Trumpets in the ancient world (Revelation 8)

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Both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures made use of trumpets, which played a variety of roles in the ancient world. In addition to their musical function, trumpets could be used to signal various public gatherings, from theatrical performances to coronations to worship services.

The Old Testament, more than Greco-Roman culture, provides the background for the New Testament’s use of the “trumpet”. Prior to the birth of Jesus, Israel used two basic kinds of trumpets: long, metallic instruments and the ram’s horn (shofar). The New Testament uses one word to translate both kinds. Common uses for the trumpet in the Old Testament were as follows:

  • They were blown to ready troops for battle (Numbers 10:9, Judges 3:27). Paul employed this image in 1 Corinthians 14:8.
  • Priests sounded trumpets at the time of the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:16).
  • Particularly important is the Old Testament’s association of trumpets with theophany (a manifest appearing of God). For example, when Moses led the people of Israel to meet with God at Sinai, a trumpet blast was heard (Exodus 19:16).
  • A special rite of trumpet blasts on the first day of the seventh calendar month inaugurated a sacred month that included the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles of Booths (Numbers 29:1-6).

The trumpets in the New Testament is connected in Matthew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 with God’s appearing to the world at the end of history (already anticipated in Isaiah 27:13 and Zechariah 9:14). In a similar way the seven trumpets in Revelation 8-11 serve as warnings to people on earth and signal the advent of God’s kingdom. The parallels with the seven trumpets at the fall of Jericho are striking in light of the “collapse” of the great city in Revelation 11:13.


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