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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 81


psa 81:0

Easter Festival Salutation and Discourse

Ps 80, which looks back into the time of the leading forth out of Egypt, is followed by another with the very same Asaphic thoroughly characteristic feature of a retrospective glance at Israel's early history (cf. More particularly Psa 81:11 with Psa 80:9). In Psalms 81 the lyric element of Ps 77 is combined with the didactic element of Ps 78. The unity of these Psalms is indubitable. All three have towards the close the appearance of being fragmentary. Fro the author delights to ascend to the height of his subject and to go down into the depth of it, without returning to the point from which he started. In Ps 77 Israel as a whole was called "the sons of Jacob and Joseph;" in Ps 78 we read "the sons of Ephraim" instead of the whole nation; here it is briefly called "Joseph." This also indicates the one author. Then Psalms 81, exactly like Psa 79:1-13, is based upon the Pentateuchal history in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Jahve Himself speaks through the mouth of the poet, as He did once through the mouth of Moses - Asaph is κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν the prophet (חזה) among the psalmists. The transition from one form of speech to another which accompanies the rapid alternation of feelings, what the Arabs call talwı̂n el-chitab, "a colouring of a speech by a change of the persons," is also characteristic of him, as later on of Micah (e.g., Mic 6:15.).

This Psalms 81 is according to ancient custom the Jewish New Year's Psalm, the Psalm of the Feast of Trumpets (Num 29:1), therefore the Psalm of the first (and second) of Tishri; it is, however, a question whether the blowing of the horn (shophar) at the new moon, which it calls upon them to do, does not rather apply to the first of Nisan, to the ecclesiastical New Year. In the weekly liturgy of the Temple it was the Psalm for the Thursday.

The poet calls upon them to give a jubilant welcome to the approaching festive season, and in Psa 81:7. Jahve Himself makes Himself heard as the Preacher of the festival. He reminds those now living of His loving-kindness towards ancient Israel, and admonishes them not to incur the guilt of like unfaithfulness, in order that they may not lose the like tokens of His loving-kindness. What festive season is it? Either the Feast of the Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles; for it must be one of these two feasts which begin on the day of the full moon. Because it is one having reference to the redemption of Israel out of Egypt, the Targum, Talmud (more particularly Rosh ha-Shana, where this Psalm is much discussed), Midrash, and Sohar understand the Feast of Tabernacles; because Psa 81:2-4 seem to refer to the new moon of the seventh month, which is celebrated before the other new moons (Num 10:10), as יום התּרוּעה (Num 29:1, cf. Lev 23:24), i.e., to the first of Tishri, the civil New Year; and the blowing of horns at the New Year, is, certainly not according to Scripture, but yet according to tradition (vid., Maimonides, Hilchoth Shophar Psa 1:2), a very ancient arrangement. Nevertheless we must give up this reference of the Psalm to the first of Tishri and to the Feast of Tabernacles, which begins with the fifteenth of Tishri: - (1) Because between the high feast-day of the first of Tishri and the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth to the twenty-first (twenty-second) of Tishri lies the great day of Atonement on the tenth of Tishri, which would be ignored, by greeting the festive season with a joyful noise from the first of Tishri forthwith to the fifteenth. (2) Because the remembrance of the redemption of Israel clings far more characteristically to the Feast of the Passover than to the Feast of Tabernacles. This latter appears in the oldest law-giving (Exo 23:16; Exo 34:22) as חג האסיף, i.e., as a feast of the ingathering of the autumn fruits, and therefore as the closing festival of the whole harvest; it does not receive the historical reference to the journey through the desert, and therewith its character of a feast of booths or arbours, until the addition in Lev 23:39-44, having reference to the carrying out of the celebration of the feasts in Canaan; whereas the feast which begins with the full moon of Nisan has, it is true, not been entirely free of all reference to agriculture, but from the very beginning bears the historical names פּסח and חג המּצּות. (3) Because in the Psalm itself, viz., in Psa 81:6, allusion is made to the fact which the Passover commemorates.

Concerning על־הגּתּית vid., on Psa 8:1. The symmetrical, stichic plan of the Psalm is clear: the schema is 11. 12. 12.

