3 Aug 2018

Psalm 81: Thursday’s Psalm (and Tabernacles), Renewing our Covenant

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Discipleship, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Psalms, Salvation, Worship

Daily Psalms

In the time of Jesus select Psalms were incorporated into Temple worship on a daily and weekly basis. These Psalms permeated the world of the average pious Jews life. They are:

Sunday, Jews sang Psalm 24
Monday, Jews sang Psalm 48
Tuesday, Jews sang Psalm 82
Wednesday, Jews sang Psalm 94
Thursday, Jews sang Psalm 81
Friday, Jews sang Psalm 93
Sabbath, Jews sang Psalm 92

Each of these Psalms are powerful. Jesus would have shared in this normal routine in a pious Jewish home in Nazareth. I encourage you to memorize them and (even if you do not read thru the Psalms each month) to join in Jesus’s day in remembering these Psalms on the days they were used.

Weekly Renewal: Praise

Thursday’s Psalm was 81. In ancient Israel, Psalm 81 was used in festival worship. It was used not only on Thursday but during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Psalm 84 has the flavor of covenant renewal much like Joshua 24. Israel’s festivals were times of remembering God’s Story of Grace and reaffirming our exclusive loyalty to him. Tabernacles is probably the specific festival under consideration in the original historical context (reference to the new and full moon in v.3 supports this).

The Psalm begins with a call to worship (vv 1-5). The Shofar is blown. The harps. The lyre. The festival, its praise in song and music, is a direct command of God from the time of Exodus (vv 4-5).

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the shofar at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a stature for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.
(81.1-5)

Praise is a direct response to the wonder of Yahweh’s saving grace. Grace demands thanksgiving. On Thursday’s we are reminded of “joy factor” in being God’s people. Joy is a defining characteristic of biblical faith. Why? Because he saved us!

Images of Jesus, and the early church, grabbing a tambourine, shouting joyfully with the harps and trumpets, every Thursday may be the medicine some disciples need.

Weekly Renewal: Exhortation 

But worship in Psalm 81 is not only praise, it is preaching. Suddenly in v.6 there is a radical shift. We have, for the rest of the Psalm, first person speech (“I”) addressing the congregation of worshipers. This is the voice of Yahweh speaking to the Gathered People of God thru the priest. It is a divine sermon (direct divine speech is not infrequent in the Psalms). Yahweh testifies to hearing the cry of the suffering “nobodies” (the slaves) which Exodus 2.23f tells us.

The Israelites groaned  under their slavery, and cried out. Out of their slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites and took notice of them.” (Ex 2.23-24)

The Exodus was God’s response to the cry of the oppression of the alien (Israel was an alien in Egypt), the powerless, the weak.

God, speaking thru the priest (just as he did the prophets), begins by reminding Israel of the Story. Reminding is necessary. Sometimes God’s people do enjoy the singing and the dancing but we forget the reason why we are are singing and dancing.  We may even say “we have been saved” but forget what salvation is.  So on Thursday’s as Jesus and other Jews found themselves in the temple, the Psalm reminded them of what salvation was really about.

They were Slaves.
They were burdened.
They were nobodies.
They were experiencing state sponsored terrorism against them.
Their baby boys were slaughtered.

On Thursday’s we are reminded what life is like without God’s salvation, a life of pain and injustice.

On Thursday’s we are reminded what life is like with God’s salvation, “I rescued you. I have set you free.

The apostle Paul is not the first one to announce that “it is for freedom that you have been set free.” This is the message of the Exodus from the beginning. God sets captives free by his grace.

God is the Redeemer.
God is the Liberator.

God is the One that responds to those who cry to him. The verses 6-7 recall Exodus 1 -15.

I hear the voice I had not known:
I relieved your shoulders of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, 
and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah
(81.6-7)

Renewal

God is faithful. But God’s people usually are not faithful for very long at all. So God says “Hear, O my people” (v.8) and the rest of the Psalm is a plea for God’s people to “listen” (vv.8, 11, 13). The problem is that God’s people have listened to other gods. Our Story is that our God has saved us from slavery and that he would feed us (v.10). The false gods do not listen to us nor do they save us in our need. But … sadly that word is there … “my people did not listen to my voice” (v.11).  Attending the festival, showing up on Thursday’s at the temple, never missing “church,” does not mean we are listening to God’s voice.

Sometimes God’s people love the songs more than they love God.
Sometimes God’s people love the “acts of worship” more than they love God.
Sometimes God’s people love the Bible more than they love the God of the Bible.
Sometimes God’s people worship the idols of church, sound doctrine, and even faithfulness rather than the God who submits to none of our inferences, opinions, or notions.

On Thursday’s Psalm 81 confronts every serious religious person with the question, “do I love God or do I love things about God.” We are invited to refocus our commitment to God himself as Supreme above even our religion.  We must hear his voice.

God’s Lament 

In verse 13ff we see the yearning of God himself for his people. It is divine desire.

O that my people would listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me

If they did they would have the great blessings of the covenant of love. And we encounter that awesome promise

I would feed you with the finest of wheat
and with honey the rock I would satisfy you
” (v.16)

Clearly a reminder of the manna of heaven. Israel has it made.

I Choose You

Do we see what the call to worship and God’s sermon has done? In the festival, and in coming to the Temple on a Thursday, the Israelite is, in effect, brought back to Mt Sinai. He/she is confronted yet again with the decision of being God’s people. In the words of Joshua 24, “choose you this day.” At Sinai, we read,

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered  with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do …” (Ex 24.3)

But God’s people didn’t. They shattered the covenant of love in a gross display of cheating on their Savior within just mere days of the “wedding.” The Golden Calf.

Psalm 81 comes to us each Thursday.  We are given the gracious opportunity to renew the covenant by affirming that we, each of us, have considered the Story of Salvation (note that God mentions his salvation acts before he mentions any commands – Exodus comes before Sinai) and we have decided to respond to Him. We get to say that we love GOD not just worship. We love God not just religion.  We love God not just the salvation God grants.  We love God above all things. (We have heard his voice). We say to our Abba, “I choose you!”

Thus in Jesus’ day, on Thursday, the faithful Jew is confronted with the choice he or she must make. We will keep the “festival!!” We will be on the Lord’s side. When Jesus was in the Temple on a Thursday he himself lifted his voice to the One with the Levites and their Shofars and Lyres and sing … and (can you see it) reaffirm his own faith and obedience to the Father. Jesus heard the voice … died on the cross. Can you see it?  I can.

Shalom.

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