Psalm 81 – Commentary
When reading Psalm 81 I found verse 10 quite interesting. Here the LORD says, “I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” It struck me that the first part of this verse is the same as the preamble to the Ten Commandments. Somehow there was/is a parallel between the Ten Commandments and the LORD’s filling of a “wide open mouth” or of wide open expectant hearts. Considering the rest if the psalm there are a number of intriguing things found. After the LORD offers to fill wide open mouths, He says “But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels. This is the same response found in Romans chapter one to those who refuse to acknowledge the LORD. We need to be careful in how we respond to the instruction of the Lord. Then, looking at the beginning of the psalm I found the LORD commands loud, joyful praise on His solemn feast days. Can solemness and loud, visible, expressions of joy come forth at the same time? Considering all of these things, this psalm promise great usefulness and ought to be studied.
1 ¶ To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of Asaph. Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute.
3 Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, At the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
4 For this is a statute for Israel, A law of the God of Jacob.
5 This He established in Joseph as a testimony, When He went throughout the land of Egypt, Where I heard a language I did not understand.
6 “I removed his shoulder from the burden; His hands were freed from the baskets.
7 You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah
8 ¶ “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me!
9 There shall be no foreign god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god.
10 I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 “But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me.
12 So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels.
13 “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways!
14 I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries.
15 The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, But their fate would endure forever.
16 He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.”
This psalm begins with an instruction, a command, an admonishment,
Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob, (v1)
This is a command to the people of God to joyfully praise God.
The command is not just to praise any god. The god we are to joyfully praise, He is the God of Jacob, the God who made himself known to Jacob, who wrestled with Jacob and blessed Jacob saying, “your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.” (Gen 32:22-32) This God is the God of Israel, the people to whom God has made Himself known. This God is the source of their strength, the one who sustains them. (See Nehemiah 9)
What is commanded is a loud joyful response, not a response that can be quietly hidden. It is to be loud. It is to be a shout that can be heard and seen by all around. It is not just any shout but is a shout to be made before, to and about “the God of Jacob.”
Who is this command given to? It comes to the people of God, those associated with Jacob. It is given to us in the book of the Psalms. The Psalms are the songs of the people of God. The people of God are those associated with Jacob, that is Israel, the chosen people of God. (Ex 3:6) The chosen people of God include more than just the direct descendants of Jacob. The prophet Micah tells us that in the latter day many nations shall come to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. (Micah 4:1-5) On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirt moved Peter to preach to “men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), we see God begin in earnest to bring gentiles from every nation into the people of God. The God of Jacob became the God of all who repented of theirs sins, whose sins are forgiven, to whom the Holy Spirit is given, “to those who are afar off, as many the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
This means that the command to “sing aloud and make a joyful shout” goes out to all of us who believe in the gospel of our Lord. Does this describe us? Can we be heard singing loudly and joyfully in praise of God, of our God?
Next we are told how we are to sing before the God of Jacob. We are to
Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute. (v2)
We are to sing and make a joyful shout together with the instruments God has supplied us with. Only a people, together, with the same objective can raise a song, strike the timbrel, harp and the lute at the same time in concert together. This is like a band or orchestra. A band or orchestra is loud and can be heard by all around. The people of God are to be a beacon of praise and to make an open declaration of their joy for the Lord. In the letter to the Hebrews in the new testament it is put this way.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
So, let us, as we strive together, be a joyful, visible beacon of praise to our God. Let us, thus, obey Jesus and “let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16)
When are we to shout joyfully before God? The Psalm tells us to
Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, At the full moon, on our solemn feast day. (v3)
When this psalm was penned blowing the trumpet played a special role, especially on solemn feast days. The Lord had Moses make two silver trumpets to be used to call the people together. They were also to be blown in the day of their gladness, in their appointed feasts, and at the beginning of the months, over the burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of their peace offerings, as a memorial before the LORD God. (Numbers 10:1-10) In that day the trumpet blast was designed by God to call the people together, to call the people to worship. This psalm is especially a worship psalm, with a call to joyful worship.
