Please note: This brief study is an excerpt from a larger work I am about to publish on this blog entitled, “When Does the Biblical Month Begin? Refuting 14 Pro-Conjunction Arguments in Favor of the Visible Crescent.” Stay tuned. — Natan
A Study on Psalm 81 — Is the Word Keseh Proof That the Month Is Conjunction-Based?
A source of great controversy has been the meaning of the Hebrew word keseh as used in Psalm 81:3. The conjunctionists use this word as definitive proof that the new moon starts at the conjunctions. Complicating the issue is the fact that this word occurs only two times in the Tanakh, making its meaning all the more difficult to quantify. Let’s now look at the issues surrounding the meaning of this word.
New Moon Conjunctionist Assertion: In Psalm 81:3 (also Prov 76:10; Job 26:7–9), the phrase full moon is the Hebrew word keseh meaning “concealed, dark, hidden or covered.” This points to a full or dark new moon. The overwhelming use of keseh in the Tanakh (Old Testament) fits the definition above. Job 26:9 to backs up this claim, when you link it back to keseh in Psalm 81:3.
Refutation A: There are several problems with this argument. The word keseh/vxf in Job 26:9 is not the same keseh found in Psalm 81:3. These are two Hebrew words that sound similar and are transliterated the same. In Psalm 81:3, keseh/vxf (Strong’s H3677) ends in the Hebrew letter heh, while the Job 26:9 kiseh/txf (Strong’s H3678) ends with the letter aleph and has a completely different meaning. This keseh means “seat (of honour), throne, seat, stool, throne; royal dignity, authority, power.” This different Hebrew word has nothing to do with concealing or covering. Some lexicons say that both words have the Hebrew word kasah as their root, but as we shall see below, scholars aren’t certain whether keseh derives from kasah or from a similarly sounding Aramaic loan word that doesn’t mean “concealed or covered” at all, but means “fullness or full moon” and hence the alternate reading in Psalm 81:3. Strong’s and TWOT both state that keseh/vxf in Psalm 81:3 can also be spelled keseh/txf, although it is vowel pointed differently and thus pronounced differently than the keseh/txf meaning “throne.” Both TWOT and Strongs list these words separately in their indexes, but the confusion comes when they list the alternate spelling of keseh (with the ending aleph/t under the heading of the keseh that could mean “concealed.”All this confusion between scholars as to the origination of similarly sounding words between two ancient languages makes it difficult to determine the true meaning of a word. For certain, when such uncertainty exists between the experts, laymen must be careful not to base theological arguments on such unclear and ambiguous words and passages. We must seek to find the truth in Scriptures that are clear and unambiguous. Many false teachings have arisen based on misinterpreting unclear passages of Scriptures and then turning these misunderstandings into cult-like pet doctrines.
Furthermore, conjunctionists will claim that the disputed root word keseh comes from the Hebrew word kasah (meaning “concealed or covered), and attempts to prove that keseh in Psalm 81:3 means “covered or concealed” by referencing a number of places in the Tanakh where kasah is used and means “covered or concealed.” The problem is that the dishonest conjunctionist will make no mention of the fact that scholars dispute the meaning of keseh. The argument that such a conjunctionist makes to support keseh meaning “concealed or covered” is not on solid ground logically, hermeneutically or lexically. Therefore, we can’t use this argument from Psalm 81:3 as a proof of that the new moon begins at the conjunction.
Refutation B: Psalms 81:3, Blow the trumpet [Heb. shofar] at the time of the New Moon [Heb. chodesh], at the full moon [Heb. keseh/vxf meaning “full moon or concealed, covered” — scholars disagree as to its meaning and the origin of the word], on our solemn feast day [Heb. chag] — NKJV. The ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach translates this verse alternatively as follows,
Blow the shofar at the moon’s renewal, at the time appointed for our festive day.
