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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 81

Verses 1-16


Superscription.—“To the chief Musician upon Gittith.” Gittith is explained in several ways. One interpretation is that it was a musical instrument invented in Gath, or common among the Gittites. Or it may have been the name of a tune to which the Psalm is to be sung, and which originated from Gath. Others have derived the word from נַּתּ = a wine press, and concluded that it denotes an instrument which was used by those accustomed to tread the wine-vat, and intended to accompany the songs of the vintage. Fuerst in his Lexicon says it is the “proper name of a musical body of Levites, who had their chief seat in the Levitical city גַּת דִמּוֹן.” “A Psalm of Asaph”. This Psalm appears to have been composed by Asaph, who was the contemporary of David.

Occasion.—The Psalm seems to have been composed for the celebration of the Passover. “It is well remarked by De Wette that as the Hebrews were required to make known to their children the design of the ordinance of the Passover (see Exodus 12:26-27), nothing would be more natural than that the sacred poets should take occasion from the return of that festival to enforce the truths pertaining to it in songs composed for the celebration. Such seems to have been the design of this Psalm,—reminding the people of the goodness of God in the past, and recalling them from their sins by a remembrance of His mercies, and by a view of what would be the consequences of fully obeying His law.”—Barnes.


(Psalms 81:1-7.)

In these verses we have an exhortation to worship God. By nature man is a worshipper. There is that within him which impels him to render homage to some thing, or being. If this tendency of our nature be misdirected, its exercise will be most baneful in its influence upon us. But if it be rightly directed, its exercise will influence us most blessedly. Religious worship is set before us here,—

I. In its Object. “God”—the Supremely Good. The object is—

1. A Person. Not an abstraction of the intellect, or a mental concept, a mere idea. Nor yet an impersonal influence or force. Nor yet the absolute substantia underlying all phenomena. But a Divine Person.

2. A Person related to us. The Psalmist does not represent God as enthroned in solitary and awful grandeur, having no interest in His creatures, and being inaccessible to them. He is “God our strength,” “the God of Jacob,” who regards the cry of His troubled people, and delivers them. He is deeply concerned in the welfare of His creatures and is ever actively engaged in promoting it.

3. A Person of supreme excellence. “GOD,” THE GOOD. He is essentially and infinitely perfect. He is worthy of the homage of the noblest spirits. There are in Him those properties which meet our deepest and holiest cravings. The intellect craves truth; and in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The conscience cries out for rectitude; and in His character and administration He presents to us the example of immutable and perfect righteousness, and by the salvation of Jesus Christ makes us partakers thereof. The heart longs for perfect goodness, for some one to love who meets its ideal of excellence, who abideth faithful, and abideth evermore; and the longing is met by God in Christ. In Him the heart finds rest. The spirit yearns for some supernal and unfading beauty and glory, which it may admire and adore; and God answers the yearning by revealing Himself to “the pure in heart.” Here is the one sublime Object of true worship. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him.” “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.”

II. In its character. Several characteristics of true religious praise are here indicated.

1. It is hearty. “Sing aloud, … make a joyful noise.” It is not mere loudness and noise that are desired, but a loud noise as the natural expression of a full heart. The Lord delights in the hearty worship of His people. The psalmody of merely professional choirs, however perfect artistically it may be, is obnoxious to Him who will be worshipped “in spirit and in truth.” If there must be deficiency in our psalmody, it is better far that it should be in the musical execution than in the spiritual feeling.

2. It is joyous. “Make a joyful noise.” There are seasons in life when we feel that

“Notes of sadness

Best befit our state forlorn.”

But, when we recall the benefits which we have received from God, and the great things which He has done for us, songs of gladness should be the true expression of our feelings. We should praise God not with funeral dirges, but with grateful anthems; not with plaintive cries, but with cheerful hearts and joyous songs.

3. It is variously expressed. “Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp, with the psaltery,” &c. The use of both vocal and instrumental music is here enjoined. It is an ignorant prejudice which would exclude all instrumental music from religious worship, a prejudice which is directly opposed to much of the teaching of the inspired Word concerning worship. When instrumental music is an aid to vocal, and when it stimulates or expresses religious emotions, it is not only lawful, but eminently desirable.

