The Prophet Joseph Smith received the Nephite plates on the annual day when Jews throughout the world celebrated the symbolic beginning of Israel’s final gathering.
The Golden Plates and the Feast of Trumpets20901_000_007
Holy days have long been part of the Lord’s marvelous works, beginning with His blessing and sanctifying the seventh day (see Gen. 2:3). The Lord commanded all Israel to observe a series of holy days (see Lev. 23). Part of His purpose concerning this series of holy days was to teach of the Lord’s mortal and latter-day ministries.
The Early Harvest
Certain holy days were to coincide with Israel’s early, or spring, harvest. These holy days were given in part to teach of the Lord’s first coming, including the Crucifixion and Resurrection and the early gathering of Saints into the fold.
For example, Passover and its sacrificed lambs taught of the Lamb of God, who would come to be sacrificed. As the lambs’ blood saved Israel from death in Egypt during the original Passover, Jesus Christ’s blood would overcome death for all mankind. Indeed, the New Testament testifies that the Crucifixion occurred upon the day Israel observed Passover centuries later. 1
Further, Christ’s Resurrection harmonized with another observance connected to Passover week (see Lev. 23:9–11). As the Lord had commanded, the first sheaf of barley was cut down on the same day Christ was crucified on Passover, to be lifted up as an offering on the third day. Christ was lifted up from the grave on that third day, thus offering Himself as the firstfruits of the Resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:20). 2
Similarly, the day of Pentecost occurred on another holy day, the Feast of Firstfruits, which celebrated the larger wheat harvest (see Lev. 23:15–17). Because of the coming of the Holy Ghost, 3,000 souls were baptized on that day (see Acts 2). Thus, this feast celebrated a spiritual as well as an agricultural harvest. 3
The Later Harvest
The Lord set forth another series of holy days for the seventh month, coinciding with the later, or autumn, harvest. They are (1) the Feast of Trumpets, (2) the Day of Atonement, and (3) the Feast of Tabernacles. These holy days also held prophetic significance, for they have an important relationship to the Lord’s spiritual gleaning in the latter days. 4
This article will focus on the Feast of Trumpets. It is important to note that on 22 September 1827, the very day Israel celebrated the Feast of Trumpets, 5 Moroni gave the golden plates to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Since this feast was ripe with meaning for the theme of the regathering of Israel, it is unlikely this timing was accidental. Indeed, young Joseph was asked to meet Moroni for four years in preparation for that significant day in 1827.
Latter-day Saints can find it especially instructive to study some of the meanings Jewish scholars have attributed to the Feast of Trumpets. It signifies (1) the beginning of Israel’s final harvest, (2) the day God had set to remember His ancient promises to regather Israel, (3) a time for new revelation that would lead to a new covenant with Israel, and (4) a time to prepare for the Millennium.
The Beginning of the Final Harvest
The Lord commanded Israel, “In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets” (Lev. 23:24). Because this festival was set for the first day of the seventh month of the Judaic calendar (usually falling in our September), the day was timed for the gathering of the vital oil and wine. Thus this festival initiated the fall season and the great and final time of “ingathering.” 6
Many Jewish scholars have taught that the final spiritual gathering of Israel would begin with the Feast of Trumpets. 7 As Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “The completion of the full harvest … will not be completed until that millennial day when ‘the Lord shall be king over all the earth’ [Zech. 14:9].” 8
It is noteworthy that the word of the Lord to Latter-day Saints is full of harvest imagery: “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not” (D&C 4:4). As modern prophets have said, the Book of Mormon is the major instrument the Lord prepared to initiate His final harvest. 9 Therefore, it is significant that the golden plates were received on 22 September 1827, coinciding with the beginning of Israel’s fall garnering and symbolizing the onset of its final harvest of souls.
The Day God Remembers His Promises
The Hebrew name used today for the Feast of Trumpets is Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year. But this was not its original name, though the day does signify a new beginning. One of its original names was the Day of Remembrance. This name arose because the Lord commanded Israel to blow trumpets on this day for remembrance.
According to tradition, it was on this day that the Israelites were remembered and freed from slavery in Egypt, prior to the completed Exodus. 10 Also, it was on this day that the Lord remembered Israel and granted them spiritual renewal after their return from captivity in Babylon. For it was on the first day of the seventh month that Ezra read from the book of the law, and the people rejoiced because he “gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (see Neh. 8:1–12).
