Exposition of Psalm 81:1ff. (1)

Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Sing aloud to God our strength: make a joyful noise to the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. . . . 

I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. . . . But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. . . .
 

Psalm 81:1-2, 10-11

We have quoted only a representative part of the Psalm. However, in those verses we hear the very keynote. Particularly this is true of verse 10, where we read the exact covenant words of Jehovah which He spoke directly to Israel from out of the secret place of thunder. It expresses the sum-total of all the lovingkindnesses, the tender mercies, the unique faithful covenant made to Abraham and to his children. These are words to the Israel of God. And this Israel is such that it includes both Jew and Greek, Barbarian, bond and free. It is Gods everlasting covenant of mercy which He will not take from His beloved people (Ex. 20:1ff.; Jeremiah 31:31-34Isaiah 59:20, 21). 

Such is the solid basis for Gods abiding claim on Israel. It is also the solid rock of His just complaint against Israel as uttered in verses 11 and 12 of this Psalm. Implied in this complaint is Gods yearning love. It is as of a mother bird who faithfully feeds her young in their nest. These infant birds open their mouths wide when they hear their mother approaching with a morsel of food for them. Thus they are fed. 

But there was an "Israel" of which God says they "would none of me!" They would none of Gods great and holy Name which God proclaimed to Moses as he stands in a place prepared for him in "the clift of the rock." And the Lord put His hand over Moses to cover him as He passed by in His "glory." Of this "glory" Israel wanted nothing. They did not desire the glory of a God who is "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..." (Ex. 33:18-23Ex. 34:4-7). 

But there was also an Israel which is not the true Israel of God who came to the temple to confess their sins, received forgiveness when God "saw the blood," and heard the trumpet-blast of the priest over the sacrifice (Ex. 12:11-17Lev. 23:24Num. 29:1). This was the Israel which drew nigh with their mouth and honored God with their lips, but their heart was far from Him. They are very religious zealots who willed to be saved by the "works of the law." Always and anon they were a people who were ignorant of God's righteousness, and went about to establish their own righteousness, not submitting themselves to the righteous God (Rom. 9:31-33Rom. 10:1-4). These could not see, they did not understand, that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. Theirs was not merely the sin of transgressing Gods commandments by reason of their "infirmities," but it was the sin of "unbelief." They rejected the counsel of God against themselves (Luke 7:27-35Matt. 11:20-24). 

Of this Israel, and of their total unbelief, Jehovah speaks when He says in Psalm 81:11, "But my people would not hearken to my voice and Israel would none of me." We see this already in Exodus 32:4b: ". . . and they said: These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." And Stephen says to this Israel which would none of God, "Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets . . . yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon" (Amos 5:25, 26; and all the prophets before the Captivity of both Israel and Judah). 

But the Lord will have His instituted feast days kept in Israel, the appointed Sabbaths in the land, as they culminated each year in the seventh month in the great "feast of trumpets" (Num. 29:1ff.;Lev. 23:23, 24). If this feast of trumpets was kept, then the other two appointed great feasts would also be honored in spirit and in truth: to wit the feast of the Passover in the first month, and feast of the firstfruits of the full harvest seven weeks later. And this ended in the feast of tabernacles, the feast with the "great day" (John 7:37ff.). 

To understand the poet, one must needs have lived in the land of the Poet, Jehovah God! Ever the call of the Lord was to Israel, through the prophets: "Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful noise to the God of Jacob." It must be a joyful song of faith in the promises, the covenants, the lawgiving, as from a people who know that they are the sons of Jacob. They must know that Jacob is in the class with Abraham and Isaac, that God has prepared for them and for their spiritual children a city which has eternal foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God (Rom. 9:4, 5Heb. 11:8-10, 14-16). Yes, this God of Jacob is our strength. He is not ashamed of us, because He has prepared for us a city. And this city was portrayed in the Old Testament in the earthly Jerusalem, when the tribes went up to the temple to worship their God. 

