Psalm 81
Benson Commentary
To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of Asaph. Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.
Psalm 81:1-3. Sing aloud unto God our strength — Our refuge and defence against all our enemies. Bring hither the timbrel, &c. — All which instruments were then prescribed and used in their solemn meetings. Blow up the trumpet in the new-moon — Which was a sacred and festival time. But this may be understood, either, 1st, Generally of every new-moon; or, rather, 2d, Specially of that new-moon which began the seventh month, the month Tisri, when a solemn feast was kept, which was always proclaimed by the sound of trumpets. Compare this passage with Leviticus 23:24, and Numbers 29:1, where this day is called a day of blowing of trumpets; it being the first day of the Jewish civil year, and the time when the world was supposed to have been created, the fruits being then ripe. “The fixing of the time of the new-moon among the Jews, for want of astronomical tables, was done in this manner. The first persons who observed, or thought they observed, the new-moon, were to repair immediately to the grand council to give notice of it. Inquiry was then made into the credibility of the informers, and whether their information agreed with such computations as they were then able to make. After which the president proclaimed the new-moon, by saying, מקדשׁ, mikdash, it is consecrated, or holy. This word was twice repeated aloud by the people, after which it was ordered to be proclaimed everywhere by the sound of the trumpet.” — Univ. Hist., vol. 3. p. 33.

Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.
Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.
Psalm 81:4-5. For this was a statute for Israel — This is no human device, but a divine institution; God hath appointed and commanded this solemn feast to be announced and observed in this manner. This — Namely, the blowing of trumpets; he ordained in Joseph — Among the posterity of Joseph, namely, the people of Israel, as is evident both from the foregoing verse, where they are called Israel, and from the following words of this verse, where they are described by their coming out of Egypt, which was common to all the tribes of Israel, who are sometimes called by the name of Joseph. For a testimony — For a law, often called a testimony; or, rather, for a witness and memorial of the glorious deliverance here referred to. When he — That is, he who ordained, as was now said, namely, God; went out through the land of Egypt — As a captain at the head, or on the behalf of his people, to execute his judgments upon that land; or, against that land, namely, to destroy it. Or, as many ancient and modern interpreters read it, out of the land. And so understood, this text signifies the time when this and the other feasts were instituted, namely, soon after their coming out of Egypt, even at Sinai. Where I heard, &c. — That is, my progenitors heard, for all the successive generations of Israel make one body, and are sometimes spoken of as one person; a language which I understood not — Either the language of God himself, speaking from heaven at Sinai, which was strange and terrible to them; or, rather, the Egyptian language, which at first was both very disagreeable and unknown to the Israelites, Genesis 42:23, and probably continued so for some considerable time, because they were much separated, both in place and conversation, from the Egyptians, through Joseph’s pious and prudent appointment. This exposition of the passage is confirmed by Psalm 114:1, where this very thing is mentioned as an aggravation of their misery; and by other places of Scripture, where it is spoken of as a curse and calamity to be with a people of a strange language. See Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 5:15.

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.
I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots.
Psalm 81:6-7. I removed his shoulder — That is, the shoulder of my people; from the burden — I delivered them from the burdensome slavery of Egypt. His hands were delivered from the pots — Hebrew, מדוד תעברנה, his hands passed from the pots, or, as Chandler renders it, his hands from the pots, through which they had passed. Thus God reminds Israel of their redemption, by his mercy and power, from the burdens and drudgery imposed on them in Egypt. And from this verse to the end of the Psalm, it is evident God is the speaker. Thou calledst in trouble — At the Red sea, Exodus 14:10-12; and I delivered thee — In an unexpected and extraordinary way, and disappointed the designs of thy enemies. I answered thee in the secret place of thunder — From the dark and cloudy pillar, whence I thundered and fought against the Egyptians: see Exodus 13:21; and Exodus 14:19; Exodus 14:24. Some refer this to the thunder at Sinai; but at that time they were not in trouble, but in a safe and glorious condition. Be assured, reader, that God is as ready, at all times, to hear the prayers and relieve the distresses of his people, as he was when the Israelites cried unto him in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and received answers from the cloudy pillar. Believe this, and apply to him in thy troubles.

