God's Provision and Israel's Waywardness

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.
--Psalm 81 KJV Bible

This psalm is associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths. This was a festival lasting seven days and concluding with a holy convocation. During the festival, the people constructed and lived in booths or huts made of branches, commemorating God's provision for them in bringing them out of Egypt and through the wilderness (Leviticus 23:33-44).

The song opens with a summons to praise, continues with an exhortation to remember, and concludes with a call to repent. Some suggest the psalm may have been written in the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Israel around 750 BC, shortly before the time of the profit Hosea.

The psalm description says it is a song of Asaph. Asaph was an outstanding musician who lived in the time of King David (Nehemiah 12:46). Asaph's father was Berechiah (1 Chronicles 6:39). David had appointed Asaph as a minister of music for the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 15:16-19) and Asaph's descendants were also official temple musicians (Ezra 2:41). Asaph was sometimes described as a "seer," or a prophet (2 Chronicles 29:30). Psalms 50 and 73 through 83 are attributed to Asaph, or perhaps written for Asaph to perform. The beautiful psalms of Asaph describe the world round us in a clear way, remind us that God cares for us, cause us to learn from events, and remind us of the greatness of God. Since the Asaph of David's time was long dead, the psalm may have been written by or for Asaph's descendants in his honor, or it may have been written by or for a contemporary who was also named Asaph.

The description of the psalm also says that it is "for the Gittith," but it is uncertain just what that is. The Hebrew word is derived from "Gath," which was a common place name in Israel and the surrounding area. Examples include Gath of the Philistines, one of five Philistine city-states established in northwestern Philistia, Gath-Gittaim, Gath Carmel, and others. A person from Gath is called a Gittite, and a Gittith may have been a tune or instrument associated with one of those places.

The Hebrew "selah" is used in verse 7 of the psalm. The word is thought to be a musical notation to the choir director and musicians. It loosely translates as a break in the song or an instruction to pause and reflect, perhaps with a musical interlude. Some translators suggest the phrase "stop and listen." Others say that a more concise translation would be "let those with eyes see and with ears hear." The word "selah" has been compared to the word "amen" in that it stresses to the listener the importance of the preceding passage. The word "selah" is used in thirty-nine of the psalms.

In verses 1 through 5, the psalmist calls the people to praise God. The people are called to sing and shout joyfully. They are also called to play the timbrel, the lyre, the harp, and the trumpet--a ram's horn, called a shofar. The blowing of the shofar at the full moon (fifteenth day) of the seventh month signaled the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles. God established the ordinance so that the people would remember when they lived among the Egyptians.

In verses 6 through 10, the psalmist encourages the people to remember. When the people called to God for help, God rescued them from Egypt, lifted their burden, and provided for them in the desert, including the giving of water at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). Since God had done such great thing for the people, they should not worship the false gods of other nations.

In verses 11 through 16, the psalmist calls the people to repent. The psalmist recalls how the people suffered in the past because they did not obey God's commands. If the people would obey God, He would both defend the righteous and defeat the wicked.

Father, I so easily forget Your blessings. Forgive me. Help me to stay focused on You in the good times as well as the bad.

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