Although this shout and song of joy is, likely, not limited to a particular time, it is especially to follow the trumpet blast on the solemn feast days (the New Moon, the full moon, etc). We may think of solemness as being quiet and reserved before our holy and awesome Lord but the instruction here is different then some would expect. Rather then for quiet solemness, it is for a loud, visible, united, communal, expression of joy to be expressed on our solemn feast days.
Today, we also are called to feast before the Lord. Although we are not called with a literal blast of the trumpet, we are called by the Lord to feast upon His word. In that day, the word, especially that word referring to the saving and sanctifying work of our Lord Jesus Christ, was not yet written. Instead it was given to the people in a physical way by means of a series of solemn feast days, with a variety of sacrifices, each representing different aspects of the work that was to be accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we have the word written down. The church, using the word, is to trumpet forth the call to worship the Lord. Each Sunday we are called to feast together on the word of the Lord. The word calls us to “Make a joyful shout to the Lord.” (Ps 100) to sing praises to the Lord (Ps 47:6), to confess our sins before the Lord (1John 1:9), to accept forgiveness of our sins, to confess His great Name, and to hear His word. Our feasting before the Lord, is to be such that we are light to the world, like a city set on a hill that can not be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)
Yet, how often we tremble before the Lord. For, who is able to stand before the Lord God? Considering our sinful inclinations, we often reflect soberly before the Lord God. How often it is that we reflect in such a soberly way at the feast of the Lord’s supper. Ought this to be so? We are called to the supper with the force of a trumpet blast, by the very word of our Lord saying, “do this….in remembrance of me.” We certainly ought to be sobered as we consider our sins but is it our sins we are called to remember? Are we not called to remember our Lord, “ to do this in remembrance of Him.” To really remember the Lord we need to put off our sin, to have our sin removed, but what we are called to remember is not our sin but to remember our LORD and especially what He, Jesus, has done for us on the cross. He took the full punishment for all of our sins, past, present and future. He has released us from the bondage of sin. When He released Israel from bondage in Egypt, He gave to us the ten commandments that it would go well with us. Later in this psalm we will see that Jesus, having released us from the bondage of sin, says to us “open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” Is this not reason for a loud, visible, united, communal, expression of joy, even at the solemn feast of our LORD’s supper that we are called to celebrate?
Why are we to worship together loudly, visibly, and joyfully? Why?
For this is a statute for Israel, A law of the God of Jacob. (v4)
It is an instruction, a statute, a law from the LORD to Israel. Why do I say this instruction comes from the LORD? Because this law is for Israel, the covenant people of God, those He has gathered to Himself to be their personal God, as He did with Jacob. Also, a few verses later in this Psalm we hear directly from the LORD, who says, “I delivered you….I answered you….I tested you….I am the LORD your God.”
Consider just who this God is. In that day, the people knew that the God of Jacob had wrestled with Jacob at Bethel. The Lord had not destroyed Jacob but wrestled with him and spoke to him as a father would to his son whom he cared greatly for and wanted to direct in the right way to go. This was not just any god who wrestled with Jacob. Jacob asked Him his name. The LORD responded, “why do you ask me my name?” for Jacob knew the name of the one who wrestled with him, the one who had met with him face to face in a personal way in a dream, not long before, at Bethel where the LORD had said, “I am the LORD God of Abraham, your father and the God of Isaac.” (Gen 28:13) There, the LORD had renewed His covenant promise that He had made with Abraham saying, “In you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go….I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” (Gen 28:14-15) It is this LORD, the personal covenant keeping God, whose name is LORD, who gives the instruction, the statute, the law for all Israel to make Him (the LORD) known loudly, visibly, united together, with joy.
It is important to consider who Israel is. Paul tells us in Romans 9:8 that “the children of promise are counted as the seed,” rather than the children born to Abraham of the flesh. In Romans 11, Paul uses a vine and branches to describe Israel and tells us how branches, because of unbelief, are broken off (Rom 11:20) while those who believe on Jesus Christ are grafted in. Israel, today, are those who believe on Jesus Christ, those who abide in Christ. (John 15:1-8) These will be known by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16-20)
Today, Israel, that is those who are in Christ, those who love the LORD, the people of God are instructed by the LORD to be a visible beacon of praise and joy to Him.