The origins of the Hebrew word keseh behind the phrase “full moon” is uncertain, and there is debate among the experts on this subject. Some Hebrew lexicons relate it to a Hebrew root word kasah meaning “to conceal, to cover” (e.g., Gesenius; Strong’s number H3677 cp. H3678), while other scholars tell us that it means “fullness; full moon” (e.g., Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon; cp. TWOT; Strongs). BDB tells us that the origin of keseh is unknown and that it may be an Aramaic loan word meaning “full moon.” Gesenius in his lexicon states that the etymology of keseh isn’t clear, but he favors the idea of the moon being covered or concealed in darkness as opposed to being covered in light (i.e., in its full moon state).
The only other usage of keseh in the Scriptures is found in Prov 7:20, which gives us no clue as to the exact meaning of the word.
Orthodox Jewish scholars tell us that keseh means “to conceal or to cover.” They say that the only biblical festival that occurs at the time of the new moon (biblically, when the first sliver of the new moon becomes visible) is Yom Teruah (or Rosh HaShanah), which occurs on the first day of the seventh month (in late summer). At this time, the moon is nearly completely covered or concealed except for a small, visible sliver.
The next phrase in this verse speaks of a solemn feast day, which is the Hebrew word chag. This word refers to the three pilgrimage festivals, which are Passover/the Feast (chag) of Unleavened, the Feast (chag) of Weeks or Pentecost and the Feast (chag) of Tabernacles (Exod 23:14–16; Deut 16:16).
Jewish scholars relate the word chag to Yom Teruah (which they say refers to Rosh HaShanah, see The ArtScroll Tanach Series Tehillim/Psalms Commentary on this verse). The problem with this interpretation is that the Scriptures never call the day of the new moon (rosh chodesh) a chag, nor is Yom Teruah technically a chag either in the strictest sense. Therefore, the word keseh, if it means “concealment” must be referring to both the new moon day (the first day of each month, and to Yom Teruah, which occurs on the first day of the seventh month), while the chag must be referring to the three pilgrimage festivals.
Those scholars who take the word keseh to mean “full moon” say that the phrase in this verse containing this word refers to the pilgrimage festivals (Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks, and Feast of Tabernacles), which all occurred on or very near the time of the full moon.
The bottom line is this: In light of all the uncertainty and controversy among linguists and Hebrew scholars as to the meaning and derivation of the word kesesh, this, on the surface, appears to be a weak scripture on which to base such an important concept as to how to calculate the biblical calendar. It would be wiser to use other clear scriptures to base our understanding of when the new moon begins. (For a detailed discussion of these scriptures, read my articles on the subject of the biblical calendar at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/teaching.html#feast.)
The Blowing of the Shofar in Psalm 81 — Proof That the Month Starts at the Conjunction?
New Moon Conjunctionist Assertion: One conjunctionist proponent presents a novel perspective on Psalm 81:3–4 by saying that the Torah-law commands us to blow the shofar on the keseh. If keseh means full moon, then where in the Torah does it command us to blow the shofar on the full moon (during one of the chag feasts), he reasons? Nowhere. Therefore, he assumes, if keseh means “to cover and conceal” and is a reference to the conjunction, then this makes sense, since this would be a reference to Yom Teruah, which is also a new moon day (Lev 23:24), when the Torah commands Israel to blow the shofar. The conjunctionist continues, if the author of this Psalm 81 is telling us that the law says to blow the shofar on the full moon when the law says no such thing, then the psalmist is guilty of lying and adding to the word of Elohim. This is not possible, since the word of Elohim cannot lie. The conjunctionist rightly states that one can’t rely on Numbers 10:10 as proof that one is to sound the shofar on the feasts, since this passage refers to the silver trumpets and not to the ram’s horn shofar mentioned in Psalm 81:3. Furthermore, he continues, in Psalm 81:3, “on our solemn feast day” should read “toward [or leading to] the feast day.” This is because the Hebrew word l’yom or “on the feast day” should be translated as “toward/leading to the feast day” because the lamed prefix can mean “toward.” Technically, since Yom Teurah isn’t a chag or a feast, this verse should say that our new moon day (i.e., Yom Teruah) points toward or leads to the upcoming Feast of Tabernacles. Therefore, Psalm 81:3 should read something more like this: “Blow the shofar at the time of the concealed moon toward / leading to your solemn feast day [chag]” referring to Sukkot. Therefore, he concludes, this is another proof that the month begins on the conjunction and not on the visible crescent.
