1989.) Psalm 81

Psalm 81 (English Standard Version)

Oh, That My People Would Listen to Me

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.
 1 Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
2Raise a song; sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
3Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our feast day.

Psalm 81 is read for Rosh Hashanah and the painting is based on these  lines:

            Blow the shofar at the moon’s renewal.
            at the appointed time of our festive day.

I painted Jerusalem at night, with watchers standing on the Temple’s high places.  When the first sliver of the new moon was sighted by the watchers, the Shofar was blown and Rosh Hashanah started.  The sliver of moon appears in a night sky, over the holy city dimly lit by the stars.  The watcher sees the moon emerge and sounds the Shofar.

As the moon appears from darkness to renew itself at the start of the holiday so too does Israel renew itself and emerge from spiritual darkness.
–Irv Davis

4For it is a statute for Israel,
a rule of the God of Jacob.
5He made it a decree in Joseph
when he went out over the land of Egypt.
I hear a language I had not known:

6“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
7In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.

“Meribah” refers to an incident during the wilderness wanderings. The people complained about a lack of water. God told Moses to strike a rock, and water came out of it for the people to drink. Exodus 17:7 puts it this way:  And he called the place Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 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.

11“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.

Acts 7:39-43 (NLT)

“But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt.  They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’  So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made.  Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,

   ‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
      during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
  No, you carried your pagan gods—
      the shrine of Molech,
      the star of your god Rephan,
      and the images you made to worship them.
   So I will send you into exile
      as far away as Babylon.’”

13 Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14I would soon subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes.
15Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him,
and their fate would last forever.
16But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”


Psalm 81 seems to reflect the time of exile, when God punished Israel with the loss of the temple, its king, and the land of promise. It also reminds us of an earlier time, when Israel doubted God and grumbled about Him (v. 7). At Meribah (Ex. 17), Israel tested the Lord, doubting that He was with His people, so the Lord tested Israel and found her wanting. Similarly, we can look at the history of the church and see many times and ways in which the church failed to listen to the Word of the Lord.

The time of the Reformation, of course, was one of the greatest times in which the church returned to the Word of God. The Reformation of the church occurred because Christians began again to study the Bible carefully. The Reformers studied Greek and Hebrew, provided the church with new translations of the Bible, used the new technology of the printing press to print Bibles, and prepared some of the finest commentaries and theologies in the history of the church.

Again in our time, the church must be called to listen to the Word of God. God says to us today, as He said to Israel of old and says to every generation of His people: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will open ears in our churches and throughout our land. And let us listen carefully and believingly. Such listening is what the church most needs today.

–Dr. W. Robert Godfrey (president and professor of church history of Westminster Seminary California)



Sweet Honey in the Rock (see verse 16) is an all-woman, African-American a cappella ensemble. Founded in 1973 in Washington, D.C., the group has sung around the world, addressing topics such as motherhood, spirituality, freedom, civil rights, justice, domestic violence, and racism. I am sure you will enjoy their rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”  HERE.


English Standard Version (ESV)   The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Psalm 81.  http://iamlori2.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/psalm-81.jpg
Davis.  http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/jmjoncas/LiturgicalStudiesInternetLinks/JewishWorship/JewishWorshipMusic/OTPsalms/Ps081IrvDavis.gif
Meribah.  http://st-takla.org/Gallery/var/albums/Bible/Illustrations/NHP/1-Old-Testament-Clip-Arts/www-St-Takla-org–MOSESWTR.jpg?m=1298306733
baby birds with open mouths.  https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/birdsopeningmouthwide.jpg
Listen to the Lord.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/listen-to-the-lord.jpg

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