sermon: Psalms: Book Three (Part Five)
Dealing With A Rebellious Child
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 14-Sep-15; Sermon #1286A; 75 minutes
How would you discipline a recalcitrant, obstinate child? There are numerous approaches, from harsh to indulgent, and good parents should have a multitude of solutions, not just a carrot or a stick. The children of Jacob have throughout history behaved like spoiled brats, perennially earning God's wrath and discipline. Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets, pictures a shout of warning, a time of gloominess and dread, the Day of the Lord in the valley of decision, the great tribulation when God's wrath will be poured upon mankind, a curse they bring on themselves. Sadly many in God's Church will also ignore the warning, reaping the consequences of their lack of submission. God is full of grief that it has come to this sad state of apostasy. Our worship on the Day of Trumpets should constitute praise and worship, extolling the attributes, blessings, and promises of God. The Feasts of God establish God's statutes, laws, testimonies, ordinances, and rulings. If we would keep God's Feasts properly, we would be in sync with God's noble purpose for us, defending us from falling into apostasy and idolatry. God tested physical Israel and is continuing to test spiritual Israel, the Israel of God. We dare not imitate the rebellion of our forebears on the Sinai who fell into idolatry, but rather must hallow God and keep His Commandments.
I have a question for you this morning. What does a parent do to straighten out an unruly, obstinate child? For the purposes of this illustration, we will say that this child has a long record of stubbornness and misbehaving to the point where the parent, or the parents, are pretty much pulling their hair out in frustration and grief over the failure of this kid to turn around. Maybe I should put it the other way—for them to turn this kid around. Now this child is otherwise a good kid, he has a lot of good qualities. You can see a lot of potential in him, and he could make something of himself if he would only accept a bit of discipline in his life. He has chosen at every turn to go his own way against his parent’s wishes.
What would you suggest as a method of dealing with this recalcitrant child as parents, future parents, once parents, or however it happens to be with you? We could start with laying down the law. We could give the child a set of rules, regulations, chores, duties, lines, and boundaries to which he must adhere. These are your house rules and to live there in peace, he must abide by them or face the punishments, fines, restrictions, or whatever consequences you place on breaking those laws. With these sternly set out guidelines through maybe a house or family meeting around the kitchen table, the child is fully aware of the rules and has no excuse for disobeying them. If he does, he is in for it. Without a doubt, he is going to get it. That is one way.
Many would go straight to the rod of correction—the stick—or the carrot and the stick approach? The Bible supports physical or corporal punishment, whether it is spanking, paddling, swatting, smacking, whatever word you use for it. Down here in the south they called it a “whipping” for a long time, and that does not go over very well anymore. The Bible does say that sort of thing will drive rebellion away, but the child will not die. So, there is a bit of approval there if done properly, it can be an effective method. It is not for every kid. I have known some kids that just harden their rear ends as it were and take it. One of the things about excessive spanking or corporal punishment is that it can actually spur them to further disobedience just out of plain old stubbornness.
We talked about the carrot and stick, now we will get to the carrot. That is, promising the child something that he greatly desires does work on some kids. Some kids seem to respond to that and can turn. We say, “Ok, if you turn your behavior around over the next few weeks or the next few months, I’ll consider letting you go to summer camp, or I’ll consider paying for your Carowinds pass. Perhaps I’ll let you get a new bike, a new computer, gaming console,” or whatever it is that kids want these days. Taken too far this approach—the carrot approach—turns into bribery for good behavior. The kid then plays the game to get what he wants—with no change in character. The kid will simply be good until he gets the thing he wants, and then he is off doing his own thing again.
Other parents may choose to use the silent treatment, ignoring the misbehavior under the assumption that the child is just pushing the boundaries or even smashing the boundaries down in order to get the parents attention, and that is the only real reason for it. The assumption is that if you deny the kid the attention, the rebellion will fizzle. They will start being good in order to get the attention that they desire. The dangers here are twofold. One is that the assumption may be wrong, that all he wants is attention and he will rebel whether the parent reacts or not. The other pitfall here is that the child, instead of turning to good in order to get the parents attention, will ratchet up his rebellion to the point that the parents’ resolve cracks and he gets what he wants.
The silent treatment has a third pitfall that I probably should have put here in the list; it cuts off communication between the parent and child. Resolution becomes more and more difficult to achieve.
One thing many parents are doing today is trying to talk it out with the misbehaving child, reasoning with him, giving him the pros and the cons of why he does this. If he would just do this, it would be good for him. If he would just not avoid that, it is bad for him. Now, when the little rebel is only two years old doing this is really laughable because this little kid, the toddler, does not have the capacity to understand either his parent's child rearing philosophy or figure out the consequences of his actions.
