Do me a favor and please read Psalm 81.
One thing that I absolutely appreciate and cherish about the psalms is that they give me insight and a fresh view of God. So often we focus on God in the New Testament and neglect God’s movement and the people’s response as only seen in the Old Testament. We like the NT (New Testament) because it gives us Jesus and his teachings and it gives us tangible understandings of the kingdom of God. Things like love, grace, hope, forgiveness, justice, and compassion. And these actions and feelings seem to find their true meaning when seen in the Gospels and Epistles. But if we were to only read the NT then we’d lose the history, poetry, and prophetic voice as only seen and read in the OT. If we were to ignore the OT then we’d lose the richness of God’s love, the depth of God’s grace, the extent of the hope, the completeness of God’s forgiveness, the reason for justice, and the truth of compassion. We may THINK they come to fruition in the NT but the truth is it all started before the world began.
What does all of this have to do with Psalm 81? Not a lot really – but in actuality quite a bit. If we want to understand a text then we have to understand the people, their relationship with God, their past and present, and their hope to come. Our psalm today is a call to sing of God’s love and of his covenant with a people that were cut out and separated from all others. Our psalm today is a song of historical remembrance as well as joyful celebration that draws the reader into understanding the heart of God’s people long ago.
If you were of the Jewish tradition then come September or October you would begin to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. A sacred holiday that encouraged you to give thanks to God. It was/is a sacred holiday that encouraged you to remember God’s endless bounty at the end of harvest, his endless bounty and how he provided for you also while your people were in the wilderness, and how he watched over you in Egypt and delivered you from Pharaoh’s hand. So just as God provided for you now (with crops, grains, water, food, shelter, etc) God too provided for you when you had no crops to till, no seeds to plant and no water in sight. For while your people were in the wilderness God was there too. But even before that God was still with you. While you were slaves in Egypt, toiling under the fierce arm of your slave masters – God was there. Always watching, always protecting, always providing.
So why is this important for us today – because we wouldn’t celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles would we? Well, we don’t…but we should. We may not be Jewish or even have any Hebrew blood in our veins but these are still our people, this is still our past, this is still the hope and love as given to us by God.
The Feast of Tabernacles is about understanding the work of God and his constant love. This holiday is about proclaiming God’s covenantal love as seen, experienced, and received so long ago. This Feast and holiday is about remembering just how dedicated God was and how undedicated his people have been and yet throughout the ages God still was providing. And we must sing of that joy, remember his work, and live into that today.
Psalm 81 is simply a song of historical hope that sings of what was and is still to come as only seen, experienced, and given by God and to his people so long ago. But it’s also a psalm that encourages readers today to not only remember the past and see God’s hand throughout it all but to also sing of the future as God’s hand is still moving, providing, and protecting. And while our Jewish brothers and sisters are still waiting for the messianic hope to deliver them and usher in God’s final authority, we proclaim that he (Jesus Christ) has already come, already saved, already delivered, and already firmly held us in the hands of the Father. That all the love, grace, hope, forgiveness, justice, and compassion are given, received, and find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
So read historical psalms, drink from the well of their past and historical present all the while giving thanks for God’s work through Christ then, today, and to come. Understanding and living into our past allows us to be in hope today and everlasting hope to come tomorrow.