And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 10:28-32
A lot of times we feel like sparrows. The world is much bigger than us. We are small beings in a huge, uncaring world. If we stumble and fall, only a handful of people notice. Forces beyond our ability to even sway for an instant hem us in on every side. We are no more in control of events around us than any sparrow we see.
Being so small and insignificant compared to the mighty machinations around us, we can feel alone. Our prayers can seem to bounce off the ceiling or the sky. Of what use are words sometimes?
I mean, in ordinary prayer, we think of fine words or we pray ornate prayers written for us in books. And it seems fine.
But in a crisis, when we are afraid, when something we love dearly is about to be lost, what then? Where are the words?
Psalm 38:8 says, I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
Have you ever prayed the prayer of groaning? Have you ever just bowed your head and sobbed?
Psalm 22:1 says, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
Sometimes our groans are our words. Sometimes our words come out like groaning. Sometimes we cannot speak.
We have trouble understanding it all. The senseless hatred in the world. The unanswered corruption. The meaningless pain. We don’t always think about it until it happens to us.
Listen to Psalm 3:1-2: O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.
It does seem that way many times doesn’t it? Maybe we don’t have literal enemies saying to us, “God isn’t real; just give up!” Maybe our problems seem to shout that to us, “There is no help for you in God.”
Consider the serious questioning of Psalm 13: How long, O LORD? Wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.
Yes, don’t we wonder that? Didn’t Noah wonder, “How long will I be in this boat?” Didn’t Joseph wonder, “How long will I be in this prison?” Didn’t the children of Israel wonder, “How long will be be slaves here?” Didn’t David wonder, “How long will I be cast out under God’s judgment for my sin?” Didn’t Jeremiah wonder, “How long will I be in this well?” Didn’t those in exile wonder, “How long will we be in Babylon?” Didn’t Yeshua wonder, “How long will I be in the hands of Gentiles and tormentors?”
That is why we blow the shofar. We feel as small as sparrows and as helpless. Our prayers feel like groans that go nowhere.
YET WE CLING, SOMEWHERE DEEP DOWN, WE CLING, TO HOPE IN SOMETHING BETTER.
No matter how much we groan… No matter how numb any earthly pain could ever make us feel… There remains in us a hope.
It is hope in Messiah. It is hope in the coming days of God’s deliverance. It is hope in the promises God made long ago. It is hope in the unfailing character of God.
And so, we blow the shofar.
Rabbi Nosson Scherman writes eloquently of this. He says:
[The shofar] is a primitive instrument, barely capable of modulating its tones or shifting notes. Can anyone play a symphony or even a song on a shofar? No, but its piercing sound symbolizes the inarticulate cry of the indelibly stained soul that longs to be cleansed but does not know how. It is a cry that only God’s ear can translate into the plea, “it is our desire to perform your desire,” but we do not know how. The constant poundings of the Evil Inclination, of society, culture, habit, surroundings have numbed us to your touch, have deafened us to your message.
(Artscroll Mesorah Series, Rosh HaShanah, pg. 37).
Rabbi Shaul, the Apostle Paul said: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. –Romans 8:26-27
All prayers do not need words. That is why we blow the shofar.
The piercing cry of the Tekiah… The broken groan of the Shevarim’s three notes… The staccato sobbing of the Teruah… THEY ARE A MIGHTY PRAYER.
The Torah was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai accompanied by the blasts of God’s shofar, as it says, “as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder” (Exod. 19:19).
God brought down the mighty walls of Jericho with the blast of a shofar, as it says, “When the people heard the sound of the shofars, the people let out a great shout; and the wall fell down flat” (Jos. 6:20).
In the last days, God will work wonders on the earth and restore his people Israel and the salvation of the world will be near, as it says, “On that day a great shofar will sound. Those lost in the land of Assyria will come, also those scattered through the land of Egypt; and they will worship ADONAI on the holy mountain in Jerusalem” (Isa. 27:13).
And our Messiah’s coming will be preceded by the sounding of God’s great shofar, as it says, “Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the shofar, and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south” (Zech. 9:14).
And then our bodies will be raised up into the air and the mortal will become immortal and we will be changed forever, as it says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; 17 then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Truly the shofar is a mighty prayer. And today is the day it is written for us to blow it.
Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘In the seventh month, the first of the month is to be for you a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar. –Leviticus 23:24
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; it is a day of blowing the shofar for you. –Numbers 29:1
We may feel like sparrows, but God knows everything that happens to every sparrow. We may only be able to pray sometimes with groans and sobs, but God who hears the prayer of the shofar hears the inarticulate prayer of sobbing or groaning. We may be tempted to believe the messages coming at us every day that there is no help for us in God, but somewhere inside us, we know our hope is not in something changing, but in the unchanging God. We may wonder, how long, O Lord, but the shofar reminds us that God will answer the call in the great days to come.
So, ten days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we hear the blowing. It reminds us of our blessed duty to repent and renew our transformation each and every year. It warns us of judgment coming on the tenth day. It wakes up sleeping souls from the slumber of apathy and forgetfulness.
Whatever doubts and fears we may have had during the year, the call of the shofar awakens that spark inside of us that refuses to quit believing.
And it reminds us that we have a duty to tell others, so that many more can know the greatness of God. The shofar is not just calling for us; it is calling for the many who would believe.
We think that people will not believe. We think the message of God and Messiah will not be heard. But the shofar has a powerful call.
Rabbi Nosson Scherman says:
The Sages assure us that at essence the Jewish soul remains pure, and that even the most indifferent — and antagonistic — Jew can be reached. In the most awful periods of Jewish suffering, there have been Jews who responded to the slaughter by stepping forward and joining hands with their brethren and acknowledging their Jewishness, instead of running away to anonymity and safety.
True, they lack the words to express their inner stirrings, but sometimes there is the wordless groan of an aching heart that longs to return to its spiritual origins. (Artscroll Mesorah Series, Rosh HaShanah, pg. 37).
The image of God in us is pure. For all the sin and selfishness, no person has lost the image of God.
Who knows what aching the people around us are capable of? The hardened skeptic may secretly harbor hopes and longings for a return to our spiritual origin as children of God.
The shofar cry reawakens our faith each year and stirs the deepest part of us to a frenzied longing for God. Why shouldn’t it do that for others as well?
Our Messiah came and is coming again. He told us in his own words what we must do and what we must believe. He taught us that he would die for our sins, be raised to seal us for resurrection, and would leave us for a time.
John 16:16, In a little while, you will see me no more; then, a little while later, you will see me.
John 16:22, So you do indeed feel grief now, but I am going to see you again. Then your hearts will be full of joy, and no one will take your joy away from you.
John 14:18, I will not leave you orphans — I am coming to you.
Our Messiah is not here in the common sense of the word “here.” That is why we feel as insignificant as sparrows. That is why we groan and sometimes find no words for our prayer.
But Messiah is coming. The promise is not far off.
And the sign of his coming is a shofar call. As our Messiah said,
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, all the tribes of the Land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with tremendous power and glory. He will send out his angels with a great shofar; and they will gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. –Matthew 24:30-31.