Psalms 81:1

psa 81:1

The summons in Psa 81:2 is addressed to the whole congregation, inasmuch as הריעוּ is not intended of the clanging of the trumpets, but as in Ezr 3:11, and frequently. The summons in Psa 81:3 is addressed to the Levites, the appointed singers and musicians in connection with the divine services, Ch2 5:12, and frequently. The summons in Psa 81:4 is addressed to the priests, to whom was committed not only the blowing of the two (later on a hundred and twenty, vid., Ch2 5:12) silver trumpets, but who appear also in Jos 6:4 and elsewhere (cf. Psa 47:6 with Ch2 20:28) as the blowers of the shophar. The Talmud observes that since the destruction of the Temple the names of instruments שׁופרא and חצוצרתּא are wont to be confounded one for the other (B. Sabbath 36a, Succa 34a), and, itself confounding them, infers from Num 10:10 the duty and significance of the blowing of the shophar (B. Erachin 3b). The lxx also renders both by σάλπιγξ; but the Biblical language mentions שׁופר and חצצרה, a horn (more especially a ram's horn) and a (metal) trumpet, side by side in Psa 98:6; Ch1 15:28, and is therefore conscious of a difference between them. The Tפra says nothing of the employment of the shophar in connection with divine service, except that the commencement of every fiftieth year, which on this very account is called שׁנת היּבל, annus buccinae, is to be made known by the horn signal throughout all the land (Lev 25:9). But just as tradition by means of an inference from analogy derives the blowing of the shophar on the first of Tishri, the beginning of the common year, from this precept, so on the ground of the passage of the Psalm before us, assuming that בּחרשׁ, lxx ἐν νεομηνίᾳ, refers not to the first of Tishri but to the first of Nisan, we may suppose that the beginning of every month, but, in particular, the beginning of the month which was at the same time the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, was celebrated by a blowing of the shophar, as, according to Josephus, Bell. iv. 9, 12, the beginning and close of the Sabbath was announced from the top of the Temple by a priest with the salpinx. The poet means to say that the Feast of the Passover is to be saluted by the congregation with shouts of joy, by the Levites with music, and even beginning from the new moon (neomenia) of the Passover month with blowing of shophars, and that this is to be continued at the Feast of the Passover itself. The Feast of the Passover, for which Hupfeld devises a gloomy physiognomy,

(Note: In the first of his Commentationes de primitiva et vera festorum apud Hebraeos ratione, 1851, 4to.)

was a joyous festival, the Old Testament Christmas. Ch2 30:21 testifies to the exultation of the people and the boisterous music of the Levite priests, with which it was celebrated. According to Num 10:10, the trumpeting of the priests was connected with the sacrifices; and that the slaying of the paschal lambs took place amidst the Tantaratan of the priests (long-drawn notes interspersed with sharp shrill ones, תקיעה תרועה וקיעה), is expressly related of the post-exilic service at least.

(Note: Vid., my essay on the Passover rites during the time of the second Temple in the Luther. Zeitschr. 1855; and cf. Armknecht, Die heilige Psalmidoe (1855), S. 5.)

