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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Bible Commentary

Psalms 81

Verses 1-16

Let's turn to Psalms 81:1-16 .

On the first day of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar, which, because their calendar begins, the religious calendar begins the first of April, it usually coincides somewhere around the first of October on our calendar. There is a blowing of the trumpets. It's called the Feast of the Trumpets to announce the most holy month of the year, the seventh month. And so the first day of the seventh month the Feast of Trumpets, the blowing of the trumpets to inaugurate this holy month followed then by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is then followed by the Feast of Succoth or Tabernacles. And so this Feast of the Trumpets, the holy day, the sounding of the trumpets for the holy month, gathering the people in a holy convocation before God. Psalms 81:1-16 is the psalm that was read for the Feast of Trumpets. And so the beginning of the psalm is sort of a proclamation for this day that has arrived.

Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, and the pleasant harp with the psaltery. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, and in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day. For this was the statute for Israel, and a law of God for Jacob. This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through the land of Egypt: where I heard a language that I understood not. I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots. So thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee; I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah ( Psalms 81:1-7 ).

And so the first section of the psalm is concluded with this: Selah. They just stop and think about that. So it is a call to the holy convocation, of singing unto the Lord with the psalm, the timbrel, the harp. The blowing of the trumpets, for God has established this as a statute in the law of Moses for the people.

God declares in verse Psalms 81:7 , "You called in trouble, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder. I proved thee at the waters of Meribah." Or, "I was testing thee at the waters of Meribah." So God recounts for them some of their wilderness experiences. How that there in the wilderness they cried unto the Lord because of their thirst. And how that God answered them and proved them, tested them there at the waters of Meribah, which means "waters of strife," because the people did strive with God and with Moses.

Now God Himself cries unto the people and He declares,

Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou will hearken unto me ( Psalms 81:8 );

So God is now calling for His people to listen to what He has to say. First of all,

There shall be no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange God ( Psalms 81:9 ).

God has declared in the law, the first commandment, that, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" ( Exodus 20:3 ). Now we usually think that that sets out a priority; God first, and then all of my little gods afterwards. But, "no other gods before Me," that is, in My presence, not having any other gods around Me. In other words, our heart is to be totally towards Him and our worship given completely to Him. There shall be no strange god.

It is sad and tragic that the people did not hearken to God, and that their history was one of continual idolatry. From the time that they came into the land, they began to turn and to worship the gods of the Canaanites: Baal, Molech, Mammon, Ashtareth, and all of the gods and goddesses of the land. And they began to follow the practices of the people that dwelt in the land before them that God had driven out. And so the commandment of God, "There shall be no strange god in thee; neither shalt thou worship." And yet, they would not hearken.

I am Jehovah thy God, which brought thee out of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it ( Psalms 81:10 ).

God is declaring now the things that He desires to do for His people. And of course, He is addressing Himself to, "O my people." So He's declaring those things that He desires to do for His people. I am certain that we limit that which God would do in our lives so many times.

We are told in Jude, "Keep yourselves in the love of God" ( Jude 1:21 ). Now, by that is meant keep yourself in the place where God can demonstrate His love that He has for you. If you say, "Well, I've got to keep myself in the love of God," thinking, "I've got to keep myself real sweet and kind and generous and nice so that God can't help but love me," you've got the wrong concept of God's love. God loves you good or bad. God's love for you is uncaused by you. God's love for you is because of His nature of love. In reality, I cannot do anything to make God love me more. In the same token, I cannot do anything that would make God love me less. God loves me.

But it is possible for me to remove myself outside of that love of God. To put myself in the position where God really can't demonstrate that love that He has for me. And that's what Jude is telling us. And God is saying here the things that He desired to do for the people. "Just open your mouth wide; I'll fill it. I'll fill your life; just open yourself completely to Me. And I will fill your life."

But [He said] my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would have nothing to do with me ( Psalms 81:11 ).

Those that God had chosen as His people just had nothing to do with God. They were worshipping these other little gods.