Little kids are pretty smart. They have this kind of would you call it “Rug-rat smarts,” like street smarts when you get older. These are smarts that as little kids they know how to work their parents. That does not give them the level of actually being able to reason these things through. They just know what their little bodies want. Can you reason with them on that simple, carnal, “gimme, gimme” selfish level? I guess it might work, but usually it will not.
Some adults cannot understand the consequences of their actions. Some adults have no child rearing philosophy to speak of, so trying to explain something like that to a child is just silly. All the kid knows is that when he makes a fuss, when he makes a mess, when he causes a scene in the grocery store and everybody is looking at them, Mommy and Daddy drop whatever they are doing and give their full attention to the kid and give him what he wants in order to shut him up. The kid in this case has already learned extortion. He does not mind enduring a short lecture from Mommy about how bad he has been in order to get what he wants because he has already gotten the reward.
There are many ways of dealing with a stubborn, rebellious child. Depending on the child in the situation, any one of them may or may not work. A parent needs to have a full “quiver of solutions” available because not every solution will work in every situation. Sometimes it may be a smack. Sometimes it may be a good talking to. Sometimes it may be holding out some sort of carrot for that kid to work toward. Sometimes it may be the silent treatment. Sometimes it may be laying down the law.
Whatever it is, you have got to be able to pull those things and other methods out of your quiver and use them to shoot down your child's misbehaving or misbehavior. A “one trick parenting pony” does not work. You must have more tricks, because a parent who relies on just one method soon finds the child running the house. He has figured out the “one trick” and can play it all day to his advantage.
We see in the Old Testament something like this playing out where God is the kind, devoted, patient, loving parent, and Israel is the stubborn, hardhearted, rebellious, thickheaded, sometimes stupid, and very selfish child. If you go through the Old Testament, you will see God tried every way He could, short of giving the children of Israel His Holy Spirit to get Israel to behave—to get Israel to live with Him in harmony.
They would not listen. They never listened. There is just no way that they would do what God wanted them to do, even with Him witnessing to them personally, shouting at them, thundering at them from Sinai, scaring the wits out of them, giving them the ultimatum that if they even touched the mountain they were going to be killed. Israel quickly rebelled and it was back to them being the spoiled brats that they were.
So, in time, after they grew worse and worse and worse throughout the centuries, He had to act as wrathful judge and king to punish them severely for their sinfulness. Israel, then, in 720, 722 BC somewhere around there, went into captivity, exile, and then into oblivion. Judah followed about one hundred thirty-five years later, only a remnant returning to the land. Those Jews were the ancestors of the ones that were there when Christ came and as soon as Christ’s work was done, they were gone too, in 70 AD and the few decades after that. That is why the Jews were in the Diaspora all those centuries. God cleared them out of the land. Sobering, is it not?
We are going to look into the Psalms today. Please hold your cheers down to a minimum; this is my last Psalms sermon, at least for a while. The psalm we are going to look into today has been traditionally linked with the Feast of Trumpets, and that is Psalm 81. The link may seem tenuous at first, but after a bit of study, after we look into what the subject is, the details of the themes that are there, the lesson for our day or for us on this day, will become very clear. The overall lesson put very simply is “do not be like rebellious Israel.”
Before we go to Psalm 81 though we will go to Leviticus 23. If you have already turned to Psalm 81, put a bookmark there because we will obviously be back. We are going to go to Leviticus 23 and touch base in the festivals chapter so that we can get a good foundation for what we are doing here today. Verses 24-25 deal with the Feast of Trumpets.
Leviticus 23:24-25 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a Sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.' "
That is all that is said. In fact, that is pretty much all that is said specifically about this day, other than the offerings that are given on it throughout the whole Old Testament. In fact, it is one of those that you really have to search for in the New. But, it is there. This day has been kind of an enigma. The detail that we get on this day is far inferior, far leaner, you might say, than any other day. Look just below it. The Day of Atonement runs from verse 26 to 32. You get seven full verses of instruction. The Feast of Tabernacles runs from verse 33 all the way down to at least verse 43, that is 11 verses.
You get quite a bit of instruction about those days, but you barely get two verses on Trumpets. We have to really dig deeply into what bare soil we have here to work with. What we get is just a few phrases that give us an understanding to launch out on. This feast in Hebrew is called Yom Teruah. Yom, that is day and Teruah, that is shouting. This is the day of shouting. It is not called in Scripture, Rosh Hashanah. That is something that the Jews of the Diaspora named it. That means the “head of the year,” meaning they call it basically New Year's Day, the beginning of the year, the head of the year.
