Psalms 81


An exhortation to the people to praise God for his

benefits, 1-7;

and to attend to what he had prescribed, 8-10;

their disobedience lamented, 11;

the miseries brought on themselves by their transgressions,



The title is the same as to Ps 8:1, which see. There are

various opinions concerning the occasion and time of this Psalm:

but it is pretty generally agreed that it was either written for

or used at the celebration of the Feast of Trumpets, (see on

Le 23:24,) which was held on the first day of the month

Tisri, which was the beginning of the Jewish year; and on that

day it is still used in the Jewish worship. According to Jewish

tradition, credited by many learned Christians, the world was

created in Tisri, which answers to our September. The Psalm may

have been used in celebrating the Feast of Trumpets on the first

day of Tisri, the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth of the

same month, the creation of the world, the Feasts of the New

Moons, and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt; to all

which circumstances it appears to refer.

Verse 1. Sing aloud unto God our strength] There is much meaning

here: as God is our strength, let that strength be devoted to his

service; therefore, sing aloud! This is principally addressed to

the priests and Levites.

Verse 2. Take a psalm] zimrah. I rather think that this

was the name of a musical instrument.

Bring hither the timbrel] toph; some kind of drum or

tom tom.

The pleasant harp] kinnor. Probably a sistrum, or

something like it. A STRINGED instrument.

With the psaltery.] nebel, the nabla. The cithara,


Verse 3. Blow up the trumpet] shophar, a species of horn.

Certainly a wind instrument, as the two last were stringed

instruments. Perhaps some chanted a psalm in recitativo, while all

these instruments were used as accompaniments. In a representative

system of religion, such as the Jewish, there must have been much

outside work, all emblematical of better things: no proof that

such things should be continued under the Gospel dispensation,

where outsides have disappeared, shadows flown away, and the

substance alone is presented to the hearts of mankind. He must

be ill off for proofs in favour of instrumental music in the

Church of Christ, who has recourse to practices under the Jewish


The feast of the new moon was always proclaimed by sound of

trumpet. Of the ceremonies on this occasion I have given a full

account in my Discourse on the Eucharist. For want of astronomical

knowledge, the poor Jews were put to sad shifts to know the real

time of the new moon. They generally sent persons to the top of

some hill or mountain about the time which, according to their

supputations, the new moon should appear. The first who saw it was

to give immediate notice to the Sanhedrin; they closely examined

the reporter as to his credibility, and whether his information

agreed with their calculations. If all was found satisfactory, the

president proclaimed the new moon by shouting out mikkodesh!

"It is consecrated." This word was repeated twice aloud by the

people; and was then proclaimed every where by blowing of horns,

or what is called the sound of trumpets. Among the Hindoos some

feasts are announced by the sound of the conch or sacred shell.

Verse 4. This was a statute for Israel] See the statute,

Nu 10:10, and Le 23:24.

Verse 5. I heard a language I understood not.] This passage is

difficult. Who heard? And what was heard? All the Versions, except

the Chaldee, read the pronoun in the third person, instead of the

first. "He heard a language that he understood not." And to the

Versions Kennicott reforms the text, sephath lo

yadah yisma; "a language which he did not understand he heard."

But what was that language? Some say the Egyptian; others, who

take Joseph to signify the children of Israel in general, say it

was the declaration of God by Moses, that Jehovah was the true

God, that he would deliver their shoulder from their burdens, and

their hands from the pots-the moulds and furnaces in which they

formed and baked their brick.

Verse 7. Thou calledst in trouble] They had cried by reason of

their burdens, and the cruelty of their task-masters; and God

heard that cry, and delivered them. See Ex 3:7, &c.

In the secret place of thunder] On Mount Sinai; where God was

heard, but not seen. They heard a voice, but they saw no shape.

At the waters of Meribah.] See this transaction, Ex 17:1, &c.

Verse 8. Hear, O my people] These are nearly the same words with

those spoken at the giving of the law, Ex 20:2.

