Psalm 81 Oh, That My People Would Listen to Me To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph. (1)Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! (2)Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. (3)Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day. (4)For it is a statute for Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob. (5)He made it a decree in Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a language I had not known: (6)"I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. (7)In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah (8)Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! (9)There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. (10)I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. (11)"But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. (12)So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. (13)Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! (14)I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. (15)Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever. (16)But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." ESV
The NKJV titles Psalm 81: An Appeal for Israel’s Repentance. To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of Asaph.
There is some confusion on the time period and the meaning of this particular psalm. Some point out that because the song calls for some sort of temple ceremony together, it cannot be during the exile, nor directly after as the temple and Jerusalem were in ruins.
But the song was written for a celebration during a “new” and “full” moon. Therefore, Bible scholars agree that it must be one of the festivals that the people of Israel still celebrate today, many lean toward the Feast of Trumpets or the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and begins the 10 Days of Repentance. It is a day filled with shouting and singing and horns blowing. The Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths or Sukkot was celebrated at the end of the harvest. It was a joyous celebration for God’s provision for the current harvest but also in memory of His protection during their time in the wilderness. Because the Feast of Tabernacles is a reminder of God’s deliverance of His children from Egypt and is also a pilgrimage feast (all Jewish males were required to go to the temple in Jerusalem), scholars lean toward this being the cause of worship in Psalm 81.
The Chief Musician is the audience. Asaph is the singer. Gittith is the instrument. Some believe it came from the people of Gath during David’s time, but not much is known about this Hebrew word.
Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. Psalm 81:1-3 NKJV
Asaph called the whole congregation to sing and shout with joy to God. Throughout the Word of God, there is music. Music is the way we praise and the way we give our hearts to the Lord. A true heart in song abandons worry over what others think. A heart in song gives to God what He wants, which is devotion. Asaph calls for singing and for instruments, three in particular: the timbrel (tambourine), harp, and lute. The Levites were in charge of the music and would have been the ones to play these ancient instruments.
The priests would blow the trumpets at the appropriate time, calling the people to the time of worship. The sound of the trumpets rang in the new moon, possibly the new year or the end of the harvest. Whatever the exact time of year, the celebration reminds the people to be thankful and to give their praise back to God.
For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand. Psalm 81:4-5 NKJV
stat-ute: noun– a written law passed by a legislative body.
(archaic)– in biblical use- a law or decree made by a sovereign, or by God.Oxford Dictionary
This celebration is one of God’s laws, proof that He wants His children to join their voices and their hearts together regularly in worship and thanksgiving. Does He need to hear our voices? No, but we do. He knows the strength and love and joy that comes from being together worshiping Him. Does He love to hear our voices? Yes, like a loving Father, He desires for His children to laugh and sing. It brings Him joy.
Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I AM the LORD your God." Numbers 10:10 NKJV
God required this time of worship and celebration for His children. The Lord proclaimed this as His law that no matter what was going on at home or in life, that the people would travel to Jerusalem and sing and worship and hear His Word. Possibly some years this was a forced celebration, but God knows best. He wanted them to celebrate their heavenly Father, His grace, and might; remembering that He saved them from Egypt where they “heard a language they did not understand.”
Then God spoke:
"I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the baskets. 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 Psalm 81:6-7 NKJV
I removed his shoulder from the burden: In the first part of the psalm, a call went to God’s people to gather, suggested by their first gathering as people as slaves in Egypt. Now God speaks to His gathered people and begins with reminding them of the great deliverance that He gave them in setting them free from their slavery.David Guzik, pastor, http://www.enduringword.com
Sometimes the easiest way to get through today’s burdens is to remember how God delivered us from yesterdays. God saved His children in Egypt in mighty ways. He wanted them to remember this; He knew they needed to remember this. He knew how quickly they would forget and then lose faith. Here He reminds them.
“The place of thunder” is probably Mt. Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and where God came close to His children. Meribah is where God heard His children’s cry for water and provided.
"Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. "But my people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels. "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you." Psalm 81:8-16 NKJV
God’s voice continues with a call to “listen” and “hear My voice!” God is speaking to His children, always. How often are we listening?
God repeats Himself. When the Israelites were freed from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, He told them then. “Do not have any other gods before Me,” when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
And God spoke all these words, saying: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. "You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:1-2
He warned them then not to bring the pagan gods of the Egyptians with them. He was God and the only God that they needed. Now, during Asaph’s time and the time of the kings, God reminds them again. He is so patient. He gives us chance after chance after chance to hear Him and listen to His Words. He says if we would just open our mouths, He will fill them. I am all that you need, God says. Isn’t that the truth?
What enemies sinners are to themselves! It is sin that makes our troubles long, and our salvation slow.Matthew Henry, English minister, 1662-1714
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. Psalm 81:12 NIV So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas. Psalm 81:12 NLT So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart; that they might walk in their own counsels. Psalm 81:12 ASV
“So I let them go”! No sadder words were ever spoken of a people. This expression is the equivalent of what God did to the hardened Gentile nations of the pre-Christian era. “God gave them up… God gave them up… God gave them up…” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). All the terrible things that later happened to Israel were due to only one thing: “God let them go.”
There is a lesson in this for every man. God’s Spirit will not always strive with sinful men; when it becomes evident that men love evil, God will eventually withdraw His influence and allow them to wallow in it.James Burton Coffman, pastor, 1905-2006
The beginning of this section and the ending are beautiful… “Oh my people…I would have satisfied you.”
God is all we need. But He asks that we choose…
As God wanted these words sung at a yearly pilgrimage festival, they are an equally important reminder to us today. While the world tries desperately to distract us, the way is really very simple.
Listen…Hear…put God first. He will satisfy. He will subdue our enemies. He will provide.
Father in heaven, you are all that we need. You are the only thing that we have ever needed. Your promises and your faithfulness throughout time are a testament to your love and your provision for your children. May your face shine on us today and always. Strengthen us to be your lights in this dark world. Amen.