Psalm 81:13
Oh that my people had listened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13, 14) Hearken . . . subdue.—The verbs should be taken in a future sense, “Oh that my people would hearken . . . I should soon subdue,” &c. The poet changes from reminiscences of the past to the needs of the present.

Psalm 81:13. O that my people had hearkened unto me — In this way does God testify his good-will to, and concern for, the welfare and happiness of these most refractory, disobedient, and obstinate sinners. The expressions are very affecting, and much like those he uttered by Moses concerning them, Deuteronomy 5:29, “O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever.” Or like those which Christ breathed forth over the same people, when, beholding the city, he wept over it, and said, “If thou hadst known in this thy day the things which belong to thy peace,” &c. Or those other words of similar import, “O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! how often would I have gathered thy children together,” &c. All these, and such like passages, manifest the tender mercies of God, and show that he is not only careful to provide for mankind the means of salvation, but that he grieves, speaking after the manner of men, and mourns, with paternal affection, over them, when their frowardness and obstinacy disappoint the efforts of his love. They demonstrate two things; 1st, How unwilling he is that any should perish, and how desirous that all should come to repentance; and, 2d, What enemies sinners are to themselves; and what an aggravation it will be of their misery, that they might have been happy on such easy terms, but would not.81:8-16 We cannot look for too little from the creature, nor too much from the Creator. We may have enough from God, if we pray for it in faith. All the wickedness of the world is owing to man's wilfulness. People are not religious, because they will not be so. God is not the Author of their sin, he leaves them to the lusts of their own hearts, and the counsels of their own heads; if they do not well, the blame must be upon themselves. The Lord is unwilling that any should perish. What enemies sinners are to themselves! It is sin that makes our troubles long, and our salvation slow. Upon the same conditions of faith and obedience, do Christians hold those spiritual and eternal good things, which the pleasant fields and fertile hills of Canaan showed forth. Christ is the Bread of life; he is the Rock of salvation, and his promises are as honey to pious minds. But those who reject him as their Lord and Master, must also lose him as their Saviour and their reward.Oh that my people had hearkened unto me - This passage is designed mainly to show what would have been the consequences if the Hebrew people had been obedient to the commands of God, Psalm 81:14-16. At the same time, however, it expresses what was the earnest desire - the wish - the preference of God, namely, that they had been obedient, and had enjoyed his favor. This is in accordance with all the statements, all the commands, all the invitations, all the warnings, in the Bible. In the entire volume of inspiration there is not one command addressed to people to walk in the ways of sin; there is not one statement that God desires they should do it; there is not one intimation that he wishes the death of the sinner. The contrary is implied in all the declarations which God has made - in all his commands, warnings, and invitations - in all his arrangements for the salvation of people. See Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 32:29-30; Isaiah 48:18; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 19:42.

And Israel had walked in my ways! - Had kept my commandments; had been obedient to my laws. When people, therefore, do not walk in the ways of God it is impossible that they should take refuge, as an excuse for it, in the plea that God desires this, or that he commands it, or that he is pleased with it, or that he approves it. There is no possible sense in which this can be true; in every sense, and on every account, he prefers that people should be obedient, and not disobedient; good, and not bad; happy, and not miserable; saved, and not lost. Every doctrine of theology should be held and interpreted in consistency with this as a fundamental truth. That there are things which are difficult to be explained on the supposition that this is true, must be admitted; but what truth is there in reference to which there are not difficulties to be explained? And is there anything in this, or in any of the truths of the Bible, which more demands explanation than the facts which are actually occurring under the government of God: the fact that sin and misery have been allowed to come into the universe; the fact that multitudes constantly suffer whom God could at once relieve?

13-16. Obedience would have secured all promised blessings and the subjection of foes. In this passage, "should have," "would have," &c., are better, "should" and "would" expressing God's intention at the time, that is, when they left Egypt. No text from Poole on this verse. O that my people had hearkened unto me,.... This might have been expected from them, as they were his professing people; and it would have been to their advantage if they had hearkened to him, as well as it would have been well pleasing to him; for that is what is designed by this wish, which does not express the purposing will of God; for who hath resisted that? if he had so willed, he could have given them ears to hear; but his commanding will, and what is his approving one: to hearken to him is not only to hearken to what he commands, but to what he approves of; it is the good and acceptable will of God that men should hearken to the declarations of his will in the law, and to the declarations of his grace in the Gospel; and indeed it is the voice of Christ, the Angel of God's presence, who went before the children of Israel in the wilderness, which they were to hearken to and obey, that is here meant; see Exodus 23:20, and Hebrews 3:6,

and Israel had walked in my ways; which he marked out and directed them unto, meaning his ordinances and commandments; which to walk in, as it denotes progress and continuance, and supposes and requires life and strength, so it is both pleasant and profitable.

