Psalm 81

April 12, 2024

1 Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.

2 Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.

3 Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.

4 For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

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.

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.

8 Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me;

9 There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange 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.

12 So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.

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

14 I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.

15 The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever.

16 He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee. 

The Point: 

Although God’s faithfulness has great historical precedent and is worthy of His people’s praise, they have not always appreciated it as such. 

How do we feel in the recitation of this psalm? 

We feel a shame and indignation for a people who are so thick-headed that they cannot see the goodness of God in His salvation. How often is this the condition of our own hearts? The children of Israel are not the only ones who give way to idolatry and refuse to give God the worship due Him. We are convicted of our own faithlessness as we watch the gross apostasy of others. Even when God shows His goodness and mercy in manifold ways, how quickly the hearts of His people are drawn away to worship the baubles and idols offered to them by the world! What corrupted vision and foul ingratitude exude from these hearts! This unfaithful spirit is sickening, but we are more captured by the kindness and faithfulness of God than the wickedness of covenant breakers and apostates in the history of the church (whether in the Old or the New Testament). 

What does this psalm teach us?

Verses 1–3. This is an unusual psalm in that it commands praise from a people who are about to be shamed for their unfaithfulness. But the psalm speaks about the faithfulness of God in spite of the disobedience of His people. As the faithful remnant focus on God’s goodness, they are pressed to cry out in joyful praise while repudiating the unfaithfulness of the rest of the people who have turned away from Him.  

Evidently, the psalmist has written this psalm for a solemn feast day that was first instituted in the day when Israel “went out through the land of Egypt.” This is referring to the Passover, which was the major event of the year for God’s people in the Old Testament. The Passover commemorated the Exodus, when God saved His people out of the clutches of the mighty Egyptian empire. It was a day of remembrance, a time for joyful praise and celebration.  

Verses 4–7. The story of God’s redemption is a theme that returns again and again in the psalms. Let us never grow tired of telling these stories! Indeed, God’s faithfulness is powerfully demonstrated in the salvation of His people from Egypt. For the next few verses, God Himself steps in to give the account of His redemptive work. He speaks of His people being surrounded by a strange nation, speaking a strange language. The Egyptian people were not in a special covenant relationship with Him. Incensed to see His people enslaved by this evil empire, God flies in to rescue His people from this evil condition. But why is God so concerned about this problem of their slavery when we know that He is most concerned with redeeming His people from sin? It is because God does not separate these things. If He will redeem His people from sin, He will redeem them from bond-slavery as well. The Apostle Paul drives this point home hard in 1 Corinthians 7:21–23 when he tells the Corinthian saints, “Be not the slaves of men, for you are bought with a price.” If Jesus Christ spilled His blood for our redemption from sin and human slavery, it would be a shame for Christians to support the slave-based systems that disregard the blood of Christ. Therefore, Christians will always fight slavery of every form, whether it be chattel slavery or slavery to big governments. Even as God redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt, He redeems us by the blood of His Son from the slavery of sin as well as from the slavery of tyrannical slave masters and governments.

Verses 8–10. Here Yahweh lays down the terms of the covenant. He did not deliver His people so that they would return to the bondage of serving the false gods of the nations around them. It is the same with us. He did not save us from our sins that we would continue to live under the bondage of sin! For the children of Israel, the deliverance from Egypt was a picture of God’s redemption from sin. If they could not by faith receive God as Savior, they would not by faith receive Him and serve Him as their God. 

Verses 11–16. Sadly, this people did not have the faith to embrace the One Who delivered them from the most powerful empire on earth. They quickly rebelled against Him and stubbornly refused to obey His commandments. They ignored His law and followed after their own independent course. Our people are not much different from these people in the Old Testament. They receive the baby in the manger, and they might even receive the Christ on the cross. But they would never receive the Lamb on the throne and submit themselves to His commandments. They don’t mind hearing the story of redemption, but they are reticent to obey the commandments of the One Who provided them this redemption. A great many professing believers would gladly receive the salvation story, but they do not want to keep God’s commandments in their economics, family life, and civil government. They would much rather follow the economics of John Maynard Keynes, the politics of Karl Marx, and the family principles of Dr. Benjamin Spock and other humanists than the books of Deuteronomy and Proverbs! 

The psalm ends with a promise: if these people will receive Yahweh as their God, then He will deliver them from the hand of their enemies, both physical and spiritual. That nation which will serve Yahweh will be blessed with the finest of wheat as well as God’s peace and protection! Although many of the Western nations quickly abandoned God’s Word in their belief system and ethics in the 1600s and 1700s, America maintained strong allegiance to God’s Word for many generations (from 1620 to 1880). This nation and its many churches enjoyed God’s manifold material blessings over those many years. We would do well to heed the warnings of this psalm and its promises!

How do we apply this psalm?

1. We live in a sinful world filled with rebellion and apostasy. We are saddened to see friends and loved ones join this apostasy over the years. But this does not prevent us from expressing joy over God’s redemptive work. Our feast of remembrance takes place on the Lord’s Day when we celebrate His resurrection and His victory over sin and death at the cross with the Lord’s Table. It doesn’t matter how much unfaithfulness we find around us; our focus is on God’s faithfulness to His covenant and His powerful redemption in Christ. Obviously, we cannot rejoice in the record of a rebellious people, but we can always rejoice in the faithfulness of God to His covenant people despite their wayward actions. 

2. If God has delivered us from the dragons of sin and death by His Son, then of course we should love the Lord and walk in His ways. This would be a natural response to our receiving of the love of God poured out upon us. As a kind Father, God loves to pour out His blessings upon His children who will walk in His ways. 

How does this psalm teach us to worship God?

1. However depressing the spiritual decline and temperament of a nation may be, there will always be a remnant who will worship God with expressions of joy. Worship is joyful. Biblical worship is reverent but not necessarily quiet, subdued, and serene. Musical instruments of different kinds are employed, and that adds to the exuberance of this expression of praise (verses 2–3). 

2. As part of our worship, it is also appropriate to recount God’s faithful works in history both from the Scriptures and from our own experiences. For example, God has blessed our nation in many ways ever since the early American colonies covenanted to walk in His laws. But now we have strayed far from the commandments of God, and God has “given us over to our stubborn hearts.”  


1. Which of the Old Testament feasts is mentioned in the psalm? What is the special feast we celebrate in the New Testament church? 

2. What are the two major themes of the psalm? 

3. From what did God redeem His people in the Exodus? From what does God redeem us (according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:21–23)?  

4. How can we sing for joy when we know that God’s people are in rebellion against Him? 

5. Are musical instruments appropriate for worship? Why or why not?

6. Give several examples of Praise Psalms. 

Family Discussion Questions: 

1. Are we joyful in our worship? What are the things that quench our joy? What are the things that inspire joy in us? How do we express this joy? Do we ever shout for joy?  

2. In what ways have we seen God pour out blessings on our family as we have walked in His ways?