Tuesday, February 28, 2023

2023.02.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 81

Tuesday, February 28, 2023 ▫ Read Psalm 81

Questions from the Scripture text: Into whose hands was this Psalm committed (superscript)? With what instructions? By whom was it penned? What is the first word/command of this Psalm (Psalm 81:1a)? How are they to sing? To Whom? Who is He to us? What is the second command (verse 1b)? What sort of shout? To Whom? What is the third command (Psalm 81:2)? Accompanied by what three priestly instruments? What is a priest also to do (Psalm 81:3)? At what ceremonially commanded time? Why (Psalm 81:4a)? For whom was this a statute? From Whom was this a law (verse 4b)? What is God called here? Where, especially, did God establish what (Psalm 81:5a)? What is the northern kingdom called here? Of what season of Israel’s life was God’s law a reminder/testimony (verse 5b–c)? What had God done in Egypt (Psalm 81:6)? In response to what (Psalm 81:7a)? From where (verse 7b)? Then what else did God do (verse 7c)? What new command does God give in Psalm 81:8a? What are they to hear from Him? What would have made this admonishment beneficial (verse 8b)? What did He forbid to be, and where (Psalm 81:9)? Who is Yahweh, covenantally, to them (Psalm 81:10a)? What has He done (verse 10b)? What will He do now (verse 10c)? How did Israel respond (Psalm 81:11a)? What did Israel refuse to have (verse 11b)? To what did Yahweh give them over (Psalm 81:12a)? To what did He hand them over in which to walk (verse 12b)? Yet, what does He urge them to do instead (Psalm 81:13a)? In what does He urge them to walk instead (verse 13b)? How will the Lord respond to His people’s repentance (Psalm 81:14)? How do His enemies respond to His punishment (Psalm 81:15a)? But how long will it last (verse 15b)? What would the Lord do for those who sincerely repent (Psalm 81:16)? 

Why should we worship God’s way? Psalm 81 looks forward to the opening portion of morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these sixteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we should heed God to worship His way, because He has heeded our cries by delivering us from bondage into the freedom and blessedness of having Him. 

The Lord listened to His people’s cries. Psalm 81:7 says “You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you. How gracious our God is, that He Who is on high listens to us. Even from the “secret place of thunder,” God hears and responds to His lowly people who are on earth. He treated the Egyptian tongue like a foreign language; Psalm 81:5 pictures Him going through the land of Egypt with His ear attuned for the Hebrew cries of His people. Of course, God knew Egyptian too. But this is a poetic way of describing how mercifully and attentively the Lord listens to His people’s prayers.

So, we must listen to Him. This is the great theme of the Psalm. In a moment, we’ll think about the four-verse-command with which the Psalm begins. For now, however, notice these repetitions: “Hear, O My people!” (Psalm 81:8a). “O Israel, if you will listen to Me!” (verse 8b). “But My people would not heed My voice” (Psalm 81:11a). “O that My people would listen to Me” (Psalm 81:13). 

To listen to God is to Have Him Himself. It is horrible when people refuse to listen to God, simply because He is God. But it is even worse when we realize what is at stake. Their not heeding God’s voice was because they did not want Him (Psalm 81:11b). We live in a culture that tells us to listen to our heart. But Psalm 81:12a describes being given over to listen to their heart as a punishment that the Lord inflicted for refusing Him. Walking in our own counsels (verse 12b) is slavery and destruction, while walking as God’s own people in God’s own ways (Psalm 81:13b) is freedom and salvation. The Psalm carries this point so far as to describe those who walk in their own ways as “haters of Yahweh” (Psalm 81:15a). 

Frighteningly, many of these haters of the Lord are in the church. How do we know? Psalm 81:15a tells us that they pretend submission to Him. These are people who know what He says and that they should do it; they even appear to be doing so. But their hearts are far from Him. They do what He says because it seems good to them, not simply because it seemed good to Him.  Because of our capacity for self-deception, it is a mercy of God when He tests and tries us to show what is in us. The testing at the waters of Meribah (Psalm 81:7c) was an act of divine kindness. 

When He gives us repentance, we get not merely manna from heaven but “the fat of wheat” (Psalm 81:16a), not merely water from the rock but honey (verse 16b). Wheat does not have fat, and honey does not slake thirst. So what is God getting at here? The Lord Jesus is the true Bread that came down from heaven. When His generation wanted a repeat of loaves-and-fishes or manna, He pointed to Himself instead (cf. John 6:31–58). When we come to Him to drink, we get something qualitatively different and better than water that can be drawn from a well (cf. John 4:13–14) or poured out on temple steps to remind people of the water in the wilderness (cf. John 7:37–38).

As Psalm 81:10 reminds us in taking us back to Exodus 20:1, God’s laws are a good gift whereby He gives us to walk with Him in fellowship with Him. He prefaced the Ten Commandments with the same words, teaching us that He gives His statutes (Psalm 81:4a) and laws (verse 4b) in part as a testimony (Psalm 81:5a) to our relationship with Him. He gives His law especially to those whom He has saved and whom He has given the privilege of belonging to Him and His belonging to us. 

This Psalm is full of that wonderful belonging. “God our strength” (Psalm 81:1a). “The God of Jacob” (verse 1b). “The God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:4b). “O My people” (Psalm 81:8a). “Yahweh your God” (Psalm 81:10a). “My people” (Psalm 81:11a). “My people” (Psalm 81:13a). This is what is so wonderful about His commands: they are His. “My voice” (Psalm 81:11a). “Listen to me” (Psalm 81:13a). “My ways” (verse 13b).

And the most important place to listen to God and reject the counsel of our own heart is in the worship of God. This brings us back to those opening four verses. For, the rest of the Psalm gives rationale for obeying this command to worship this intensely (Psalm 81:1) in this particular way (Psalm 81:2-3). The loudness, joy, and shouting of Psalm 81:1 is the intensity of joy at having God Himself in worship. The particularity of the instruments appointed to the temple worship (Psalm 81:2) and the calendar that God ordained with tabernacle worship (Psalm 81:3) was a particularity and a calendar that rejoiced in the fact that God Himself instituted their worship. Having God Himself be the One Who establishes how to worship demonstrates that it is God Whom we have in worship—not just feelings about God, but God Himself. If we come up with how to worship, or we come up with a liturgical calendar, then we are handed over to a condition like that of the strange nations (Psalm 81:12). It is fundamentally the same as worshiping a strange God (Psalm 81:9), even if we are pretending submission to the Lord (Psalm 81:15a). In fact, the “them that hate Me” language is repeated from the second commandment.

The Lord heard our cries and saved us for Himself. And when we come to worship in the way that He has commanded, according to the calendar that He Himself has devised, we open our mouth now not to dictate how we will worship but to be filled and satisfied with Him. To have God Himself in Christ as “the fat of wheat and honey from the rock.” This is what He especially gives us now, having removed the priestly instruments and the Levitical calendar and replaced them with Christ Himself (cf. Hebrews 1:1–12:29)!

What instruments has God commanded to be used in New Testament worship? What calendar Has God commanded for the New Testament church? What (Whom!) are we having (and happy to have), when we worship only as He has commanded?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for hearing us and saving us from ourselves and our own ways. Thank You for speaking to us, so that we might hear You and heed You. Thank You for giving Yourself to us in Christ as the “fat of wheat and honey from the rock.” Please give us to love to walk in Your ways, rather than listening to our hearts. We come to You now with open mouths not to be heard, but to have You Yourself fill our mouths and our hearts. Satisfy us with Yourself, by Your Spirit, we ask through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP81A “To God Our Strength” or TPH81A “Sing Aloud to God Our Savior”

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