Psalms in Troubled Times – Psalm 81

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Flee Idolatry, Kneel Humbly, Live Fully

[This Psalm looks back to what was; considers what should be; and asks us to be honest about what is.]

Asaph begins by looking back to Israel’s redemption from the bondage of Egypt, and calls Israel back to the worship of their God and Saviour. A worship that was sadly lacking, as it is in our own day!

Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob … blow the trumpet on our solemn feast day … this He ordainedwhen He went out through the land of Egypt …’

Then the Lord himself speaks reminding the people of what He has done.

I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots. 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.

Was there any excuse for their failure to worship such a great, glorious, and good God?

And when we consider what God has done for us at the cross, His Son dying for our sins, to cleanse and free us from the bondage of sin, is there any excuse for our failure to worship?

Oh yes, there is now an expectation upon our lives; commandments and restrictions; but as these pivotal verses of the a Psalm explain, we will be blessed if we listen to what God says.

‘Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; there shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.

To ‘flee from idolatry’ (1 Cor 10:24) is not only the central message of the Psalm, but a fundamental command for all of us to heed (1 John 5:21) … for our own good.

Unfortunately, we do not easily learn Israel’s lesson, and so much of our experience is a repeat of theirs.

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would have none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.’

Does this not, sadly, characterise our own day?

Israel were paying the price for their rejection of God. The title at the start of the Psalm ‘Gittith’ refers to Gath of the Philistines, and means ‘wine-press’.

It would seem Israel were, in our own language, ‘being put through the mill’, just as we presently are with this deadly virus.

And yet, it didn’t have to be this way. The Psalm ends with a description of what could have been, if they had listened and heeded God’s Word.

Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries … and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.

This is a prescient Psalm, and we must take heed: turn from our idolatry to worship the living and true God, who deigns to bless us with eternal life.

Then we will live fully!

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