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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Pre-exilic New Year Festival.


It is quite impossible to reconstruct the rites and liturgy of the worship in the pre-exilic temple. The Torah is largely limited to sacrificial practice and the broad outline of the main pilgrimage feasts, and the psalms neither reveal whether they formed part of the worship nor give sufficient details to enable that worship to be recovered. Nevertheless, the work of Mowinckel (1962 ), Johnson (1967; 1979 ) and Eaton (1976/1986 ) has produced an attractive picture of a cultic drama involving the king and celebrating the enthronement of YHWH, which may also have had an eschatological aspect within it, or alternatively have been essentially sacramental. The main difficulties with such reconstructions lie in the sparsity of corroborative evidence outside the psalms themselves, and the circular argument of reconstructing the cultic drama from the psalms and then fitting the psalms into that worship. On the other hand it has to be admitted that the hypothesis has succeeded in bringing the psalms to life in a vivid way, which few other proposals have managed to do. (For an excellent discussion of the issues see Day 1990: 67–108.) Here only the broadest outline of the rites and some of the evidence which has been drawn upon will be set out.

2. New Year Festival.

It is clear from Ex 23:16; 34:22; Deut 16:13; Lev 23:34–43; 1 Kings 8:2; 12:32 that the most important feast at the time of the monarchy was Ingathering. It took place at the ‘going out’ (Ex 23:16 ) or the ‘turn’ (Ex 34:22 ) of the year, and these terms, plus the later links with the horn-blowing of New Year (Lev 23:24–5; Num 29:1–6 ) suggest that part of the festival may have been the celebration of the New Year. The late passage in Zech 14:16–17 links the coming of the autumn rains and the kingship of YHWH, and may provide some support for the connection of the enthronement psalms with the festival.

3. YHWH as Lord of Nature.

The main celebration appears to have been the worship of YHWH as the Lord of nature, the one who secured the autumn rains and hence prosperity for the coming year. This is described in Ps 29; 93 ; and 95 in terms of his victory over the cosmic sea and his being proclaimed as king.

4. Procession with the Ark.

A prominent feature in the ceremonies seems to have been a procession in which the ark, symbol of YHWH's presence, was carried up the hill of Zion to the temple, and YHWH entered his temple as victor over his foes (Ps 24; 47 ).

5. Ritual Combat.

At some unknown point in the festival there was a ritual combat in which YHWH defeated his enemies, pictured both as the cosmic forces of chaos and the enemies of Israel (Ps 46:8–11; 48:8–9; 149:5–9 ).

6. YHWH as Lord of Morality.

YHWH was also worshipped as Lord of universal morality. This is presented in two ways: he saves his people only as they are loyal to his covenant, and at the festival they renew their vows (Ps 24:1–6; 95:7–11; 97 ).

7. Defeat of the Gods.

YHWH's victory over the kings of the nations has its counterpart in heaven. The gods of the nations have been guilty of rebellious misrule, but YHWH will sub-due them and himself take over the rule over the world (Ps 82 ), leading to universal peace (Ps 46:8–10; 98 ).

8. The King.

The Davidic king played a central part in this celebration. The historical books portray the king, God's anointed, as sacrosanct and the representative of the nation, the welfare of which depends upon his righteousness (1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 24:6; 26:9; 2 Sam 1:14; 21:1; 24; 1 Kings 18:18 ). The covenant between YHWH and the Davidic monarchy (2 Sam 23:5; Ps 89:28–37; 132:11–18 ) was described as ‘everlasting’, and the king is sometimes referred to as the (adopted) son of God (Ps 2:7; 89:26–7 ), revealing the lofty place the king held in Israelite thought.

9. Humiliation and Rescue.

Like the Babylonian king at the Akitu festival, it has been suggested that the Israelite king was almost defeated by his ‘enemies’ and ritually humiliated, before being saved by YHWH on account of his loyalty and faithfulness to the covenant (cf. Ps 89:38–51; 18; 118 ). After his vindication the king seems to have been proclaimed as the adopted son of YHWH and enthroned supreme over his enemies to rule them as God's vicegerent (Ps 2; 21; 110 ).

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