As a result of their banishment, the Jews had lost many of the Lord’s truths, which they were now hearing again in clarity. Their spiritual remembering and renewal led to the making of new covenants (see Neh. 9:38; Neh. 10). Their escape from Babylonian bondage was a foreshadowing of our modern-day escape from worldly Babylon. 11 In our time, the Book of Mormon has been a major factor in leading millions of people away from worldly falsehoods and back to spiritual truths.
Many Judaic writers teach that the major theme of the Feast of Trumpets is remembrance: God’s remembrance of His covenants with Israel and the need for Israel to remember their God. 12 The prayers of the day plead for this remembrance. They ask God to remember His covenants with the ancient patriarchs that He would regather His people.
The Jewish scriptures that are read on this day promise such remembrance and speak of the trumpet as signaling it. For example, Isaiah 27:13 [Isa. 27:13] says: “And it shall come to pass in that day [the time of regathering], that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt.”
Another example is Zechariah 9:14 [Zech. 9:14]: “And the Lord God shall blow the trumpet,” which accompanies pronouncements that Ephraim would help raise up God’s covenant people (see Zech. 9:13) and that those of Israel’s blood would again become His flock (see Zech. 9:16).
These and other scriptural connections are sufficiently strong that throughout the centuries various Jewish writers, in explaining the purpose of the trumpets’ sound on the Feast of Trumpets, have taught that this day would eventually signal Israel’s return from worldwide scattering. 13
Also read during this feast are scriptures telling of biblical women becoming fruitful after barrenness. In fact, Jewish tradition is that God fulfilled His promises to Rachel, Hannah, and Sarah on this special day. 14 The overtones of these events are impressive. For after Rachel was remembered, she was blessed with Joseph, from whom came Ephraim and Manasseh. From Hannah’s barrenness came the boy prophet Samuel and a return to righteous priesthood.
For these and other reasons, this day has been seen by some Jewish writers as the day when God would eventually move from His seat of judgment concerning Israel and sit instead upon the seat of mercy. 15 Thus, layer upon layer this holy day symbolizes the new beginning Israel would experience as God has mercy upon them in their exile, remembers His covenants with their fathers, and begins to restore them as His people. As a result, their barrenness would be removed, and they would become again a fruitful tree (see 1 Ne. 10:14).
This anticipated new beginning was to be initiated with the sounding of the trumpet (a shofar, or ram’s horn, is still used in modern practice). One Jewish commentator has said, “Expectantly, we await the sounding of the [Trumpet] of Liberation, when Zion will be free to receive its exiled children from all parts of the earth.” 16
On 22 September 1827, Israel’s trumpets sounded throughout the world; it was the day the Prophet Joseph Smith received the golden plates, which would help fulfill God’s promise to remember Israel in the latter days.
A Time for New Revelation Leading to a New Covenant
The blowing of the trumpet is the major ritual of the Feast of Trumpets. Because the first mention of the trumpet is at Mount Sinai, these instruments are seen by Jewish writers as a symbol of revelation (see Ex. 19:16, 19). The trumpet sound is therefore understood by them as a memorial of the revelation and covenant given on Mount Sinai. Yet Rosh Hashanah’s trumpet blasts have been accepted by many Jews not just as a memorial of the ancient covenant revealed at Sinai but as a prelude to a new and future covenant to be revealed, one that would result in Israel’s ultimate redemption. 17 The day’s ritual includes a prayer regarding revelation named “Trumpets.”
The day’s services also include petitions to God to rebuild His temple—the place where covenants are made—as He promised. 18 The sound of the trumpets, which occurred in this religious service in 1827, did indeed precede new revelation that has led to the making of new covenants in new temples with an Israel now being regathered.
A Time to Prepare for the Millennium
Part of the significance of the Feast of Trumpets lies in its relation to the other holy days connected to Israel’s last harvest. To begin with, the placement of this whole series of holy days in the seventh month of Israel’s calendar brings special meaning, in that the seventh period of a month, year, or so forth, is generally considered holy and symbolic of completion and fulfillment.
So significant are these three days—the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)—that together they are called by Jews the High Holy Days and the Days of Awe.
The placement of the Feast of Trumpets as the first in the set shows its importance in the preparation for the significant days ahead. Indeed, the very nature of the signals that the trumpet makes show the need for repentance as an essential part of this preparation. First, the rabbis teach, God offers hope, symbolically demonstrated by a long, lengthy note. Then man’s weeping for his transgressions with a desire to forsake them is manifested by a series of short notes. Finally, God’s forgiveness to those truly repentant is represented by another long note. What beautiful symbolism for us to be aware of!