This instruction to sing loudly, joyfully and visibly together,
this He [the LORD] established in Joseph as a testimony, When He went throughout the land of Egypt, Where I heard a language I did not understand. (v5)
This instruction was established in Egypt. It was the Lord who took His people to Egypt. In Genesis 15, the LORD told Abraham that His descendants would spend 400 years in Egypt. It was the Lord who took Joseph to Egypt. Although Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, what they meant for evil the LORD meant for good. (Gen 50:20) Joseph lived a righteous life in Egypt. No fault was found in him in Potiphar’s house. He had a good reputation with the Jailer and eventually with Pharaoh and was given the highest position in the land. His righteousness went a long way to helping his brethren. They were treated well and, with Joseph, they became a great nation. Under Joseph, they had nothing to fear. This is worth singing about. Joseph is a type of Christ. Under Christ we have nothing to fear. This is worthy of loud, visible, united, joyful praise.
Joseph was not Christ. After Joseph died, a new Pharaoh arose who did not know the testimony of Joseph and, fearful of this great growing nation, put them under bondage. The Israelites were in bondage but they were not forgotten. A most interesting thing happened. The more they were afflicted the stronger they grew, the more they multiplied and grew. The Lord often brings great growth and blessing out of hardship and trials. Pharaoh responded by increasing their burden until they, in their trouble, cried out to the LORD and He heard them (Ex 3:7)
The LORD responded,
I removed his shoulder from the burden; His hands were freed from the baskets. You called in trouble, and I delivered you;. (v6-7a)
The covenant people of the Lord, in bondage in Egypt, cried out to the LORD in their trouble. The LORD heard them and He delivered them. At the same time the LORD lashed out against the Egyptians, those whom the LORD’s people were in bondage to. He lashed out against Egypt with the ten plagues. Ultimately, the freedom of the Israelites was dependent on the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, depended on the shedding of the lamb’s blood. Ultimately, through the shedding of the blood of the ultimate Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, the chosen people of God are brought out from under the bondage of sin. On the other hand, those who did not depend on the shed blood of the Passover lamb were left to suffer under one of God’s angles, the angel of death. (Exodus 12:29-30) Let us beware, lest we forget the blessing of our Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, who shed His blood under the wrath of the Father that we could be delivered from the bondage of sin. Let us see our need of the LORD to deliver us from bondage to our sin.
The people cried out and, as He always does when His people, in truth, cry to Him, the LORD, the only one who can deliver them, removed the burden from their shoulders and freed their hands from carrying heavy baskets. They were freed from much heavy hard labour. (Ex 1:11, 5:6-19)
Once freed from the bondage of Egypt, the LORD did not leave His people to themselves. The Psalmist continues with the word from the Lord.
I answered you in the secret place of thunder. (v7b)
He took the Israelites, His people, to the secret place of thunder, to Mount Sinai. Not secret because no one knew where this mountain was but secret because, much of the Lord their God, the God of Jacob, was hidden from them. At Mount Sinai, the Lord hid Himself in a cloud of smoke. The people “witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.” (Ex 20:18) With our sin uncovered, we can not stand in the presence of the holy Lord, God. In this condition, to see the fullness of the face of God meant death. (Ex 33:20) With uncovered sin, which was the condition of the people, all we can see of God is His judgement and wrath, that is, unless the Lord makes it possible for us to see more. In His mercy, the Lord kept His people from certain death by covering the fulness of His glory in the cloud of smoke. Even more, He did not remain hidden in the smoke of His holiness, a holiness that can not look on sin. (*text*) He let His people begin to see into the secret place of Himself through His word that He sent to them through a mediator. The Lord began to reveal some of His secret self to His people. The Lord spoke His Word to Moses for Moses to bring it to the people as a mediator. (Ex 19:19) The Lord did not just give any words but words meant to bring life. Through Moses, the LORD gave His people His law. Moses was not a perfect mediator. Through Moses God did not fully reveal Himself. The fullness of the gospel remained hidden but they were given the law that according to the apostle Paul, was their tutor to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:24) Through Moses, the LORD said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” (Ex 20:20) The LORD knew that it was only the finished work of Jesus Christ, the promised seed, (Gen 3:15) the perfect mediator that would accomplish this but this, was something the people would have to learn. They needed to be tested so that they would learn to seek this, God’s gracious answer to their rebellion.
