Psalm 81: Lessons For Believers to Maintain Their Walk with God

Introduction: Psalm 81 does not identify its historical context. But the preceding psalms all arise out of the tragedy of the Jews’ deportation and enslavement. Thus, a descendant of Asaph most likely wrote Psalm 81 to encourage the Jews while in exile. They needed to restore and then maintain their walk with God. From this psalm, the Bible reveals seven lessons for all believers to follow for maintaining their walk with God. These include: (1) praise, (2) remembrance, (3) trust, (4) fidelity, (5) obedience, (6) dependence, and (7) contentment.

First, the psalmist began his exhortation to the Jews with praise and worship. Maintaining your walk also requires praise and worship. Praise and worship puts you into alignment with God. Second, during a festival, the psalmist urged the Jews to remember God’s Word. Maintaining your walk also requires that you study and then remember God’s Word to allow the Holy Spirit to apply it to your life. Third, God heard the Jews’ cry during their Egyptian captivity and released them. But the Jews failed to trust God in the wilderness. God paid the price for your spiritual captivity through Jesus’ death at the cross. Maintaining our walk also requires that you trust Him. Fourth, God lamented that the Jews responded to His faithfulness by being unfaithful to Him. They ignored His Commandments and chased after the idols of the world. Maintaining your walk also requires your faithfulness to God. Fifth, the Jews experienced calamity because they rebelled against God. Maintaining your walk also requires Spirit-led obedience. Sixth, God urged the Jews to depend upon God and walk in His ways to be freed again. Maintaining your walk also requires that you depend upon God and walk in His ways. Finally, God lamented that He could have satisfied the Jews’ needs if only they had been content with what He offered. Maintaining your walk also requires that you remain content with God’s provision in your life.

1. Praise: Maintaining Your Walk Requires Praise and Worship. Ps. 81:1-2.

  • Praise and worship keeps you in spiritual alignment with God. Before exhorting the Jews, the psalmist urged them to praise God and worship Him. “For the music director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of Asaph. 1 Sing for joy to God our strength; shout joyfully to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, strike the tambourine, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp.” (Ps. 81:1-2). The mention of musical instruments meant that the Jews needed to come together to worship God collectively. This also meant that the Jews’ worship was meant to be a joyful experience where they could express their gratitude for all God’s blessings.

  • Let praise and worship be a regular part of your walk with God. The psalms remind believers that praise and worship should be part of your regular walk. This includes both the good times and the bad times: “Be exalted, LORD, in Your strength; we will sing and praise Your power.” (Ps. 21:13). “But as for me, I will sing of Your strength; yes, I will joyfully sing of Your faithfulness in the morning, for You have been my refuge and a place of refuge on the day of my distress.” (Ps. 59:16). “For the music director. A Song. A Psalm. Shout joyfully to God, all the earth;” (Ps. 66:1). “Come, let’s sing for joy to the LORD, let’s shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.” (Ps. 95:1). “A Psalm for Thanksgiving. Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.” (Ps. 100:1). “Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped.” (2 Chr. 29:30). “For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and songs of thanksgiving to God.” (Neh. 12:46). Even during their captivity, many Jews found reasons to praise God: “How can we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4). If you make praise and worship a regular part of your walk, it will help you to remain aligned with God.

The Battle: singing praises to God

Let praise and gratitude be a regular part of your walk with God1

2. Remembrance: Maintaining Your Walk Requires that You Study and then Remember God’s Word to Allow the Holy Spirit to Apply It. Ps. 81:3-5.

  • To stay on God’s path, make time to study and remember God’s Word. During a new moon festival that may have included the Feast of Tabernacles, the psalmist urged the Jews to find renewal by reading and remembering God’s Word: “Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day. For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. He established it as a testimony in Joseph when he went throughout the land of Egypt. I heard a language I did not know:” (Ps. 81:3-5). “According to the psalm this celebration and admonition took place on a feast day. One possible setting for this would be the fall festival, notably the Feast of Tabernacles, the appointed time. The celebration would begin with the blowing of the trumpets on the first of the month, the new moon, the Tabernacles would be held in the middle of the month. Moreover, it was at the Feast of Tabernacles that the law was read (Deut. 31:10), which would be the appropriate time for an oracle of administration to be delivered. . . The use of the name ‘Joseph’ here refers to historical Israel in general . . .” (Allen Ross, A Commentary of the Psalms: Volume 2 (42-89), Kregel Academic (2013) p. 710, 714).

  • The new moon festival was part of God’s law to encourage monthly spiritual renewal. God’s law included the blowing of trumpets at the beginning of each new moon as a time of reflection and to align the Jews’ hearts with Him (Lev. 23:24; Nu. 10:10; 28:11). In the beginning of his reign, Solomon showed his wisdom by observing all the festivals, including the new moon festivals: “Then Solomon offered burnt offerings to the LORD on the altar of the LORD which he had built in front of the porch; and he did so according to the daily rule, offering them up according to the commandment of Moses, for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the three annual feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.” (2 Chr. 8:12-13). The new moon festival occurred once a month. It was a regular reminder for God’s people to renew their minds on Him. This reminder is repeated in the New Testament: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). “and that you are to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,” (Eph. 4:23). To maintain your walk with God, you also need to center your thoughts each day to focus on the things of the Spirit. Without a regular effort, many will drift in their walk with God.

