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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 81

Verse 1

Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.

Psalms 81:1-16.-I. Invitation to keep joyfully the Passover feast (Psalms 81:1-3), for it is a testimony to the fact that God delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage (Psalms 81:4-7). II. God urges Israel therefore to serve Him alone; but Israel would not hearken: therefore He gave her up to have her own lusts (Psalms 81:8-12); now He promises, if she will walk in His walk in His ways, He will subdue her foes, and nourish her with good (Psalms 81:13-16). The Church speaks in Psalms 81:1-5; the Lord in Psalms 81:6-14; the Church again in Psalms 81:15-16. Psalms 81:8 here answers to Psalms 50:7, another of Asaph's psalms.

On the Title, Upon Gittith, cf. note, title, Psalms 8:1-9.

Sing aloud unto God our strength. He has in past times manifested His "strength" in delivering us out of adversity (Psalms 81:5-7; Psalms 81:10), and will now again do so, if we hearken to Him, "our refuge, and strength, a very present Help in trouble" (Psalms 81:14-16; Psalms 46:1).

Verse 2

Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.

Take a psalm - `raise the psalm.'

And bring hither the timbrel - literally, 'give' it. Or else, 'cause it to give forth its sound' (Maurer).

With the psaltery - or 'lyre;' Hebrew, naabel (H5035) (note, Psalms 33:2).

Verse 3

Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon - i:e., on the first of the month, in order to prepare for the celebration of the Passover on the 14th of the month Nisan (Maurer). But Hengstenberg better translates, 'Blow the horn in the month' - i:e., the first and chief month of the year; that in which the Passover occurred (Exodus 12:1-2, "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you;" Leviticus 23:5; Abib, Exodus 13:4; Deuteronomy 16:1). The Hebrew throughout the Pentateuch means the month, not the new moon [ chodesh (H2320)]. In the later Scriptures sometimes the month stands for the festival special to the month; otherwise it signifies month.

In the time appointed. The Hebrew [ keceh (H3677), from kaasaah (H3780), fat or full] is rather, 'at the full moon,' as it ought to be translated also in Proverbs 7:20. The contents of the psalm shows that it was composed exclusively for the Passover (Psalms 81:5-7; Psalms 81:10). The horn-the instrument here (not the trumpets named in Numbers 10:10, blown in the beginnings of months) - is only one among many instruments; while the sounder drums for the new moons was the characteristic ceremony. Music and singing formed an important part in the celebration of the Passover (2 Chronicles 30:21).

On our solemn feast day. The Passover was the most solemn feast of Israel, celebrating, as it did, the fundamental event in their history-their deliverance out of Egypt by God.

Verse 4

For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

For this was a statue for Israel and a law of the God of Jacob. "This" - i:e., the observance of the "solemn feast day." "A law" - literally, 'a judgment:' so 'a right appertaining to lª- the God of Jacob.' God, by having delivered Israel, has acquired a right to Israel's joyful obedience to the ordinance of the Passover. Israel should pay to God that which is His due, on the ground of the mercies received.

Verses 5-7

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.

-The deliverance described on which God's claim on Israel and Israel's duty are founded.

Verse 5. This he ordained in Joseph - Hebrew, Jehoseph, as Jehonadab is used for Jonadab. Poetry love full and sonorous forms. "Joseph" stands for Israel, because during the nation's stay in Egypt they owed their position in Goshen, and, indeed, their original preservation from death by famine, humanly speaking, to Joseph; so much so that when he was dead, and a new king, who knew him not, arose, Israel's state was changed utterly for the worse (Exodus 1:8), Compare Jacob's blessing on him, Genesis 49:26. For a testimony - i:e., as an ordinance testifying the fact of the deliverance.

When he went out through the land of Egypt - i:e., when the people of "Joseph," or Israel, went out over, or across [so the Hebrew, `al (H5921)], the land of Egypt. 'Went out of Egypt' is the regular phrase in the Pentateuch to express that deliverance which the Passover commemorated (Exodus 12:41; Exodus 12:51; Exodus 34:18; Numbers 22:5; Deuteronomy 9:7). The word 'over,' or 'across,' expresses the Israelite march being not a stealing away at one point of exit, but across the open country, in the sight of their panic-struck tyrants (Numbers 33:3, "The children of Israel went out, with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians;" Exodus 14:8). The reference to these passages of the Pentateuch, here and in Psalms 81:10, confirms this explanation rather than that of Maurer and margin-When He (God) went out against (as the Hebrew is translated, Ezekiel 5:8) the land of Egypt.' Compare Exodus 11:4. There is nowhere in the psalm a reference to the destruction of the Egyptian first born, but solely to Israel's deliverance out of Egypt.

Where I heard a language that I understood not. "I" - i:e., Israel, in whose person the Psalmist speaks (Psalms 114:1). To dwell among and serve a people alien to the Israelites in sentiments, and in the language which expresses the inward thoughts, was peculiarly galling, and rendered Israel's exodus out of Egypt an object of intense desire. Compare Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 33:19, in proof of the hardship that the strangeness of the language spoken by Israel's oppressors was felt to be.

Verse 6. I removed his shoulder from the burden. "I" is the Lord, in whose person the Psalmist now speaks, as he had before spoken in the person of Israel. These rapid transitions were not felt abrupt, so continually did the Psalmist and the godly among the people realize the presence of God. Compare with this verse Exodus 6:6-7.

