Erase My Name from Your Book

September 2014 

The Jewish New Year, Rosh haShanah, begins this Wednesday night, Sept 24th. In Jewish tradition, it is a time of spiritual introspection, for accounting of one’s relationship with God and others —forgiving and being forgiven. Two central images of this holiday are the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn) and the Book of Life. While the practice of Rosh haShanah has evolved over the millennia, these two motifs—the horn and the book—are rooted in the Bible.

In the Bible, this festival is not a New Year celebration, but rather the first day of the seventh month.  It is a special Sabbath known as a “day of [horn] blasts”.  Beyond its sacrificial offerings, we know little more from the Bible concerning this Sabbath.[1]Yet, the latent meaning of its name—“horn blasts”[2]—easily found significance in ominous themes of judgment.  This blast of the shofar, the trumpet, and the human voice, echoes in biblical scenes of war, alarm, and destruction.[3]  Even more importantly, these blasts usher in the presence of the Lord, much like a coronation scene for a king (Ps 47:5).  And when a sovereign enters, judgment soon follows.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
  Dan 7:9-10

Books are opened during judgment.  In the biblical tradition, only the righteous have their names written in a book.[4]  This book of the righteous comes to be called the Book of Life.[5]

At the same time, the horn blast begins to herald the last judgment as seen in the New Testament: 

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.[6]  I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.[7]  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.[8]

Yet, despite Rosh haShanah’s arduous call for individual and national repentance, the greater challenge one may learn from its biblical background is intercession.  While repentance for one’s own sins is a righteous action, and concern for one’s own name being written in the Book of Life is laudable, does our heart prayer go beyond our self-introspection and self-concern and intercede for the wicked?

In the book of Exodus, God gives Moses the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai.  While Moses is gone for forty days on the mountain, the people of Israel rebelliously begin worshiping the golden calf.  God declares to Moses that he plans to wipe out Israel and then will make a new nation from Moses.  Instead of capitalizing on this new found promotion, Moses argues with God to change His mind and remember His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses even goes so far as to ask God to forgive the sins of the people, and if not, then, asks that God would erase Moses’ name from His book as well (Ex 32).

Paul followed Moses’ example of selfless love when he declared a similar thought: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen who are Israelites.” (Rom 9:2-4a)

And of course, Jesus’ words on the cross also affirm this spirit of intercession for the lost when he cried: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Lk 23:34).”  Jesus as the Suffering Servant, bearing the sins and sufferings of others, has become common-place, staid, and stale within the Church.  The unnerving question is, what if he has called us disciples to the same purpose?

[1] Lev 23:23-25; Num 29:1-6

[2] In Hebrew, תְּרוּעָ֖ה “teruah.”

[3] Num 10:5; 31:6; Josh 6:20; 1 Sam 4:5; Jer 20:16; Zeph 1:16; Amos 1:14; 2:2; Ezk 21:22; Job 39:25.

[4] Ex 32:32; Mal 3:16; Dan 12:1

[5] Ps 69:28; Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 20:11-15

[6] Mt 24:31

[7] I Cor 15:51-52

[8] I Thes 4:16