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Psalm 81[a]

For the music director, according to the gittith style;[b] by Asaph.

81 Shout for joy to God, our source of strength!
Shout out to the God of Jacob!
Sing[c] a song and play the tambourine,
the pleasant-sounding harp, and the ten-stringed instrument.
Sound the ram’s horn on the day of the new moon,[d]
and on the day of the full moon when our festival begins.[e]
For observing the festival is a requirement for Israel;[f]
it is an ordinance given by the God of Jacob.
He decreed it as a regulation in Joseph,
when he attacked the land of Egypt.[g]
I heard a voice I did not recognize.[h]
It said:[i] “I removed the burden from his shoulder;
his hands were released from holding the basket.[j]
In your distress you called out and I rescued you.
I answered you from a dark thundercloud.[k]
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.[l] (Selah)
I said,[m] ‘Listen, my people!
I will warn[n] you.
O Israel, if only you would obey me![o]
There must be[p] no other[q] god among you.
You must not worship a foreign god.
10 I am the Lord, your God,
the one who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.’
11 But my people did not obey me;[r]
Israel did not submit to me.[s]
12 I gave them over to their stubborn desires;[t]
they did what seemed right to them.[u]
13 If only my people would obey me![v]
If only Israel would keep my commands![w]
14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and attack[x] their adversaries.”
15 (May those who hate the Lord[y] cower in fear[z] before him.
May they be permanently humiliated.)[aa]
16 “I would feed Israel the best wheat,[ab]
and would satisfy your appetite[ac] with honey from the rocky cliffs.”[ad]


