(A Psalm that explores the nature of true worship, which should be joyful, God centered, focused on what God has done for us in saving us and should show itself in daily trust and obedience to God and his word. If we do worship God this way his promise it to provide abundantly for our daily physical and spiritual needs.)

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 When I was in my early twenties I was part of a five piece folk / Gospel group that sang and performed in many churches. This group had three men and two women and the group was made up of a double bass player, two guitarists, a beautiful female lead singer and I played a tambourine to give us some percussion backing. We sang beautiful four part harmonies and all our songs either praised the God of the bible or presented his Gospel message.

One night we played and sang at a special youth service at my church and after the service a lady who was a regular member of the congregation came up to me and snatched the tambourine out of my hand and threw it on the church floor and said to me, “How dare you bring this Godless loud instrument into my church”. At the time I was so surprised and upset I simply picked up my tambourine and walked out of the church and went home.

After studying Psalm 81 I now know forty -five years later what I should have said to that lady. I should have pointed out that nowhere in the bible do I read of organs but I do find a lot of references to tambourines, guitar like instruments called lutes and trumpets. So far as being loud the Old Testament worship that God told his people to do was both loud and very joyful. Then I could have opened my bible and read to her the first three verses of Psalm 81,

Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Begin the music, strike the tambourine, and play the melodious harp and lyre.

Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival”.

I’m not suggesting the church should now ban organs and what I call not so loud melodic music. As a matter of fact I changed the church service I now attend some five years ago for a number of reasons and one was that the service I had attended for a number of years, which was the evening young people’s service had music that just got to loud for me with electric guitars, drums and microphone singers. Now I am one of the music leaders at a morning service that has minimal musical accompaniment, organ, double bass and sometimes violin and features more four-part harmonies, something I am good at helping to provide.

The point is God ordained worship in the Old Testament was very joyful but it also strikes me as being very loud and beyond that it demanded faith and obedience by those who took part in it.

Psalm 81 like Psalm 50, both written by a man named Asaph are worship Psalms and give us vital clues to how God wants us to worship him.

The original Asaph and indeed his many descendants in the nation of Israel played important roles in worship services of their day. They were Levites who were full time musicians and worship leaders. As we read of in a number of places from the time of David, Hezekiah, Josiah and Ezra (after the return from exile) like 1 Chronicles 25: 1 – 2,

“David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. Here is the list of the men who performed this service:

From the sons of Asaph:

 Zakkur, Joseph, Nethaniah and Asarelah. The sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision”.

Note how this reference speaks of Asaph prophesying under the king’s supervision which is probably a reference to his inspired writing of Psalms some of which became Temple worship songs and then Psalms found in the book of Psalms like Psalm 81 which we are now looking at.

When and why Asaph or one of his descendants wrote this Psalm we simply don’t know but certainly the Psalm fits well with a man who was involved in both the playing of Temple music and the singing of it as well.

The Psalm features a call to worship, a description of whom we should be worshipping, why we should worship him, what are the dangers of not worshipping him properly and what are the benefits of worshipping him properly.

With this in mind my breakdown for this Psalm goes like this:

  1. 1 – 3 A call for joyful worship
  2. 4 – 5 The God who saves demands this worship
  1. 6 – 7  Worship God who saves his people from bondage
  2. 8 – 10 Worship God only
  1. 11 – 12 The people who failed to worship God only
  2. 13 – 16 Worship God and he will provide for us abundantly

The Psalm starts with a clear call to worship and Asaph probably was part of the calling of the people to worship either in singing or at least in providing musical accompaniment. So lets have a look at his great call to worship which I have broken into two parts.

  1. 1 – 3 A call for joyful worship
  2. 4 – 5 The God who saves demands this worship
  1. 1 – 3 A Call for joyful worship

The two characteristics of worship in this call to worship are joyful loud music to a God who is described as “Our Strength” and “the God of Jacob”.

So in this first part of this first section we will look at:

  1. The God who this praise should be directed to (vs. 1)
  2. The type of worship and praise he demands (vs’s 2 – 3)
  1. The God who this praise should be directed to (vs. 1)

So lets have a look first at these two descriptions of God that this joyful loud music should be directed to, the first verse contains these two descriptions and it says,

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob”.

 The two descriptions of God are:

  1. Our Strength
  2. The God of Jacob
  1. Our Strength

This description of God was a favorite of David as we see for instance from two examples of David using it in Psalm 18: 1,

“I love you, O Lord, my strength”

And Psalm 28: 7,

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped”.

 David faced many times and even years of both physical and spiritual attack, like his eight years on the run from King Saul and in his later years attack from his very own rebellious son Absalom. So David needed the strength and protection of God and he got that and for that he often praised God.

