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Psalms 81, 88, 92-93     Listen Podcast


Praise God for his benefits (Psalm 81)

To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of Asaph.
1 ¶ Sing aloud to God our strength;
Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song and strike the timbrel,
The pleasant harp with the lute.
3 Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon,
At the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
4 For this is a statute for Israel,
A law of the God of Jacob.
5 This He established in Joseph as a testimony,
When He went throughout the land of Egypt,
Where I heard a language I did not understand.
6 “I removed his shoulder from the burden;
His hands were freed from the baskets.
7 You called in trouble, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
8 “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you!
O Israel, if you will listen to Me!
9 There shall be no foreign god among you;
Nor shall you worship any foreign god.
10 I am the LORD your God,
Who brought you out of the land of Egypt;
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 “But My people would not heed My voice,
And Israel would have none of Me.
12 So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart,
To walk in their own counsels.
13 “Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
14 I would soon subdue their enemies,
And turn My hand against their adversaries.
15 The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him,
But their fate would endure forever.
16 He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat;
And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.”

Asaph in the introduction here was one of David's musical Levites. He is mentioned frequently in the Psalms. This Psalm has some punch to it. Notice in verse 4, "For this is a statute for Israel, A law of the God of Jacob." We also see a disdain for Egypt and false gods. Israel is admonished to turn back to God.

The message of this Psalm is classic; note verse 9, "There shall be no foreign god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god." That was always the deal breaker for Israel all through the Old Testament, and there it is in verse 11, "But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me." The result is found beginning in verse 12, "So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels." Israel should have listened to God.

Perhaps Paul was reflecting on this Psalm when he wrote Romans 1:21 (see notes), "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Because of this rejection, Paul writes in verse 24, "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness..." In verse 26 he writes, "God gave them up to vile passions." In verse 28 he wrote, "God gave them over to a debased mind." Isn't the parallel between Psalm 81 and Romans 1 interesting. If it shows nothing else, it tells us this: when people reject God, their affections are filled with the perverted ones of the world.

Regarding the use of this Psalm in Israel's worship, here's a note from Adam Clarke's commentary:

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, 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.

For more information on Jewish festivals and the ancient Jewish observational calendar, click here.

Nothing but sorrow (Psalm 88)

A Song. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. To the Chief Musician. Set to “Mahalath Leannoth.” A Contemplation of Heman the Ezrahite.
1 ¶ O LORD, God of my salvation,
I have cried out day and night before You.
2 Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
4 I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
5 Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
6 You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves.
8 You have put away my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an abomination to them;
I am shut up, and I cannot get out;
9 My eye wastes away because of affliction.
LORD, I have called daily upon You;
I have stretched out my hands to You.
10 Will You work wonders for the dead?
Shall the dead arise and praise You?
11 Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
12 Shall Your wonders be known in the dark?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But to You I have cried out, O LORD,
And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
14 LORD, why do You cast off my soul?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
15 I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
I suffer Your terrors;
I am distraught.
16 Your fierce wrath has gone over me;
Your terrors have cut me off.
17 They came around me all day long like water;
They engulfed me altogether.
18 Loved one and friend You have put far from me,
And my acquaintances into darkness.

Psalms just don't get any sadder than this one. You'll notice in the introduction a reference to Heman and to the sons of Korah. Korah himself was the rebel priest who had a face off with Moses back in Numbers 16 (see notes). That was a tough day for him. However, the descendants of the sons of Korah who did not participate in the rebellion afterwards rose to eminence in the Levitical service. Heman was one of David's musicians. The writer (not specified) declares God's faithfulness and expresses his own despair - definitely not a very cheerful Psalm. It expresses an intense plea for God's favor.

Regarding the terms in the subtitle, Easton's Bible Dictionary contains the following entry:

This word leannoth seems to point to some kind of instrument unknown (Ps. 88, title). The whole phrase has by others been rendered, “On the sickness of affliction: a lesson;” or, “Concerning afflictive sickness: a didactic psalm.”

What wise people know that a fool doesn't (Psalm 92)

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath day.
1 ¶ It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
2 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night,
3 On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute,
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
4 For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work;
I will triumph in the works of Your hands.
5 O LORD, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.
6 A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.
7 When the wicked spring up like grass,
And when all the workers of iniquity flourish,
It is that they may be destroyed forever.
8 But You, LORD, are on high forevermore.
9 For behold, Your enemies, O LORD,
For behold, Your enemies shall perish;
All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.
11 My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies;
My ears hear my desire on the wicked
Who rise up against me.
12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
15 To declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

The author here is not known. The introduction says that this is a song for the Sabbath day. This is the only psalm that is designated for the Sabbath. There is little indication in the Old Testament of any special community worship ceremonies on the Sabbath. Some have suggested that this psalm accompanied the daily offerings on the Sabbath.

The message of this Psalm is quite clear. Notice verse 9, "For behold, Your enemies, O LORD, For behold, Your enemies shall perish; All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered." Now, contrast that to verse 13, "Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God." The Psalmist points out that serving God has eternal rewards. The fool may prosper here and now, but faces everlasting destruction.

Are we talking a tsunami here? (Psalm 93)

1 The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The LORD is clothed,
He has girded Himself with strength.
Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved.
2 Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their waves.
4 The LORD on high is mightier
Than the noise of many waters,
Than the mighty waves of the sea.
5 Your testimonies are very sure;
Holiness adorns Your house,
O LORD, forever.

The author for this Psalm is unknown; he focuses on the reign of God over the earth in this short Psalm (just 5 verses). The world may rebel, but God reigns anyway. It is interesting that the power of God is compared to "floods" and "waves" in this Psalm. Seismologists agree, the Eastern Mediterranean Sea has historically experienced a significant number of earthquakes and devastating tsunamis as a result. When you've seen the damage of a sizable tsunami, this Psalm takes on a whole new proportion regarding God's power. Perhaps one of these tsunamis was in recent memory when this Psalm was written.