  • Taking steps to remember and celebrate God should not include meaningless rituals. Many Jews turned God’s festivals into ritual obligations where they simply went through the motions in observing them. But God knew their hearts and hated their festivals when they did this: “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.”  (Is. 1:14; Ho. 2:11). God does not want your worship if your heart is not in it. This type of worship is meaningless. 

  • Teach your children to love God by obeying Him.  The Jews were the beneficiaries of the wisdom of God’s law “He established it as a testimony in Joseph . . .” (Ps. 81:5). As beneficiaries of God’s law, the Jews were obligated to study and teach it to their children: “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they were to teach them to their children,” (Ps. 78:5). “. . . but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.”  (Dt. 4:9).  “ . . . that they may teach their children.”  (Dt. 4:10).  “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”  (Dt. 6:7).  “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.”  (Dt. 11:19).  “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6).  But it was not enough to teach the Jews God’s Law.  They had to love Him enough to want to follow it out of devotion and not obligation:  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  (Dt. 6:4).  A nation that fails to teach a generation to love Him will create a generation that does not recognize Him as Lord.  This is exactly what happened to Israel:  “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3). “Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.”  (Jer. 8:7).  In case any Christian feels freed of His requirement to raise their children in Him, Paul is clear that it still applies:  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  (Eph. 6:4). Your love and your children’s love for Jesus should create a desire to follow His Ten Commandments out of love and not obligation:  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  (Jo. 14:15).  “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”  (Jo. 14:21).  Do you know God’s Word well enough to teach it?  Are you teaching your children to love Jesus by being obedient to Him?

  • Remember God’s Word and pray over it to maintain your walk. God also wants you to maintain your walk by remembering His Word and praying over it. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). When you read God’s Word and pray, the Holy Spirit can speak to you:  “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  (Jo. 14:16).  “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”  (Jo. 16:13).  Are you reading the Word and praying to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you?

3. Trust: Maintaining Your Walk Requires That You Trust God. Ps. 81:6-7.

  • God demonstrated that the Jews could trust Him, but the Jews still doubted Him. God heard the Jews’ cries of oppression in Egypt and miraculously freed them from captivity. But God then exposed the Jews’ failure to trust Him when He tested the in the wilderness: “‘I relieved his shoulder of the burden, His hands were freed from the basket. You called in trouble and I rescued you; I answered you in the hiding place of thunder; I put you to the test at the waters of Meribah. Selah” (Ps. 81:6-7). “The ‘discourse’ is now given. It commences somewhat abruptly, and is, perhaps, itself a fragment, the beginning of which is lost. God reminds Israel of his past favors (vers. 6, 7), exhorts them to faithfulness (vers. 8, 9), promises them blessings (ver. 10), complains of their waywardness (vers. 11, 12), and finally makes a last appeal to them to turn to him, and recover his protection, before it is too late (vers. 13-16).” (Pulpit Commentary on Ps. 81).2 God may also test you to show you where your faith is lacking.

  • God demonstrated that the Jews could trust Him through His faithfulness. Egypt was the land of bitter bondage  (Ex. 1:11-22). God heard the Jews’ cries (Ps. 81:6). “Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage ascended to God.” (Ex. 2:23). He then delivered them with His mighty power: “You called in trouble and I rescued you; I answered you in the hiding place of thunder; . . .” (Ps. 81:7). If the Jews would only trust God, He promised to again deliver them from the hands of their oppressors: “For You will break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.” (Is. 9:4). “So it will be on that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of fatness.” (Is. 10:27).

  • Trust in God and lean not on your own understanding.  Faith requires that you trust God, even when you feel you can handle things on your own: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”  (Prov. 3:5).  “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.”  (Prov. 28:26). 

  • God tested the Jews to show them that they did not really trust in Him. After demonstrating His mighty power, God tested the Jews in the wilderness to show them that their hearts remained trapped in bondage: “. . . I put you to the test at the waters of Meribah. Selah” (Ps. 81:7). “Then he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?”’ (Ex. 17:17; Nu. 20:13; Dt. 6:16). Jesus warned that we should not repeat the Jews’ mistakes by testing God: “Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written: ‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.’” (Matt. 4:7; Lk 4:12). To stay on your walk, invite God’s testing and learn where you need to grow your faith.

