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Psalm 81: What God will do for His People

This is another Psalm of Asaph with no indication of the circumstances under which it

was written. It has been suggested that it was composed for one of the feast days of the

Hebrews, but there is no indication of this other than what we will see in the third verse.

In this psalm the people are encouraged to praise God, and they are reminded of how

God would have blessed them in olden times if they had only been obedient to Him.

Perhaps they are meant to grasp that God will do so for them if they obey Him now.

(1) To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of Asaph. Sing aloud to God

our strength; make a joyful noise to the God of Jacob. (2) Take a psalm,

and bring here the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. (3) Blow

the trumpet at the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast

day.

• The Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician and is composed by Asaph or

someone acting for him. Gittith means that this song was to be played on a harp

of Gath. Gath was one of the five main cities of the Philistines (together with

Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron) and is most famous as being the home of

Goliath. Although the Israelites had constant war with the Philistines, apparently

there were some things worth borrowing from their culture.

• The people are encouraged to praise the Lord with singing. The Bible knows little

of the idea of silent praise and "decorum in worship" as modern people would
Psalms Bible Study Psalm 81

view it. Worship in ancient times could be very noisy and participatory. We have

already seen how people were encouraged even to shout to God.

• Tambourines and stringed instruments were encouraged.

• Among the important feasts was the New Moon. The Hebrews had (and still

have) a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar as is used by Christians. The lunar

calendar used by the Jews relies on inserting "leap months" across a cycle of 19

years. New months and years were marked by a visual sighting of the new moon.

The religious year begins a little before the Passover and the civil year begins on

Rosh Hashanah. The Jews believe that the world was created on Rosh Hashanah

and that we are in the year 5770. Verse 3 may indeed be a reference to Rosh

Hashanah, as it is the only major feast that begins on the first day of the month.

(4) For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

• The blowing of trumpets was commanded by God in connection with the feast of

Rosh Hashanah, which in fact is more properly called the Feast of Trumpets. It

has been connected by many prophecy scholars to the Rapture. It has been noted

that the Spring Feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost)

were all literally fulfilled by Christ at His first coming, even to the point of being

fulfilled on their actual calendar dates; so it is thought by some that the Fall

Feasts (Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles) will be literally fulfilled on

their precise dates.

(5) This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through

the land of Egypt, where I heard a language that I understood not. (6) I

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removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were delivered from the

pots. (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.

• These verses describe God’s deliverance of His people and His testing of them

during the Exodus. Slavery was difficult, and God told Moses that He had surely

seen the affliction of His people and heard their cries. No longer would they carry

burdens for the Egyptians and make their crafts.

• God answered them with a powerful deliverance – issuing ten terrible plagues

against the Egyptians and fighting their armies with fire, lightning, and water.

• Ten was also a number of testing for His own people. The waters of Meribah were

a place where God tested them by withholding water to see what they would do.

God complains in Numbers 14 that He tested them ten times. The commentator

Gill says that the Jews count these ten times, as follows: twice at the sea, Exo,

14:11; twice concerning water, Ex. 15:23; twice about manna, Ex. 16:2; twice

about quails, Ex. 16:12; once by the calf, Ex. 32:1; and once in the wilderness of

Paran, Num. 14:1.

• The selah here is to allow us to reflect on how easily we go astray and murmur

and complain against God even as the Israelites did in the wilderness.

(8) Hear, O my people, and I will testify to you; O Israel, if you will hearken

to me; (9) There shall be no strange god in you; neither shall you thou

worship any strange god. (10) I am the LORD your God, who brought you

out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

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• Here begins another section of the Psalm in which God both testifies against His

people and promises them good things if they obey. It is sad to think of the

opportunities His people missed through disobedience. Yet this is a “happy

psalm” and so we should think that God is still holding out to them at the start of

a new year the potential to walk again in renewed blessing and favor.

• The first difficulty which often stood in their way was idolatry. So fickle were they

that the people made a golden calf to worship, imitating the religion of Egypt,

even while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law directly from God’s

hand! As we’ve discussed, idolatry remained a temptation to them up to the time

of the Babylonian Captivity, at which time they were completely broken of it.

• Verse 10 shows God reminding them that He brought them out of Egypt. This

means two things: first, they should remember and respect His power which He

displayed; second, He had removed them from the religious environment of

Egypt and had clearly shown Himself to be the only God. To backslide, therefore,

in one’s heart and serve the gods He had defeated would be ridiculous.

• His promise to them was of freedom and limitless bounty. All they would have to

do to enjoy prosperity would be to simply open their mouths and watch God fill

them. What a wonderful promise.

(11) But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would have

none of me. (12) So I gave them up to their own hearts' lust; and they

walked in their own counsels.

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• The people refused to listen to Him and in fact spurned Him like an unfaithful

spouse. The language is very strong and says they did not will Him or desire Him.

Essentially, they didn’t want Him around! It is difficult to imagine the depths to

which idolatry would flourish in the land of Israel, even to the extent of Solomon

building a house of idolatry opposite the temple; later on they practiced idolatry

in the temple, and allowed houses of male prostitution by the temple.

• The terrible judgment of verse 12 is God refusing to provide any check to man’s

lustful inclinations and refusing to stop them by His Spirit’s influence. We see

this in 2 Thessalonians also at the end of the age, where it says God will give

people up to strong delusion because they did not love the truth. One can hardly

think of a more frightening judgment – that God would surrender you to believe a

lie!

(13) Oh that my people had hearkened to me, and Israel had walked in my

ways! (14) I would soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand

against their adversaries. (15) The haters of the LORD would have

submitted themselves to him; but their time would have endured forever.

(16) He would have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with

honey out of the rock I would have satisfied you.

• The Psalm ends with God’s lament – a description of the power He would have

given their empire had that but walked in His ways. We see in this, however, a

promise of what blessings will come if we do indeed walk in them!