Refutation: This is one of the more novel and creative arguments we have heard against using the visible new moon crescent as the beginning point for the month. On the surface, it seems rather convincing. The command in Psalm 81:3 to blow the shofar on new moon day as an act pointing toward the feast of Sukkot has merit. According to TWOT, the Hebrew prefix lamed/k may indicate direction or physical movement (e.g., that I may go to/toward my country). BDB tells us that when used in conjunction with certain types of verbs, k can mean “toward, in reference to” or express it the idea of “direction towards.”
However, this is not the only way to look at this verse. Let’s view Psalm 81:3 from the perspective of the broader context of this passage. Verses one and two of Psalm 81 open up with the author instructing us to sing aloud, make joyful shouts and to play musical instruments in praise of Elohim. In other words, we are to rejoice before him. In verse three, the psalmist gives us some examples of when Elohim’s people are to rejoice. They are to do so at the new moon and when the moon is full or at the appointed time at the three chag feasts, which are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles. Verse four then states that “this is a statute for Israel, a law of the Elohim of Israel.” So what is a law for Israel? Blowing a shofar on the feasts? No, since the Torah never commands us to blow the shofar on the feasts as the conjunctionist teacher referenced above correctly notes. However, the Torah does specifically command Israel to rejoice at the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:40; Deut 16:11, 14, 15). This is what Psalm 81:1–4 is telling us to do in its fuller context. Blowing the shofar on the new moon and on the feasts that occur at the full moon is one aspect of rejoicing. Psalm 81 is therefore commanding us to rejoice on the feasts as the Torah instructs us to do of which blowing the shofar is given as an example of how to rejoice. This passage, however, is not saying that sounding the shofar is something the Torah commands us to do at the feasts. If it were saying this, it would be inaccurate, since the Torah never commands us to blow the shofar at any of the chag feasts — only at Yom Teruah, which, technically, isn’t a chag feast.
As we’ve just noted, to prove his point, this conjunctionist teacher makes the assertion that the word keseh in Psalm 81:3 cannot mean “full moon” (from the Aramaic), but must mean “concealed moon” (from the Hebrew) because nowhere does the Torah command us to blow the shofar at the time of the full moon (when the three pilgrimage feasts occur) as verse four seems to indicates. The teacher then goes on to correctly state that Yom Teruah is the only appointed time or moed on which the Torah commands the shofar to be blown (Lev 23:24). There is no biblical Torah command to blow the shofar on any of three pilgrimage feasts (Unleavened Bread, Weeks or Tabernacles). This is, therefore, proof positive in the conjunctionist’s mind that the command to blow the shofar in Psalm 81:3 is referring to blowing it on the new moon day of Yom Teruah (which falls on the new moon day of the seventh month) towards or pointing to the upcoming Feast/Chag of Tabernacles. The problem with this argument is that this teacher shoots himself in the foot with his own argument. To insist that the Torah command of verse four refers back to blowing the shofar on a chag would also be saying that the Torah commands us to blow the shofar on the new moon, which it in no place does. Therefore as already noted above, the Torah-law that the psalmist must be referring back to is not to the blowing the shofar in verse three, but to the Torah-law commanding us to rejoice before YHVH as stated in verses one and two (see Lev 23:40; Deut 16:11, 14, 15).
As a validation to the idea that keseh (Strong’s H3677) derives from the Hebrew root word kahsah, (Strong’s H3680), in Jewish thought, the new moon is still considered covered even when the first glimmer of the sun’s light begins to shine on it after its conjunction (The ArtScroll Tanach Series, Psalms, commentary on Ps 81:3/4, p. 1027). Keseh (Strong’s H3677) can also relate to the Hebrew word for throne (Heb. kisay, Strong’s H3678). On the new moon day of Yom Teruah, prophetically this is when Yeshua returns to the earth in the last days to take his rightful position as King of kings over the earth. This is certainly cause for celebrating and sounding the shofar — a practice the ancient Israelites did when a new king was crowned!