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Bible Commentaries

Clarke's Commentary

Psalms 81

Verse 1

An exhortation to the people to praise God for his

benefits, 1-7;

and to attend to what he had prescribed, 8-10;

their disobedience lamented, 11;

the miseries brought on themselves by their transgressions,


The title is the same as to Psalms 8:1, which see. There are various opinions concerning the occasion and time of this Psalm: but it is pretty generally agreed that it was either written for or used at the celebration of the Feast of Trumpets, (see on Leviticus 23:24,) which was held on the first day of the month Tisri, which was the beginning of the Jewish year; and on that day it is still used in the Jewish worship. According to Jewish tradition, credited by many learned Christians, the world was created in Tisri, which answers to our September. The Psalm may have been used in celebrating the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of Tisri, the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth of the same month, the creation of the world, the Feasts of the New Moons, and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt; to all which circumstances it appears to refer.

Verse Psalms 81:1. Sing aloud unto God our strength — There is much meaning here: as God is our strength, let that strength be devoted to his service; therefore, sing aloud! This is principally addressed to the priests and Levites.

Verse 2

Verse Psalms 81:2. Take a psalmזמרה zimrah. I rather think that this was the name of a musical instrument.

Bring hither the timbrelתף toph; some kind of drum or tom tom.

The pleasant harpכנור kinnor. Probably a sistrum, or something like it. A STRINGED instrument.

With the psaltery.נבל nebel, the nabla. The cithara, Septuagint.

Verse 3

Verse Psalms 81:3. Blow up the trumpetשופר shophar, a species of horn. Certainly a wind instrument, as the two last were stringed instruments. Perhaps some chanted a psalm in recitativo, while all these instruments were used as accompaniments. In a representative system of religion, such as the Jewish, there must have been much outside work, all emblematical of better things: no proof that such things should be continued under the Gospel dispensation, where outsides have disappeared, shadows flown away, and the substance alone is presented to the hearts of mankind. He must be ill off for proofs in favour of instrumental music in the Church of Christ, who has recourse to practices under the Jewish ritual.

The feast of the new moon was always proclaimed by sound of trumpet. Of the ceremonies on this occasion I have given a full account in my Discourse on the Eucharist. For want of astronomical knowledge, the poor Jews were put to sad shifts to know the real time of the new moon. They generally sent persons to the top of some hill or mountain about the time which, according to their supputations, the new moon should appear. The first who saw it was to give immediate notice to the Sanhedrin; they closely examined the reporter as to his credibility, and whether his information agreed with their calculations. If all was found satisfactory, the president proclaimed the new moon by shouting out מקדש mikkodesh! "It is consecrated." This word was repeated twice aloud by the people; and was then proclaimed every where by blowing of horns, or what is called the sound of trumpets. Among the Hindoos some feasts are announced by the sound of the conch or sacred shell.

Verse 4

Verse Psalms 81:4. This was a statute for Israel — See the statute, Numbers 10:10, and Leviticus 23:24.

Verse 5

Verse Psalms 81:5. I heard a language I understood not. — This passage is difficult. Who heard? And what was heard? All the Versions, except the Chaldee, read the pronoun in the third person, instead of the first. "He heard a language that he understood not." And to the Versions Kennicott reforms the text, שפת לא ידעה ישמע sephath lo yadah yisma; "a language which he did not understand he heard." But what was that language? Some say the Egyptian; others, who take Joseph to signify the children of Israel in general, say it was the declaration of God by Moses, that Jehovah was the true God, that he would deliver their shoulder from their burdens, and their hands from the pots - the moulds and furnaces in which they formed and baked their brick.

Verse 7

Verse Psalms 81:7. Thou calledst in trouble — They had cried by reason of their burdens, and the cruelty of their task-masters; and God heard that cry, and delivered them. See Exodus 3:7, c.

In the secret place of thunder — On Mount Sinai where God was heard, but not seen. They heard a voice, but they saw no shape.

At the waters of Meribah. — See this transaction, Exodus 17:1, &c.

Verse 8

Verse Psalms 81:8. Hear, O my people — These are nearly the same words with those spoken at the giving of the law, Exodus 20:2.

