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Psalms and the Autumnal Festival (2)

September 20, 2008
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Below are some of the highlights of chapter 2 of John Eaton’s Festal Drama in Deutero-Isaiah:

1. The occasion of the festival

The timing and duration of the autumnal festival…in royal Jerusalem are not known precisely. The tradition we are studying can be said to arise from the complex of observances that were the anticedents of the post-exilic new year’s day (1 Tishri), Day of Atonement (10 Tishri) and week of Booths or Tabernacles (15-22 Tishri).

If Yahweh was favourable, he came in the festival and ‘crowned the year of (his) goodness’ (Ps. 65.12), that is, he inaugurated a new year which would bring rich provision for life.

3. Thoughts of the festival on the pilgrims’ journey

Ps. 84 gives further insights: the pilgrims come to the festival in Yahweh’s courts as men perishing of thirst approaching a spring; dry regions which they traverse and so touch with the grace of the festival will soon be saturated with the winter rains; important in the festival are the ‘highways’, the route of Yahweh’s procession to his Temple; important above all is God’s self-revelation in Zion, in some way giving visible signs of his presence; prayer rises especially for Yahweh’s anointed king, so that he can mediate the care of the God who is now worshipped as true king, Sun and Shield of his people; in the few days of the festival, worshippers whose conduct and trust are pleasing to Yahweh are wonderfully replenished by his favour, glory, and good provision.

5. Cleansing and forgiveness

Since the festival meant close encounter with God, the need for purisfication, atonement, and forgiveness was readily acknowledged….The connection of such expiation with the festival is evident in Ps. 65: those who would join the throngs of ‘all humanity’ to attend the great praises of God in Zion and fulfill their vows, can trust that he will grant atonement of their sins and enable them to abide in his sanctuary-presence and be filled with its holiness and life-force, and witness the mighty acts whereby he exerts mastery over the elements and prepares a year of growth….Ps. 51, which also associates purging and re-creation with ritual (v. 9), may well be the king’s prayer during the annual atonement….Among the festal ‘songs of the steps’ we have a prayer of Israel’s leader from the deepest humiliation, which ends with confidence that God will redeem his people from, all their sins (Ps. 130).

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