So [He said] I gave them up to their own hearts' lust ( Psalms 81:12 ):

In Romans, the first chapter, we read also, "Wherefore God also gave them up" ( Romans 1:24 ). And it's always a tragic thing when God says of a man, "I've given up. Wherefore, I gave him up." God said to Jeremiah, He said, "Look, don't pray any more for their good, because if you do, I'm not going to listen to you." God said, "Ephraim is joined to her idols. Let her alone. They joined themselves to idolatry. Just forget it." For God says, "I've given them up. I'm no longer going to deal with them." And, of course, we are told that God's Spirit will not always strive with a man. And when God gives a man up, it's always a very tragic thing. God gave them up to their own hearts' lust.

You think that you want it so bad. You think that that's going to be the answer of your life and you do everything you can to achieve or to attain. And sometimes God just gives you up to go ahead and says, "All right, if you want to eat it, eat it, you know. But it's going to make you sick." And He gives you up to your own heart's lust. But that can be one of the most tragic things that ever happened, for you to get your own heart's desire. Because many times we desire things that aren't really beneficial for us. God knows that they're not good for us. And when God gives us up to our own heart's desires, many times we find that the most bitter experience of our lives.

they walked [He said] in their own counsels ( Psalms 81:12 ).

They wouldn't have anything to do Me. They wouldn't follow Me.

Oh [God said] that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! ( Psalms 81:13 )

Now God is lamenting over the people that would not walk in His ways. Oh, if they would only have listened.

I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries ( Psalms 81:14 ).

If they'd only have listened to Me.

The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: and their time would have endured for ever ( Psalms 81:15 ).

They would have remained in the land. They wouldn't have gone into captivity. I would have subdued their enemies.

And I would have fed them with the finest of wheat: with honey out of the rock I would have satisfied them ( Psalms 81:16 ).

But they would not hearken to God, and that's the cry of God. Because they would not hearken to Him, instead of knowing God's best, instead of experiencing the fullness of the demonstration of God's love, because they would not hearken unto God, they went into captivity. And then they were destroyed by their enemies.

When we get over to Israel this year, for the hearty ones I am planning to take a hike from Gihon Springs on up to the Dung Gate, because a lot of new archaeological excavations have been going on this past year. And some of the most exciting archaeological discoveries around the city of Jerusalem have been made on this hillside, as they have uncovered areas that date back to David's time. Areas that date back, actually, to the Canaanite period when the Jebusites had the city. But the interesting thing, as they have gone back in the various times of the history of Israel, they have uncovered many houses that were torn down by Nebuchadnezzar's army when he besieged Israel at the rebellion of Zedekiah. And in the debris of the houses of the people, they have found multitudes of little gods that the people had carved out.

Astarte, the goddess of fertility with her exaggerated breasts, and all of these little idols that they've uncovered. In all, it seems, in all of the houses they were just full of these little idols. The very thing that the scripture cried out against, the very thing that God was crying out against here. "Don't serve strange gods. Hearken unto Me. Oh, if they would only have hearkened unto Me, then I would have kept them in the land. I would have preserved them. I would have subdued their enemies. But they would not have anything to do with Me." And so God was weeping because the people were going to go into captivity. God was weeping because of all of the hardship that they were bringing upon themselves because they would not walk in the ways of the Lord.

And I'm certain that as God looks at us and He sees us as we so often follow our own self-willed path. And God can see where that path is leading. That God just weeps as we refuse to listen, as we stubbornly say, "But I want this," and I'm pursuing the desire of my own heart. The tragic thing when God gives me over to my own lust, my own heart's lust. And He just has to stand there and weep as I go into captivity, as I am bringing all of the sorrow and hurt upon myself because I won't hearken to Him, because I won't listen to Him, because I don't want anything to do with His law.

And so God's lament. It's a very beautiful psalm as we see God really just His heart broken over the failure of the people, over the worshipping of these little gods. And how, actually, even in this last year, God has allowed evidence to be uncovered that just so vitally proves this psalm and makes the whole thing so real, as they have uncovered the houses that were destroyed by the Babylonians and found all of these strange gods. And we understand how the people had turned from Him.

As David said, you know, they've taken and they've carved gods out of stone. Eyes they have but they cannot see. Ears they have but they cannot hear. And David talked about the things that people were doing even in his time and the folly of them. And so we hope to look at these ruins when we're over there this time. "

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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Psalms 81". "Smith's Bible Commentary". 2014.