I tested you at the waters of Meribah. (v7c) Selah
After the law with all its detail was given to the people the Lord God led them away from Sinai, the secret place of thunder, to continue their journey through the wilderness to the promised land. They now had the law and the presence of the LORD, their God, who went before them in the cloud (Ex 40, Lev 10:11-13) yet they still complained. They were given manna, all the food they needed, but they wanted meat. So, the Lord gave them Quail to eat. Then after miraculously quenching their thirst and giving them meat, the LORD bought them to the promised land, to the very land that He had promised He would give to them, Abraham’s descendants. Now, here they were, just as the LORD had promised, in spite of many trials, in spite of their complaining. The LORD had said also to Jacob that this very land would be given to his descendants, who would “spread abroad from their to the west and the east, to the north and the south.” (Gen 28:13-14) Moreover the LORD had promised, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land: for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” (Gen 28:15) Now, here they were before this very land and the LORD, as He had promised was with them. Yet instead of going forth in the name of the LORD they cowered before their foe, the people the LORD had promised He would remove from land. Rather than believing the LORD would continue to keep His promise, they complained, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should become victims?” The people were ready to chose a new leader and return to Egypt. (Numbers 14:1-4) For their lack of belief and trust, the LORD bars that generation from entering the promise land (Numbers 14:29) yet, the Lord does not leave them. He lead them back into the wilderness where He tested them. In the next verse of Psalm 81, the LORD calls to them saying that He will admonish them if they will listen. The LORD takes them and tests them in the wilderness. Their first test, comes at the waters of Meribah. (Numbers 20)
This was not their first time at Meribah. The first time, not long after the LORD led them out of the bondage of Egypt, they grumbled and complained saying, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” God did not treat them harshly. In spite of their complaining, He mercifully gave them an abundance of water, proving that He, the LORD, was among them and had not brought them out of the land of Egypt to kill them with thirst. (Ex 17:1-7) This was before they were given the law that was to direct them in the way they should go and be their tutor to bring them to Christ.. Now they come, the second time, to Meribah. The LORD tests them again with thirst. There was no water. He could have left the water flowing but in His wisdom He shut it off to test His people. Would they trust Him and wait upon Him? They fail the test. They, again, complain against the LORD. This time they have no excuse. Not only do they now have the law of the Lord, they also have the history of the first time they stood without water in Meribah. (Numbers 20)
At this point in the Psalm, there is a Selah which means a pause. Considering the grace that the LORD had so mercifully extended to His people, their poor response to this test ought to bring sober reflection. Selah. Pause and reflect. Are we really any different then the Israelites in the days of old? (Ps 78) As we pause and reflect on our own stubbornness and unbelief, our response ought to be to cry out to the LORD for mercy (be merciful to me a sinner) and to look upon the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Now, what will the LORD do? What would you do? Is it not time to give up on such an unthankful group of people? Stand amazed! The LORD does not give up on His people. He remembers His covenant with them. He continues to cry out to them and to work at drawing them into His fold. He says,
Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! (v8)
The LORD implores His people to hear Him. He promises to admonish them if they will listen to Him. To admonish someone means provide gentle, earnest guidance, especially by means of warnings and disapproval of what ought not to be done. If His people will listen to them, the LORD promises to admonish them. Admonish? If we listen to the Lord, can we not expect blessing? Listen to what the LORD says in Isaiah 55:1-3, “Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live…” Before this He says, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” The Lord implores us to listen carefully to Him for He knows that we are inclined to evil. As we begin to know ourselves, like the LORD knows us, we will agree that we are so often caught up in sin and that we are inclined to seek things that are not good and do not satisfy our souls. Our eyes need to be opened to this sin and we need to repent. The path to real blessing from the Lord comes by the way of the LORD’s admonishment, by Him directing us to repentance and forgiveness of sins. Yes, if we will listen to the LORD, His words will admonish us, opening our eyes to our sin and guiding us to repentance. Oh Israel, if you will listen to Me, says the LORD.