III. In its obligation. “This was a statute for Israel,” &c. Religious worship is here represented as a binding duty. On what ground does this obligation rest? Why does God require us to worship Him?

1. Because it is right. The obligation to praise God is based upon—

(1.) What He is in relation to us. He is our Creator, Sustainer, Sovereign.

(2.) What He is in Himself. He is a Being of infinite perfection. We are so constituted that we ought to reverence that which is holy, to love that which is kind and good, to admire that which is beautiful, to trust that which is truthful. God is infinitely truthful, beautiful, good, and holy, therefore we ought to trust, admire, love, and adore Him—we ought to worship Him. Or we may argue the obligation to worship God,—

2. Because it is needful. That necessity shapes itself to our mind in this way.

(1.) Man must worship. If he worship not the true God, he will exalt some creature into a god, or make an idol of wealth, pleasure, fame, &c.

(2.) That which man worships exercises the mightiest influence upon him. Worship is a transforming thing. We become like unto the object of our worship. Let a man make power his idol, and he will grow into a cruel tyrant. Let any one worship pleasure, and his sensuous and animal nature will be developed at the expense of his moral and religious nature. Let another make wealth his god, and he will shrivel into a wretched miser. Let a man worship any fellow-creature, and he will come to resemble him, and it is very probable that the resemblance will be most complete in eccentricities and imperfections.

(3.) The worship of God is the only one which is conducive to human well-being. Worshipping God our whole nature receives harmonious and happy development. Adoring Him in Christ we “are being transfigured into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.” Our highest blessedness is in the worship of Him “who is God over all, blessed for ever.” Therefore the Lord commands us to worship Him.

IV. In its incentives. “I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots,” &c. The Psalmist in Psalms 81:6-7 represents Jehovah as addressing them, and reminding them of His goodness in delivering them from Egypt, with its oppressions and distresses. He does this as an incentive to them to worship God. God’s goodness to us should awaken our gratitude to Him, and gratitude is one of the chief elements of worship. The remembrance of God’s former mercies should awaken us to praise Him in thankful songs; while the blessings that we are constantly receiving should lead us to live lives of grateful praise. A correct estimate of God’s goodness to us and its due impression upon our heart would prove an abiding incitement, and ever-increasing in power, to move us to worship Him.


1. See these characteristics of true worship. It must have God for its Object; it should be hearty, joyous, and reverent, and it may be variously expressed.

2. Remember that such worship is a duty which we owe to God. Reason, conscience, gratitude, aspiration, and the holy Word all urge the command, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God.”

3. Let us esteem it a privilege rather than a duty. If through Christ we are atoned unto God, and are walking with Him, then religious worship will be the heaven of our soul.

4. Let us cultivate worship as the very spirit of our life. Let gratitude, trust, adoration, be an abiding spiritual state with us. Let us seek to be of those

“With whom the melodies abide
Of th’ everlasting chime;

Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,

Plying their daily task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.”



(Psalms 81:8-16.)

We shall endeavour to expound this section of the Psalm from the 13th verse, as from a centre. In that verse the Psalmist, speaking as the month-piece of the Lord, expresses an intense wish that Israel had followed the Divine counsel and kept the Divine law. We regard it as an utterance of God’s solicitude for man’s well-being.

I. The solicitude of God for the well-being of man is very deep. “Oh, that My people had hearkened unto Me, and Israel had walked in My ways!” God in His great love here expresses His regret because of the sin and punishment of His people. He is not an unfeeling, cold, heartless Ruler. He is profoundly interested in those over whom He reigns. Their holiness and happiness are a great pleasure to Him. Their sin and suffering cause Him sorrow and pain. This is not the only passage in which He laments the disobedience and punishment of Israel. (See Isaiah 48:18; Hosea 11:8.) So also our Lord mourned, with intense feeling, over the guilty and doomed people of Jerusalem. (See Matthew 23:37.) With all the unfathomable love of His nature God mourns over our sins and sorrows. He is not willing that any of His creatures, created in His image, should perish. The depth of His solicitude for the good of man is manifested by the gift of His only-begotten Son for human salvation. “He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”

