Psalm 81 Commentary
“If my people would only listen to me,” laments the unknown voice. “If Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies.”
The psalmist, now standing as a prophet, declares the word of the LORD in the first person. This is easy because he is simply lifting the written word from the Torah. But why does he call this revelation unknown, or think of it as coming from an unknown source?
Knowing someone in the scripture has a deeper meaning than just head knowledge. The psalmist could be referring to Israel’s lack of knowledge of her God. It could also refer to the psalmist’s own reverence of the El-Shaddai God. The former is more probable.
Israel’s lack of knowledge of her God brought nothing but trouble. The world is in real trouble because of deliberate ignorance. The LORD allows it and hell breaks loose. It’s never good for anyone; not even the same perpetrators of evil.
There we have it – the cause. Humanity’s problem is a lack of complete respect for God’s law. “You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not worship any god other than me.”
Then comes the call: “Listen to me. Follow my ways. I will quickly subdue your enemies.” The LORD God is inviting the world to abandon the foreign gods and sit down under the lordship of the Creator God. Then humanity’s countless enemies; hunger, hatred, obesity, sickness, wars, injustice, ungodliness, violence; drunkenness, and substance abuse, among many others; would be subdued quickly and permanently.
Of course, this stand-off won’t last. At one point, the LORD God will come down and sweep clean His creation. But in the meantime, let the saint sing for joy to God his strength. Shout aloud to the God of Jacob. The scripture wants the saint to think of the Abrahamic blessing as handed down to Jacob.
The mention of Joseph in verse 3 may be a reference to God’s miraculous working in a life that devoted itself to the LORD. It’s like the LORD is saying: “Joseph’s life is what the blessing may look like in the real world.” Righteousness can be had even under pagan conditions. Holiness is possible, but it comes with a measure of trouble though always temporal. Let the saint sing about these things.
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