There is no indication in Scripture that God ever wanted it to be used in that fashion. He wanted it to be understood as the day of shouting. That in itself is kind of enigmatic. Are we to go around all day just shouting out at it one another? What is it? What is it about? Are we to just talk loudly all day because this is the Day of Trumpets, it is a day of shouting? No, that is not exactly what is meant.
Let us go on to the phrase “a memorial of blowing of trumpets,” as it says here. That literally in the Hebrew is “a remembrance of shouting.” We are on this day of shouting to remember something about shouting. It probably refers to the shout or the blast of a shofar, the ram's horn, to mark the beginning of the day and it also marked the beginning of the months. This day is a new moon day. This is the first day of the seventh month, so not only does it signal the fact that we are now in the seventh month, but we have now come into this holy day and this holy day season. It probably does refer to the sound of either literal shouting of lots of people, you know, packed into a small space, all cheering or shouting and one way or another, or the sound of a trumpet or a horn being blown.
It may have another meaning. In Hebrew, the phrase is Zichron Teruah and that can be rendered as “a mentioning shout,” or a shout of mention, or a shout of declaration, we might say. Now perhaps this is in reference to shouting, speaking, worshipping, adoring, praising, the covenant name of God, Yahweh. That is how the Jews have come to understand it. Some Jews believe that it is a day of shouting or praising God's name, and that, perhaps, was done in unison. They were a big crowd, whether that was in synagogue or whether it was children of Israel out in the wilderness or the children of Israel at the Temple, they would go for long periods and just say the name of God, just shout it out in some sort of a format that we do not understand anymore.
Perhaps they were doing it in unison. I hate to kind of make this comparison, but if you go into the book of Acts, we find that when Paul went to Ephesus and had a run in there, the Ephesians said, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” and they kept this up for what is it, an hour or whatever, just a long time. They just kept shouting their goddess’ name and praising her, trying to drown out what Paul was saying and what Paul was doing. Now, this was not a contention type of thing that the Hebrews would do if that is what they would do. They would just do it in praise to God and they just shouted out into the heavens God's name.
I guess it is a possibility. We have very little idea what the practices were in and around the Temple. We know there were songs; there was a great deal of music, some preaching. There were a lot of rituals that were going on. We do not know whether this was part of it or that this was done on just this day. It is an interesting idea that perhaps what they did was take a good amount of time during this day to shout and praise God's name. Or praise God's name and shout in lifting up their voices. But it is kind of interesting to think about.
There are many reasons why a ram's horn would be blown or why one would give a shout. But the one that seems to fit perhaps the most, at least in context of what I am doing today, is the shout of warning. Something we would be most attentive to, or we should be most attentive to at this time in history, because God is warning us that the times are getting worse, that He is coming, that we need to be prepared. And so the trumpet blast, giving us warning that time is short, should be very important to us. We know that God promises in Amos 3:7 to reveal His purposes to the prophets. That is fair warning from God.
In a way, it can be thought of as a trumpet blast to the church. So He would give either through revelation from Scripture or through some servant that He raises up as a watchman. Maybe we are looking for the Two Witnesses to give us an indication of where we are in God's plan and what we need to be doing. I think we know what we need to be doing, ultimately, but perhaps this is something that we should be looking into. On the Day of Trumpets we should be focusing on this fact—that there is a warning shout going out, whether it is to the world, the church, or to us personally.
Let us go to Joel 2, just to see this concept of a trumpet being blown in warning. We could think of it in terms of being the announcing the coming of God. I want to start in verse 1. We just sang this to start the service.
Joel 2:1-2 Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand [That is right. Close—you could touch it.]: A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations.
We see this army which is described here in terms of a plague of grasshoppers coming over the land. Down to verse eleven, it defines what is happening here.
Joel 2:11 The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it?
It is a warning that you better get right with God. Otherwise you might not endure it. You probably will not endure it. Then we get this whole next section, which is a call to repentance. We find out that only those who turned to God with all their heart and repent and seek his grace and mercy will endure this terrible time. Even though the warning goes out, even though many, many, many people hear it, the record of history is bleak in terms of people actually turning. And of course, we know that without God's Spirit, they cannot truly turn. They cannot truly come and seek God, so we can guarantee that few will change even though they hear it. And so we have Joel 3.
Joel 3:9-14 Proclaim this among the nations: “Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ ” Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow—for their wickedness is great.” Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
Ultimately, we get the great wrath of God at the end of this age, coming upon mankind who probably heard the warning at some point and never changed. This will include many of Israel. They will get their due in the great tribulation. There will be others that survive this time and have to go through something along this line as well. God's wrath falls first on His own people. From other scriptures we know that only a remnant of Israel, even of the church, will endure to the end. That is scary. That shows you how recalcitrant the human heart is. Even faced with this kind of destruction, some will not listen. They certainly will not change.
This is what Psalm 81 is all about. It may not seem that at the beginning, but this is kind of the theme that flows through it. Psalm 81 follows this theme of warning, and unfortunately, it can be seen as a final warning to God's people. The warning is not one of thunderous, dire curses and promises of ruin and desolation. That is not how it comes across. Instead, it has the feeling, or what comes out is grief and sorrow, with some divine shaking of the head that it did not have to end this way, it did not have to come to this. There were so many ways that we could have gone to better places and better times if they would only have listened. They did not. They never did.
It brings out God's emotional reaction of having to judge His people so harshly. He did not want to do it, but He had to do it because He had made some ultimatums to them and they had not knuckled under. They had not submitted, and so He had to do what He had said. That is what God does. God does not go back on things. If He says something, if it proceeds from His mouth, it is going to happen and not coming back to Him empty. And so He must punish them severely. He gives you the impression, and it is a true impression, that they brought it on themselves. He was not being mean. He was being just, they deserved it.
I want to read all of Psalm 81 to give you the flavor. It does not seem to hold together very well, because it is written in two distinct sections. A lot of commentators will tell you that it is two songs that were stuck together, but I do not think so. I think it was purposely written this way because the first part gives you the proper understanding, and the second part gives you God's reaction to their improper understanding, as it were. Let us just read this so you can get the sense of it.
Psalm 81:1-16 Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand. "I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the baskets. You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah "Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels. Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you."
That is how it ends. From just that cursory reading this psalm clearly breaks up into several parts. It seems like there are several things all thrown in there that do not seem to go together quite perfectly. There are two major parts. These are the two parts I mentioned before: the first 5 verses are one, and then the last 11 verses—6 through 16—is the other major part. The second part is the other major part. The New King James Version, which I am using, breaks it up into six stanzas—each of two, three, or four verses. We going to follow that outline as the New King James shows it. It is as good as any and it breaks it up into small chunks so we can digest it a little easier. But really I think those two major ones are the ones we should keep most in our minds here.
The New King James title is, I think, baffling; at least it is to me. The New King James titled this psalm “An appeal for Israel's repentance.” I guess so. I would say that the appropriate word is “admonished.” God uses that word in verse 8 because it is an admonishment to Israel. It is not an appeal. God is not saying, “Oh, please, please, please, please, would you come back to Me?” That is what we think of as an appeal, like He is begging them, “Oh, if you would only,” that sort of thing. “I’d have you back,” but He is not.
He has actually passed the point. He is admonishing them. To admonish is “to caution,” “to warn,” “to rebuke,” “or to scold.” Maybe the least aggressive is “to remind.” God is not mad here, He is not angry; He is not full of wrath. He is full of grief that it has come to this. As a matter of fact, the latter half or latter part of this psalm could be termed a lament. It is a dirge because He is basically singing at their funerals. That is how bad it is going to be, and that is how it worked out.
How many in Israel died, and then they went off into captivity and had to be in slavery for the rest of their lives? God is just overwrought with emotion here, sadness that it had come to this end. We could say, on the one hand, that Psalm 81 is a dressing-down of Israel for their apostasy, but it is in the form of a lament. It is a sad dressing-down, a grief-stricken dressing-down, but He is certainly telling them how wrong and how rebellious they had been.
Let us go through this in these smaller chunks. We are going to start in verses 1 and 2. I think these first 5 verses are very important to get the understanding of where God is coming from. He is showing the good side of things, how it could be, how it is supposed to be. Then He links it up to these holy days which were so integral to their understanding. They had not used them properly. How many times in Scripture does God say, “I hate your feasts, you’re not using them right? You’re coming there and sacrificing to your own gods, not to Me. All you’re doing is coming for the good food and drink, the fellowship; you’re not here to praise and worship Me.” They are so wrongheaded about the feasts. God sets it out the right way here.
Psalm 81:1-2 Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute.
This sounds like just instructions on what to do on the feast day and it is. Some have thought that verse one is to tell the people to sing aloud and make a joyful shout. Verse two would be to the Levites who were doing all of the music making in the Temple with their instruments. And the third would then be to the priest and those who would be announcing the feast days. So the whole of Israel here is included in the praising and worshipping God.