Yes, here Israel must use their musical instruments, as they lifted up their voices in a priestly manner at the altar. This was especially so in the time of the "full moon," the solemn feast day. For the full moon always occurred on the fifteenth day of the month in each of the three great feasts in Israel. There is a difference in the translation, found in various Bible versions, concerning the term "in the time appointed." Thus the KJV has it. The American (Revised) Version reads here "at the full moon." The latter is a literal translation of the Hebrew text. The translation of Luther has it (in German) "in our feast of dwelling in tents." The Holland translates the Hebrew term full moon (bicheseem) "at the proper, appointed time." Of all the three feasts this was the feast where there was a special symbolism in the number of bullocks that were offered on each day. It was like a count-down: one bullock fewer on each day (Num. 29:17-38). Notice that the count-down of the number of bullocks was from the second to the eighth day of the feast in the seventh month. The number reads as follows: twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven. Thus the number ends in the covenantal sabbath number of God's completed work. From here on no diminishing is possible. This ends in the eighth day, on the "full moon" day, the appointed day of atonement. It is the only solemn, feast day without festal joy. 

The only instruments used were the silver trumpets which were blown by the priests over the sacrifices. Hence, blow up the "trumpet" in the new moon, at the time appointed, the day of atonement for all the sins of Israel. It was the picture of the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God, once in the end of the ages (Heb. 9:23-28). This is the one sacrifice which attempts symbolically‚ÄĒtypically to come to finality. 

But of course that was not possible. For there was no sacrifice that could cleanse the conscience from sin (Heb. 10:1-7). Nevertheless, in this sacrifice on the "full moon" of the seventh month we see most clearly that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes" (Rom. 10:1-4). 

And now in a sense we come to the place where we can understand why this feast was also called the "feast of trumpets." A little study of the use of the trumpet can be beneficial here. I believe that we must bear in mind that basically the trumpet in Scripture is different from all other instruments of music. It is the exceptional instrument, for it is the one instrument which is blown by God Himself as He brings Israel to share in His victory over sin and death, hell and the grave, because He calls Himself the "Captain of the LORD'S hosts" to Joshua (Josh. 5:13-15). It is in this Angel of the Lord that the trumpet was first blown by God. It was at the time when God spoke the Ten Words of which the preface is, "I am Jehovah thy God who hath delivered you out of Egypt, the house of bondage." These words were uttered after the "voice of the trumpet" sounded "long" and waxed louder and louder (Ex. 19:19). How this trump, which no mortal man can blow, must have echoed and reechoed from Mount Paran, being heard clearly by the tens of thousands of the children of Israel. God came forth with thousands of His angels, and a fiery law went forth from His mouth (Deuteronomy 33:1-3).

Shall we say in all truthfulness that this was the "first trump" of God? For Paul speaks of that time in the unfolding of the Mystery of the blessed resurrection when the dead shall rise, and death shall be swallowed up in victory (I Cor. 15:51ff.). The glorious changing of those who will then be living shall be performed by God in a "twinkling of an eye, and at the last trump!" Then the trumpet need no more call the thousands of saints to the battle in the full armor of God (Eph. 6:13ff.). 

However, at the time when Israel was addressed in Psalm 81:3 the battle-cry is, "blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the full moon," the 15th of the seventh month. For this exhortation comes to Israel as their religious life and worship is stipulated to them under the tutorship of the God who placed them, as it were, "under tutors and governors until the time appointed." It is the time appointed by our heavenly Father. During this time the children of Israel were children under the elements of the world (Gal. 4:1-3). 

Only when Israel obeyed the law of commandments and went three times a year to the great appointed feasts could they receive the blessings of the law as a schoolmaster to Christ. This they had to do in childlike faith. In faith they could see, in picture language, before their very eyes, that there is forgiveness with God for their sins which were red like scarlet. And here in this temple they could look in faith upon the sacrifice of the blood of the slain sheep and bullocks, as this was sprinkled upon the mercy-seat, and trust that the promise of God stands sure. He still is our Redeemer God. He receives the blowing up of the trumpet in the "full moon" as worthy of being remembered. For such was the intent of the blowing of the trumpets. We read in Numbers 10:10, "also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with your trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God." 

The question may be asked: what is the implication here of the term "memorial"? 

The word is a noun. A memorial is in this case inNumbers 10:10 a record in the court of God, who is most holy and just. Because of this justice of God, not one sin of any of the saints can or may remain unpaid. Satisfaction must be made. Now, such satisfaction cannot and was not made by any of the animal sacrifices in all the hundreds of thousands of sacrifices that were slain and placed upon the altar. Only a "memorial" was brought before the Lord. The bringing of these sacrifices was no vain and empty show. It was a legal enactment before the face of God, the Judge of every sinner.

(Of this we will need to write more in another installment.)