His hands were delivered from the pots. So the Hebrew in 1 Samuel 2:14. But it is better to translate, the burden-baskets, used for carrying clay, bricks, etc. In the East, especially in ancient times, the great works were mainly done by labour of bands, not by machinery. Baskets have been found in the grave vaults at Thebes, so drawn and described by Rosellini (Exodus 5:6-12; 2 Chronicles 16:6).

Verse 7. Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee: I answered thee in the secret place of thunder -

i.e., 'in the thunder-cloud' (Psalms 77:17-18; Psalms 18:11-13; Habakkuk 3:4. "There (in the lightning-flash wherein the Lord envelope Himself) was the hiding of His power"). God, by manifestations of His lightning-like power, issuing from His secret place, answered His people's cry for help. All the plagues of Egypt were so many 'answers' So in Exodus 14:24. So again at Sinai (Exodus 19:18-19; Exodus 20:18). Compare Psalms 81:8; Psalms 81:10, which plainly refer to the Lord's voice out of the thunders and lightning (Exodus 20:2, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt").

I proved thee at the waters of Meribah. This sudden introduction of a reference to their sin prepares the way for the complaint of God against His people, which follows His appeal to them in the second part, and forms the link between the first and the second parts (Exodus 17:7). This first act of the people's rebellion and unbelief, whereby "they tempted the Lord, saying Is the Lord among us or not?" so soon after the glorious deliverance by God, once for all, "proved" (cf. Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4) them - i:e., tested them, by showing alike God's patience and their provocations.

Verse 8

Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me;

Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee - answering to Psalms 50:7. The fact that ye are "my people," called into being, redeemed, and sustained by me, is the strongest reason why ye should "hear."

O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me - thou shalt be blessed (Psalms 81:13-16). An ellipsis often occurs after "if" (cf. Exodus 32:32; Luke 19:42).

Verse 9

There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god.

There shall no strange god be in thee - i:e., 'let no strange god be in thee,' or among you. There is a reference in this verse and Psalms 81:10 to Exodus 20:2-3.

Verse 10

I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.

I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt - strongest motive for obeying the command in Psalms 81:9, to have no strange god; for none else except Yahweh was Israel's Deliverer (cf. Deuteronomy 32:12).

Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it - i:e., I will satisfy abundantly all thy desires, because I am rich for all thy needs (Psalms 81:14-16; Romans 10:12; Philippians 4:19). You have no necessity to apply to any strange god, because you have all things in ME (Genesis 15:1; Psalms 16:5).

Verses 11-12

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust. "Lust," or 'obstinacy.' The same Hebrew word [ bishriyruwt (H8307), from shuwr, to contemplate fixedly; but Gesenius takes it from shaarar (H8324), to twist, or make firm] occurs in Deuteronomy 29:19, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination (margin, stubbornness)) of mine heart" (Jeremiah 3:17; cf. Proverbs 1:30-31; Romans 1:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). The worst judgment that could fall on any man, is that he should given up to 'his own lust,' "Israel would none of me" - literally, did not acquiesce ( 'aabah (H14)) or consent to me. Israel reversed God's command, Deuteronomy 13:6-8, "Thou shalt not consent unto him" who would entice thee after a strange god; because she consented to the enticer, and 'would not consent unto God.'

And they walked in their own counsels - (Jeremiah 7:24; Isaiah 65:2.)

Verses 13-16

Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!

-God still yearns over them, in spite of their perversity and its penal consequence, waiting to be gracious.

Verse 13. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! - or rather, 'Oh that my people would hearken unto me, and Israel would walk in my ways as they do not!' [So luw (H3863) means; akin to the negative, lo' (H3808)] (Isaiah 48:18). "My ways" in contrast to "their own counsels," fatal to themselves (Psalms 81:12).

Verse 14. I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries - in punishment just as I "turned" it against Egypt in behalf of Israel (Psalms 81:6-7).

Verse 15. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him - Hebrew ( yªkachashuw (H3584)), 'should have yielded (or rather, should yield) obedience (though) feigned unto him' (Israel). The original passage referred to here is Deuteronomy 33:29, "Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee;" margin, shall be subdued unto thee, (Psalms 18:44, margin, and, 66:3, margin) "The haters of the Lord," God implies, 'are no friends of mine, though I allow them now to triumph over thee. It is because thou hast forsaken me I let them oppress thee. If thou wouldst return to me, thine enemies, who are also mine, would in spite of themselves, be forced to submit to thee.' In order to give prominence to the thought so calculated to win back Israel to God, that her enemies are God's enemies. He uses the full form - "the haters of the Lord." instead of 'my haters.'

But their time should have endured for ever - the time of the Israelites (2 Samuel 7:24).

Verse 16. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat - Hebrew, with the fat of wheat, from Deuteronomy 32:14, "the fat of kidneys of wheat;" i:e., the finest and best wheat.

And with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee - (from Deuteronomy 32:13). Not honey prepared by bees in crevices of the rocks, but a poetical figure (Job 29:6) for the sweetest dainties supplied by God's special interposition out of the most unlikely places; like the common figure, "a land flowing with milk and honey."

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 81". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.