Scripture reading – Psalm 81

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The title of Psalm 81 indicates that it was written by Asaph and given to “The Chief Musician upon Gittith” (perhaps an instrument or a musical notation). Psalm 81 was assigned to the observance of “our solemn feast day,” which would have been the Day of Atonement (Psalm 81:3).


A Call to Worship (Psalm 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. We read, “Sing aloud [i.e., with rejoicing] unto God [Elohim, mighty God] our strength [refuge; protector]: make a joyful noise [in harmony], unto the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).


Notice that the music and the words of the psalm were focused on praising God. The sound or tone of the music was to be harmonious to the ear and not the loud dissonance that characterizes “Christian Contemporary Music” (CCM) in our day.

The Instruments and Occasion of Psalm 81 (Psalm 81:2-3)


Among the instruments employed in worship were “the timbrel [perhaps the tambourine], The pleasant harp with the psaltery [a lute or string instrument], [and]…the trumpet [a shofar made from the horn of a ram, probably with a silver mouthpiece]” (81:2-3). The shofar signaled the beginning of the “solemn feast day,” which coincided with “the new moon” (Psalm 81:3; Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 10:10).


The Subject of Worship (Psalm 81:4-7)


The LORD commanded Israel to observe the feast days (Psalm 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, 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,” for the people would have been known as Joseph’s family). 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 described 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 (Psalm 81:7; Exodus 17:5-7).


Israel’s Covenant and Obligation to the LORD (Psalm 81:8-10)


Asaph reminded Israel that the LORD was a jealous God, and they were to worship no other gods (Psalm 81:9). He was the Savior and Deliverer of Israel, and they owed Him their allegiance (Psalm 81:10a). Like a mother bird provides warmth and food when her brood opens wide their mouths (Psalm 81:10b), the LORD wanted to fill His people so that they would lack for nothing (Psalm 81:10).


Israel Disobeyed God (Psalm 81:11-12)


Tragically, the people disobeyed the LORD’s laws and commandments. They refused to heed his warnings (Psalm 81:11). They rejected Him, so God gave them over, and they became enslaved to sin (Psalm 81:12).


The LORD’s Love and Longsuffering (Psalm 81:13-16)


Like a parent who feels the pain of a son or daughter’s rejection, Israel had rejected the LORD (Psalm 81:13), though He longed to bless and protect them from their enemies (Psalm 81:14). Those who hated the LORD would have prospered had they turned from their sins to Him (Psalm 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 (Psalm 81:16).

Closing thoughts:


The LORD wants His children to worship Him. Therefore, 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 that if we obey Him, we will never go wanting.

Believer, if you are away from the LORD, be comforted knowing He is longsuffering. He yearns for you to humble your heart and trust Him. He will give you His best (Psalm 81:16).

1) What can you take from Psalm 81 and incorporate into your heart and life?

2) What musical instruments were employed in singing and congregational worship? (Psalm 81:2-3)

3) What was the LORD’s response when Israel refused to heed His Word? (Psalm 81:11-12)

4) What would the LORD have done for Israel if the people had not refused to heed His Word? (Psalm 81:14-16)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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