These first two verses are a command. They are an imperative. Sing, make a joyful noise, raise a song, and play on these instruments. There are commands to the people to praise God through music and it is vocal music. It is also instrumental music. The thing we have to key in on here is this is the Day of Trumpets. Remember what it was—this mention of shouting. Here we key in on the fact that the singing and the shouting were to be loud and strong, like a great shout of a crowd. It is the underlying emotion of exuberance and joy, lifting up your voice, expressing adoration and gratitude to God. All the people were supposed to be together at this point, worshipping God as one and giving praise and worship to God as one.
Maybe the Jews are right in terms of being together and shouting in unison. This obviously seems to back that idea up that this was what they were supposed to do on this holy day. The psalm begins right off the bat with a reminder of what the worship of God should be like. It is supposed to be happy, joyful, and exuberant, it is full of praise and gratitude to God, and the focus is on God. Our worship of God, especially on these feast days, should be positive and uplifting so that we recognize what God is. They praise His name and that tells you the attributes of God. It tells you what He is like, what He has done. You recount history, the things that we see in God's Word, all that He did for Israel, for the church, we see all the blessings that He has given, all the ways He has helped us through our lives personally and also what He has promised to do.
Remember, I just quoted Isaiah 55:11, where it says His Word does not go out from Him empty, it will come back finished. When He makes a promise, it is going to happen. We have to be thankful, joyful about that, we have a God who says things and means them and will back them up. They are His will and they will come to pass. This is how we begin this psalm, with this attitude that is set up in these first two verses of the way worship should be focused on God in gratitude and joy for what He has done and what He is.
Psalm 81:3-5 Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand.
Now the ‘when’ of doing these things of shouting to God in singing and so forth is answered here, in these feast days at the new moon, it says, and at the full moon are our solemn feast days. Today it is the new moon and Trumpets is the only feast day observed on the new moon. With the shout of a shofar, which is the word here, “blow the trumpet,” that is actually “blow the shofar.” This is talking about using the ram's horn. It obviously is pointing to the Day of Trumpets, blowing the trumpet on the new moon.
Now the trumpet, the shofar, was also blown on the regular new moons—the other twelve or thirteen months of the year. But those are not feast days. The only feast day among those is the seventh month, the Day of Trumpets. The feast day of the full moon at the time of trumpets, we are obviously directed here to the seventh month. So the only feast day that is available at the full moon at this time of the year is Tabernacles. Tabernacles is kept on the full moon. It is the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles is when we see the full moon. So it is talking about at least two holy days. It is talking about Trumpets, and about the Feast of Tabernacles. So the most logical meaning of this is that our focus should be on the whole period of the fall feasts—from Trumpets to Tabernacles. This covers, you might say, the whole period of the fall feasts.
Knowing what you know now about the books of the Psalms, Books 3 and 4, you would think that because Book 4 has to do with the fall festivals, the time of the fall season of the year, that this psalm would probably be better in that section of the Psalms. But it is not, it is in Book 3, which is for the summer, which we have not passed out of yet, but Trumpets has already begun. We would think then, that this psalm should be in Book 4 rather than Book 3, which has to do with summer things, and summer themes.
But I have an idea of why it appears here in Book 3 rather than Book 4 and that is God is not commenting on what is going to happen. He is commenting upon the Israelites spiritual state. And the spiritual state of the Israelites fits with the themes of Book 3: sin, apostasy, backsliding, neglecting God, destruction. Therefore, the theme of the psalm fits in Book 3 even though the effects will be taken care of in Book 4 with the fall festivals in the fall season, with the Day of Trumpets and its meaning and fulfillment.
It pictures the ultimate good that will come in the Feast of Tabernacles and its meaning and fulfillment that Israel will finally turn around on the Last Great Day. We should not forget that with Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones. So the effects of their destruction will take place in Book 4. But God is concentrating right now on their attitudes and their disobedience and their rebellion, which are Book 3 themes. That is why it is here.
God goes to great lengths in verses 4 and 5 to remind us that He established these feasts in three ways. Notice this. He says that He made a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob, and He established in Joseph as a testimony. What is He referring to? What did He establish? What did He make a statue? What did He make a law? What did He make a testimony? It is referring back to the fact that these are the feasts of God. He established these feast days in Israel as three things: as a statute, a law, and a testimony. They do not mean the same thing. It is important for us to understand here that God is teaching us something about the feasts and why He gave them to us.
The first one: He established it as a statute for Israel. Statute: the Hebrew term behind it means an irrevocable or permanent act of law. In other words, He made them to be forever. They cannot be wiped out. These feasts He made for them to keep always and forever, every year, every feast day, without fail.
