Psalms 81 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The beginning of each month was marked by the blowing of the silver trumpets (Num 10:10); but the first day of the month Ethânîm or Tisri (Sept. Oct.), the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year and the first of the civil year, was kept as a solemn festival and was called ‘the Day of trumpet-blowing’ or ‘the Feast of trumpets’ (Num 29:1; Lev 23:24). Upon the fifteenth day of the same month, at the full moon, the Feast of Tabernacles began (Lev 23:39). To this double celebration Psa 81:3 plainly alludes; and we find that from ancient times this Psalm has been the New Year’s Day Psalm of the Jewish Church, and that by an apparently unanimous Jewish tradition it is connected with the Feast of Tabernacles. It is unreasonable to disregard the evidence of practice and tradition, and maintain that the Psalm was intended for the Passover, on the ground of the reference to the Exodus in Psa 81:5. In point of fact its contents are more appropriate to the Feast of Tabernacles than to the Passover. The Feast of Tabernacles was the most joyous of all the feasts, and the opening verses are a call to a jubilant celebration. The Feast of Tabernacles was the time appointed for the septennial recitation of the Law (Deu 31:10); and the leading thoughts of the Psalm are that allegiance of Israel to Jehovah alone which was the fundamental principle of the Law; Jehovah’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, which was the ground upon which that claim rested; and Israel’s failure in its duty and consequent loss of promised blessing.
The Psalm falls into three divisions:
i. A call to celebrate the festival with shout and song and blowing of trumpets, for it is a divine ordinance for Israel (Psa 81:1-5).
ii. Throwing himself back in imagination to the time of the Exodus, the Psalmist hears the voice of God proclaiming the decree for Israel’s liberation, and the fundamental principle of the covenant made at Sinai, the absolute allegiance of Israel to Jehovah as their God (Psa 81:6-10).
iii. But Israel would not obey, and Jehovah was forced to leave them to experience the consequences of their obstinate self-will. Yet even now, if they would obey His commands, He would subdue their enemies, and satisfy them with the promised blessings of plenty (Psa 81:11-16).
Some commentators regard the Psalm as a combination of two fragments, Psa 81:1-5 a, b, Psa 81:5 c Psa 81:16, on the ground of the want of connexion between Psa 81:5 b and Psa 81:5 c, the dissimilarity in style between the two parts, and the unsuitability of the latter part for a festival hymn. But these arguments are not convincing. If the transition in Psa 81:5 is somewhat abrupt, it is not more so than is frequently the case; that the Psalmist should pass from a summons to the celebration of the festival to a consideration of its religious significance is perfectly natural; and a review of Jehovah’s relation to Israel is surely not unsuitable for a festival hymn, in view alike of the general commemorative purpose of the festival, and of the particular fact that it was the occasion for the septennial recitation of the Law, which was based upon that relation. That rejoicing should be tempered by warning is fully in accord with the prophetic spirit of the Asaphic Psalms. Comp. also Psalms 95.
There is nothing in the Psalm by which its date can be fixed with certainty. It contains several allusions to Deuteronomy 32, , Psa 81:11-12 may be a reminiscence of Jer 7:24. The summons to the festival implies that the Temple was standing, and from Psa 81:14-15 it may be inferred that the nation was threatened or oppressed by foreign enemies. Perhaps it may belong to the later years of the kingdom, and if so, probably to the reign of Josiah.
It is the special Psalm for Thursday as well as for New Year’s Day according to the ancient Jewish usage. See Introd. p. xxvii. Presumably the title in the LXX once contained a reference to this usage, as the Old Latin Version has Quinta Sabbati; but it has disappeared from all but one or two MSS of the LXX.
On the title, For the chief Musician; set to the Gittith (R.V.), see Introd. p. xxv.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".