Israel as a nation often faced both physical and spiritual attack and when they truly trusted in God they received it so here in this call to worship God in Psalm 81, Asaph calls on the people of Israel gathered at the Temple to worship God to sing joyfully to God who is their strength.

Asaph will soon point to the way God was Israel’s strength by the way he brought them out of bondage, gave them the law at Sinai and led them victoriously into the Promised Land.

Moses acknowledged God’s strength in helping him and his people Israel escape the clutches of their Egyptian enemies in his song of praise in Exodus 15. This song was sung after they crossed the red sea and saw the mass killing of their enemies. We read this in Exodus 15: 2,

“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him”.

God is our strength as Christians as well and Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 6: 10 where he speaks of how we are under attack from great and powerful evil spiritual forces and he says in this in that context,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”.

 We might be under attack from powerful spiritual forces but in the Lord we are made strong and for that we to should worship God with joyful praise. Paul praises God for his strength with these words in Philippians 4: 13,

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength”.

  1. The God of Jacob

We then read the second description of God at the end of verse 1,

“Shout aloud to the God of Jacob”.

 This is another favored description of God by David and indeed other Psalm writers like Asaph and the Sons of Korah. It is first an alterative name for Israel, as Jacob became Israel. As we see in a later Psalm 105: 10,

“He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant”.

 David uses the God of Jacob when he seems to feel humanly week and vulnerable like Psalm 20: 1,

“May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you”.

 A Son of Korah uses the term God of Jacob when he was writing at a time when the Nation of Israel was under attack and very vulnerable in Psalm 46: 7,

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress”.

 The biblical meaning of the name Jacob is;

“Holder of the heel” or “supplanter” (behind the

Given to Jacob at his birth when he was born clutching his brother’s heel seeking to pull him back so he could be the first born rather than his twin brother Esau. Jacob for most of his life lives as a rebellious son. He lives like this unto he has a strange encounter with God or one of God’s angels recorded for us in Genesis 28.

After Jacobs wrestling with God’s angel and being made to have a permanent limp from an injured hip, God gives him a new name Israel, which means;

May God prevail, He struggles with God” (behind the

This event in Jacobs life with its corresponding name change represents a turning point in the life of Jacob and I think lies behind the often use of the name “God of Jacob”. God then is even the God of the rebellious Jacob who he transforms into Israel the one who God now prevails in.

We to as Christians are only God’s children because of God’s grace; we are rebellious sinful people who God has saved because of his love or grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of our unworthiness to be saved because of our sin and then says we are saved by God’s power given to us because of his grace in Christ Jesus our Lord in Ephesians 2: 1 – 5,

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved”.

We are now the new Israel of God as Paul declares in Galatians 6: 10,

“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God”.

So we should shout praise to our God, the God of his people Israel now made up of people from every nation as Paul declares in Galatians 3: 26 – 28,

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

  1. The type of worship and praise he demands (vs’s 2 – 3)

So we then see what type of praise this strong God of his people Jacob demands and we read of this in verses, 2 – 3,

“Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre. Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our feast”.

I mentioned in my introduction that 45 years ago a women at the church I attended grabbed my tambourine I had played in a small folk / Gospel group and threw it on the floor calling it a Godless noisy instrument. I could get this reaction from a number of churches today and even a modern Jewish Synagogue would probably react this way to a tambourine.

In an excellent article on the Internet by a man named Bob Williams called “Origins Origins of Christian Worship, Bob speaks of the demise of instrumental music in the Synagogue system with these words,

“A significant difference is seen between the dramatic worship exhibited in the temple (both the first and the second) and the restrained and subdued gatherings in the synagogues. While the focus in the temple seemed to be mainly upon exuberant worship and praise through sacrifice and music (both vocal and instrumental), it seems that the main focus in the synagogues was not so much upon public worship, but rather upon instruction in the Law. The worship of the synagogues was apparently limited to recitation of prayer, chanting of the Psalms, and Bible reading and instruction”.

 Unfortunately much of early Christian church followed the lead of the Jewish Synagogue system of prayer and chanting of Psalms except it seems very early Christian churches that Paul helped set up did for a while explore the kind of musical worship styles God had ordained in the Old Testament. We pick this up in the famous quote of Paul in Ephesians 5: 18 – 20,

“ Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

There has always been what I call “kill joy anti music people” in the church and it is a fact that what we now know as modern hymn singing was not made legal in the Church of England 1750 up to them only Psalms were chanted in Church services and hymns were restricted to meetings outside of official service.

Yet here in Psalm 81 verse 2, we read of many other instruments other than tambourines being used in Temple worship like, harps and an instrument called a lyre, which is a ancient form of guitar type instrument as we read in verse 2,

“Begin the music strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre”.

