The Psalms, Tr. and Interpreted in the Light of Hebrew Life and Worship

By Elmer A. Leslie | Go to book overview

Chapter IV
HYMNS, SONGS, AND PRAYERS FOR THE HEBREW NEW YEAR

WE HAVE DISTINGUISHED SIX MAJOR THEMES OF THE HEBREW NEW YEAR CELEBRATION. These themes represent the thought content of the festival. They are closely related one to the other and often merge into one another. In some of the hymns, songs, and prayers of the New Year several of these themes appear. But almost always there is one theme of pre-eminent importance which is our guide to the psalm's particular classification. Not all the psalms whose distinctive worship setting is a phase of the New Year will be found here. This is because the literary type of a psalm, or the nature of its make-up, may be more distinctive for its classification than its seasonal setting in worship.

In this chapter I shall interpret the psalms that give primary expression to the six major themes of the Hebrew New Year. This represents one of the richest areas in Hebrew psalmody.


1. A PREPARATORY NIGHT HYMN

There were nocturnal festivals in Israel, and the Levitical singers were on duty in them. These singers are described as "set free" from other service, dwelling "in the chambers" of the Temple, "employed in their work day and night" ( I Chr. 9:33). Josephus informs us that the priests spent nights and days in the sanctuary observing certain sacred celebrations.1 From the Mishnah we learn that on the eve of each of the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles there was held in the Temple a nightly preparation which lasted until dawn.2


Ps. 134. A NIGHT HYMN OF PRIESTLY PREPARATION

This is a vigil liturgy, a night hymn of spiritual preparation for the Festival of Tabernacles. The priests addressed in Ps. 134 are evidently on duty, not for a single night, as would be the case on the eve of the Passover, but for several nights. At such a service this psalm has its setting. It was a vigil liturgy, a ceremony of preparation primarily for the officiating priests.

We are to picture the whole festal congregation assembled in the great inner court of the Temple. The mood is that of solemn joy. Boys from the priestly families light the great lamps standing in the court. Torches are also lit, so that the court is ablaze with light. The priestly choir stands to the right and left of the great altar. The high priest, as Josephus informs us, is present at the

____________________
1
Contra Apionem I. 22.
2
Sukkah II. 4, 9; cf. Ps. 46:5, "at the dawning of the morning."

-62-

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