A devotion on Psalm 81
1 Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.
The Hebrew says Elohim uzeinu for God our strength and Elohei Ya’akov for the God of Jacob. This grand invocation is for us to burst out enthusiastically – a welcome relief from the grave and desperate passages we’ve been studying so far. Where David and Asaph have been lamenting heavily, Elohim uzeinu invites a different response. He has repeatedly told us to call upon him in our time of trouble and he will deliver us. Now he’s prescribing a specific type of call – a joyful one. “And make it real loud,” he adds!
This music was commemoration of the wilderness experience. Have you had one of those this year? Then clear your throat. And this call is not only to the paid professional musicians. It is not only to those with amazing voices. It is not for the musically trained only. It is for the whole congregation to whole-heartedly erupt in gay, mirthful melodies, much like a child does. How freeing, how delightful, how celebratory, when we know that the Lord has brought us from Egypt to Canaan.
We are to expend our energy with this singing to the point of exhaustion. God knows there is something cathartic about this experience.
2 Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.
A psalm or a zimrah means music, melody, or song. Frequently it is accompanied by a musical instrument. Woven into its meaning is the concept of making music. He wants us to make stuff up and sing it at the top of our lungs. It makes me think of spontaneous porch singing in the south – pots and pans and all. Step aside Bethel, step aside Hillsong, step aside Elevation, I’ve got a song of my own. Yup, I’m making it up as I go. It is pouring forth from a heart of praise and gratitude to Elohim uzeinu.
Enjoy this jamming gem from my homeland. https://youtu.be/OeFMVm2KZq8
3 Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
The new moon indicates a new month or a new beginning. It may specifically refer to the first day of the seventh month and the Festival of Trumpets. Yesterday we talked about revival and being renewed. When he rebuilds and renews us, then dust off the old trumpet and make it known. The priests were primarily charged with this task. They were not to demurely sit back and watch the singing and dancing. Commentator Guzik educates us on the priests making the trumpet (shofer) blast which was “to call God’s people together for their solemn feast day at the New Moon.”
4 For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.
God is very keen on his people gathering together for communal worship. So much so that he makes it a joyous event. He is mandating that we are going to have a good time. He has ordained it and we need to obey it. We need each other. We need to have positive experiences together. He makes a way for that to be the case.
5 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
6 I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots.
Elohim uzeinu went to Egypt with one sole purpose – to set us free from bondage. He delivered us from among those foreigners with their strange tongue. There we did not belong. We were like fish out of water. Our mighty man of war kicked down the walls that imprisoned us, unburdened, and unshackled us from our cruel task-master. He freed our hands from the drudgery of back-breaking tasks so they could play the lyre and the tambourine and dance in delight.
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.
I posit that all trouble you have been in was meant to kill you. That fact that you are alive is testimony that God delivered you. You could have died from any ailment, any accident, any assault, but your Elohim uzeinu said, “not today, Satan!’ Thunder is a loud, mysterious noise. Yet it holds its secrets and mysteries. Though all around you can hear the frightening thunder, only you and your God know its secret place – and they wonder about you.
On Mt. Sinai, God met with Moses. The thunderous encounter was so foreboding that the Israelites asked that Moses meet with God and they not have to because they were so scared. Will you cower from meeting with God? Will you push your pastor or teacher forward to meet with him and later relate to you a filtered version of what was uttered? Or will you overcome your trembling and other reasons and press in between the cherubim. Meeting with God is no small matter. It will cost you. What is it costing you?
Meribah brought a shiver up and down the Israelites’ backs. That was not a place that evoked pleasant memories. When things got hard, they had complained bitterly about missing Egypt. They accused Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness to die. Meribah means strife. God was getting weary of this grumbling, whiny, contentious crowd. In his fury, God provided a test. They failed miserably. Are you prone to grumbling? God despises it greatly. Ask him to help you identify it and eliminate it form your life. It is a blight upon your soul and many don’t even realize they do it. No wonder he places an interlude, selah, here.
8 “Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings. O Israel, if you would only listen to me!
“Consider the kindness and sternness of our God…”Romans 11:22
Elohim uzeinu is not fooling around. He is not making empty threats. He will not contend with his creation. He is not the parent that will be bossed around by a three-year-old. He will swat that soggy bottom – as hard as is needed. He will not share his godhood with man. He is the boss and we are not. Listen up!
9 There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god
We think that strange gods are around and outside of us. The KJV homes right in on the problem. Any false god we erect is in us. God is speaking to our heart/soul matters. If Satan and the world didn’t proffer another temptation, we are quite well equipped to produce them on our own. In Napping in Delilah’s Lap, I posit that our hearts are like a Chinese sweat shop cranking out cheap imitations of God – our idols.
To worship (shachah) is to bow down. It is to prostrate oneself so as to make something else bigger than you. Nothing else in your life is to be bigger than God. What have you made bigger than you? What have you made bigger than God?
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.
11 But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.
Who lays claim to our various deliverances? Is it your charm, your good fortune, a wealthy relative? Is it education or science? From his secret place in the thundercloud, God says, “I don’t think so. It was I.” Then he invites us to taste and see that he is good. But frequently we turn our mouth away and fill it with ‘good’ things of our own making. Those things will be the death of us. We ignore and swiftly replace him.
12 So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. (KJV)
12 So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas. (NLT)
This leaves me grief-stricken. God will not play tug of war with adulterous hearts. Hosea 4 describes the spirit of zanah that was in Israel and can be within us. It is a spirit of harlotry or prostitution. God, the legitimate lover of your soul has sole claim to our allegiance. Yet sometimes we flirt with other loves and swiftly replace him, even while pledging our allegiance to him. He will not abide that. “You want that?” he asks, “then have it.” As we learned recently, while what we pine for is still in our mouths, God will turn it into gravel or maggots. Friends, we must learn to say no to our hearts when they lead us astray. ‘Follow your heart’ is the WORST piece of advice ever!
13 Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
14 How quickly I would then subdue their enemies! How soon my hands would be upon their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him; they would be doomed forever.
16 But I would feed you with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock.”
Canaan was to be a few weeks journey from Egypt. It took them forty years. Forty, beloved. God promises that as we obey him and walk in his ways, he subdues and destroys our enemies. There are enemies that you are suffering under right now because of your disobedience. That will continue to be the case while you are prostituting yourself with your idol. Unfortunately, the consequences of your actions may follow you long after your encounter with that idol. When will we understand that God is sheltering us for our own good? He is not withholding good things from us. He is our hearty nutritious bread of life made of the finest wheat. He is the sweet, sweet wild honey from the rock. He is the good thing that he is saving us for! Break out in single-hearted devotion and song to your God.