If we refuse to listen to and glorify the Lord, who answered us from the secret place of thunder, who has written His law in our hearts (Jer 31:33, Rom 2:12) and who has revealed to us His attributes, His eternal power and divine nature through His creation; (Rom 1:20) if we refuse to listen then can we expect the LORD to admonish us? Can we expect the LORD to direct us back to the way of safety and peace? If we refuse to listen, He will not admonish us. Let us listen to the LORD and not be afraid of the LORD’s admonishment. To be admonished by the gracious and merciful LORD is not something we should fear. Solomon tells us through Proverbs that the rod of admonishment will not kill us (Prov 23:13), will drive foolishness far from us (Prov 22:15) and will give us wisdom (Prov 29:15). To be admonished by our LORD is a sign of His love, for a father who spares his rod hates his son but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Prov 13:24) Though admonishment we are delivered from hell. (Prov 23:14) The LORD is so gracious and merciful (full of compassion). His admonishment often comes by the same means as His teaching and often consists of our brothers and sisters in Christ gently admonishing us using His word and in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16) Let us listen to the LORD and not fear nor despise the His admonishment, nor detest His correction. For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights. (Prov 3:11-12) Let us listen carefully to the LORD. Let us place ourselves before His word often.
What is it that needs to be heard? What is it when the LORD admonishes His people? Is it not the answer of the LORD that He gave to them at the secret place of thunder, at mount Sinai? Next, the psalmist reminds us of the first two admonishing words from the LORD.
There shall be no foreign god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god. (v9).
You shall have no other gods before me and you shall not bow down to them nor serve them says the LORD. The greatest commandment sums it up this way. We are to love the LORD our God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. (Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37) Jesus says, that if we love Him we will keep His commands. (John 14:15) Any time we turn away from loving the LORD, away from keeping His commands, it can always be traced back to loving someone or something else more than, or in place of, the LORD. We, to often, are caught up in such sin and, in spite of this, we can be quick to deny it. It is the admonishing words of the Lord that bring us face to face with our sin, if we will only listen and hear.
Why does the LORD admonish us with His word? Why are we to sing loudly, joyfully and visibly together? Through the psalmist, the LORD tells us why?
I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Vv10a)
He has brought us out of bondage. (Ex 20) We are His chosen people. (v 11) For what reason did the LORD do this? What is expected of those brought out of bondage?
We learned in verse seven that the Israelites called out in their trouble and the LORD answered. In Exodus chapter two we read of the child of Israel, when they were in Egypt, that they “groaned because of their bondage and they cried out and their cry came up to God because of their bondage.” (Ex 2:23) The LORD delivered them when they cried out in their bondage but this is not the main reason He delivered them. The text goes on to say, “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” (Ex 2:24) The main reason the LORD brought them out of the land of Egypt is because He is true to His word. He was keeping His covenant promise given to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob.
The promise that the children of Israel would be brought out of Egypt was part of God’s larger promise to Abraham. The LORD said to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also, I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen 17:7-8) This promise is a major part of God’s plan to fulfill the mother of all promises where God promised that the one descended from Eve would crush the head of Satan, while Satan would bruise His heal. (Gen 3:15)
When the LORD renewed His covenant with the children of Israel before they entered into Canaan, the land of promise, He revealed the underlying reason for what He did. The reason is His Love! Moses told them, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7:7-8). Moses continues, “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.” (Deut 7:9-11) This teaches us that the Lord loves but He also hates. The Lord hates those who will not turn from sin and evil. He requires that His love be responded to with love, as seen in the summary of the answer that the LORD gave them from the secret place of thunder. “You love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5) If we love the LORD we will keep His commandments. (John 14:15)
Satan’s desire is to destroy God’s plan, to turn all away from God’s love and to turn all away from loving God. He planted the seed of evil in our first parents, Adam and Eve, and does all that he can to nurture this seed in each one of us. This seed of evil within each us leaves us rebellious against God and deserving of destruction. Thanks be to God that Satan can not turn the love of God against us. Got kept His promise and sent His Son, the seed of the women to overturn the work of Satan. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) The apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Ephesian Christians.
4 ¶ But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7)
So, why does the LORD admonish us with His word? Why are we to sing loudly, joyfully and visibly together? Why did the LORD bring them out of bondage in Egypt? Why does the LORD deliver His people from the bandage of sin? Why? Because of His great Love! And so, we ought to love Him!
