Psalm 81: Rejoice, but Remember!

Christ is risen! Alleluia! Time to celebrate. Lent is over and the Easter season, and spring, is upon us. All reasons to rejoice.

Psalm 81 starts with a call to celebrate, “Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! Raise a song, sound the timbrel, the sweet lyre with the harp.” (1-2) Sound the trumpet, announcing the new moon and the full moon, time to party. “Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.” (3) The blowing of the horn was also a call to the people to assemble.

It is time for singing and dancing and a great feast, but within the psalm is a warning—remember why you are celebrating.

The psalm goes on to remind the people of their history, how they had been slaves in Egypt and how God freed them. “I relieved your shoulders of the burden, your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called and I delivered you.” (6-7a)

They are reminded of the incident at Meribah where Moses and the people, grumbling and complaining in the desert, tested their God, demanding that he provide water as a condition for their loyalty. The psalmist however, turns this around to God testing his people, “I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” (7b) Because of their pride in presuming to test God, the people, including Moses, failed the test and were barred from entering the Promised Land.

The writer continues to remind the people of why they are celebrating, restating the first commandment (9), reminding them again how God brought them out of Egypt, and reminding them that all they need do is open their mouths and God will fill their every need, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” (10a)

The psalm shifts in verses 11-16 to God expressing his frustration with the people, much like Jesus’ words about Jerusalem – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Matthew 23:37).

If only the people would listen to God, “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” (13) There is so much that God wants to give them, but they refuse to listen, “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me, so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” (11-12)

The psalm ends with God’s promise of all he would provide if only the people would listen, “I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rack I would satisfy you.” (16)

Everyone loves a party, none more so than we in America who turn every occasion into a reason to party, even opening day for baseball season is considered a holiday as people take off of work. The party is more important than the reason for it for many.

We just celebrated Holy Week and Easter Sunday, the most important days of the Christian calendar. But for many, Easter is just another excuse for festive eating and indulging, especially in candy, losing contact with the reason for the celebration. There was a danger of this as well during Old Testament times, hence the warning, rejoice, but remember!

How quick we are to forget. The Israelites had to be constantly reminded about how God saved them in the past and provided for them in the desert. But even more than that, they are reminded of how much more God would give them if only they would listen to God. It’s as if God is saying, “You think this party is good? Just wait till you see what I have planned for you. I’m waiting and ready to give you good things if you would but listen to me.”

But we have difficulty listening, and so we celebrate while God shakes his head.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you . . . If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Mt. 7:7, 11)

Have you ever had an experience of God giving you more than you had ever imagined? I would love to hear your story!

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