Discovering Psalm 81
The theme of this Psalm is of celebration and repentance, gathering God’s people together to listen and obey Him.
In the first five verses there is a call to joyful worship and in verses six to sixteen there is a call to Godly obedience.
Asaph wrote 12 psalms, 81 included, which had many meanings. (The Asaphites were one of the guilds of musicians in the First Temple and they encouraged ‘loud singing’. The First Temple was built in 1000BC by King Solomon.)
Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying ‘the niceties of modern singing frighten congregations from lusty hymns. Gentility lisps the tune in well-bred whispers or just the choir is like a mockery of worship.’
‘Shout aloud to the God of Jacob’ means continue to sing with awe and reverence or contrition but NEVER exclude the joyful shout to the God of Jacob.
The instruments included in this worship were the timbrel (tambourine) harp and lute, so, therefore there was a need for skilled musicians. People may have danced while singing. A German commentator said that the summons in verse one was for everyone to join in, verse two for the Levites and verse three, the priests who blew the trumpets, or ram’s horns at the time. The ram’s horn would also be played during the new moon and at full moon. Verse 3 ‘sound the ram’s horn’. This was the statute of the God of Jacob. We need to remember that there were many different tribes with their own gods at this time. The purpose of the trumpet was to call God’s people together for the solemn feast day at the New Moon.
Verse 5, the Egyptian language was not understood by the Israelites. According to Michael Wilcock, God had never before heard his people crying out to be rescued, and they had never before heard him speak as a rescuer ( Redeemer, the biblical term ) the words of redemption, brought judgement to Egypt and great deliverance to Israel.
In verse six ‘I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket’. The Israelites in Egypt were forced to carry bricks and clay in baskets. God, with His Mighty Hand, removed the burden of slavery in Egypt from the Israelites. They were in hard bondage, until the Lord delivered them from Egypt.
‘Thundercloud’ probably refers to God being there on Mount Sinai. God heard the cry of the family of Jacob and He delivered them. As we know this wasn’t the only time, for another example the parting of the Red Sea. The waters of Meribah (meaning strife or argument) refer to places where Israel tempted God (see Psalm 95 v8 for example). There are times in our lives when we do not have enough faith to overcome the problem, therefore we must pass by Meribah again until we do have enough to overcome. Putting our faith in other ‘idols’ such as shopping sprees, celebrities and our own abilities only shows that we do not have God at the centre of our lives and as Jesus said ….’children keep yourselves from idols, and by the power of His spirit we can cast out every false god from our hearts’.
God goes on to remind the Israelites of the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, providing food and literally saving them. All this shows how much He loved them and wanted to give them the very best as He does now for us, but sadly they turned away from Him and chose to ‘do their own thing’.
Verses 13/14 show us how God felt when the Israelites ignored the help and life He was offering. This is paralleled by Jesus on the cross, but they turned their backs on Him despite the fact that they would be saved from their enemies.
‘Those who hate the Lord would cringe before Him’ When we, with resolution, continue to walk with Him in awe and wonder and firm in obedience we shall be firm in happiness. As Charles Spurgeon says ‘righteousness establishes, sin ruins.
Finally, those who follow God will be blessed with amazing nutrition including luxury food. Even the rocks would supply them with honey as bees would store their honey in them, proving that the most sterile part of the land would become fruitful.
Charles Spurgeon ‘Pastor and author’ in the 19th century and Michael Wilcock ‘a respected author and Bible teacher’ now based in Eastbourne.
By Penelope Sharman
Penelope is a member of St Margaret’s Church. Married to Rod and between them they have three sons, a daughter and four grandchildren. She also runs a small charity called Education West Africa based in Sierra Leone.