Then in verse 3 we read of even noisier instruments being used in this loud and joyful musical worship, the “rams horn”,

“Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast”.

 In my church we have a member who is now a missionary in Africa named Graham who often played an excellent trumpet at church services he attended. Sometimes when we were singing a rousing hymn of praise Graham would step forward and blast away on his trumpet. To some members of the church this was very uplifting but others would cringe and sometimes complain of the noise Graham’s trumpet made.

I often thought, when Graham played his trumpet in the church of the many references to heaven where great trumpet playing takes place and wondered how anti trumpet playing christens would cope with heaven when loud trumpet playing starts.

Particularly when the Lord returns we read in Matthew 24: 30 – 31,

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other”.

Which reminds me of the great old hymn I can hear Graham helping to play that goes,

“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
and the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
when the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll is called up yonder,
when the roll is called up yonder,
when the roll is called up yonder,
when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there”.

When that trumpet blasts what will those anti trumpet players say then maybe they will put in a complaint to the Lord himself saying get rid of that loud music its not biblical.

So far as the designation of what feast or festival this is for I found that it seems like a toss up between The Festival of the Passover and the Festival of The Tabernacle. The fact is both festivals were celebrated around the same time of the year and both could be argued to fit the context that follows. The Passover celebrates God’s great deliverance from Egypt and the Tabernacle Festival or festival of booths or tents remembers the Israelites wilderness wanderings when the nation lived in tents for 40 years before God led them into the Promised Land.

Allan Harmon suggests that maybe this Psalm was used in the Temple worship for all Jewish festivals and lists them (Exodus 23: 15 – 16, 34: 18 – 22, Deut. 16: 16 and 2 Chronicles 8: 13).

My reflection on this verse is bound up in the thought of how God ordained many festivals and special days of remembrance in the Old Testament and yet the Christian church probably only has two festivals Christmas and Easter. Extreme groups like The Jehovah Witnesses want both banned as they believe they have strong pagan links although I cannot for the life of me see how Easter is Pagan when it is bound so closely in the Gospels to the Jewish Passover when Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.

The ancient Hebrews had lots of regular special days of remembrance to help them to think of what God had done for them in the past and what he had done for them in the present like the Harvest Festival.

Jesus instituted a remembrance service of the breaking of bread and drinking of wine to remember his death on the cross for us but this is something we should do regularly when we come together as a church to worship God.

Let me remind you what Jesus said about this in Luke 22: 19 – 20,

 “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”.

Paul picks up this in his letter to the Corinthians to correct bad practice there in the area of the Lords Supper in 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26,

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

I read recently an academic lady who converted from Protestantism to Catholicism on the grounds that Jesus literally meant we were drinking his blood and body in his words at the last supper. However Jesus does say here that it is to be done in remembrance of him and to force Jesus into saying he actually wants us to believe we are eating his body and drinking his blood is silly and as dangerous because it led the church into idolatry worship in the middle ages when Christians began to focus on the supposed mystical elements of the communion and not on what they represented namely Christ death for our sins on the cross.

  1. 4 – 5 The God who saves demands this worship

This worship and festival or maybe festivals and the way they are to be conducted in the sense of worship are not made up by man but verse 4 says they where instituted by God himself, verse 4 says,

“This is a decree for Israel, and ordinance of the God of Jacob”.

 The books of the law, the first five books of the bible lay down by God himself speaks of the many festivals he wanted his people to have. The festival of the Passover, which has special significance to the Christian Church, is laid down in Exodus 12. Also this is called the Festival of Unleavened Bread in Exodus 23: 15.

So God in Deuteronomy sets down this festival and the Tabernacles 16: 1 – 17 and it focuses on God’s guiding of his people through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Both these festivals were instituted by God for the people of Israel to remember what God had done for them in the past and should have helped them continue a close devotion to God as verse 5 of the Palm implies,

“He established it as a statue for Joseph when he went out against Egypt, where we heard language we did not understand”.

 The last part of this verse has given commentators many headaches in seeking to interpret,

“Where we heard language we did not understand”.

It seems that this expression is either speaking about God’s language which the people could not understand or the language of their Egyptian overlords.

The idea of it being God speaking could be that the ordinary people around Mount Sinai only heard thunder and the blowing of trumpets when Moses spoke with God, Exodus 19: 16 – 19,

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace,

and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him”.

If the expression,

“Where we heard language we did not understand”.

Is speaking about the foreign language the Egyptians spoke then this is speaking about how Israel was trapped in a foreign land where they did not understand the language of those who ruled over them.

Psalm 114 verse 1 speaks exactly about this,

“When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue”.

Deuteronomy 28: 49 speaks of God’s judgment on his people in the future if and when they turn away from following him in terms of a nation coming against them speaking a language they will not understand,

“The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand”.