The phrase נתן תּף proceeds from the phrase נתן קול, according to which נתן directly means: to attune, strike up, cause to be heard. Concerning כּסה (Pro 7:20 כּסא) tradition is uncertain. The Talmudic interpretation (B. Rosh ha-Shana 8b, Betza 16a, and the Targum which is taken from it), according to which it is the day of the new moon (the first of the month), on which the moon hides itself, i.e., is not to be seen at all in the morning, and in the evening only for a short time immediately after sunset, and the interpretation that is adopted by a still more imposing array of authorities (lxx, Vulgate, Menahem, Rashi, Jacob Tam, Aben-Ezra, Parchon, and others), according to which a time fixed by computation (from כּסה = כּסס, computare) is so named in general, are outweighed by the usage of the Syriac, in which Keso denotes the full moon as the moon with covered, i.e., filled-up orb, and therefore the fifteenth of the month, but also the time from that point onwards, perhaps because then the moon covers itself, inasmuch as its shining surface appears each day less large (cf. the Peshto, Kg1 12:32 of the fifteenth day of the eighth month, Ch2 7:10 of the twenty-third day of the seventh month, in both instances of the Feast of Tabernacles), after which, too, in the passage before us it is rendered wa-b-kese, which a Syro-Arabic glossary (in Rosenmller) explains festa quae sunt in medio mensis. The Peshto here, like the Targum, proceeds from the reading חגּינוּ, which, following the lxx and the best texts, is to be rejected in comparison with the singular חגּנוּ. If, however, it is to be read chgnw, and כּסה (according to Kimchi with Segol not merely in the second syllable, but with double Segol כּסה, after the form טנא = טנא) signifies not interlunium, but plenilunium (instead of which also Jerome has in medio mense, and in Pro 7:20, in die plenae lunae, Aquila ἡμέρᾳ πανσελήνου), then what is meant is either the Feast of Tabernacles, which is called absolutely החג in Kg1 8:2 (Ch2 5:3) and elsewhere, or the Passover, which is also so called in Isa 30:29 and elsewhere. Here, as Psa 81:5 will convince us, the latter is intended, the Feast of unleavened bread, the porch of which, so to speak, is ערב פּסח together with the ליל שׁמּרים (Exo 12:42), the night from the fourteenth to the fifteenth of Nisan. In Psa 81:2, Psa 81:3 they are called upon to give a welcome to this feast. The blowing of the shophar is to announce the commencement of the Passover month, and at the commencement of the Passover day which opens the Feast of unleavened bread it is to be renewed. The ל of ליום is not meant temporally, as perhaps in Job 21:30 : at the day = on the day; for why was it not ביום? It is rather: towards the day, but בכסה assumes that the day has already arrived; it is the same Lamed as in Psa 81:2, the blowing of the shophar is to concern this feast-day, it is to sound in honour of it.

Psalms 81:4

psa 81:4

Psa 81:4-5 now tell whence the feast which is to be met with singing and music has acquired such a high significance: it is a divine institution coming from the time of the redemption by the hand of Moses. It is called חק as being a legally sanctioned decree, משׁפּט as being a lawfully binding appointment, and עדוּת as being a positive declaration of the divine will. The ל in לישׂראל characterizes Israel as the receiver, in לאלהי the God of Israel as the owner, i.e., Author and Lawgiver. By בּצעתו the establishing of the statute is dated back to the time of the Exodus; but the statement of the time of its being established, "when He went out over the land of Egypt," cannot be understood of the exodus of the people out of Egypt, natural as this may be here, where Israel has just been called יהוסף (pathetic for יוסף), by a comparison with Gen 41:45, where Joseph is spoken of in the same words. For this expression does not describe the going forth out of a country, perhaps in the sight of its inhabitants, Num 33:3, cf. Exo 14:8 (Hengstenberg), but the going out over a country. Elohim is the subject, and צאת is to be understood according to Exo 11:4 (Kimchi, De Dieu, Dathe, Rosenmller, and others): when He went out for judgment over the land of Egypt (cf. Mic 1:3). This statement of the time of itself at once decides the reference of the Psalm to the Passover, which commemorates the sparing of Israel at that time (Exo 12:27), and which was instituted on that very night of judgment. The accentuation divides the verse correctly. According to this, שׂפת לא־ידעתּי אשׁמע is not a relative clause to מצרים: where I heard a language that I understood not (Psa 114:1). Certainly ידע שׂפה, "to understand a language," is an expression that is in itself not inadmissible (cf. ידע ספר, to understand writing, to be able to read, Isa 29:11.), the selection of which instead of the more customary phrase שׁמע לשׁון (Deu 28:49; Isa 33:19; Jer 5:15) might be easily intelligible here beside אשׁמע; but the omission of the שׁם (אשׁר) is harsh, the thought it here purposeless, and excluded with our way of taking בצאתו. From the speech of God that follows it is evident that the clause is intended to serve as an introduction of this divine speech, whether it now be rendered sermonem quem non novi (cf. Psa 18:44, populus quem non novi), or alicujus, quem non novi (Ges. 123, rem. 1), both of which are admissible. It is not in some way an introduction to the following speech of God as one which it has been suddenly given to the psalmist to hear: "An unknown language, or the language of one unknown, do I hear?" Thus Dderlein explains it: Subitanea et digna poetico impetu digressio, cum vates sese divino adflatu subito perculsum sentit et oraculum audire sibi persuadet; and in the same way De Wette, Olshausen, Hupfeld, and others. But the oracle of God cannot appear so strange to the Israelitish poet and seer as the spirit-voice to Eliphaz (Job 4:16); and moreover אשׁמע after the foregoing historical predicates has the presumption of the imperfect signification in its favour. Thus, then, it will have to be interpreted according to Exo 6:2. It was the language of a known, but still also unknown God, which Israel heard in the redemption of that period. It was the God who had been made manifest as יהוה only, so to speak, by way of prelude hitherto, who now appeared at this juncture of the patriarchal history, which had been all along kept in view, in the marvellous and new light of the judgment which was executed upon Egypt, and of the protection, redemption, and election of Israel, as being One hitherto unknown, as the history of salvation actually then, having arrived at Sinai, receives an entirely new form, inasmuch as from this time onwards the congregation or church is a nation, and Jahve the King of a nation, and the bond of union between them a national law educating it for the real, vital salvation that is to come. The words of Jahve that follow are now not the words heard then in the time of the Exodus. The remembrance of the words heard forms only a transition to those that now make themselves heard. For when the poet remembers the language which He who reveals Himself in a manner never before seen and heard of spoke to His people at that time, the Ever-living One Himself, who is yesterday and to-day the same One, speaks in order to remind His people of what He was to them then, and of what He spake to them then.