Another interesting observation seen in this psalm is that the reason given for loud, joyful, visible united praise of our LORD, that “God is the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt,” is the same word spoken by the Lord when He introduced His commands (His admonishing words) from Sinai (the secret place of thunder) saying, “I am the LORD your God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” then continued with “you shall have no other gods before me…” (Exodus 20) This implies a parallel between the law given at Sinai and the words that follow in this Psalm, “open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”
The LORD did not bring His people out of Egypt and He does not free us from the bondage of sin to then just leave us and let the seed of evil that Satan planted continue its destructive work within us. Both in His word at Sinai and here in this psalm He continues. Here, He gives the instruction,
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. (v10b)
The filling of a wide open mouth is seen with birds, like robins, whose babies can do nothing to help themselves other then to, in the presence of their mother, open their mouth wide, with expectation, while she fills it. When we were babies we similarly could do nothing to help ourselves other than open our mouths and cry out, in expectation, while our mother gave us nourishment. How similar it was for the Israelites once freed from Egypt, the land of bondage. They were totally dependent on the sustaining power of the Lord. No sooner were they across the Red sea, and the Egyptians defeated, then they found they had no water to drink. They cried out to the Lord and the Lord made bitter water sweet. This was a test from the Lord. He did not yet admonish them but instead had promised the blessing of freedom from the diseases (plagues) He had inflicted on the Egyptians. The Lord promised these blessings if they would just hear His commands and do them. (Ex 15:22-27) Next, they complained about not having the meat they had had in Egypt. Again, He gave no admonishment other than having Moses warn them that their complaint was against the LORD. The LORD blessed them with daily bread (manna) and even with rest from having to gather this bead on the seventh day. This blessing continued, in spite of their continued disobedience, for all of the forty years they spent in the wilderness. (Ex 16) Then, a second time, He blessed them with water during their first visit to Meribah. The testing of the LORD for forty years in the wilderness was also a blessing, for He did this “that He might make them know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut 8:3) He supplied all their needs. All they had to do was open their mouths and eat and drink. The LORD even kept their feet from swelling and their garments from wearing out. (Deut 8:4)
Although all were blessed with the same daily bread, not all were fully blessed. Those who refused to follow the LORD into the land of Canaan, the promised land, a land that was exceedingly good, (Num 14:7) that flowed with milk and honey (Num 14:8) and had huge clusters of grapes (Num 13:23); those who would not go forward to where they could partake of these promised blessings, those who would not open their mouths; their carcasses died in the wilderness. While those who believed the LORD and were willing to follow the LORD’s leading, that is Joshua and Caleb, in time, received the full blessing and entered into the promised land of blessing. The LORD did not forget His promise. After those who refused to open their mouths wide had died, the LORD renewed His covenant promise with their children. Prior to taking them into the promised land He restated His commandments. (Deut) This renewal came with substantial warning and encouragement. “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgements which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land,” (Deut 4:1) ‘that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time. (Deut 4:40) Open and be filled.
The renewal of the LORD’s covenant promise also came with warning. “Take careful heed to yourselves…lest you act corruptly….take heed, lest when you see the sun, the moon and the stars you feel driven to worship and serve them….take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you and [you] make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything and do evil in the sight of the LORD your God to provoke Him to anger.” (Deut 4:15-25) Next, in this passage, the LORD promises admonishment to them when they turn from the way that He put before them at Sinai saying, “and the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you.” (Deut 4:27-28)
The LORD will not totally destroy His people when they turn to worship something other than Him. In the place where admonishment comes, “from there you will see the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all of your soul” (Deut 4:29) The Lord brought them out of Egypt “by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors….that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him….and because He loved your fathers.” (Deut 4:34-37)
“Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” (Deut 4:39-40) Yes, look and see what the LORD has done for you because of His great love. Look and see then open your mouth wide and He will fill it! He will fill it with the bread of life, Jesus, the word of God, (John 6:35) and with water that will leave you to never thirst again. (John 4:14) Open your mouth wide and be filled. Be careful that you listen and follow.