II. The solicitude of God for the well-being of man has respect to his various needs. The Divine arrangements concerning Israel were of such a nature that, if they had kept the commands of the Lord, their peace would have been secured, their wants abundantly and choicely supplied, and their prosperity continued. God would have—

1. Subdued their enemies. “I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto Him.” He would have fought their battles and vanquished their foes; for they were His foes also. If they had been obedient to the Lord, He would have conquered their enemies quickly. “Soon,” in a little time, He would have defeated them. They would not have been long harassed by them. He would have conquered their enemies completely. So utterly would He have broken their power, that even those whose hearts were still hostile to them and to Him, would come and acknowledge His supremacy, feeling themselves powerless to stand against Him. Let Christians learn a lesson from this. Our spiritual enemies are many, subtle, and powerful. We are not able to subdue them. But if we walk in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, He will speedily vanquish them for us. Our foes cannot harm us if we are in the way of His commandments. “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” If they had been obedient, God would have—

2. Supplied their wants. “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.… He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.” The provisions here indicated are most choice. “The fat of the wheat,” the very best food of the land. And even in the hard and barren rocks the bees should have stored the finest honey for them. The provisions here indicated are most abundant. They were to open the mouth wide, and God promises to fill it. He promises to “satisfy” them. How rich and abundant are the blessings which God has provided for us! Very appropriately has Christianity been compared to a great feast. Its blessings are various and choice—“Wine and milk;” pardon, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, the favour of God, the hope of heaven, &c. Its blessings are abundant and free. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” “Buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The riches of Christ are “unsearchable riches.” The treasures of His grace are inexhaustible, infinite.

3. Continued their power and prosperity. “Their time should have endured for ever.” Had they remained faithful to God, their possession of Canaan would have been undisturbed, their peace and prosperity would have been perpetuated. It was their unbelief and disobedience towards God that brought upon them all their sufferings and sorrows. Even so it has ever been, and in all cases. “Righteousness exalteth a nation.” Persistence in evil will overthrow the most ancient thrones, and ruin the most magnificent kingdoms. Sin is the deadly enemy of the peace, prosperity, and power of both individuals and nations. “The righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

III. The solicitude of God for the well-being of man recognises the great conditions of that well-being. Two great conditions of the well-being of man are mentioned here—

1. Receiving communications from God. “Oh, that My people had hearkened unto Me.” There can be no true growth, peace, or joy for man, except in communication with God. While priests and prophets spake to the Jews, and they gave heed to them, it was well with the nation. But when the “people would not hearken to” the voice of the Lord, dark clouds began to gather on the firmament, and speedily heavy storms fell upon them. The true well-being of man can never be secured except his mind and heart are in a condition to receive the light and truth of God.

2. Rendering obedience to God. “O that Israel had walked in My ways,” &c. Human blessedness is ever dependent upon obedience to Divine law. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good;” and it is only as man walks in the way of the commandments that he can be virtuous, useful, or blessed. The Jews had disregarded the divinely-prescribed way; and, as a result, their peace and prosperity had forsaken them. Even the unfathomable solicitude of God for our well-being cannot secure that well-being except we render to Him loyal obedience. (See Psalms 19:7-8; Psalms 19:11.) Wouldst thou know the secret of the true blessedness of being? Learn it in true-hearted obedience to God. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep His testimonies; that seek Him with the whole heart.”

IV. The solicitude of God for the well-being of man is exercised in harmony with man’s moral freedom. He commands, exhorts, entreats Israel to that obedience upon which their happiness depended. He endeavoured to allure them to righteousness and faithfulness by His promises. He sought to deter them from evil by His threatenings. By both goodness and severity He tried to save them from sin and ruin. When all means failed to bless and save them, He pathetically bewails their obstinacy in sin, and its consequences. But He never attempts to compel them to yield obedience to Him. He respects man’s moral freedom.

