Psalm 81 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Psalm 81)
The restoration of all Israel: God's love and unconditional grace

Psalm 81, while celebrating in figure the restoration of Israel, again returns to historical ground, specially introducing Joseph, who represents the ten tribes (see Ezek. 37:16). Otherwise Judah, the Jews, might have claimed everything. But in the restoration (although there are special events connected with the Jews, and it was amongst them that Jesus was conversant, entering especially into their circumstances in the latter day, producing the association, so profoundly interesting, which we have been studying in the first two books) yet it is evident that in the full purposes of God the stick of Joseph must have its place and become one in the Son of man's hand, and as all Israel. Now the new moon was the symbol of the reappearance of Israel in the sun's light, hailed with joy by the people and connected with redemption in the thought of faith (see v. 5 of the psalm). Then Israel called in trouble, and God delivered him; but then another important principle comes in. God answered them when in trouble; but He proved them also. They tempted God then, doubting His care and power. He was putting them to the test by difficulties, which seemed to say there was want of care or power; and they said, Is Jehovah among us! But Jehovah answered in grace (Exodus 17). This, I apprehend, is the case referred to. But even in the second Meribah—called so because Israel strove again with Jehovah, when Moses (Num. 20) spake unadvisedly with his lips and was shut out from Canaan (for, from Sinai on, they were under legal though gracious government)—Jehovah was sanctified in giving them water in a grace which was above even Moses' failure. Still, while grace and faithfulness to His promises to His people were found in the government of God (Exodus 34: 6, 7), they were put to the test legally on the very terms of that mercy. It was a testing government though a merciful one, and so indeed in some sense is the divine government. God puts this test to them—if faithful to God, no strange god among them (He was Jehovah their God, which brought them out of the land of Egypt), blessing was prepared. They had only to open their mouth wide, and He would fill it. But Israel would not hearken, and they were given up to their own hearts' lusts. Still we see God’s yearning love over them and the delight He would have had in blessing them and putting aside all their enemies His righteous government would have been manifested in them (compare Matt. 23: 37; Luke 19: 42). Oh that they had hearkened! Thus we get the ground of Israel's ruin. They were placed as redeemed from Egypt under the test of obedience and fidelity to God. They had failed. Still they would appear again, to reflect the light of Jehovah's countenance. Thus love of Jehovah for the people breaks out even in their failure.

A very important principle for every soul is brought before us here. Redemption, with conditional blessing after it, only ends in the loss of the blessing, just as creation did. It is the same thing or worse. It depends on us to secure the blessing; and now as fallen beings (instead of innocent and free ones), grace alone can keep us, and so it will be with Israel. The gracious and tender character and thoughts of God towards His people come out most beautifully in this psalm. The passages I have referred to in the Gospels shew the same tenderness, but, further, that Jesus is this very Jehovah.