Psalm 81:8-10: “God’s Admonishments: Listen, Love, and Be Filled”

The Psalms make up a part of the middle portion of the Hebrew Bible.  They along with the prophets constitute the commentary on the Law and former prophets which we know to be Joshua to 2 Kings or the history portion of the Old Testament.  Stephen Dempster writes, “This historical sequence of events from Genesis to Kings is disrupted by a body of poetic literature that functions to provide a pause in the storyline to reflect on the tragedy of the exile, its causes and significance.” (1)  This pause is designed to give us perspective both “backward in retrospect and forward in prospect.” (2)  Whereas the latter prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and the twelve) present God speaking to Israel in the first person, the Psalms typically present the people of Israel speaking to God in the first person.  I say typically, because Psalm 81 jumps off this pattern a bit – it is a prophetic psalm to a point.  Briefly, I’d like to focus in on verses 8-10 and draw out three admonishments from God to His people, Israel, and offer some Christ-centered application for today.

Text: “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 LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

Admonishment #1: “If you would but listen to me!”  Israel was distinguished from the nations insofar as they gave ear to God’s Word.  Their distinctiveness was God-defined, God-breathed.  And listening is never to be separated from walking or doing what is heard from the Lord.  At this point they also failed (v. 13).  It is because they turned a deaf ear to God, then, and acted in rebellion to whom God redeemed them to be that they were sent into exile, given over to their enemies (v. 11).  And so I ask, to whom has the church in this day, to whom has the Christian given their attentiveness to?  What cries out today, “Listen to me – rather than your God”?  In proportion to our inattentiveness to God’s Word shall we fall into various idolatries; and let us be attentive to this, that a deaf ear to God’s Word is a deaf ear to Christ.  “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2).

Admonishment #2: “There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”  Here the Lord intimately connects the admonishment to listen with the admonishment to love what is supremely worthy of loving – God!  The two are inseparable.  What would God have Israel listen to but a recapitulation (retelling) of the first and second commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me. . . . You shall not make for yourself a carved image . . . you shall not bow down to them and serve them” (Exodus 20:3-6).  This is the admonishment to the supremacy of love for God and the insanity of worshipping anything less than God, indeed, material given to us by God for the making of fires (Isaiah 44).  This admonishment is that given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).  God grounds this in His work of redemption out of Egypt (v. 10 a); and it is fitting to ask, “to what end did God deliver them,” but that they might freely worship Him in the land that He was giving to them.  Let us then be admonished likewise.

Admonishment #3:  “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”  As God brought Israel up out of Egypt to worship Him, so God takes it upon Himself to provide such worship.  He bids us, “Open your mouth wide,” that we may know His desire to fill us to the point of overflowing.  He desires to fill His people with “the finest of wheat,” and to satisfy them, “with honey from the rock” (v. 16).  St. Augustine endeavored in his study and preparation for preaching to be personally filled with the goodness of God’s Word so that, as a mother bird regurgitates from her fullness into the mouths of chicks and they are likewise filled, so his congregation would be full of God and His Word.  There are two consequential applications from this admonishment.  First, that we ought to open our mouths wide and ask the Lord to fill us with His Word until we are to the point of regurgitation.  And second upon it, that we ought to regurgitate this Word.  We see this reaction in Paul, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, (and the reaction) teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

Let us listen to our God amidst the rival voices of our day, joyfully and freely obeying His command (and how gracious is this command that we should begrudge it) to love Him supremely, and be filled by our God who desires our fullness and our regurgitation to others in love for His glory, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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