Now comes the most heart wrenching part of this psalm. The LORD says,
But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me. (v11)
The people of God have every reason to praise God with loud, visible, united, communal, expressions of joy. After the LORD implores them to listen and hear Him, after He gives them the instruction to just simply open their mouths wide, (an instruction which is gentle and not that of a difficult taskmaster) after all this, something dreadful happens. His people do not heed His voice and want nothing to do with Him.
We can be certain that this came as no surprise to the LORD. By the time this psalm was written the LORD had given the Israelites the promised land. The LORD did not give them the land of promise because of their righteousness but because of the wickedness of the nations whom they drove out of the land and so that He might fulfill the word which He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The LORD did not give them the land because of their righteousness for He knew they were a stiff necked people. (Deut 9:5-6) They had proved this over and over again. And would prove it again in the future. (Judges)
Is this not also, so often, the case with us, today? When it comes to rebellion in our hearts, we are similar to God’s people of old. We are mankind, children of Adam. “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) There is none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3, Psalm 14) How often are we like those citizens who hated the master saying, “we will not have this man to rule over us?” (Luke 19:12-14) How often do we say the same thing in our hearts?
What should we expect, if we do not heed the admonishing voice of the LORD and we do not want to even listen to Him, to glorify Him or give thanks to Him? (Romans 1) Will the LORD then pour down fire and brimstone upon us as He did on Sodom and Gomorrah? No, at least, not yet but those of us who have any realization of how we need of the sustaining power of God will find His response most troubling. The LORD’s response is,
So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels. (v12)
Instead of immediately destroying them, God will give us over to follow our own stubborn hearts. Paul, in Romans 1, says that God will give us over to uncleanness, to vile passions and to debased minds. (Romans 1:18-32) To be given over by God is a withdrawing of His grace, to be left without needed admonishment, to be left to bring about our own demise.
Yet, this is not a complete withdrawing of the sustaining power and love of God for in His mercy He lets us continue to live in the day of grace, the day when His admonishing word is still preached and can again be heard if we will but listen and respond. Let us be careful not to ignore God, presuming that everything will work out for our good in the end. Sodom and Gomorrah are a warning to us. If we are left long enough to follow our own stubborn hearts, our lives will deteriorate until we live in total sin as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? If there is no turning back to the Lord, there will, one day, be a severe fire and brimstone judgement.
It is not the LORD’s desire that we be destroyed, that we spend eternity in hell. He calls out to us, he implores His people saying,
Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! (v13)
He desires that we listen to Him, to His word, and walk in the way that He instructs us to go. Graciously, He has not been silent about this. He has clearly and repeatedly laid His desire before us and given His word of instruction to us. Yet, how often we rebel against His gentle and persistent hand. How often we refuse to open our mouths wide to be fed by His word, the bread of life.
Oh, that the LORD would admonish (discipline) me rather then leave me to the vileness of my own deceitful heart. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps 139:23-24). The LORD is so gracious and merciful (full of compassion). His admonishment often comes by the same means as His teaching. It often consists of our brothers and sisters in Christ gently admonishing us using His word and in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16) Let us not fear or despise the admonishment of the LORD. (Prov 3:11, Heb 12:5) Let us listen carefully to the LORD.
Again, let us not be presumptuous. Nowhere in scripture do we find that the Lord continues to bless His people if there is no turning and listening to Him. Let us not only listen to the Lord, but let us hear Him! And let us walk in His ways!
If we will listen to Him and walk in His ways, what does the LORD say? The psalmist continues,
I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries. (v14).
Enemies and adversaries are those who stand against the children of God, those who would try to turn hearts away from loving God.
Who are our enemies and our adversaries? Certainly, Satan stands against us. The Apostle Peter instructs us. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Peter 5:8) Next, many in the world are against us. Solomon, in Proverbs, describes the seductress, the immoral women. In her is a picture of the worldly. Solomon instructs us saying, “Now therefore, listen to me, my children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death.” (Proverbs 7:24-27) Finally, our greatest adversary is our own deceitful heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it.” The LORD searches hearts. He knows it. (Jeremiah 17:9-10) He knew this of the Israelites, calling them “a stiff necked people.” Yet, knowing this, He still called them to be a people to Himself (2Samuel 7:23-24) and said that He would be their God and they would be His people. (Ex 6:7, Jer 11:14, Eze 36:28)
Those who know the depravity of their own hearts know that their only hope is that the LORD God subdue their enemies. This the LORD will soon do if we would listen and walk in His ways. His way, the answer He gave from the secret place of thunder, is that we love Him with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our mind. Given the state of our hearts, how shall we do this?