Psalms 81:6

psa 81:6

It is a gentle but profoundly earnest festival discourse which God the Redeemer addresses to His redeemed people. It begins, as one would expect in a Passover speech, with a reference to the סבלות of Egypt (Exo 1:11-14; Exo 5:4; Exo 6:6.), and to the duwd, the task-basket for the transport of the clay and of the bricks (Exo 1:14; Exo 5:7.).

(Note: In the Papyrus Leydensis i. 346 the Israelites are called the "Aperiu (עברים), who dragged along the stones for the great watch-tower of the city of Rameses," and in the Pap. Leyd. i. 349, according to Lauth, the "Aperiu, who dragged along the stones for the storehouse of the city of Rameses.")

Out of such distress did He free the poor people who cried for deliverance (Exo 2:23-25); He answered them בּסתר רעם, i.e., not (according to Psa 22:22; Isa 32:2): affording them protection against the storm, but (according to Psa 18:12; Psa 77:17.): out of the thunder-clouds in which He at the same time revealed and veiled Himself, casting down the enemies of Israel with His lightnings, which is intended to refer pre-eminently to the passage through the Red Sea (vid., Psa 77:19); and He proved them (אבחנך, with ŏ contracted from ō, cf. on Job 35:6) at the waters of Merbah, viz., whether they would trust Him further on after such glorious tokens of His power and loving-kindness. The name "Waters of Merı̂bah," which properly is borne only by Merı̂bath Kadesh, the place of the giving of water in the fortieth year (Num 20:13; Num 27:14; Deu 32:51; Deu 33:8), is here transferred to the place of the giving of water in the first year, which was named Massah u-Merı̂bah (Exo 17:7), as the remembrances of these two miracles, which took place under similar circumstances, in general blend together (vid., on Psa 95:8.). It is not now said that Israel did not act in response to the expectation of God, who had son wondrously verified Himself; the music, as Seal imports, here rises, and makes a long and forcible pause in what is being said. What now follows further, are, as the further progress of Psa 81:12 shows, the words of God addressed to the Israel of the desert, which at the same time with its faithfulness are brought to the remembrance of the Israel of the present. העיד בּ, as in Psa 50:7; Deu 8:19, to bear testimony that concerns him against any one. אם (according to the sense, o si, as in Psa 95:7, which is in many ways akin to this Psalm) properly opens a searching question which wishes that the thing asked may come about (whether thou wilt indeed give me a willing hearing?!). In Psa 81:10 the key-note of the revelation of the Law from Sinai is struck: the fundamental command which opens the decalogue demanded fidelity to Jahve and forbade idol-worship as the sin of sins. אל זר is an idol in opposition to the God of Israel as the true God; and אל נכר, a strange god in opposition to the true God as the God of Israel. To this one God Israel ought to yield itself all the more undividedly and heartily as it was more manifestly indebted entirely to Him, who in His condescension had chosen it, and in His wonder-working might had redeemed it (המּעלך, part. Hiph. with the eh elided, like הפּדך, Deu 13:6, and אכלך, from כּלּה, Exo 33:3); and how easy this submission ought to have been to it, since He desired nothing in return for the rich abundance of His good gifts, which satisfy and quicken body and soul, but only a wide-opened mouth, i.e., a believing longing, hungering for mercy and eager for salvation (Psa 119:131)!