This last idea fits well to what Asaph will speak about later in the Psalm in verses 11 to 13 where we will see that God’s people actually failed to worship God correctly because they turned to pagan or non-God of the bible worship practices.

Also the expression,

“Where we heard language we did not understand”.

Being the language of their oppressors in Egypt fits well into the verses that follow this verse that speak of God delivering Israel from their bondage in Egypt.

Again I think of the Lords Supper as Jesus remembrance instituted sacrament and realise afresh that our focus of remembrance instituted by God is to focus on how Jesus has delivered us from the bondage of sin and death by his sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11: 26,

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.


Asaph after focusing us on the strong God of Jacob descendants his people who are to worship him in loud joyful praise now moves on in the next section to tell his worshippers they are to worship the God who has saved them. The reason why their God deserves such great joyful praise is because he has saved them.

I have broken this second section down into two parts as well:

  1. 6 – 7   Worship God who saves his people from bondage
  2. 8 – 10 Worship God only
  1. 6 – 7   Worship God who saves his people from bondage

Asaph wants his worshippers to focus not just on the God of Jacob their ancestor but on the God, who saved them out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt, verse 6 reads,

“He says, ‘I removed the burden from their shoulders”

 This is phrased as God speaking directly and what God says is a clear declaration of how he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.

The Egyptians put a heavy burden on the people of Israel as they grew and prospered in the land of Egypt, Exodus 1: 8 – 11 tells us exactly what happened to the people of Israel in Egypt and what the Egyptians did about it,

“Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh”.

The next expression in verse 6,

“Their hands were set free from the basket”,

I think refers to how the Egyptians during the time Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh to ask him to let their people go and Pharoah’s reaction was as Exodus 5: 6 – 14 records,

“That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

10 Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. 11 Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’” 12 So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. 13 The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” 14 And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”

So I think this expression,

“Their hands were set free from the basket”,

Is a reference to the people taking baskets out into the fields to collect straw for brick making, which made the burden on the people shoulders even heavier.

Then in verse 7, Asaph says God says,

“In your distress you called and I rescued you out of a thundercloud”.

 Which seems to be a strange expression for the Exodus story as no mention of thundercloud is mentioned in the Exodus account except for the 7th Plague when God sent on Egypt of Hailstones obviously from a fierce thunderstorm.

Leupold suggests that this could be,

“An expression that refers to the guiding cloud which guarded and guided Israel”.

 Exodus 14: 19 – 20 speaks of how God used the pillar of cloud to protect the Israelites from the approaching Egyptian army,

“Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long”.

The thundercloud could also refer to the cloud that came over Mount Sinai when God cam down to meet with Moses, Exodus 19: 16,

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled”.

 This fits the idea of God answering or speaking out of the thundercloud and then the final phrase fits into events that took place just before and after the meeting of God with Moses on Mount Sinai for it concerns the giving of water out of the rock at a place called Meribah, the final phrase in verse 7 goes like this,

“I tested you at the waters of Meribah”.

 This incident at Meribah recorded in Exodus 17: 1 – 7 and a similar account of water from a rock in Numbers 20: 1 – 13 although some scholars think these could be two separate incidents.

In verse 13 of Numbers 20 we read these words,

“These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where he showed himself holy among them”.

 The problem of lack of water in the desert wanderings is seen as a test in the words of Psalm 81 verse 7 and of course Israel failed the test because we have just read that instead of trusting God they quarrelled with the Lord and doubted his ability to provide for them.

God’s release of his people’s bondage from slavery in Egypt is taken up by a number of New Testament writers as an image of what God has done for us in Christ. Paul speaks of the image connection with what happened to Israel in the Exodus and what has happened to us in Christ through his death and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 5,

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness”.

Notice how Paul speaks of Christ as being “that rock” a reference to the rock from which the water flowed at Meribah. Paul goes on to give us a warning about rebelling against God and idolatry which Psalm 81 will pick up next so I will quote from this second section of 1 Corinthians 10 when we deal with this.

For now we should always thank God for how Jesus has lifted the burden of sin from our shoulders by his death for our sins on the cross. We should realise that God has heard our cries of distress from the slavery of sin and God has rescued us from death and given us the gift of eternal life, which we will enjoy fully in the Promised Land of heaven itself.

As Paul declares in Galatians 5: 1,

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”.

 Paul explains what he is speaking of here even more clearly in Romans 6: 19 – 23,

“I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

  1. 8 – 10 Worship God only

The worship song takes a strange turn as it now deals with the people of Israel’s sin and rebellion hinted at in the last phrase of the previous verse,

“I tested you at the waters of Meribah”.