The need to begin to love God and to live according to His law is clear in this psalm, Although, how we begin to do this is not clearly outlined. To resist the devil we are instructed by the apostle, James, to submit to God. (James 4:7) To battle the world we are told in psalm one not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor to sit in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1) How are we, with our deceitful hearts, to do these things? The greatest enemy of every one of us is our own deceitful heart, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23) There is non righteous, no not one. (Rom 3:10) What is needed is righteousness in our heart in place of deceit.
Although the way to this righteousness is not clearly outlined in this psalm, the way did exist in that day for Abraham. He also suffered from a deceitful heart and was able to satisfied God, not by his own righteousness but because he believe the promise of God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. (Gen 15:6, Romans 4:3) It is by this gracious and merciful work of God that we can satisfy God and that we can begin down the path of righteousness, to hear Him and walk in His ways. Although living righteously is living according to God’s commandments, according to His law, it is not what we do that gives us this righteousness. The Apostle Paul put it this way,
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:21-26)
“It is by grace you are saved though faith, it is a gift of God not of works lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) It is by this gracious and merciful work of God that we can satisfy God and that we can begin to hear Him and walk in His ways and thus live in the certain hope that the LORD will subdue our enemies and turn his hand against our adversaries.
We can have a certain hope in the LORD that He will do these things, for our covenant keeping, that is our promise keeping, God has promised that He will. Listen to the LORD’s word through the prophet Ezekiel. (I have included a long passage but every word is wonderful to hear)
“And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord GOD, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 36:23-36)
Notice, that it is not for the sake of His people that the Lord God does these wonderful things and draws us from our sinful ways to love Him. He does it so that those who look on will see that the Lord has done these great things. He has spoken it. What He speaks, He does! Because of what our LORD has done, for His names sake, let us sing aloud to God our strength and make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Let us raise a song in concert together with all who our LORD has brought to Himself, being our God and making us His people!
But let us not presume that God does not care and will continue to allow those He has created to continue to try to live outside of the position that He has created them to thrive in, that is as a people unto Him. Let us not presume that the God will forever allow people to continue rebelliously to try to be gods unto themselves. Those who refuse to listen to the LORD and refuse to walk in his ways are not living in righteousness. Instead, they are living out of their hatred of the LORD. Listen to what the LORD says through the psalmist.
The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. (v15)
Loving the LORD must begin in the heart, in the centre of ones being. To do otherwise and to pretend to love the LORD is hypocrisy. Of such, Jesus speaks woe. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
Where there is no love of the LORD from the heart, there is no desire to follow the ways of the LORD. For such there is no eternal hope. Those who continue in these ways, in the end, will not entre heaven. “Outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” (Rev 22:15)
What can we say? “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2) Considering what so easily lurks in our hearts, we should see and seek from the Lord the new heart and the Spirit within us that He promises in Ezekiel 36:26.
None need to be lost forever, if they will hear and listen to the LORD to be admonished by Him to turn and walk in His ways then the psalmist tells us,
He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you. (v16)
This is our great God. He, the Lord, is true to His word. Those who open their mouths wide, listen to Him and walk in His ways will be filled and with the finest of good things they will be satisfied.
So let us, as the LORD, the God of Jacob, commands, sing aloud to God our strength and make a joyful shout to Him. Let us raise a song together, with instruments, in concert, with other believers, together in the solemn assemblies that the Lord calls us to. For the Lord, because of His great love and mercy, has kept His promise and by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, He has released us from the bondage of our sin and has given us His word to admonish us, to guide us in His way of righteousness. For the Lord has given us power by the Holy Spirit to walk in His way, to open our mouths wide, to accept Him and His way through which He will fill us with the finest of good.
For all this, let us sing aloud! Amen and Amen!