Psalms 81:11

psa 81:11

The Passover discourse now takes a sorrowful and awful turn: Israel's disobedience and self-will frustrated the gracious purpose of the commandments and promises of its God. "My people" and "Israel" alternate as in the complaint in Isa 1:3. לא־אבה followed by the dative, as in Deu 13:9 ([8], ου ̓ συνθελήσεις αὐτῷ). Then God made their sin their punishment, by giving them over judicially (שׁלּח as in Job 8:4) into the obduracy of their heart, which rudely shuts itself up against His mercy (from שׁרר, Aramaic שׁרר, Arabic sarra, to make firm = to cheer, make glad), so that they went on (cf. on the sequence of tense, Psa 61:8) in their, i.e., their own, egotistical, God-estranged determinations; the suffix is thus accented, as e.g., in Isa 65:2, cf. the borrowed passage Jer 7:24, and the same phrase in Mic 6:16. And now, because this state of unfaithfulness in comparison with God's faithfulness has remained essentially the same even to to-day, the exalted Orator of the festival passes over forthwith to the generation of the present, and that, as is in accordance with the cheerful character of the feast, in a charmingly alluring manner. Whether we take לוּ in the signification of si (followed by the participle, as in Sa2 18:12), or like אם above in Psa 81:9 as expressing a wish, o si (if but!), Psa 81:15. at any rate have the relation of the apodosis to it. From כּמעט (for a little, easily) it may be conjectured that the relation of Israel at that time to the nations did not correspond to the dignity of the nation of God which is called to subdue and rule the world in the strength of God. השׁיב signifies in this passage only to turn, not: to again lay upon. The meaning is, that He would turn the hand which is now chastening His people against those by whom He is chastening them (cf. on the usual meaning of the phrase, Isa 1:25; Amo 1:8; Jer 6:9; Eze 38:12). The promise in Psa 81:16 relates to Israel and all the members of the nation. The haters of Jahve would be compelled reluctantly to submit themselves to Him, and their time would endure for ever. "Time" is equivalent to duration, and in this instance with the collateral notion of Prosperity, as elsewhere (Isa 13:22) of the term of punishment. One now expects that it should continue with ואאכילהוּ, in the tone of a promise. The Psalm, however, closes with an historical statement. For ויּאכילהו cannot signify et cibaret eum; it ought to be pronounced ויאכילהו. The pointing, like the lxx, Syriac, and Vulgate, takes v. 17a (cf. Deu 32:13.) as a retrospect, and apparently rightly so. For even the Asaphic Ps 77 and 78 break off with historical pictures. V. 17b is, accordingly, also to be taken as retrospective. The words of the poet in conclusion once more change into the words of God. The closing word runs אשׂבּיעך, as in Psa 50:8, Deu 4:31, and (with the exception of the futt. Hiph. of Lamed He verbs ending with ekka) usually. The Babylonian system of pointing nowhere recognises the suffix-form ekka. If the Israel of the present would hearken to the Lawgiver of Sinai, says v. 17, then would He renew to it the miraculous gifts of the time of the redemption under Moses.

Next: Psalms Chapter 82