God tested Israel in the wilderness at Meribah and of course they failed the test. Now Asaph speaks of three things that the worshippers singing this song must always keep in mind concerning sin and rebellion:

  1. They must heed God’s warnings (vs. 8)
  2. They must worship God (vs.9)
  3. They must remember what God did for them in the past (vs.10)

Lets then look a little closer at each of these things the worshippers of the God of the bible must always keep in mind.

  1. They must heed God’s warnings (vs. 8)

The first thing the worshippers of the God of the bible must keep in mind is his constant warnings. Verse 8 says,

“Hear, O my people, and I will warn you – if you would listen to me O Israel!”

 God continues to speak in the first person and Asaph here is speaking as a prophet who often said things like,

“Thus says the Lord” or “This is what the Lord says” (for example Isaiah 44: 6)

And what does the Lord say here in Psalm 81 verse 8?

He says first be warned,

“Hear, O my people, and I will warn you”.

 Many times and on many occasions God warned his people about sin and rebellion but over and over again Israel did not head God’s warnings. Israel is called among other things a stubborn and stiff necked people, like when they made the Golden Calf to worship in the wilderness God said to Moses in Exodus 32: 9,

“I have seen these people, the Lord said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people”.

 Or later before the fall of the Northern Kingdom Hosea says this about Israel in Hosea 4: 16,

“The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the Lord pasture them like lambs in a meadow”.

 We too must always heed the many warnings the bible gives us. Paul gives many warnings to Christian believers like his warning against listening to people in the church who teach false teaching in Ephesians 5: 6 and 7,

“Let no one deceive you with empty words for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them”.

 There are many other warnings in the New Testament and when we come upon them we must take careful note of them and make sure we heed them or we to will be guilty of being like Israel a stubborn and stiff-necked people.

 Asaph then says we must listen to God,

“If you would listen to me O Israel!”

 To avoid being stubborn and able to hear God’s warnings we must first listen to what God is saying. Israel’s long history teaches us what happens to people who fail to listen to God and his word.

Paul warned Timothy about how the church will see false teaches who will arise in the church because the people in the church will not listen to sound teaching or to put it another way teaching that is not true to the bible.

He writes in 2 Timothy 4: 3 – 4,

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”.

Myths here are teachings about God that do not come from the word of God. It is strange to see that we see even today in the church these false teachers and what do they say about bible believing Christians they say they believe in myths. They claim that the bible is but myths and legends. Even when this kind of teaching is dressed up in high -brow academic theological study we must be wary and on our guard.

So what does Paul say we must do to combat this?

First he tells Timothy in the verse before this, verse 2, to,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction”.

Even when good sound bible teaching is not popular we are to push on in preaching God’s word because it is the only hope for our hearers to be truly saved.

Then in the verse following this warning verse 5, Paul says to Timothy,

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

Many will not listen to the message of the bible because as Paul says, verse 3,

“People will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”.

But Timothy is to preach the word in season and out of season and to seek to correct, rebuke and encourage. To keep his head when under pressure from the false teachers and to continue preaching the Gospel so that some people will listen and come to the Lord, which is what Paul means when he speaks of doing the work of an evangelist.

  1. They must worship God (vs.9)

Then God re-states a paraphrase of the first and second commandment in verse 9,

“You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not bow down to an alien God”.

 The actual first two commandments go like this in Exodus 20: 3- 5.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me”.

 It is interesting that this first and second commandment is singled out here but this a Psalm that deals with worship and the first fundamental rule of true biblical worship is that God and God alone must be worshipped. That God we worship must be the God of the bible and no image of him can or should be made.

Also it would seem that the people of the time Asaph was originally writing this to where dabbling in worshipping other Gods and were making idols to worship them. Particularly the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the time of their judgment had come they had virtually turned themselves over to pagan or non biblical worship as we read in 2 Kings 17: 16 – 17,

“They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger”.

I saw the danger of idol worship first hand on my big retirement trip through Europe four years ago and in Spain I joined a large crowd of people through the back of a church to squeeze through a small chamber where we were able to see a statue of Mary called, “The black Madonna”. People virtually worshipped this idol and I felt sick by the sight of such blatant idolatry in a so-called Christian church.

I’m sure people will say I am being very narrow minded but when true biblical worship of God is replaced by idol worship I would rather have my narrow mind then have to face God on the day of judgment with a big open mind that is thrown in hell.

Idol worship comes in a lot of forms and even when we put so much effort into our bodies to make them beautiful we might be practicing a form of idol worship as what we put our time and money into most is really now our God.

The care and upkeep of our human bodies is right and positive as Paul says that our bodies are actually Temples of the Holy Spirit but we need to get our priorities right if we want to avoid the trap of making something other than God our idol. Jesus tells us how we can do that in Matthew 33 and 34,

 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.

