Weds 23 March - Psalm 81
1 Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
2 Begin the music, strike the timbrel,
play the melodious harp and lyre.
3 Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival;
4 this is a decree for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5 When God went out against Egypt,
he established it as a statute for Joseph.
I heard an unknown voice say:
6 “I removed the burden from their shoulders;
their hands were set free from the basket.
7 In your distress you called and I rescued you,
I answered you out of a thundercloud;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.[c]
8 Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
9 You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
11 “But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
13 “If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
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Meditation on Psalm 81
There are a couple of interesting verses in this psalm so we will try and unpack them from the beginning. At the end of verse 5 we read, ‘I heard an unknown voice say…’
There are almost as many variations on meaning as there are commentaries!
The context takes us back to Egypt when the people of God were slaves there and they would have heard the Egyptian voices to which they were not accustomed. Does this phrase, therefore, refer to Israel hearing the Egyptians?
I found Michael Wilcock helpful when he comments, ‘the new voice is not that of Egypt; this is either Israel hearing God or God hearing Israel. For God had never before heard his people crying out to be rescued and they had never before heard him speak as a rescuer. If it is God hearing a cry of his people then this verse corresponds to verses 10 and 16, each completing one third of the psalm with words about God Himself.’
This makes sense in the context of the first part of verse 5, which says that ‘when God went out against Egypt…’
The three summaries of these verses could be God saying, “I hear…I fill… I satisfy.”
This psalm is a festival psalm, sung at a particular time – the ‘Festival of Tabernacles’. Deuteronomy 16:13-15 outlines the purpose of such a festival. The Festival of Tabernacles is a week of celebration for the harvest; for living in booths (temporary accommodation) during the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and for offering sacrifices. This is preceded by the Festival of Trumpets which was a festival of joy when mandatory and voluntary offerings were brought which included the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.
Note that these festivals were times of celebration. ‘Be joyful at your festival…celebrate the festival to the LORD your God.’
We, too, have our times of celebration – whether it’s in tune or not! We are encouraged to ‘make a joyful noise to the Lord’.
- LET THE MUSIC BEGIN Verses 1-5
We are encouraged to
- ’sing for joy’
- ‘shout aloud’
- ‘begin the music’
- ‘play the instruments’
The devil certainly does not have all the best music.
Billy Bray, a Cornish preacher from the end of the 18th century, was living a life of drunkenness, fighting, thieving, blasphemy, among other things but was converted at the age of 29. His enthusiasm and exuberance in worship often got him into trouble but after being accused, he said, ‘if they were to put me in a barrel, I would shout Glory out of the bunghole.’
We are to be focused in our worship.
- ‘we sing to God, our strength;
- ‘we shout aloud to the God of Jacob’ He is our God.
This is what God asks of us as He did of His people Israel. This is not a performance; this is worshipping the Lord our God who, in Christ, has rescued us from the slavery of sin.
- GOD HAS ACTED ON OUR BEHALF Verses 6-10
The psalmist takes us back to the time of the exodus from Egypt and reminds us that God rescued His people.
Being in Egypt was no easy place to be and God knew that. This is what He said to Moses, “I have seen the misery … I have heard them crying out … I am concerned about their suffering … I have come down to rescue them…” (Exodus 3:7-8)
And here the psalmist reminds us as to what God did then.
- “I removed the burden…”
- “I rescued them…”
And yet, not long after they had come out of Egypt, the people of God are complaining against Him because of lack of water. They were putting God to the test so He responds by putting them to the test when Moses struck the rock and water gushed out of the rock. This was God speaking to His people, longing for them to acknowledge that He alone is God. There should be no foreign gods among them. He alone is to be worshipped.
Because it was God and God alone who brought them out of Egypt; out of their slavery; out of their bondage.
And they had to learn that truth to experience the promise of God that He alone would satisfy their deepest longing. This was not just food and water but everything they needed to live and survive. This is a picture of God’s amazing grace and His daily provision for their needs.
How relevant to us today. There is no other God. There is no other rescue plan. There is no other redeemer. He alone can satisfy and He alone is the One of whom we testify and whom we worship.
- YOU ARE NOT LISTENING Verses 11-16
After all that God has said and done, we have to confess that there are many times when we are not listening; when we don’t submit to Him.
As we go back to the exodus journey, we see how God, saddened by His people in their responses and attitudes to Him, gives them over ‘to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices.’
God could have given up on them – He nearly did if you read Numbers 14:10-12.
He pleaded with them – “if only they would listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways…’
God’s promises to His people then, as now, depended on how they (we) respond to His invitation to listen and to submit to Him.
And what a glorious promise awaited them and awaits us if we listen and submit.
God will give us the ‘finest wheat’ and ‘honey from the rock.’ (Deuteronomy 32:13)
God, help me to listen to you. God help me to follow your ways.
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