Psalm 81


This is a psalm which commemorates the memorials of how God had worked throughout Israel’s history. This psalm was used at many of the annual feasts, such as the feast of Trumpets, the feast of tabernacles and the day of atonement.


‘For the director of music. According to gittith. Of Asaph.’

Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding about the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.

1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.

2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.

3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.

4. How it was used.

The heading tells us that this was written for the director of music. Some commentators believe that ‘director or music’ is God Himself and others believe that it is a song leader who led choirs or musicians, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 1 Chronicles 16:17 / 1 Chronicles 25:6.

It was to be sung ‘according to gittith’, which is a musical instrument. Some commentaries suggest that this instrument would have been used by the people of Gath or sung to the tune of Gath. Others suggest it was used at the festivities of the vintage, Psalm 81 / Psalm 84.

Most commentators agree that the Asaph mentioned here is another Asaph. This Asaph was probably a descendant of the earlier Asaph who worked during the reign of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 35:15.

‘Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Begin the music, strike the timbrel, 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; this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph. I heard an unknown voice say:’ Psalm 81:1-5

Asaph begins by asking God’s people to sing for joy because God is their strength, he asks God’s people to shout aloud to the God of Jacob. We can almost feel the excitement in his words and the great expectations in their songs of praise to God.

He asks God people to begin the music, using the timbrel, Isaiah 5:12, harp, Isaiah 5:12, and lyre, Isaiah 5:12. He asks that the ram’s horn be used, but this isn’t used as an instrument, this was used to call God’s people together for the festival of the New Moon, 1 Chronicles 23:31 / 2 Chronicles 2:4 / Isaiah 1:13 / 2 Kings 4:23 / Amos 8:5.

This was a part of God’s decree, Numbers 10:10, and it was the trumpet announcing freedom for Israel when they were about to leave their captivity in Egypt, Leviticus 23:24 / Numbers 29:1.

Asaph says he ‘heard an unknown voice’, that is, the language from God on Mount Sinai. Remember they would have known the Egyptian language because they had lived in Egypt for over 400 years.

‘I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Psalm 81:6-7

God removed their shoulders from the burdens that they bore in captivity, Exodus 1:11-14 / Exodus 2:23-24. It was God to set them free from the bondage of Egypt, Exodus 5:4-17. Whilst in Egypt God heard their cries of distress and rescued them, Exodus 2:23 / Exodus 3:9 / Exodus 14:10.

God answered them out of a cloud of thunder, this happened at Mount Sinai, when they first heard the voice of God speaking to them, Exodus 19:16-25 / Exodus 20:18-21.

After delivering Israel from Egypt, God tested them at the waters Meribah, this was the place where God miraculously provide water for them because they were complaining, Exodus 17:1-7.

You may notice at the end of verse seven, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no-one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.

We can almost imagine Asaph pausing for a breath as he contemplates how God had brought them out of Egypt but complained about having no water to drink.

‘Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—if you would only listen to me, Israel! You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not worship any god other than me. I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.’ Psalm 81:8-10

Before God gives His instruction to His people, He asks them to hear Him, that is, really listen to the warning He is about to say. The warning is simply don’t have any foreign gods among them, don’t worship any other god except God Himself, Deuteronomy 32:12 / Isaiah 43:12.

God was their LORD, their God, He was the One who brought them out of Egypt, therefore they shouldn’t worship any other god. God promises Israel, that He would provide everything they need but their mouths must be open in order to receive it.

‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. “If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would 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. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:11-16

Although God wanted to supply everything Israel needed and although He wanted His people to obey Him, they wouldn’t listen to His warnings, they wouldn’t submit to Him, Exodus 20:3.

As a result of their disobedience, God gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices, In other words, God gave up on them and allowed them to do whatever they thought was right, Psalm 78:26-37 / Acts 7:42 / Acts 14:16 / Romans 1:24.

If they had obeyed God, their history would have been completely different. Even those who hate the Lord would have been subjected to them, Deuteronomy 32:29-30.

They would have had no need for food, for God would have supplied them from rocks, Deuteronomy 32:13-14 / Psalm 37:11 / Matthew 5:5 / 1 Timothy 4:8.

If Israel had obeyed God then He would have fed them with the finest wheat, Genesis 27:28 / Genesis 27:39 / Job 36:16 / Psalm 36:8 / Psalm 63:5 / Psalm 65:11. He would have satisfied them with honey from the rock, Genesis 43:11 / Deuteronomy 8:8 / Deuteronomy 32:13 / 1 Samuel 14:25-26 / Isaiah 7:15 / Ezekiel 16:13 / Matthew 3:4.

In other words, God would have abundantly supplied them with the best of the best, if only they had listen to God and obeyed Him.


In the last few sentence of this psalm, we can almost feel the heartache in God’s words here as He wanted nothing more than to bless His people, Matthew 23:37. If the Israelites obeyed God, they would be blessed and dwell in the land that God was giving to them forever, Deuteronomy 5:28-29.

It clear that God wants His people to succeed in life, He wants His people to live life to the full, John 10:10. He not only wants to bless His people, but He also wants to bless the whole world, John 3:16, and He is patiently waiting on the world to turn to Him to be saved, 2 Peter 3:9.

He truly wants to bless everyone who will listen to His Word, Romans 10:17, and obey His Word, John 14:15.

Go To Psalm 82


"Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Genesis 1:26