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.
Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me;
Psalm 81:8-10. Hear, O my people — And who should hear me if my people will not? I have heard and answered thee, now wilt thou hear me? Hear what is said, with the greatest solemnity, and the most unquestionable certainty, for it is what I, the God of truth and love, thy lawgiver and thy judge, declare for thy profit. And I will testify unto thee — Concerning my will and thy duty. I will give thee statutes and judgments, in the execution of which thou mayest live and be happy for ever. This God did presently after he brought them from Meribah, even at Sinai. There shall no strange god be in thee — Thou shalt renounce all false gods, and false ways of worship, and shalt worship me only, and only in the manner which I shall prescribe. Thus, in effect, God addressed himself to Israel at Sinai, and thus he addressed himself to them when this Psalm was written, and thus he addresses his people in every age. He thus put them in remembrance of the first and great command, Thou shalt have no other gods before me; and of his claim to their obedience as their God and Saviour. Open thy mouth wide — That Isaiah , 1 st, Pray for my mercies; ask freely, and abundantly, and boldly, whatsoever you need, or in reason can desire. 2d, Receive the mercies which I am ready to give you. And I will fill it — I will grant them all upon condition of your obedience. Here then he testifies, that he is both able and willing to satisfy the utmost desires and wishes of such as would apply to him for blessings, especially spiritual blessings and comforts. “Behold then the rebellion, the ingratitude, and the folly of that man, who says to any creature, ‘Thou art my God;’ who bestoweth on the world that fear, love, and adoration, which are due only to its Creator and Redeemer; who wasteth his days in seeking after happiness, where all, by their inquietude, acknowledge that it is not to be found.” — Horne.

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.
But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.
Psalm 81:11. My people would not hearken to my voice — But turned a deaf ear to all I said. “Two things,” says Henry, “the Lord complains of; 1st, Their disobedience to his commands. They did hear his voice, and that in such a manner as no people ever did; but they would not hearken to it; they would not be governed by it, neither by the law, nor by the reason of it, namely, that he was Jehovah their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt. 2d, Their dislike of his covenant-relation to them: They would none of me. They acquiesced not in my word: so the Chaldee. God was willing to be to them a God, but they were not willing to be to him a people. They did not like his terms. I would have gathered them, but they would not. They had none of him; and why had they not? It was not because they might not; they were fairly invited into covenant with God: it was not because they could not; for the word was nigh them, even in their mouth, and in their heart: it was purely because they would not. Note, the reason why people are not religious is because they will not be so.

So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels.
Psalm 81:12. So I gave them up, &c. — Upon their obstinate and oft-repeated acts of disobedience, and their rejection of my grace and mercy offered to them, I withdrew all the restraints of my providence, and my Holy Spirit and grace from them, and wholly left them to follow their own vain and foolish imaginations, and wicked lusts. And they walked in their own counsels — The consequence of my thus giving them up to their own depraved inclinations was, that they practised all those things, both in common conversation and in religious worship, which were most agreeable, not to my commands or counsels, but to their own fancies and lusts, as appeared in the affair of the golden calf, and many other things.

Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
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.

I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.
Psalm 81:14-15. I would soon have subdued their enemies — Both those remaining Canaanites, whom now, for their unbelief and apostacy, I have left in the land, to be snares and plagues to them, and also all their encroaching and vexatious neighbours, who have so often invaded and laid waste their country. The haters of the Lord — The enemies of God’s people, such as the neighbouring nations were; should have submitted themselves — Should have owned and professed their subjection to them, if not also have become proselytes to the true religion. He terms them haters of the Lord, partly because they hated the Israelites for God’s sake, and on account of the singularity of their worship, as the heathen often declared; and partly to show the close union and solemn league and covenant which were between God and them, by virtue of which God had declared he would account their friends to be his friends, and their enemies to be his enemies. But their time — That is, Israel’s time, meaning, either, 1st, Their happy time, life being often put for a happy life or state; or, rather, 2d, The duration of their commonwealth; should have endured for ever — Should have lasted for a long time; whereas now their latter and doleful end is hastening toward them. It may be proper to observe here the original expression, rendered, should have submitted themselves to him, is, יכחשׁו לו, jecachashu lo, which, as we have more than once had occasion to observe, signifies, should have lied unto him, that is, spoken fair, fawned, and pretended great respect to the Jewish people and their God, though in reality they hated them both. In this sense the words are understood by Bishop Patrick, whose paraphrase upon the verse is well worth transcribing. “All that maligned their prosperity,” (the prosperity of Israel,) “and set themselves against the design of the Lord, to make them victorious over their enemies, should have been so daunted, that they should have dissembled their inward hatred, and been forced, at least, to counterfeit submission; but his people should have seen blessed days, and have enjoyed a substantial and durable happiness without any interruption.”

The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever.
He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.
Psalm 81:16. He should have fed them with the finest wheat — He would have made their country exceedingly fruitful and productive, especially of wheat and other grain, in the highest perfection. And with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee — That is, with all pleasant and precious fruits, and with all delights; as all necessaries may be expressed in the former clause under the name of wheat. Or honey may be here taken literally; for the land of Canaan abounded with excellent honey; and the bees used to be collected in the clefts and holes of the rocks, as in hives, and there made their honey in such plenty that it often flowed down upon the ground in considerable quantities: see Deuteronomy 32:13; 1 Samuel 14:25-26.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 80
Top of Page
Top of Page