Verse 10. Open thy mouth wide] Let thy desires be ever so

extensive, I will gratify them if thou wilt be faithful to me.

Thou shalt lack no manner of thing that is good.

Verse 11. Israel would none of me.] lo abah li, They

willed me not, they would not have me for their God.

Verse 12. Unto their own hearts' lust] To the obstinate

wickedness of their heart.

In their own counsels.] God withdrew his restraining grace,

which they had abused; and then they fulfilled the inventions of

their wicked hearts.

Verse 13. O that my people had hearkened unto me,-Israel had

walked in my ways] Nothing can be more plaintive than the

original; sense and sound are surprisingly united. I scruple not

to say to him who understands the Hebrew, however learned, he has

never found in any poet, Greek or Latin, a finer example of

deep-seated grief, unable to express itself in appropriate words

without frequent interruptions of sighs and sobs, terminated with

a mournful cry.

Lo ammi shomea li

Yishrael bidrachi yehallechu!

He who can give the proper guttural pronunciation to the letter

ain; and gives the vau, and the yod, their full

Asiatic sound, not pinching them to death by a compressed and

worthless European enunciation; will at once be convinced of the

propriety of this remark.

Verse 14. I should soon have subdued] If God's promise appeared

to fail in behalf of his people, it was because they rejected his

counsel, and walked in their own. While they were faithful, they

prospered; and not one jot or tittle of God's word failed to them.

Verse 15. Their time should have endured for ever.] That is,

Their prosperity should have known no end.

Verse 16. With the finest of the wheat] mecheleb

chittah; literally, with the fat of wheat, as in the margin.

Honey out of the rock] And he fed thaim of the grese of whete:

And of the hony stane he thaim filled. Old Psalter. Thus

paraphrased: "He fed thaim with the body of Criste and gastely

understandyng; and of hony that ran of the stane, that is, of the

wisedome that is swete to the hert." Several of the fathers

understand this place of Christ.


The contents of this Psalm are the following:-

I. The psalmist exhorts them to celebrate God's name in their

festivals, Ps 81:1-4.

II. The reasons why they should do this: God's benefits

conferred on Israel, Ps 81:5-10.

III. Israel's ingratitude, and its consequences, Ps 81:11, 12.

IV. God's love and call to amendment, with the reasons for

obedience, Ps 81:13-16.

I. He exhorts them to rejoice: but this must be, 1. In God,

Ps 81:1. 2. At his

festivals, Ps 81:2, 3.

II. The reasons. 1. It was God's command, Ps 81:4. 2. It was an

ancient ordinance, Ps 81:5. 3. Their deliverance from base

servitude, Ps 81:6. 4. When in deep affliction, Ps 81:7. 5. In a

miraculous manner, Ps 81:7. 6. His mercy shown at the waters of

Meribah, Ps 81:7. 7. His giving them his law, Ps 81:8, 9.

He then inculcates obedience, for which he gives three reasons:

1. "I am the Lord thy God," Ps 81:10. 2. Who

redeemed thee from bondage, Ps 81:10. 3. He will make thee

truly happy: "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it,"

Ps 81:10.

III. Israel's ingratitude, and its consequences. 1. God gave

them up; left them to themselves, Ps 81:12. 2. They walked in

their own counsels, Ps 81:12. And came to ruin.

IV. God's love and call, &c.

He calls them to repentance, Ps 81:13. The fruits of which

would be three great benefits. 1. The subjugation of their

enemies, Ps 81:14. 2. A long uninterrupted prosperity. 3. An

abundance of all temporal and spiritual blessings, Ps 81:15, 16.

Under the emblems of the finest wheat, and the purest honey from

the hives of bees in the rocks, where they abounded in Judea, he

shows them that his followers should have so much of earthly and

spiritual blessings, that they should be satisfied and say, It is

enough. But, alas! Israel would not be obedient; and, therefore,

Israel is under the curse.

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