  1. They must remember what God did for them in the past (vs.10)

Then Asaph tells his worshippers through God speaking in his Psalm these words in verse 10,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt”.

 These words are part of what is called the preamble to the Decalogue or 10 Commandments which goes like this in Exodus 20: 3,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”.

This is what supposed to have inspired the people of Israel to actually keep the 10 commandments.

The salvation God had just performed or did for Israel when he got them out of slavery in Egypt, when he opened up the red sea for them to cross and when he made that sea close on their enemies the Egyptians to destroy them making it possible for them to escape to the Promised land.

Many years ago a bible study I was in was discussing the need for the people of our country to heed the 10 commandments of God. The young minster that was leading our study then shocked us by saying no the 10 commandments only will have any hope of being kept when people first hear the Gospel message and then respond to it. He went on to point out that the 10 commandments were given to Israel after they were saved out of Egypt and not before.

This is the teaching of the New Testament and particularly Paul as we see him arguing for in Romans 6: 27 – 31,

“Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law”.

 Notice how Paul saw that true faith in Christ becomes the drive or desire to keep the law.

The ten commandments also play a role in bringing people to the message of Christ because they show us how far from God we really are, they show us our need to be saved and finally they show us why Jesus had do die on the cross because our failure to keep God’s law which must be paid for.

Paul also speaks of this particularly in his letter to the Galatians, as we see in Galatians 3: 23 – 25,

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian”.


 We come then to the third and final section of this Psalm on worship of the God of the bible. We have seen how we should worship him because he is a God who saves. However we have also heard the warning from God himself that if we don not worship only him there would be a dire consequence.

Now we will see that God people did not heed this warning and what that will bring about but at the same time we are told that if we heed God’s warning and rightly worship him he will provide for us abundantly. I have broken this final section into two parts as well.

  1. 11 – 12 The people who failed to worship God only
  2. 13 – 16 Worship God and he will provide for us abundantly
  1. 11 – 12 The people who failed to worship God only

Strangely now in a song for worship Asaph continuing speaking as God’s spokesman says the people have failed to listen and submit to God and the dire consequences of this a made clear.

First then lets look at verse 11 which tells us the people failed to listen to God,

“But my people would not listen to me: Israel would not submit to me”.

 In verse 7b God called on the people to listen to him and his word,

”If you would but listen to me O Israel”.

 Cougan Collins sums this awful condemnation of Israel this way,

“After everything God did to make it possible for the children of Israel to be free from Egyptian bondage, His people would not trust him enough to take heed to His words. Since God created us with a free will they chose to set their hearts against God”.

 Asaph has already alluded to Meribah at the end of verse 7 where the people failed to trust in God to provide water in the desert. He alluded to the making of the golden calf an image of a foreign God in verse 9 and now he says this is because his people would not listen and also as the second half of verse 11 says,

“Israel would not submit to me”

 Or we can say failed to submit to God.

God longed for his people to truly follow him and he cleared the way for this to happen but the people failed to submit to God and even worse they chased after other God’s instead.

The prophet Hosea brings this message home so clearly and he has to bear a adulterous wife who represents Israel chasing after other God’s yet God tells Hosea to continue to love his wife like God continued to love his faithless people. We see this in a verse like Hosea 3: 1,

“The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

Then in verse 12 we read how God reacts to Israel’s rebellion,

“So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices”.

These are very familiar words to a New Testament reader as we read in Romans 1: 24 – 31 Paul uses the expression “God gave them over” three times as an expression of what God did when we all sin.

It is as though God says, you wont to live without me, you want to go your own way, then go and face the consequences of doing that and the consequences are great as we will see in the last part of this Psalm.

God gives that damming description of the people of Israel in this verse, they are people with,

“Stubborn hearts”

They had so much given to them by God yet it was a though they threw it all back in God’s face and chased after the own desires and abominable religious practices.

We too as Christians need to make sure we truly submit to the God of the Bible and not stray into worldly worship practices and Godless ways of living. The devil is always seeking to bring down the true witness of Christ’s church and we need to always be on our guard and take up the word of advice James gives us in James 4: 7,

“ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”.

  1. 13 – 16 Worship God and he will provide for us abundantly

Stephen J. Cole who helped me greatly in understanding the message of Psalm 80, my previous Psalm talk to this one has a very interesting angle on this Psalm, which is very applicable to this last part of this Psalm. He believes this Psalm is about wasted years or wasted opportunities, he writes,

“In Psalm 81 God laments over what might have been. As He ponders the history of Israel, His chosen people, God mourns over what He could have done for them and through them, if only they had obeyed him”.

So in this last part the idea of what might have been is the main theme of these verses. We will look at how God promises to help his people abundantly if they would only obey him and worship him correctly.

