Scripture reading – Psalm 81
The title of Psalm 81 indicates that it was written by Asaph, and assigned to “The chief Musician upon Gittith,” which was perhaps an instrument or a musical notation. Psalm 81 assigns the observance of the psalm to “our solemn feast day,” most likely indicating either the Feast of the Passover or the Feast of the Trumpets (81:3).
A Call to Worship (81:1-3)
Asaph, one of three prominent musicians in his day (the others being Heman and Ethan, 1 Chronicles 6:33, 44) began Psalm 81 with a call to worship: “Sing aloud [i.e., with rejoicing] unto God [Elohim, mighty God] our strength: make a joyful noise [in harmony], unto the God of Jacob” (81:1). Notice that the music and the words of the psalm were focused on praising God, and the sound of the music was to be harmonious to the ear, and not the loud dissonance that too often characterizes music in our day.
Psalm 81:2-3 defined both the instruments, and the occasion of the psalm: “the timbrel [perhaps the tambourine], The pleasant harp with the psaltery [a lute or string instrument]. 3Blow up the trumpet [a shofar made from the horn of a ram, probably with a silver mouthpiece] in the new moon, In the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.” The shofar signaled the beginning of the feast, and it is indicated it was “in the new moon” (81:3; Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 10:10).
The Subject of Worship (81:4-7)
The LORD commanded Israel to observe the feast days (81:4), and Psalm 81:5 is a strong indication that Asaph had in mind the Feast of the Passover which was established in Egypt on the night the firstborn in Egypt was slain (Exodus 11:1-10; 12:29-36). God spared the firstborn of Israel because the Hebrews in obedience had placed the blood of sacrificial lambs on the posts of the door (Exodus 12:1-28, 37-51). Israel was a stranger in Egypt (represented in Psalm 81:5 as “ordained in Joseph,” and Israel would have been known as Joseph’s family), and there the LORD “heard a language that [He] understood not” (not that God did not understand the language, but it was not the tongue of His people which was Hebrew).
Psalm 81:6 describes the LORD delivering Israel from the burdens and toil of slavery (Exodus 1:11-14; 5:4-17); and when Israel called upon the LORD, He delivered the people out of trouble (Exodus 2:23; 3:9; 14:10). When they were thirsty in the wilderness, He gave them water to drink (81:7; Exodus 17:5-7).
Israel’s Covenant with the LORD (81:8-10)
Asaph reminded Israel that the LORD was a jealous God, and they were to have no other gods whom they worshipped (81:9). He had been the Savior and Deliverer of Israel, and they owed their allegiance to Him (81:10a). Like a mother bird provides warmth and food when her brood opens wide their mouths (81:10b), the LORD wanted to fill His people so that they would want for nothing (81:10).
Israel Disobeyed God (81:11-12)
Tragically, the people had disobeyed the LORD’s laws and commandments, and they would not heed his warnings (81:11). They had rejected Him, and God gave them over, and they became slaves to sin (81:12).
The LORD’S Love and Longsuffering (81:13-16)
Like a parent who feels the pain of a son or daughter’s rejection, Israel had rejected the LORD (81:13), though He longed to bless and protect them from their enemies (81:14). Those who hated, the LORD would have prospered had they turned from their sins to Him (81:15). The people would have wanted for nothing, for the LORD would have “fed them…with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock [He would] have satisfied” His people (81:16).
The LORD wants His children to worship Him, and our music and songs should reflect His holy character. He wants us to remember all the good He has done in the past. He promises, if we obey Him we will never go wanting. If you are away from the LORD, He is longsuffering, and yearns for you to humble your heart, trust Him, and He will give you His best (81:16).
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith