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.

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.

“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. Selah

“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.”

According to ancient Jewish tradition—based (rightly so) on the wording in v.3—this psalm is recited on the Feast of Trumpet Blowing (Leviticus 23:24-25; Numbers 29:1), otherwise known in rabbinic-talmudic tradition as the feast of the New Year (Rosh ha-Shana). Biblically, however, this feast had nothing to do with the New Year, but was celebrated on the first day of the seventh month. That this psalm is, nonetheless, closely tied to this festival is evident from (1) first and foremost, the exhortation in v.3 to “blow the trumpet at the new moon (i.e., the first day of the lunar month) … on our feast day”— and the Feast of Trumpet Blowing is the only biblical feast to be celebrated on the first day of any month; (2) the reference in v.4 to the blowing of the trumpet being “a statute” and “ordinance”—which terminology attaches specifically to the Mosaic Law, in which the only legislated trumpet blowing is that performed on the aforementioned feast day; and (3) the parallel theme of (spiritual) renewal (through repentance and corporate worship) of both the psalm and—at least as originally intended—the Feast of Trumpet Blowing (the trumpeting being “a reminder” of the justification as well as the obligation attending God’s rest. — Wechsler, page 200.


Verses 1-4 — As a supplement to—and reinforcement of—the individual obligation to continually “renew” (i.e., maintain the health of) one’s walk in righteousness, God also commanded the regular communal observance of a feast day (v.3) focusing on the same obligation. — Wechsler, page 201

a statute for Israel (v.4) — decreed by God in the Law

Verses 5-7 — As an impetus to spiritual renewal God reminds His people of His past solicitude for them in their nascent days as a people—how He went throughout the land of Egypt (v.5, alluding to His judgment of the Egyptians via the tenth plague in Exodus 11:4) and relieved their shoulder of the burden of slavery, freeing their hands from the basket (i.e., of straw that they would gather for making bricks; cf. Exodus 5:7). He did all this, moreover, even though the people did not deserve it—as evinced by the fact that God proved them (i.e., refined them through chastisement). — Wechsler, page 201.


I heard a language I did not understand (v.5) — This does not mean that the Good Shepherd did not understand the Egyptian language, but that He did not acknowledge as his sheep the Egyptians. The Hebrew verb here should be translated “acknowledged.” … He makes the statement in order to emphasize the separateness of Israel as His flock. They knew His voice and He knew theirs; but He stood in no such relationship to the Egyptians, nor they to Him. — Williams, page 363

answered (v.7) —could also be translated “covered”

place of thunder (v.7) — Sinai

the waters of Meribah — Exodus 17:5-7

Verses 8-16 — The only appropriate response to the manifold evidence of God’s gracious solicitude—displayed in His defense, provision, and chastisement of Israel—is the renewal of one’s walk with and devotion to the Lord, as achieved through repentance (v.8, 13) and one’s consequently “purified” worship, walking in God’s way instead of in one’s own (vs. 12-13).— Wechsler, pages 201-202.

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