1. Notwithstanding the solicitude of God for their well-being, Israel would not obey Him. He had commanded them not to worship idols, but to worship Him alone. And as an incentive to obedience He reminded them of the wonderful display of His power when He brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and of their obligations to Him by reason of what He had done for them. But they would not obey Him. God saves men with the consent of their will, not against their will.

2. Notwithstanding the solicitude of God for their well-being, He left them to themselves. When Israel proved incorrigibly depraved, He “gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust; and they walked in their own counsels.” They would not be governed by Him, so He allowed them to attempt self-government. They would not listen to His voice, so He ceased to speak to them. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” “Ephraim is joined to his idols; let him alone.” “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.” “Quench not the Spirit.” No punishment is more severe than that of being given up by God, and none is more just. Man first abandons God, utterly turns his back upon Him, persistently disregards His voice, and sets at nought His will, and then God leaves him to take his own course. “My people would not hearken to My voice; and Israel would none of Me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust.” He will not coerce the will of man.


1. Let the solicitude of God for our salvation encourage us to trust in Him.

2. Let the solicitude of God for our salvation arouse the careless to solicitude for themselves. If God is so anxiously concerned for your well-being, it surely behoves you to consider your own state.

3. Let us beware lest, notwithstanding the solicitude of God for our salvation, we destroy ourselves by our self-will. Our moral freedom is a most glorious endowment. Let us not pervert it into a crushing curse.

“Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.”



(Psalms 81:10.)

Illustrations of this metaphor are often met with. Oriental rulers have been known to put jewels into the mouth of a favourite. God’s blessings are better than these. He pays well. There is another illustration. At an Eastern feast the master will take a piece of the fattest part of the meat, dip it in the liquid fat, and, by way of compliment, will put it in the mouth of a favoured guest. There is yet another illustration. Last year I discovered suddenly a nest of young birds. Unable to fly, the little creatures at once mistook the intruder for their mother, or their father, and opened their mouths, until each seemed to be all mouth. The text contains—

I. An exhortation. “Open thy mouth wide.” What does it mean?

1. Labour after a sense of need. The birds feel a lack by instinct. Prayer with Christ’s people should be an instinct also. We need all things, and in ourselves have nothing. Let us become conscious of weakness. We have not attained to a high degree of grace, if we think we have done so. A sense of spiritual wealth is a token of poverty. We must count ourselves nothing.

2. Open the mouth wide and increase the vehemence of desire, so that “no” cannot be taken for an answer. Prayers speed best which are vehement, not those which “besiege” the throne of the Almighty, and make one’s flesh creep by their irreverence. Still, if we would have great things, we must want them terribly, must “hunger and thirst after righteousness.”

3. The way of opening the mouthpray for capacity. In the bird’s nest where goes the biggest piece? Into the widest mouth. It is so with us; we have different capacities. We are not straitened in God, but in ourselves. A bushel cannot be put into a peck. May we become more capacious. Let us seek after greater things. God can do more than we ask. He that craves spiritual good will have it—God will be sure to give it. It is in His way to give great things. We should not ask trifles, nor be satisfied with being little Christians. Then we must attempt great things. William Huntingdon prayed for a pair of leather breeches, and he got them. William Carey prayed for India. The one was a little thing, soon done with; the other is still being answered.

II. A promise. “I will fill it.” It is a great God who says it. God has a way of filling our mouths so that they are never empty. What does He fill us with? With prayer, with arguments, a sense of want, of desire. He will give all kinds of spiritual blessing.

III. An encouragement. It is Jehovah who speaks. He says, “I am God.” With men ask little, and expect less; with God ask much, and expect more. We cannot with our need surpass His benevolence. In prayer we ask our own, because we are Christ’s. The Lord has brought us from Egypt. He cannot do for us again so much as He has already done. Life in the soul is the master blessing. What cannot God do who brought the plagues on the enemies of Israel? Who would not ask great things of such a God? He makes a path for His people. And we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.—C. H. Spurgeon, from a report in The Christian World.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 81". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.