{k} Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!

(k) God by his word calls all, but his secret election appoints who will bear fruit.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
13. O that my people were hearkening unto me,

That Israel would walk in my ways!

13–16. Yet God’s mercy is inexhaustible. Even now if Israel would obey Him, He would subdue their enemies, and bless them abundantly. Cp. Isaiah 48:17-19.Verse 13. - Oh that my people had hearkened unto me! rather, would hearken unto me! (see Professor Driver's 'Hebrew Tenses,' § 145, and compare the Revised Version). And Israel had walked in my ways! rather would walk! It is a gentle but profoundly earnest festival discourse which God the Redeemer addresses to His redeemed people. It begins, as one would expect in a Passover speech, with a reference to the סבלות of Egypt (Exodus 1:11-14; Exodus 5:4; Exodus 6:6.), and to the duwd, the task-basket for the transport of the clay and of the bricks (Exodus 1:14; Exodus 5:7.).

(Note: In the Papyrus Leydensis i. 346 the Israelites are called the "Aperiu (עברים), who dragged along the stones for the great watch-tower of the city of Rameses," and in the Pap. Leyd. i. 349, according to Lauth, the "Aperiu, who dragged along the stones for the storehouse of the city of Rameses.")

Out of such distress did He free the poor people who cried for deliverance (Exodus 2:23-25); He answered them בּסתר רעם, i.e., not (according to Psalm 22:22; Isaiah 32:2): affording them protection against the storm, but (according to Psalm 18:12; Psalm 77:17.): out of the thunder-clouds in which He at the same time revealed and veiled Himself, casting down the enemies of Israel with His lightnings, which is intended to refer pre-eminently to the passage through the Red Sea (vid., Psalm 77:19); and He proved them (אבחנך, with ŏ contracted from ō, cf. on Job 35:6) at the waters of Merbah, viz., whether they would trust Him further on after such glorious tokens of His power and loving-kindness. The name "Waters of Merı̂bah," which properly is borne only by Merı̂bath Kadesh, the place of the giving of water in the fortieth year (Numbers 20:13; Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51; Deuteronomy 33:8), is here transferred to the place of the giving of water in the first year, which was named Massah u-Merı̂bah (Exodus 17:7), as the remembrances of these two miracles, which took place under similar circumstances, in general blend together (vid., on Psalm 95:8.). It is not now said that Israel did not act in response to the expectation of God, who had son wondrously verified Himself; the music, as Seal imports, here rises, and makes a long and forcible pause in what is being said. What now follows further, are, as the further progress of Psalm 81:12 shows, the words of God addressed to the Israel of the desert, which at the same time with its faithfulness are brought to the remembrance of the Israel of the present. העיד בּ, as in Psalm 50:7; Deuteronomy 8:19, to bear testimony that concerns him against any one. אם (according to the sense, o si, as in Psalm 95:7, which is in many ways akin to this Psalm) properly opens a searching question which wishes that the thing asked may come about (whether thou wilt indeed give me a willing hearing?!). In Psalm 81:10 the key-note of the revelation of the Law from Sinai is struck: the fundamental command which opens the decalogue demanded fidelity to Jahve and forbade idol-worship as the sin of sins. אל זר is an idol in opposition to the God of Israel as the true God; and אל נכר, a strange god in opposition to the true God as the God of Israel. To this one God Israel ought to yield itself all the more undividedly and heartily as it was more manifestly indebted entirely to Him, who in His condescension had chosen it, and in His wonder-working might had redeemed it (המּעלך, part. Hiph. with the eh elided, like הפּדך, Deuteronomy 13:6, and אכלך, from כּלּה, Exodus 33:3); and how easy this submission ought to have been to it, since He desired nothing in return for the rich abundance of His good gifts, which satisfy and quicken body and soul, but only a wide-opened mouth, i.e., a believing longing, hungering for mercy and eager for salvation (Psalm 119:131)!

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