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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 81

Verses 1-16

This psalm was composed for the festival of tabernacles, when the people celebrated the deliverance from Egypt. It was a statute in Israel on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tisri, or the new month, for the full band of music to be heard in all places. Numbers 10:10; Numbers 29:1. It might be sung after the storm in the preseding psalm had subsided.

Psalms 81:5 . A testimony. Joseph is named here as leading the Hebrews into Egypt, where they heard a language which they could not understand, without much difficulty; and on this account divine favours were the more valuable.

Psalms 81:7 . The secret place of thunder. סתר sotar, to hide, protect, defend. God’s tabernacle was regarded from the beginning as a hidingplace and sanctuary from the terrors of the law, and the evils of life. The power by which a highly-electrified cloud discharges its fire through another cloud is very inscrutable; but the thunder on mount Sinai, here called the place of thunder, was miraculous.

Psalms 81:15 . But their time; the time of my people, as in Psalms 81:13. The grammatical construction is faulty here; the haters of the Lord is the antecedent to the pronoun, as the text now stands.


The festivals of the Jews generally opened with the sound of trumpets, and with songs celebrating the wonderful works of the Lord. Hence we should learn to enter religious assemblies with hearts fraught with grateful recollections of the Lord’s mercies. Our health, our civil and religious privileges, and the consideration that all these are granted to sinners, should especially kindle the most grateful fervours of the heart.

The subject of this psalm is a brief memorial of what the Lord had done for his people; but hints are enough to pious souls, a grateful heart will supply the rest. The subject is a hundred times resumed in the old testament, because it was meet that every Israelite should ever have it before his eyes. Oh then, what shall the christian render to the Lord. He heard his people Israel and saved them, but better things are done for us; for while we were yet sinners, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. The Israelites, the more to excite their gratitude, are farther reminded that the Lord did all this for an ungrateful and disobedient people. They were scarcely saved from the Egyptian host by the greatest of wonders, before they strove with God at Meribah. They sinned at the first temptation; and when he proved their fidelity in regard to worship, saying that no strange god should be in Israel; when he allured them to obedience by promising to fill their mouth with food, and their soul with gladness; and when he awed them by threatenings, they would not hearken to his voice, but basely gave way to the superstition and carnal charms of pagan worship. Hence all their calamities were the predicted fruits of their own choice. Oh then, how should the Saviour’s love warm and affect our hearts. We have erred like Israel, and yet we inherit all those favours. Surely we should sing, and make a joyful noise unto God.

The psalm closes with lamenting Israel’s inconstancy. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me. So Moses had lamented over them; and so our blessed Lord wept over Jerusalem. Our misery is the effect of our own folly, and perverse choice.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 81". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.