For the director of music. According to gittith. Of Asaph.
Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Begin the music, strike the tambourine,
play the melodious harp and lyre.
Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast;
this is a decree for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
When God went out against Egypt,
he established it as a statute for Joseph.
I heard an unknown voice say:
‘I removed the burden from their shoulders;
their hands were set free from the basket.
In your distress you called and I rescued you,
I answered you out of a thundercloud;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear me, my people, and I will warn you –
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
‘But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
‘If my people would only listen to me,(Ps. 81:1-16 NIV)
if Israel would only follow my ways,
how quickly I would subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their punishment would last for ever.
But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.’
Sing to God new songs of worship
This is a Psalm sung at the time of festival. The people of God travelled from all over the land to be at the Temple. The New Year’s festival was on the first day of the seventh month, followed by the Day of Atonement on the tenth day, and then the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth day. The call to worship sounded by the blowing of the ram’s horn, and the people made their way to the Temple, singing the Psalms as they travelled. Families met with families, soon villages met with villages, and towns with towns, until a vast throng of people raised their voices, playing their musical instruments and singing the praise of the Lord. This was an honour and privilege to attend. Festival was a time of excitement, renewing acquaintances with old friends and making new friends. The high point was when the high priest entered the holy of holies and then came out and pronounced the Lord’s benediction on the people.
The Psalmist calls upon the people to sing for joy to God our strength, shout aloud to our God. They remembered that great day of Salvation when the people of God were taken out of Egypt. In Scotland the Free Church of Scotland hold communion only a few times a year. (I don’t agree with that frequency.) But a tradition has been built up into what they call communion season. It begins with every member of the church being visited by an elder. Then on Thursday night they have a service, followed by a Friday night service. Many in the church are invited to the minister’s home and the visiting minister answers whatever questions are raised, and this can go on until the early hours of the morning. On Saturday morning there is a further service followed by lunch at the minister’s home, when a very large cooked salmon is placed on the table. On Sunday morning there is a communion service with many visitors, and then Sunday evening service and back to the minister’s home for more informal fellowship lasting to the early hours of the morning. Having been the visiting minister to one of these communion seasons on the Isle of Lewis I know how exhausting it is, but it is also an unforgettable time of fellowship with wonderful people of God. That is the nearest I have come to imagining what this festival in the Temple was like. It was once a year, a very special time to celebrate the goodness of God. It is like our Carol service, Easter service and Harvest thanksgiving all rolled into one. The Lord has ordained this festival and ordained that His people should come and celebrate their salvation and the God of their salvation. The Lord had freed His people from the oppressive hands of the Egyptians. The OT people looked back to the Exodus, and they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. We the NT people look back to Calvary when we were free from the oppressive power and enslavement of sin, and we look forward to the coming again of our Saviour. The Lord had removed a burden from their shoulders. Out of distress the people had called to God, and He heard their cry and came to rescue them. On Mount Sinai the Lord spoke to them out of the thundercloud. Then at Meribah, the people doubted whether the Lord was with them. Many times, the Psalmist has cried out to the Lord for the Lord to listen to him, ‘give ear to my cry’. Now the Lord warns the people to listen to Him. If only they would listen and have no other gods. God is their covenant LORD, He is the one who brought them out of Egypt. If only they would open their mouths, He would feed them. The Lord is always ready to provide for His people. The problem is they would not listen, they would not submit to the Lord. We need to listen to God speak through His word and we need to submit to the Lord. The Lord gave the people over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own way. Their own way has got them into so much trouble.
How quickly things could change if God’s people would just listen and follow His ways. His way is best, it is the wise way to live. God calls upon them again to listen. This is a call of grace. They followed other gods, they have tested the Lord. This is festival, a time when God will pour out a great blessing upon His people. The warrior will turn again and defeat their enemy. Those who hate the Lord will be crushed and God’s people will feast on the finest harvest and they will be satisfied.
Many times our heavenly Father, we cry out for You to listen, but we need to acknowledge that we need to do some listening and learning. We need to listen to Your word, yet it remains a closed book for long periods of time. Lord turn to us and forgive us our sins and help us to enjoy the great salvation that You have given. We turn our empty hands to You to fill them. Lord be merciful and gracious towards us because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.