The second is a law. This is the Hebrew term, mishpat. If you know anything about mishpat, you would wonder why they translated it as law. It would be better translated as ordinance, or the best term that they could have picked was a ruling or a judgment. In this case He established them as a ruling or a judgment. You get the picture of God sitting on His throne as judge and decreeing, “You need these feasts and I’m going to give them to you as a way for you to learn.” Not as a punishment, that is not what He meant. It was not a judicial ruling in that sense. You see that God went through a decision process where He decided that these are good and so He established it as a law. It came first as a judgment that they were necessary. He made a ruling that Israel should keep these laws. Then He put it into the books as an irrevocable law.
The third one is, I think, maybe the most interesting, He says here, “Established in Joseph as a testimony.” You could also use the word ‘witness’ for testimony. The idea under this word in Hebrew is that this particular kind of law demonstrates or proves something to us. He established it as a testimony. This time, God is not necessarily the judge, He is giving evidence. He is now a witness, and He is saying, “These feasts will act like a witness because you need to learn something from them. They are going to prove something to you as you keep them year after year after year and they will be a witness for you. If you don’t keep them, they will be a witness against you.”
Because the holy days prove year after year that God is right on target with His plan and He is working with His people. If we are onboard with those things that are taught within the holy days, then we will be in line with God. If we do not, it will be a witness that we are falling away, or we are apostatizing.
To sum up, if we were going to just simplify what I have just said here over the last few minutes, the way we can understand this very simply is the feasts are to be permanent. They are good for us. God has decreed that they are good for us. He has judged that they are good for us and they teach us something vital as a witness to us. These three things are important to remember: the feasts are permanent, they are good for us, and they teach us something vital as a witness.
I want you to notice here that this is the foundation of His later comments about Israel and how they have gone astray. You almost get the sense that if Israel had kept the feasts properly, they would have had a really good chance if they had what the psalm started with was the right attitude—sing, shout, be exuberant, be joyful, praise God's name, thank Him for the things that He has given us. Then the second thing, blow the trumpet, keep the feasts because they teach you something. God said that they are good for you. You are supposed to keep them all the time so you can keep repeating these lessons and learn them. If you had done that, things might have gone really well, but it did not. We know that from history.
Verse 5b, when "He went throughout the land of Egypt" is a head scratcher. Who does he refer to now? In the New King James, you notice the capitalized ‘He’ because they chose God to be the one. It is referring to God went throughout the land of Egypt, and that is a possibility. But there is good reason to believe that it should refer to Joseph. Joseph is the closest noun of a person to the pronoun “he,” so it would be the closest antecedent.
We have traditionally, in the church, taken it to refer to Joseph. Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt, saying that it refers to the time when Joseph was made prime minister under Pharaoh. We find that in Genesis 41:40-44, and he was then given authority over all of Egypt. Here there is a proposition which the New King James has translated as “throughout.” That is not a good translation. It probably should be ‘over,’ “when he went over the land of Egypt.” That gives you a better sense of being raised over the nation. The verb here “went” is rather ambiguous. It really means just ‘goes,’ and just like our word 'goes,' which means a whole lot of different things, as does the Hebrew verb.
There is another thing in verse 5c. “Where I heard a language that I did not understand.” Why does the pronoun change to “I”? It had been in the third person up until that point, and suddenly the pronoun changes from third to first person—"where I heard a language I did not understand.” This makes you wonder who “I” is. Why is suddenly somebody jumping in there and saying, “I heard a language and I couldn’t understand it.” Well, there could be several answers to that. But if we just go with the decision that “he” in the previous phrase means Joseph, then “I” becomes clearer. Many times in the Psalms in the poetic things when “I” is mentioned, it refers to Israel. It refers to human beings under God. Unless it is clear that God Himself is speaking or a specific someone else, then “I” refers to Israel.
If you go back to the last few chapters of Genesis, into the story of Joseph and his brothers, what was one of the big problems that the brothers had? They could not understand the Egyptian language. What were the brothers? They were the patriarchs of the tribes of Israel, they represented Israel. When they went down to Joseph to get grain from him, they could not understand the language of the Egyptians, even though their brother was the one who was selling it to them. And he played the game. He spoke Egyptian to them and had an interpreter there so that they were not aware of who he was.