Established prayers on this day urge repentance for the coming reign of the Messiah. And some teach that God will establish judgment of “who shall live and who shall die; … who shall be cast down and who elevated.” 19 This judgment is based, of course, upon who is truly repentant and who continues to be worthy. It is believed that the ultimate judgment is not “sealed” upon one until the Day of Atonement.
The space between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement can signify the time one has left to repent. Thus the trumpet of the Feast of Trumpets sounds a final warning: time is crucial for returning to God and to righteousness. 20
Judaic scholars teach that the Day of Atonement represents the time when the unrepentant are doomed, whereas at that time the repentant are forgiven and reconciled to God. Worshipers believe that on this day they spiritually enter the Holy of Holies, which is symbolic of entering into God’s presence. This time is represented as providing them with their “highest and deepest communion with God.” 21
For Latter-day Saints who understand the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, a study of the relationship between these holy days verifies what prophets and scriptures teach about what will occur in the last days. While Christ performed the great act of Atonement in His mortal life, His work is not yet complete. His return will further fulfill reconciliation between Him and mankind, serving as a time of At-one-ment, a time repentant individuals can physically enter His presence.
For Jews, because Israel’s last three holy days signify something momentous to come, the period between the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles is called the Days of Awe. We have already noted that the Feast of Tabernacles signifies a completed harvest, Christ’s millennial reign. As we anticipate further fulfillment of all the works of the Lord, Latter-day Saints know that they truly will be Days of Awe.
Was the coming forth of the Book of Mormon on the Feast of Trumpets coincidental? Latter-day Saints who know about these events do not think so. Scriptural and prophetic truth is often manifest through fulfillment. The golden plates were delivered to the young Prophet Joseph Smith early in the morning of 22 September 1827. The Feast of Trumpets, with prayers pleading for God’s remembrance of his still-exiled people, had begun at sundown the previous evening. The services continued that morning, with a worldwide sounding of the ram’s horn. Unbeknown to Judah, all that those horns represented was now to be fulfilled. For on that day, God remembered His people and set in motion His plan to regather them. On that day, God’s final harvest began. On that day, new revelation was granted which would bring a return to renewed covenants. From that day onward, Israel would be called to repentance in preparation for Christ’s return and reign. The Book of Mormon exists to serve these ends. Today, Moroni’s image trumpets from temple spires around the world a final call to awaken, repent, and prepare.
For Latter-day Saints, knowing this is the final harvest with an ever-shortening time to labor should further motivate us to thrust in our sickles with our might. In that spirit, as we feel joy in that harvest we should make known the marvelous work that the Lord has brought forth in these latter days (see D&C 65:4).
See Matt. 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13; John P. Pratt, “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836,” Ensign, June 1985, 59–68, and July 1985, 55–64; see also chart in Lenet Hadley Read, “Symbols of the Harvest,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, 34.
See Ensign, July 1985, 57; Ensign, Jan. 1975, 33.
See Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (1978), 431–32; Ensign, Jan. 1975, 34–35.
For example, Elder McConkie wrote of the Feast of Tabernacles, “The fact that it celebrated the completion of the full harvest symbolizes the gospel reality that it is the mission of the house of Israel to gather all nations to Jehovah” (see Promised Messiah, 432–33).
See Eduard Mahler, Handbuch der Jüdischen Chronologie (1916), 588. Verification was also obtained by checking Jewish calendars available at Jewish community libraries.
Abraham P. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days (1978), 18–19.
See Bloch, Jewish Holy Days, 21.
Promised Messiah, 433.
See Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 7; “Born of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 6.
See Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, ed., Rosh Hashanah: Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers (1983), 60, 99.
See Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah (1982), 289–93.
See Max Arzt, Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement (1963), 32, 129.
For example, see Scherman and Zlotowitz, Rosh Hashanah, 58, 61–62, 112–13.
See Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 129.
See Arzt, Justice and Mercy, foreword and 149.
Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 55.
See Philip Goodman, ed., The Rosh Hashanah Anthology (1970), 42; Leo Trepp, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance (1980), 95.
See Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 112–13.
Louis Jacobs, “Ro’sh Ha-shanah and Yom Kippur,” in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, 15 vols., (1987), 12:474.
See Scherman and Zlotowitz, Rosh Hashanah, 111.
Trepp, Complete Book of Jewish Observance, 92.