Psalm 81

Psalm 81
Israel Celebrating Their Restoration and Reminded Of Their Past
Psalm 81. This is another Psalm of Asaph, to be delivered to the chief musician. It is composed “upon Gittith” meaning “Winepress” (Psalms 8; 81; 84). Some suggest “gittith” may be a type of instrument that David invented (Amos 6:5).1 This would suggest a happy, joyful sound, such as would be fitting for a time of harvest, and the enjoyment of wine. Prophetically, this Psalm is set at the restoration of Israel, after the ten tribes return and the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph are made one stick in the hand of the Son of man.2 At that time, the voice of God is heard, reminding the people of their past. The history of Israel’s rebellion is gone over, not so much for the purpose of laying guilt on Israel, but to show them His heart of grace toward them all through it. It was Israel’s heart that was to blame, not Jehovah’s heart. It is a touching review, designed to reach the heart and conscience of the restored nation.
To the chief Musician. Upon the Gittith. A Psalm of Asaph.
1 Sing ye joyously unto God our strength, shout aloud unto the God of Jacob;
2 Raise a song, and sound the tambour, the pleasant harp with the lute.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the set time, on our feast day:
4 For this is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob;
5 He ordained it in Joseph for a testimony, when he went forth over the land of Egypt, where I heard a language that I knew not.
vv.1-5 Israel Rejoicing in Their Restoration. These verses give us the setting of the Psalm: prophetically it describes Israel’s joy in being restored, including the ten tribes (see Ezek. 37:16). The “new moon” is the beginning of every Jewish month, when the moon is between the earth and the sun (actually, when the astronomers could see the first sliver of a crescent moon), and it is a figure of the restoration of Israel to God after a long period of being set aside.3 Each new moon was accompanied by sacrifices (Numbers 28:11) and feasts (1 Sam. 20:5). God ordained the ordinances from the very beginning, while Israel was yet in Egypt, and God’s judgments were going out over that land, where Israel heard a language they did not understand (Psa. 114:1). The Psalmist reflects that now, thousands of years later, Israel is coming into the good of what those ordinances represented!
6 I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the basket.
7 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. Selah.
8 Hear, my people, and I will testify unto thee; O Israel, if thou wouldest hearken unto me!
9 There shall no strange GOD be in thee, neither shalt thou worship any foreign GOD.
10 I am Jehovah thy God, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 But my people hearkened not to my voice, and Israel would none of me.
12 So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ stubbornness: they walked after their own counsels.
vv.6-12 Jehovah’s Perspective on Israel’s Past. From v.6 to the end of the Psalm it is the voice of Jehovah speaking. God set Israel free from the burden of slavery (v.6). He answered their cries for deliverance in Egypt, and their cries for water in the wilderness (v.7).4 In vv.8-9 we have God’s appeal to Israel, if they would have only listened. God wanted one thing, exclusive worship; “There shall no strange God be in thee, neither shalt thou worship any foreign God”. In place of foreign gods, He would be God to Israel in a special covenant relationship; “I am Jehovah thy God, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (see Ex. 6:2-8). Jehovah was ready to bless the people with as much as they were willing to take; “open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it”. But Israel would not listen, and would have none of Jehovah. Reluctantly, God “gave them up unto their own hearts’ stubbornness: they walked after their own counsels”. This is one of the saddest things that can happen to a person; they give up God, and then God gives them up. Israel’s history follows from there, as one failure after another.
13 Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, that Israel had walked in my ways!
14 I would soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.
15 The haters of Jehovah would have come cringing unto him; but their time would have been for ever.
16 And he would have fed them with the finest of wheat; yea, with honey out of the rock would I have satisfied thee.
vv.13-16 What Could’ve Been. We have Jehovah making plain His heart toward Israel all along. How He longed over them! If only they had listened, Jehovah would have crushed their enemies, and brought even “the haters of Jehovah” cringing before Israel. He would have established Israel in the land forever, and fed them with the best of food, etc. But all of this was lost because of Israel’s disobedience. In the Millennium the Lord will restore that!
  1. “Gittith… Learned men suggest an instrument invented at Gath, or an air of the vintage festivity: a holy but happy season for a pious Jew. Fürst regards it as a hollow instrument from the verb ‘to deepen.'”  – Kelly, W. Notes on the Psalms.
  2. While celebrating in figure the restoration of Israel, again returns to historical ground, specially introducing Joseph, who represents the ten tribes (see Ezek. 37:16). – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  3. Now the new moon was the symbol of the reappearance of Israel in the sun’s light, hailed with joy by the people and connected with redemption in the thought of faith. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  4. “…past deliverances are always with God the warrant of present hopes, because He is the same God, and always acts with the same mind.” – Darby, J.N. The Psalms. Notes and Comments, Vol. 3
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