Psalms 81-88
June 19th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Shout for joy to God our defender;

sing praise to the God of Jacob!

- Psalm 82:1 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

This set of eight Psalms rides a wave of emotions as it begins with a loud celebration, but God intervenes to scold the people. A few chapters later we find one of the best heartfelt Psalms of praise and then end today's study with one of the darker Psalms.

Psalm 81 begins with singing, shouting, and the blowing of the ram’s horn in praise to God, perhaps as part of the Feast of the Tabernacles. A speech from God dominates the next section of this Psalm. He reminds the people of his first commandment, “ ‘You shall have no foreign gods among you’ (Ps 81:9 - NIV),” and bemoans that the people did not listen to him. As a consequence he left the people to their own devices. God adds that if the people would begin to listen again that he would quickly subdue their enemies and the good people “would be fed with the finest of wheat, with honey from the rock I would satisfy you (Ps 81:16 - NIV).”

In the 82nd Psalm God addresses the people again. In this case he criticizes the earthly judges because the unjust have been defended and those in charge have bestowed favors on the wicked. Meanwhile, no one takes up the case of the weak and fatherless or defends those who cannot defend themselves.

Psalm 83 is the last of twelve Psalms written by Asaph (50, 73-83). In this one he calls to God for protection and a merciless request for destruction of the enemy: “Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind (Ps 83:18 - NIV).”

The praise cycle begins again in Psalm 84, written by the Korahites. It commences with the psalmist admiring the dwelling place of the LORD as he alternates between addressing the LORD and addressing the people:

The author notes the joy of those who live in his house and the joy of those who make pilgrimages there. The fulfillment of the presence of the LORD is so awesome that the author says he would rather be a lowly doorkeeper in God’s house for a day then live in luxury in the tent of the wicked for 1,000 days. He closes by emphasizing that the LORD does not withhold good for those who walk in his ways and exclaims that all who trust in him are truly happy.

Psalm 85 appears to be a response to God’s offer in the 81st Psalm. The psalmist asks God for restoration and commits that he will listen to what God the LORD will say. The 86th Psalm is a call for protection, but the author is deliberate in praising God for his loving mercy and asks for God’s guidance before describing the details of the situation at hand.

Psalm 87 returns to the theme of praise, emphasizing how God’s blessing rests on the temple and how the other nations admire it. This is followed by a troubling cry in Psalm 88 from a person who feels as if time is running out and his God has hidden his face from him:

Unlike most of the Psalms of petition, this one does not end in praise, but ends in deep despair. The author describes how he has been afflicted by youth, and now he is surrounded by enemies, his companions are gone and he claims that “darkness is my closest friend (Ps 88:18 - NIV).”

Reflection and Application

The noisy celebration depicted in Psalm 81 is representative of how the Israelites worshipped God when they put their hearts into it. But some people did not have their hearts in it, such as David’s wife, who criticized him for celebrating in such an unrestrained way when the ark was returned (1 Samuel 4:20).

Where do we stand on the proper way to celebrate? Nothing is wrong with quiet praising of God, but a joyful noise provides an opportunity for us to act as a witness and let others see how excited we are to praise our Creator.

There is a reason that the 81st Psalm emphasizes the first commandment. If we do not uphold that one, then we are less likely to uphold any others. If we don’t honor God, why would we care about any of his commandments? Most likely few of us worship a golden calf, but we know in our hearts the objects or concepts that tempt us to creep away from God. These might be the foreign gods that we are warned about.

If we realize we have been worshipping the wrong gods, then it’s time to repent and listen to what God wants from us. He is ready to forgive and guide, if we are ready to follow and serve. Our role in his kingdom may be humble – we have to sacrifice our ego and accept whatever assignment he gives us. Are we ready?

We find an excellent example of praise in Psalm 84. Just past the half-way point of the book of Psalms we find one that the contemporary theologian Charles Spurgeon calls the "Pearl of the Psalms (1)." It is a beautiful, poetic Psalm that is worth printing out or writing down and reading over and over.

If we don’t have it in our hearts to praise God today, then perhaps the next best course is to pour out our hearts to God, describing to him our life of suffering, the way the Psalmist did in 88. The author might have felt that he has been suffering forever, and maybe you feel the same way sometimes. If so, trust that God welcomes our cry. The complaint window is open. He would rather that we come to him with our troubles then not come to him at all.

The Simon and Garfunkel folk song, “Sounds of Silence,” may not have been directly inspired by this group of Psalms, but it has consistent themes, including a reference to darkness as a friend (Ps 88:18) in the beginning and warnings about people worshipping other gods and not listening to the prophets.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite popular song?
    2. How do you like to celebrate your relationship with God?
    3. What are the neon gods that Simon and Garfunkel sung about? How are these gods similar to the ones that the psalmists warn about?
    Recommended Prayer
    God, we long to spend just one day with you. Help us to get past the darkness.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People longing to return to their homes


    (1) Sire, James W, Learning to Pray Through the Psalms, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2005 , p. 128

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Psalms 89-94 (You Are My Refuge)

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