We will look then at three things in these last four verses:

  1. How God’s people can gain God’s abundant blessing (vs.13)
  2. God’s abundant blessing of victory over our enemies (vs.14 – 15)
  3. God’s abundant blessing of a good life (vs. 16)
  1. How God’s people can gain God’s abundant blessing (vs. 13)

What did God want his people to do?

We have already seen a lot said about this in this Psalm,

In verse 8 we read of how God wanted his people to listen to him and his word and heed his many warnings.

In verses 9 and 10 we read how God wanted his people to worship only him.

Now in verse 13 he answers the question even more directly he says,

“If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways”.

God simply wants the allegiance he deserves as we have seen from this Psalm a how much God had done for his people already.

In verses 5b to 7 we read of how God led his people out of bondage and through the desert and on into the Promised Land. For this God simply wanted his people to submit to him as verse 11 states.

This verse, verse 13 reminds me of the famous verse I quoted in my last Psalm Talk that dealt with the theme of revival, 2 Chronicles 7: 14,

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

So God longs to bless us and he has the power and ability to do so but what stops him from doing this is our sin and disobedience. Stephen J. Cole puts it simply this way,

“The way to avoid a wasted life is to walk in obedience to the Lord”.

Sadly Israel did not often do this but there were a few times when an occasional King in Judah did lead his people into a time of obedience to the Lord. Three kings stand out in this way to me David, Hezekiah and Josiah and these three kings led Israel through wonderful prosperous times.

Note they did still faced great challenges and even attacks from their enemies but through obedience to God they proved God’s help and blessing in so many ways. Even when David was on the run from his rebellious son Absalom he says this in Psalm 3: 3 and 4,

“But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill”.

As Christians we have the same call to faith and obedience to the Lord based on how much God has done for us in The Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus made this clear in John 14: 23,

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them”.

Paul had much to say about this and there is no better example of this than his words to the church in Philippi in Philippians 2: 12 – 13,

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose”.

  1. God’s abundant blessing of victory over our enemies (vs.14 – 15)

The main blessing Israel needed constantly from God was victory over their many enemies. The history of this fallen world is littered with stories of nations and cultures being overrun and destroyed by their enemies. One great miracle of history is how God has preserved the small nation of Israel over such a long period of time.

However God’s special nation of Israel was over run by mighty foreign nations like Assyria, Babylon and Rome.

So verses 14 and 15 speak of very real and important blessings Israel needed from God. So if they would simply submit to God and obey his word,

“How quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever.”

 This might seem like a vain promise of God, as we know that the Assyrians in 720BC defeated the people of Northern Kingdom known as Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians in 587BC.

However God’s promise of his blessing of victory over his people’s enemies if they would but simply obey him is proven by what happened in Judah in the year 701BC. During this time only 19 years after the fall of the Northern Kingdom the mighty powerful Assyrian army besieged the city of Jerusalem.

However during this time the book of 2 Kings chapters 18 – 20 tell us the story of a God obeying King named Hezekiah who looked to God for help and protection during this siege and who saw how in one night of terror God killed thousands of Assyrian soldiers and caused the withdrawal of the army of Assyria never to return again.

Because of the faith and obedience of King Hezekiah Judah and later Josiah Judah existed for another 114 years unto finally the reigns of evil non God honouring Kings led the people of Judah into adulatory practices again bringing down on them the punishment of God in the form of another world super power of that time known as Babylon.

God did subdue the mighty Assyrians by his own hand on that terrible night in 701BC. For the Assyrian invaders it was a terrible night but for the people of God that night was a night of blessing because they were the faithful people of God who lived in Jerusalem. 2 Kings 19: 35 – 37 records God’s victory over Judah’s enemies this way,

“That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

 37 One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king”.

 The history of the Christian church is another miracle of history as it too started in a small way in Jerusalem and from 12 or so faithful followers of Jesus Christ it eventually grew into a massive movement of faith and obedience to God. However the Christian church has had to face many great enemies which the bible teaches are part of a great spiritual battle even fought in high places, Ephesians 6: 12,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

This might seem like a battle the church of Christ cannot win just as the people of Jerusalem might have thought in 701BC when they faced the power and might of the Assyrian army. However like them if we trust in the Lord and seek to be obedient to him the words of Psalm 81: 15 can be true for us as well,

Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever.”

 Paul makes it clear where our strength and help comes from in the great spiritual battle we face in Ephesians 6: 10,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”.

 And how we have this mighty power to see off Satan himself is made clear by James in James 4: 7 – 10,

 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.