It is most likely here that “I” refers to the sons of Jacob, Joseph brothers, not being able to understand the Egyptian language. Why is this suddenly important? We have Joseph and his brothers down in Egypt, and they could not understand the language. Remember, God is constructing this song and He is going back as far as He can with the children of Israel in captivity, and it started there. What He is saying in this last part of verse five is that He had already begun redeeming them. What He is doing is starting to list some of the things that He had done to bring them out of Egypt, and it started with sending them to Egypt.
Remember what happened there in the Joseph story, that they came down to Egypt to be saved. It is remarked on several times at the end of Genesis that Joseph had saved his brothers and his father and all of Israel because God had set him up as the prime minister, the one who doled out the wheat. So, God was already working to redeem Israel. Even then, in the time of Joseph, the redemption story of that people had already begun. He is making a witness here of His long-term redemptive acts that He had begun. It goes back as far as Joseph to bring the people of Israel out of bondage. Let us go on to verses 6 and 7.
Psalm 81:6 “I removed his shoulder from the burden; . . .
Remember, He has just talked about Joseph whom He freed from slavery. He had it done. He had removed him from prison. So in a sense, He had removed him from slavery as well.
Psalm 81:6 “I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the baskets.”
Obviously, what we are doing is getting a transition to the children of Israel and their slavery in Egypt, making bricks for the monuments, cities, and such. They are in Goshen.
Psalm 81:7 “You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” Selah
We see this imagery moving away from Joseph to the children of Israel, both of which were freed from bondage. God quickly covers hundreds of years of His work with Israel here to redeem them. In the back of His mind, the thought is redemption. He freed them; He made them free men under Him.
Verse 7 shows two types of redemption. First there is the physical redemption where He took them out from under their Egyptian taskmasters. After they left Egypt, they were freed from physical bondage. Then it says, “I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” This has delivered them to Sinai, and His answer to them was what? The Ten Commandments. He freed them from an enslaving, sinful way of life by giving them His law.
The second type of redemption was spiritual. First he brought them physically out of the land of Egypt. Secondly, he brought them out of their sinful ways of life or the possibility of bringing them out of their sinful way of life. If they had kept it, it would have been just fine.
Then he mentions Meribah, the waters of strife or contention, and it says He tested them. You can go back to Exodus 17 and read the story; it says that they tested Him. God had a totally opposite view of the whole thing. We can understand that when Moses wrote it, he was writing it from the standpoint of them testing God. God looked at it from another—or different—viewpoint. The truth is that God led them over the Red Sea and then down to a place where there was no water. God led them through the pillar of fire and the pillar of the cloud. He was the one leading Moses, and so He purposefully led them to a place that was dry, that they could not dip water out of the river or something.
There was no river. He was testing them before they tested Him. He was trying to see how they would react. They reacted badly, they always reacted badly. They complained that they wanted to return to Egypt. They were about to string Moses up or stone him with stones. Moses had to appeal to Him. “What are you going to do, God?” At that point, what the children of Israel were doing, they were challenging God to provide for them. They tried to force Him to do a miracle. God does not like being forced. You are getting the equation backwards. Who commands whom here?
He did not like that. They were already rebelling and trying to take over His job and tell Him what to do. He ends with that. Look at this: I freed you, I redeemed you, I gave you My law, I took you to Meribah and you failed. First thing! You tried to turn the tables on Me. You tried to be God and make Me the servant. He says, “Think about this, we didn't get off to a very good start, did we?” Not good.
This provides the transition to the next section. Let us read the next three verses.
Psalm 81:8-10 “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
God's instruction here is an admonishment. It is a rebuke, a warning. He said, “If you will listen to Me.” It is a rebuke, a caution, a warning that does not have any effect if the other person, the one who is being rebuked, says, “I can’t hear You, or I will not hear You.” That is exactly what they did. He said, “I will admonish you if you will listen to Me.” They would not listen, they never did, and it is clear from the way He writes this that He doubts that they will.
What does He have to do? He has to go back to the very basics of God's instruction to Israel, the first commandment. “There shall be no foreign God among you, nor shall you worship any foreign God.” The second commandment, “I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 20:2.) He strikes their problem right at its heart.
The problem from the very beginning was idolatry. They always put something else before God and it was usually their own bellies, as happened in Meribah. He is the one that had given them everything, their freedom, all their blessings, you name it. He was willing to continue with all those things. “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” They rejected Him time and time again because they were not receptive to Him. They turned a blind eye and turned a deaf ear, they would not listen. Now we have verses 11 and 12.
Psalm 81:11-12 “But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.”
