“How blessed are the people who know the teruwah!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all the day,
and by Your righteousness they are exalted.”
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The word “teruwah” is a Hebrew term that refers to a loud battle cry or a festal shout. Some translations say “the joyful sound,” “joyful shout,” “acclaim,” or “the joyful call to worship.” It is also refers to the alarming sound of the ram’s horn, a shofar. This instrument’s piercing sound would grab the attention of all who heard it.
The shofar was blown on special occasions in ancient Israel. Every year, the first day of the seventh month (Tishri) was set aside as “a day of blowing” the shofar (Numbers 29:1). As priests spotted the first sliver of the new moon, the trumpets were blown for all to hear. When faithful Israelites heard the sound of the shofar they would know the harvest time had ended, and it was time to gather as a community. It was a time to prepare oneself for the high holy day of Atonement, only ten days away.
Each year the Day of Atonement offered a special hope for the land of Israel. On this day the Kohen Gadol (high priest) would perform the appropriate sacrifices to God, who provided special atonement for “all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:21). It was a day of spiritual renewal and forgiveness for the nation of Israel.
But every 50 years, on the Day of Atonement, the shofar was blown again.
The Year of Jubilee
“Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” (Leviticus 25:9-10)
Every fifty years Israel was to celebrate the “jubilee.” The year of jubilee had profound ramifications for the people of Israel. If a family or clan lost its land through hard times or financial loss, that land was restored to them. All indentured servants were emancipated, no matter the remaining length of their service. Anticipation of the jubilee year had a profound effect on financial dealings for each generation of Hebrew families.
One can only imagine what the year of jubilee meant to a slave or an impoverished family. In that year, on the Day of Atonement, the long awaited sound ushered a jubilee, a celebration of freedom and forgiveness. Not only was the land cleansed of its guilt before the Lord, but when those slaves heard the sound of the shofar blown by the priests, they knew they were free. Jewish scholars pointed to the year of jubilee as a time of celebration and liberty.
Jubilee and Jesus
While the year of jubilee was not routinely celebrated in Israel during the end of the first century BC, some scribes still counted and calculated the jubilee years. Early church historian Eusebius said that the Hebrews celebrated a jubilee during A.D. 28-29. This was during the time of Jesus’ ministry.
Now picture this scene as if you were there: The Sabbath day has arrived in the small town of Nazareth. Faithful members of the community are gathering as they do every week to listen to the reading of the Scriptures. Only this time something is different: one of your own, a son of Joseph named Yeshua (Jesus) has returned to town. His reputation precedes him. There are rumors of supernatural healings and miracles from his travels near the Sea of Galilee. There are more rumors that this young man, now a rabbi, has been teaching from the Scriptures with fresh authority.
Yeshua stands and is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he finds the following passage:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This text captures the heart of the synagogue attenders. Each listener slowly chews on words of the text. Because the year of Jubilee draws near, these words have special meaning. Poverty, captivity, oppression: these are all things the year of jubilee would bring to an end (of course, only if it were strictly observed).
Yeshua then hands the scroll back to the attendant and sits down, assuming the customary teaching position of a rabbi. All are silent as people lean in to hear Yeshua’s words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Could it be true? Could this Yeshua be bringing the freedom promised by the prophet Isaiah? To be sure, this Yeshua is proclaiming a sort of “jubilee” as the theme of his whole mission.
Yeshua’s anointing by the Holy Spirit is no secret. Rumor has spread about Yeshua’s baptism in the Jordan River, whispers of a voice coming from heaven calling him a beloved Son. Could it be? Some said it was only thunder they heard. Still, stories of his spiritual power and authority are gripping. This is a man filled with the power of the Spirit.
He explains to you, “This is why the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. I have come to the poor in spirit, the captives of sin, the spiritually blind, those oppressed by the devil. I have come to bring the good news that the long awaited kingdom of God is here. Repent, the kingdom of God is near.”
And for a long while Yeshua speaks more gracious words to his audience. In some, an ache and a longing begin to grow. For the first time, some of the hearts in Nazareth begin to wake up.
Freedom From Sin
Just as the shofar on the Day of Atonement in the jubilee year trumpeted both forgiveness and freedom, so did the ministry of Jesus. Knowing this we can say along with Psalm 89, “How blessed are the people who know the teruwah,” who know the sound of the shofar, which announces, ‘You are free.’