  1. Psalm 81:1 sn Psalm 81. The psalmist calls God’s people to assemble for a festival and then proclaims God’s message to them. The divine speech (vv. 6-16) recalls how God delivered the people from Egypt, reminds Israel of their rebellious past, expresses God’s desire for his people to obey him, and promises divine protection in exchange for obedience.
  2. Psalm 81:1 tn The precise meaning of the Hebrew term הַגִּתִּית (haggittit) is uncertain; it probably refers to a musical style or instrument. See the superscription to Ps 8.
  3. Psalm 81:2 tn Heb “lift up.”
  4. Psalm 81:3 tn Heb “at the new moon.”sn New moon festivals were a monthly ritual in Israel (see R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 469-70). In this context the New Moon festival of the seventh month, when the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated (note the reference to a “festival” in the next line), may be in view.
  5. Psalm 81:3 tn Heb “at the full moon on the day of our festival.” The Hebrew word כֶּסֶה (keseh) is an alternate spelling of כֶּסֶא (keseʾ, “full moon”).sn The festival in view is probably the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month when the moon was full. See Lev 23:34; Num 29:12.
  6. Psalm 81:4 tn Heb “because a statute for Israel [is] it.”
  7. Psalm 81:5 tn Heb “in his going out against the land of Egypt.” This apparently refers to the general time period of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The LXX reads, “from Egypt,” in which case “Joseph” (see the preceding line) would be the subject of the verb, “when he [Joseph = Israel] left Egypt.”
  8. Psalm 81:5 tn Heb “a lip I did not know, I heard.” Here the term “lip” probably stands for speech or a voice. Apparently the psalmist speaks here and refers to God’s voice, whose speech is recorded in the following verses.
  9. Psalm 81:6 tn The words “It said” are not included in the Hebrew text. They are supplied in the translation for clarification.
  10. Psalm 81:6 sn I removed the burden. The Lord speaks metaphorically of how he delivered his people from Egyptian bondage. The reference to a basket/burden probably alludes to the hard labor of the Israelites in Egypt, where they had to carry loads of bricks (see Exod 1:14).
  11. Psalm 81:7 tn Heb “I answered you in the hidden place of thunder.” This may allude to God’s self-revelation at Mount Sinai, where he appeared in a dark cloud accompanied by thunder (see Exod 19:16).
  12. Psalm 81:7 sn The name Meribah means “strife.” Two separate but similar incidents at the place called Meribah are recorded in the Pentateuch (Exod 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13). In both cases the Israelites complained about lack of water and the Lord miraculously provided for them.
  13. Psalm 81:8 tn The words “I said” are supplied in the translation for clarification. Verses 8-10 appear to recall what the Lord commanded the generation of Israelites that experienced the events described in v. 7. Note the statement in v. 11, “my people did not listen to me.”
  14. Psalm 81:8 tn Or perhaps “command.”
  15. Psalm 81:8 tn The Hebrew particle אִם (ʾim, “if”) and following prefixed verbal form here express a wish (GKC 321 §109.b). Note that the apodosis (the “then” clause of the conditional sentence) is suppressed.
  16. Psalm 81:9 tn The imperfect verbal forms in v. 9 have a modal function, expressing what is obligatory.
  17. Psalm 81:9 tn Heb “different”; “illicit.”
  18. Psalm 81:11 tn Heb “did not listen to my voice.”
  19. Psalm 81:11 tn The Hebrew expression אָבָה לִי (ʾavah li) means “submit to me” (see Deut 13:8).
  20. Psalm 81:12 tn Heb “and I sent him away in the stubbornness of their heart.”
  21. Psalm 81:12 tn Heb “they walked in their counsel.” The prefixed verbal form is either preterite (“walked”) or a customary imperfect (“were walking”).
  22. Psalm 81:13 tn Heb “if only my people were listening to me.” The Hebrew particle לוּ (lu, “if not”) introduces a purely hypothetical or contrary to fact condition (see 2 Sam 18:12).
  23. Psalm 81:13 tn Heb “[and if only] Israel would walk in my ways.”
  24. Psalm 81:14 tn Heb “turn my hand against.” The idiom “turn the hand against” has the nuance of “strike with the hand, attack” (see Isa 1:25; Ezek 38:12; Amos 1:8; Zech 13:7).
  25. Psalm 81:15 tn “Those who hate the Lord” are also mentioned in 2 Chr 19:2 and Ps 139:21.
  26. Psalm 81:15 tn See Deut 33:29; Ps 66:3 for other uses of the verb כָּחַשׁ (kakhash) in the sense “cower in fear.” In Ps 18:44 the verb seems to carry the nuance “to be weak; to be powerless” (see also Ps 109:24). The prefixed verbal form is taken as a jussive, parallel to the jussive form in the next line.
  27. Psalm 81:15 tc Heb “and may their time be forever.” The Hebrew term עִתָּם (ʿittam, “their time”) must refer here to the “time” of the demise and humiliation of those who hate the Lord. Some propose an emendation to בַּעֲתָתָם (baʿatatam) or בִּעֻתָם (biʿutam; “their terror”; i.e., “may their terror last forever”), but the omission of bet (ב) in the present Hebrew text is difficult to explain, making the proposed emendation The verb form at the beginning of the line is jussive, indicating that this is a prayer. The translation assumes that v. 15 is a parenthetical “curse” offered by the psalmist. Having heard the reference to Israel’s enemies (v. 14), the psalmist inserts this prayer, reminding the Lord that they are God’s enemies as well.
  28. Psalm 81:16 tn Heb “and he fed him from the best of the wheat.” The Hebrew text has a third person form of the preterite with a vav (ו) consecutive attached. However, it is preferable, in light of the use of the first person in v. 14 and in the next line, to emend the verb to a first person form and understand the vav as conjunctive, continuing the apodosis of the conditional sentence of vv. 13-14. The third masculine singular pronominal suffix refers to Israel, as in v. I would feed. After the parenthetical “curse” in v. 15, the Lord’s speech continues here.
  29. Psalm 81:16 tn Heb “you.” The second person singular pronominal suffix refers to Israel, as in vv. 7-10.
  30. Psalm 81:16 sn The language in this verse, particularly the references to wheat and honey, is reminiscent of Deut 32:13-14.