Psalm 81

O, that my people would listen to Me

When was the last time someone really listened to you?

Sometimes the small things make the difference. Those almost insignificant moments when someone cares to listen attentively. That split second where you realize you were truly understood. Those small times can change lives.

God hears us, but do we really hear his voice? Psalm 81 posed that question in a hymn of corporate worship.

For the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. By Asaph.

1 Sing aloud to God, our strength!
Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob!
2 Raise a song, and bring here the tambourine,
the pleasant lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the New Moon,
at the full moon, on our feast day.
4 For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.

World English Bible

Psalm 81 began as a call to worship in the Temple. Notice the imperatives to sing and strike up the instruments in 81:1-3; those commands were linked to the duties found in the Torah.

5 He appointed it in Joseph for a covenant,
when he went out over the land of Egypt,
I heard a language that I didn't know.
6 "I removed his shoulder from the burden.
His hands were freed from the basket.
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."

81:5-7 reminded those gathered of the Mosaic covenant that formed the basis of their identity and the reason to worship YHWH. These verses recounted the Exodus experience, the faithfulness of the Lord, yet the fickle spirit of the Israelites. Even when the people faced uncertainly, even danger, God saved them.


8 "Hear, my people, and I will testify to you,
Israel, if you would listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god in you,
neither shall you worship any foreign god.
10 I am YHWH, your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 But my people didn't listen to my voice.
Israel desired none of me.
12 So I let them go after the stubbornness of their hearts, that they might walk in their own counsels.

81:8-12 echoed the themes of verses 5-7, the call to the covenant, specifically to worship YHWH alone, and the promise of deliverance, even in the face of the people's unfaithfulness. Yes the people had the Law and witnessed the power of the Lord, yet they wandered from their religious and moral duties; they proved unfaithful.

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 YHWH would cringe before him,
and their punishment would last forever.
16 But he would have also fed them with the finest of the wheat.
I will satisfy you with honey out of the rock."

81:13-16 reinforced the reason the people gathered to praise God. They worshiped YHWH because he differed from the pagan deities. He was not personified cycle of nature, the force of fertility. He stood greater than that. No, he was the God who revealed himself in the history of his people. He intervened before. And if the people would only listen to his voice, he would intervene again. Enemies would be subdued, the faithful would receive blessing. The key remained in attentive focus. They had to truly listen to the words of the Lord.

Psalm 81 stands as an invitation and a warning to us, just as it did to the people at the Temple. We worship God because of what he's done for us. We also need to really hear his voice so we can witness him again active in our lives. He is there. All we need to do is hear him.

Take time today to quiet your mind and heart. Then listen to God speak.