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Psalm 81

God’s Appeal to Stubborn Israel

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.


Sing aloud to God our strength;

shout for joy to the God of Jacob.


Raise a song, sound the tambourine,

the sweet lyre with the harp.


Blow the trumpet at the new moon,

at the full moon, on our festal day.


For it is a statute for Israel,

an ordinance of the God of Jacob.


He made it a decree in Joseph,

when he went out over the land of Egypt.


I hear a voice I had not known:


“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;

your hands were freed from the basket.


In distress you called, and I rescued you;

I answered you in the secret place of thunder;

I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah


Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!


There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not bow down to a foreign god.


I am the L ord your God,

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.

Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.



“But my people did not listen to my voice;

Israel would not submit to me.


So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,

to follow their own counsels.


O that my people would listen to me,

that Israel would walk in my ways!


Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,

and turn my hand against their foes.


Those who hate the L ord would cringe before him,

and their doom would last forever.


I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,

and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

7 Thou didst cry in trouble, and I delivered thee. Here the same subject is prosecuted. By their crying when they were in distress, I understand the prayers which they then offered to God. It sometimes happens that those who are reduced to extremity bewail their calamities with confused crying; but as this afflicted people still had in them some remains of godliness, and as they had not forgotten the promise made to their fathers, I have no doubt that they directed their prayers to God. Even men without religion, who never think of calling upon God, when they are under the pressure of any great calamity, are moved by a secret instinct of nature to have recourse to Him. This renders it the more probable that the promise was, as it were, a schoolmaster to the Israelites, leading them to look to God. As no man sincerely calls upon Him but he who trusts in him for help; this crying ought the more effectually to have convinced them that it was their duty to ascribe to Him alone the deliverance which was offered them. By the secret place of thunder some, in my opinion, with too much refinement of interpretation, understand that God by thundering rendered the groanings of the people inaudible to the Egyptians, that by hearing them the Egyptians might not become the more exasperated. But the meaning simply is, that the people were heard in a secret and wonderful manner, while, at the same time, manifest tokens were given by which the Israelites might be satisfied that they were succoured by the Divine hand. God, it is true, was not seen by them face to face; but the thunder was an evident indication of his secret presence among them. 410410     Bishop Lowth understands by “the secret place of thunder” the communication of the Israelites with God upon mount Sinai, the awfulness of which is expressed by these few words. (Lowth’s Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, volume 2, page 220.) Walford reads, “I answered thee by thunder, from a hidden retreat;” and he observes, that this contains “a reference to the majestic display on Sinai, where, though the symbols of the present Deity were seen and heard, the lightnings and thunders, he himself was concealed from all human view.” The only objection which can be made against interpreting this of Sinai is, that the murmuring at Meribah, Exodus 17, was before the thundering on Sinai, Exodus 19; whereas here the thunder is mentioned first, and then what took place at Meribah in the end of the verse. But this objection is easily removed; for in the poetical compositions of Scripture strict order is not, always observed in the narration of facts. Thus in Psalm 83:9, the victory over the Midianites (Judges 7) is mentioned before that over Sisera, (Judges 4,) which was the victory first achieved. To make them prize more highly this benefit, God upbraidingly tells them that they were unworthy of it, having given such a manifest proof at the waters of Meribah, 411411     Literally “the waters of contradiction;” מריבה, meribah, from רוב, rub, to quarrel, being a noun signifying contention, strife It is therefore fitly used as the name of the place in the desert where the Israelites quarrelled with Moses. “The local specification,” observes Bishop Mant, “as used in our Bible translation, is much more poetical than the rendering in the Common Prayer-Book, ‘the waters of strife.’” “The mention of Meribah,” says Lowth, “introduces another idea, namely, the ingratitude and contumacy of the Israelites, who appear to have been ever unmindful of the favors and indulgence of their heavenly Benefactor.” that they were of a wicked and perverse disposition, Exodus 17:7. Your wickedness, as if he had said, having at that time so openly shown itself, surely it must from this be incontrovertible that my favor to you did not proceed from any regard to your good desert. This rebuke is not less applicable to us than to the Israelites; for God not only heard our groanings when we were afflicted under the tyranny of Satan, but before we were born appointed his only begotten Son to be the price of our redemption; and afterwards, when we were his enemies, he called us to be partakers of his grace, illuminating our minds by his gospel and his Holy Spirit; while we, notwithstanding, continue to indulge in murmuring, yea, even proudly rebel against Him.

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