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81. Psalm 81

Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.

2Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.

3Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.

4For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

5This 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.

6I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots.

7Thou 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.

8Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me;

9There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god.

10I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.

11But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.

12So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.

13Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!

14I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.

15The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever.

16He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.

1 Sing joyfully to God our strength. This psalm, it is probable, was appointed to be sung on the festival days on which the Jews kept their solemn assemblies. In the exordium, there is set forth the order of worship which God had enjoined. They were not to stand deaf and dumb at the tabernacle; for the service of God does not consist in indolence, nor in cold and empty ceremonies; but they were, by such exercises as are here prescribed, to cherish among themselves the unity of faith; to make an open profession of their piety; to stir up themselves to continual progress therein; to endeavor to join, with one accord, in praising God; and, in short, to continue steadfast in the sacred covenant by which God had adopted them to himself.

Such having been the use of festival days under the law, we may conclude, that whenever true believers assemble together at the present day, the end which they ought to have in view is to employ themselves in the exercises of religion — to call to their remembrance the benefits which they have received from God — to make progress in the knowledge of his word — and to testify the oneness of their faith. Men only mock God by presenting to him vain and unprofitable ceremonies, unless the doctrine of faith go before, stirring them up to call upon God; and unless, also, the remembrance of his benefits furnish matter of praise. Yea, rather it is a profanation of his name, when people quench the light of divine truth, and satisfy themselves with performing mere outward service. Accordingly, the faithful are here not only enjoined to come together to the tabernacle, but are also taught the end for which they are to assemble there, which is, that the free and gracious covenant which God has made with them may be brought anew to their remembrance, for increasing their faith and piety, that thus the benefits which they have received from him may be celebrated, and their hearts thereby moved to thanksgiving. With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this, it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring this to themselves. Under the new moon, by the figure synecdoche, is comprehended all the other high feasts. Sacrifices were daily offered; but the days on which the faithful met together at the tabernacle, according to the express appointment of the law, are called, by way of eminence, the days of sacrifice.

4 For this is a statute to Israel. To give the more effect to the preceding exhortation, it is here taught that this law or ordinance had been prescribed to God’s ancient people, for the purpose of ratifying the everlasting covenant. And as in covenants there is a mutual agreement between the parties, it is declared that this statute was given to Israel, and that God, in contracting, reserved this for himself, as a right to which he was justly entitled.

5 He set it for a testimony in Joseph. The Hebrew word עדוה, eduth, is by some derived from עדה, adah, which signifies to adorn; and they translate it the honor or ornament of Joseph. But it rather comes from the verb עוד, ud, to testify; and the scope of the passage requires that it should be translated a testimony or covenant. Farther, when Joseph is named in particular, there is a reference to the first original of the chosen people, when, after the death of Jacob, the twelve tribes were distinguished. As the sovereignty had not at that time come to the tribe of Judah, and as Reuben had fallen from his right of primogeniture, the posterity of Joseph justly had the pre-eminence, on account of the benefits which he had been instrumental in conferring; having been the father and nourisher of his brethren and of the whole nation. Moreover, the sacredness of the covenant is commended by a special appeal to the fact, that at the time when God stipulated that this honor should be yielded to him, he had purchased that people to himself; as if it had been said, The condition upon which the people were delivered was, that they should assemble together on the days appointed for renewing the remembrance of the grace which had been exercised towards them. The words when he went forth will apply equally to God and to the people. 406406     “When he went forth, etc.; i.e., When God went forth to destroy the first-born in all the land of Egypt, on account of which the passover was appointed.” — Walford. It is a common form of expression to speak of God as going forth before his people, as a shepherd goes before his flock, or as a general before his army. When it is said ABOVE the land of Egypt, some think there is an allusion to the situation of Judea, which was higher than that of Egypt; so that those who come out of Egypt to Judea ascend. But I understand the language as meaning simply, that the people, having God for their conductor, passed freely and without obstruction through the land of Egypt, the inhabitants having been so discouraged and dismayed as not to dare to make any opposition to their passage. 407407     “Going forth (על) over the land of Egypt seems to express dominion over it, which God exercised in bringing out the Israelites; and they were then in what may be called a state of superiority over the Egyptians, and went out with a high hand. Exodus 14:8; Numbers 33:3. And soon after that the law was given.” — Archbishop Secker The prophet enhances the blessing of their deliverance, when, speaking in the name of the whole people, he affirms that he had been rescued from profound barbarism: I heard a language which I understood not. 408408     The Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, and all the versions except the Chaldee, have the third person, “He heard a language which he understood not;” Doederlein reads, “I heard a voice which I understood not;” and retaining the first person, interprets the words as an abrupt exclamation of the Psalmist upon feeling himself suddenly influenced by a divine afflatus, and upon hearing an oracle addressed to him by God, which consisted of what immediately follows, from the 6th verse to the close of the psalm, and which is spoken in the person of God. This voice he heard, but he did not understand it; that is, he did not fully comprehend its design and import. Nothing is more disagreeable than to sojourn among a people with whom we can hold no communication by language, which is the chief bond of society. Language being, as it were, the image and mirror of the mind, those who cannot employ it in their mutual intercourse are no less strangers to one another than the wild beasts of the forest. When the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 33:19) intends to denounce a very dreadful punishment, he says, “Thou shalt see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.” Thus the people acknowledge that the benefit which God conferred was so much the more to be valued, because they were delivered from the Egyptians, with whose language they were unacquainted. 409409     “The Egyptian language was not intelligible to the children of Jacob; for Joseph spake to his brethren by an interpreter, when he appeared as ruler of Egypt, and did not as yet choose to make himself known to them. See Genesis 42:23.” — Street.


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