Verse 10

Verse Psalms 81:10. Open thy mouth wide — Let thy desires be ever so extensive, I will gratify them if thou wilt be faithful to me. Thou shalt lack no manner of thing that is good.

Verse 11

Verse Psalms 81:11. Israel would none of me.לא אבה לי lo abah li, They willed me not, they would not have me for their God.

Verse 12

Verse Psalms 81:12. Unto their own hearts' lust — To the obstinate wickedness of their heart.

In their own counsels. — God withdrew his restraining grace, which they had abused; and then they fulfilled the inventions of their wicked hearts.

Verse 13

Verse Psalms 81:13. O that my people had hearkened unto me, - Israel had walked in my ways — Nothing can be more plaintive than the original; sense and sound are surprisingly united. I scruple not to say to him who understands the Hebrew, however learned, he has never found in any poet, Greek or Latin, a finer example of deep-seated grief, unable to express itself in appropriate words without frequent interruptions of sighs and sobs, terminated with a mournful cry.

לו עמי שמע לי

ישראי בדרכי יהלכו

Lo ammi shomea li

Yishrael bidrachi yehallechu!

He who can give the proper guttural pronunciation to the letter ע ain; and gives the ו vau, and the י yod, their full Asiatic sound, not pinching them to death by a compressed and worthless European enunciation; will at once be convinced of the propriety of this remark.

Verse 14

Verse Psalms 81:14. I should soon have subdued — If God's promise appeared to fail in behalf of his people, it was because they rejected his counsel, and walked in their own. While they were faithful, they prospered; and not one jot or tittle of God's word failed to them.

Verse 15

Verse Psalms 81:15. Their time should have endured for ever. — That is, Their prosperity should have known no end.

Verse 16

Verse Psalms 81:16. With the finest of the wheatמחלב חטה mecheleb chittah; literally, with the fat of wheat, as in the margin.

Honey out of the rockAnd he fed thaim of the grese of whete: And of the hony stane he thaim filled. Old Psalter. Thus paraphrased: "He fed thaim with the body of Criste and gastely understandyng; and of hony that ran of the stane, that is, of the wisedome that is swete to the hert." Several of the fathers understand this place of Christ.

The contents of this Psalm are the following: -

I. The psalmist exhorts them to celebrate God's name in their festivals, Psalms 81:1-4.

II. The reasons why they should do this: God's benefits conferred on Israel, Psalms 81:5-10.

III. Israel's ingratitude, and its consequences, Psalms 81:11-12.

IV. God's love and call to amendment, with the reasons for obedience, Psalms 81:13-16.

I. He exhorts them to rejoice: but this must be, 1. In God, Psalms 81:1. 2. At his festivals, Psalms 81:2-3.

II. The reasons. 1. It was God's command, Psalms 81:4. 2. It was an ancient ordinance, Psalms 81:5. 3. Their deliverance from base servitude, Psalms 81:6. 4. When in deep affliction, Psalms 81:7. 5. In a miraculous manner, Psalms 81:7. 6. His mercy shown at the waters of Meribah, Psalms 81:7. 7. His giving them his law, Psalms 81:8-9.

He then inculcates obedience, for which he gives three reasons: 1. "I am the Lord thy God," Psalms 81:10. 2. Who redeemed thee from bondage, Psalms 81:10. 3. He will make thee truly happy: "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," Psalms 81:10.

III. Israel's ingratitude, and its consequences. 1. God gave them up; left them to themselves, Psalms 81:12. 2. They walked in their own counsels, Psalms 81:12. And came to ruin.

IV. God's love and call, c.

He calls them to repentance, Psalms 81:13. The fruits of which would be three great benefits. 1. The subjugation of their enemies, Psalms 81:14. 2. A long uninterrupted prosperity. 3. An abundance of all temporal and spiritual blessings, Psalms 81:15-16.

Under the emblems of the finest wheat, and the purest honey from the hives of bees in the rocks, where they abounded in Judea, he shows them that his followers should have so much of earthly and spiritual blessings, that they should be satisfied and say, It is enough. But, alas! Israel would not be obedient and, therefore, Israel is under the curse.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 81". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.