Psalm 81:11-12 maybe one of the saddest verses in the entire Bible (or set of verses), out of the mouth of God. This is the heart of the matter. Israel never truly listened to God. In fact, the Hebrew in the second clause “and Israel would have none of Me,” actually says, “Israel did not want Me.” That is, you could also say it means Israel would not accept Me. The verb actually has the sense of “consenting to,” so they would not consent to have Me. The effect of the phrasing is more like our colloquial, “Israel would have nothing to do with Me.”
It was a total rejection from the beginning. They sounded good. They said lots of words saying that they were going to be good. They ratified the covenant with God and such. Immediately they were in this, that, and the other place being idolatrous, breaking the commandments, and rejecting God. It just amazes me how much pain there is in these two verses. God saw their carnality; there was nothing He could really do to change them. He tried. He tried. He tried every way He could to get them to change and they would not listen. They did not want it.
What do you do with a stubborn, rebellious child who has totally rejected you? Where your wish, desires, commands, whatever, makes no difference to him. What do you do? At this point, having tried everything, God said, He gave them over to their own devices, to their own stubborn heart, to their own lust, whatever they wanted to do. He did not care anymore. Well, He did care, but He gave them over to it. He just said, “Alright, I’ve had it! You guys do what you want and see what you reap from all of these things.”
See what the consequences are of going away from Him, from rejecting Him, from not accepting Him. They did. They reaped what they had sown, Galatians 6:7. He would not intervene. He just let it happen. As a matter of fact, He called the king of Assyria and said, “Come, destroy them,” and then to the king of Babylon, the same thing. Let us look at Ezekiel 20. Ezekiel is always good for some good hair curling rhetoric.
Ezekiel 20:18-26 “But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’ “Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; but they profaned My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew My hand and acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols. Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; and I pronounced them unclean because of their ritual gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire, that I might make them desolate and that they might know that I am the LORD.” ’
This is pretty much a perfect parallel to this particular psalm. God had given them so much and they had rejected Him, profaned the Sabbath, where we started with here with verses 1-5. He gave them up. He gave them over as it says in Ezekiel 20, to laws that are not good. He let them decide how they were going to live, what laws they would have, and let them reap the consequences. As Ezekiel said, this happened in the wilderness and it was repeated many times in the land.
The implication of Psalm 81, when you go back there, is that the time was very near when it would happen in a singularly disastrous way, the destruction and captivity of both Israel and Judah, because there is a note of finality in Psalm 81. We understand the types to both Israel and modern times. It appears it is getting to that point now, across the nations of Israel, that they have gotten to the point where they are beginning to reap what they have sown, as well as to apostasy in the church.
In Romans 9-11 Paul explains that God has not cast Israel aside. Well, actually that He has cast Israel aside so that He could work with the elect according to grace, but that He will in the end save all Israel, as He saved the church. He will make them go through the process. He has broken off their branches from the tree, but they will be grafted back into the church. But even today, so far at this point, they are kept at arm's length. Let us go back to Psalm 81 and finish here. This is where God's lament gets into full swing.
Psalm 81:13 “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!”
Actually, the Hebrew verbs here are, “Oh that My people would have listened to Me, that Israel would have walked in My ways.” It is the same way throughout.
Psalm 81:14-16 “I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.”
God speaks of what might have been if the people had only listened and obeyed. He would have fought their battles for them gladly. He would have made them a mighty nation on the earth. Their enemies, those haters of the Lord there, would have been so cowed by their might and by their God that they would have pretended submission just to avoid disaster and death. “Their fate,” the word is actually “time.” What it means is that their time of subjection would have lasted forever. He is saying they would have always been under Israel. That is what He had planned. He would make Israel the premier nation on the earth and these other nations would come in under it, but they had brushed all of that aside.
God would have blessed them with all the good things of life if they had only listened. They did not. That is where the psalm ends—with the “might-have-beens.” The obvious conclusion is that God’s good intentions toward Israel are now off the table, at least for the time being. They had made their beds, and now they had to sleep in them. A reckoning was coming, in fact, it was now inevitable. They were going to have to face the wrath of God. And the ending there is quite sobering. It leaves the reader with a kind of lump in his throat with an expectation of doom.
So, this is a witness, this is a lesson, and this is one of the testimonies of the Feast of Trumpets, as sobering as it may be. God wants us to ask ourselves on this day, “Am I following the disastrous pattern of Israel and forsaking God and rejecting his Lordship, or am I praising Him with all my heart and with gratitude?” as He says at the beginning of the psalm.
The time of God's wrath maybe just ahead. We cannot know for sure how soon it is, but one thing we do know is that we do not want to be on the receiving end of His righteous wrath. And so, what do we do? Let us end in Romans 15.
Romans 15:4-6 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.