  1. God’s abundant blessing of a good life (vs. 16)

Finally we come to the final verse of the Psalm, which could be used by those who preach a prosperity Gospel to advocate their false teachings. God is promising it appears the blessing of a good life in these brief words of this verse,

“But you would be fed with finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you”.

 There is a point to God’s physical blessings on true believers as well as his obvious spiritual blessings. Jesus says this John 10: 10,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

 Or as some translations put it “Abundant life” which is not just the promise of eternal life when we die but abundant life now.

I mentioned three Kings of Judah who definitely turned to God in obedience and faith, David, Hezekiah and Josiah and they all had great victories over powerful enemies but even in this they still faced great difficulties and problems in their lives the difference was God helped them all in their difficulties and problems.

David for instance faced times of enormous difficulty on at least two occasions in his life. He faced up to eight years of being hunted down by King Saul before he became king and he faced a couple of months at least of being on the run with a large group of family and close friends when his eldest son Absalom sought to kill him and his family and close friends.

Yet in both of these times of enormous difficulties David proved the promise of God’s blessing to those who truly trust in him.

Even the provision of food and shelter was given to David through God’s blessing on him at that time. We know that Psalms 3 and 4 were written by David when he was on the run from Absalom and possibly Psalm 5 was written then also.

In Psalm 4 verses 7 and 8 David writes of God’s protective blessing on him and he even compares himself to his enemies whose grain and wine abound yet he believed he was far better of spiritually and physically than his enemies who would face the judgment of God for what they had done.

He writes,

“You have filled my heart with great joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety”.

 Not long after this we read in 2 Samuel 16: 1 – 2 of how God provided the food David and his family and close friends needed,

“When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine.

The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?”

Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

 So my point is this God will bless anyone who has truly turned to him not only spiritually but physically but I am not saying this means we will all become materially rich or we will have a easy life for God does not promise this.

He promises to feed us even in difficult times Stephen J. Cole makes this interesting point about the expression,

“Honey from the rock”

 “God promises to satisfy them with honey from the rock. Rocks are harsh, unpromising things when it comes to feeding the hungry. The desert where Israel wandered had lots of rocks and not much else. Who would expect anything satisfying from a rock? But God can bring honey from the rock to satisfy his people. The bees would go into the cracks of the rocks and store their sweet honey, which oozed out.

 Cole goes on to explain this image this way,

“It’s a picture of how the Lord can bring sweetness and nourishment for his people even in adversity. He doesn’t always take away the rocks, but He can make them drip with honey”.

I once met a hard working minister who worked faithfully for God in a very poor and rundown area of Sydney. He was used by God to bring many people there to the Lord but he said many of the families who came to the Lord moved away within a few years of their conversion. This was because when they came to the Lord they stopped drinking and gambling and gave up smoking and quickly they either got jobs or better jobs and this made them so much better off and they could then move their families to far safer and affluent suburb of Sydney.

You see getting right with God and obeying his word brings material and well as spiritual blessings to those who do it. Jesus promises life and life in abundance for those who truly come to him.

Jesus also said in Matthew 6: 33 and 34,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.

God promises to bless his people spiritually and physically if they listen, turn and submit to him but apart from the times of those 3 great kings of Judah God’s people did not do this.

Asaph uses his Worship hymn then to call his people to joyful worship because of what God had done for them but he ends using his hymn to warn the people about not properly worshipping him and what the consequences of not worshipping properly are and what the blessings are for those who truly put God first in their lives and live in faith and obedience to him.

Paul has a great call to worship of his own in Romans 12: 1 – 2, which goes like this,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”.

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer,



(Based on Psalm 81)

Gather round people and worship the Lord

Sing now to God who gave us his word.

Praise him joyfully for he makes us strong

Shout out his message to everyone.




Come now and worship

Jesus as Lord

He has saved us

And given us his word.


Take up your instruments to play now his song

Praise now Jesus who can save anyone.

Sound now the trumpet and bang now the drum

Help us to worship God’s wonderful son.




God has established a way back to him

It is through Jesus who’s saved us from sin.

Just like the Israelites of long ago

God has delivered us from a mighty foe.




Hear now O people and now be warned

Make sure you listen so you wont be scorned.

Worship God only or face his judgment

Have faith in Jesus and God will relent.




Turn back to God if you’ve fallen away

God will accept you if you turn now and pray.

He wants to feed us in everyway

Come now to Jesus and know his love today.




Come now and worship

Jesus as Lord

He has saved us

And given us his word.


By: Jim Wenman



 We come now Lord together to worship you for you are the one who makes us strong. We joyfully sing your praises and exalt you name forever. Thank you father in heaven for sending down Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. We now know that Jesus made the way back to you. We submit ourselves to you afresh knowing that you long to bless us and we look to you now to help us live the lives you want us to live. In Jesus Name we pray Amen.