19; see Genesis 8:3). Such as blast the herald's call, announcing to the people the appearance of the Lord, and summoning them to assemble before Him and listen to His words, as they sounded forth from the fire and cloudy darkness. This blast of the shofar (Exodus 19:19), was used in the service of God (in heaven, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; see Winer's Grammar) was not the voice of God, but a sound resembling a trumpet blast. Whether this sound was produced by natural means, or, as some of the earlier commentators supposed, by angels, of whom myriads surrounded Jehovah when He came down upon Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), it is impossible to decide.

If the sound were produced by angels perhaps this sound is in the spiritual realm below that of God’s but higher than humankind’s.


Then, There was the sound of a ram's horn, increasing in volume to a great degree. Moses spoke and God replied with a Voice. (EX. 19:19)

Zondervan interprets the natural thunder and lightning, and exceedingly loud trumpet blast (Rev 1:10; 4:1) and a thick cloud (Ex 19-9; 2Ch. 5:14) as an impressive display of cosmic activity. See Ps. 77:18; Heb. 12:18-19; Rev. 4:5; 8:5; 11:19).


Interestingly, Moses’ reaction is noty given. However, in Heb 12:21 his response was “I am trembling with fear.”


Moses climbed the mountain to receive Torah (obligations) to perform whatever God requires. (Ex. 19:20)


Thereafter, God tells Moses that the people must not cross the boundary at the bottom of the mountain, lest they die.


Indeed, Moses replied to God, 'The people cannot climb Mount Sinai. You already warned them to set a boundary around the mountain and to declare it sacred.' (Ex. 19:23). God repents and says that only Aaron., Moses’ brother can accompany him beyond the boundary.


At this point there is an inconsistency in the reading. In Ex. 19:13, God says the assemblage can climb mountain to receive the Divine Word. Yet we find later on (Ex 19:23) the that the people cannot traverse the boundary at the base of the mountain, except for Aaron



The issue arises, why did God seemingly change his mind?  Did the great blast of the shofar assist in this change of direction? Did God not trust anyone to receive The Word other than Moses and Aaron?


If so, did the shofar sound mean that the Divine Word, although meant to be adhered to by all, could only be given directly to Moses and his brother?


Why Such a Negative Experience?


These passages in Exodus confusedly bring to light the difficulty and discomfort that God exposed the Israelites – with lightning, thunder a, trembling and the blare of the shofar.

When the people experienced these terrors they were shaken.  Moses’ ultimately telling them that all of this was precisely God’s Intent, (20:17) “


…Don’t be afraid, for God Has Come to test you and in order for His Fear to be upon your faces, so that you will not sin,” unambiguously states that the association that the people made between the giving of the Torah and a sense of terror and intimidation was fully  in accordance with the Divine Plan.


 But the most literally terrifying aspect of the giving of the Torah is the awe-inspiring sounds, images, and bodily sensations to which the Jews are exposed during this period. (19:16) “…And there was thunder and lighting and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the very powerful sound of a Shofar…”(19:18) “And Sinai was completely obscured by smoke…and its smoke was like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain shook exceedingly.” (19:19) “And the sound of the Shofar became ever louder and stronger…” The response of the people to this cacophony of sounds, terrifying sights, and general diastrophism could have easily been predicted: (19:16) “…And the entire people trembled.” (20:15) “…




The great Hassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev taught:


There are those who hear the Shofar on Rosh HaShana, and then continue to hear the Shofar every day of the year. But there are those, on even higher levels, who heard the Shofar at the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, and who continue to hear that Shofar every day of their lives.


 Rabbi Marc Angel

What did this mystical master mean? He declared that those who hear the Shofar as a Warning, stirring, a wakeup call, a call to repentance and an alarm will continue to hear this sound throughout the year in terms of possessing the attributes that the Shofar bestirs.


For those hearing the ceaseless sound of the Shofar in a different spiritual dimension have possessed these attributes from the time of Mount Sinai (when God presented revelation and a guide of principles b which to measure your moral life) to today and for evermore.


Indeed, the mystics believe that Rosh Hashanah, the feast of the blasts of the Shofar, takes away some of the light of the world to regenerate souls to achieve powers that they never would have achieved had there not been the shofar blasts.


Jewish Mysticism has been of major historical importance in the development of Western Esoteric traditions since the Renaissance. The phenomenon of "Christian Kabbalah" is a central phenomenon, reciprocally influencing Jewish mysticism in the modern period.


In this system, the heavenly imperative is sensed even though not having a physical presence


Another Chassidic teaching is that, although there are differing sounds from the Shofar, (short staccato sounds  and other extended, unbroken sounds), the Torah tells us to do teru’ah on Rosh Hashanah, which by its word,  suggests making broken sounds, or sounds that break obstacles.

Yet, with regard to the Great Shofar of the future Redemption, it says “On that day the Great Shofar will be takia,” alluding to the unbroken, drawn-out sound called tekiah. This is a sound of strength and confidence, rather than brokenness. “Tekiah” comes from the word teka, which can mean physical intimacy or coupling. (Bavli Talmud, Yevamos, 54a.) Therefore it’s a sound that “gathers” and unites.


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