4. Fidelity: Maintaining Your Walk Requires Faithfulness to God. Ps. 81:8-10.

  • God wants you to be faithful to Him. God called upon the Jews to remember His First Commandment. Although He had been faithful to provide for the Jews’ every need, they had been unfaithful to Him: “Hear, My people, and I will admonish you; Israel, if you would listen to Me! There shall be no strange god among you; nor shall you worship a foreign god. 10 I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Ps. 81:8-10). “Having alluded to the way that He redeemed Israel, the Lord next testifies against them in 81:8-10 (MT 81:9-11). The summons to ‘Hear, my people - Israel’ may have been framed to reference the Shema in Deut. 6:4. . . The last statement of 81:10 (MT 81:11) recalls the way the Lord provided food for Israel in the wilderness, as He calls them to open wide their mouths that He might fill them.” (James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. II: Psalms 73-150) (Lexham Academic 2021) pgs. 83-84).

  • God has called believers to pay close attention to the importance of fidelity to Him. God urges His people to pay close attention to His Word (Ps. 81:8). He did this frequently when the Jews corrupted their walk with Him: “Hear, My people, and I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God.” (Ps. 50:7). “Pay attention to Me, My people, and listen to Me, My nation; for a law will go out from Me, and I will bring My justice as a light of the peoples.” (Is. 51:4). God also calls upon you to closely listen to His Word and the Holy Spirit. This will help you to stay focused and on the right path.

  • Fidelity to God is His First Commandment. The Jews failed the test of faithfulness: “There shall be no strange god among you; nor shall you worship a foreign god.” (Ex. 81:9). Fidelity in your walk is so important that it is God’s First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3; Dt. 5:7). The Jews were foolish in chasing after idols because God is the only divine being to exist: “The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him.” (Dt. 32:12). “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can save anyone from My hand.” (Dt. 32:39). “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God,” (Ps. 18:31). “I am the LORD, and there is no one else; there is no God except Me. I will arm you, though you have not known Me,” (Is. 45:5). God also wants your complete fidelity. No idol of the world, like wealth, power, drugs, or the flesh, should come before Him.

  • Celebrate that Jesus delivered you from your bondage of sin.  God declared: “10 I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Ps. 81:10). He made a similar declaration just before He gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:2). “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Dt. 5:6). “They shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.” (Ex. 29:45-46).  “I brought them out from the land of Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:42-43).  You too were “once slaves of sin.”  (Rom 6:17).  But Jesus came to deliver you from the evil one  (Matt. 6:13). If you are thankful for your deliverance, make your life a thank offering to Him.

  • Jesus is faithful to provide for you.  God declared : “ . . . open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Ps. 81:10b). He provided manna in the desert  (Ex. 16:31; Nu. 11:-8-9). He even provided quail after they grumbled about their food  (Ex. 16:1-8; Nu. 11:4-6, 32-33). He further protected the Jews’ feet from swelling  (Dt. 8:4).  Jesus revealed that He was the Manna that rained down from heaven  (Matt. 4:4; Jo. 6:33-35).  Just as Jesus cared for the Jews in the wilderness (Hos. 13:5), He cares for you.  He provides all that you need  (Matt. 6:25-34).  As one commentator observes: “God made a promise to His faithful people. If they would in faith anticipate God’s provision, God would provide. The reverse is also implied: God would not fill the closed mouth, the one with no anticipation of faith. . . This shows us that whatever we do open to God, He will fill. We can’t open our mouths bigger than He can fill. · We open our mouths wide when we have a sense of need – when we are hungry. · We open our mouths wide when we ask for large things. · We open our mouths wide when we understand the greatness of the God we pray to.· We open our mouths wide when we pray on Jesus’ merits, not our own.” (David Guzik on Ps. 81).3 If you are thankful for God’s provision, show your gratitude to Him by making your life a living sacrifice to Him (Ro. 12:1).

Psalms 81.10 | "From The Heart of A Shepherd" by Pastor Travis D. Smith

Turn to God and trust Him alone to fulfill your every need4

5. Obedience: Maintaining Your Walk Requires Obedience. Ps. 81:11-12.

  • Let obedience be the fruit of your walk with God. Because the Jews repeatedly rebelled against God in the wilderness, He gave them over to their own desires of the flesh: “11 ‘But My people did not listen to My voice, and Israel did not obey Me. 12 So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk by their own plans.” (Ps. 81:11-12). “The story of Israel is only our own history in another shape. God has heard us, delivered us, liberated us, and too often our unbelief makes the wretched return of mistrust, murmuring, and rebellion.” (Charles Spurgeon on Ps. 81).5

  • Rebellion breaks God’s heart. God lamented how His people refused to listen to Him (Ps. 81:11). The psalms are filled with similar laments: “How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert!” (Ps. 78:40). “But grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD. . . Many times He would rescue them; they, however, were rebellious in their plan, and they sank down into their guilt.” (Ps. 106:25, 43). God also lamented to His prophets how His rebellious people broke His heart: “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts,” (Is. 65:2). “Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked by their own advice and in the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and they went backward and not forward.” (Jer. 7:24). When you rebel against God’s Word or His will for you, you also break His heart.

  • God may hand rebellious people over to the desires of their hearts. God’s laws are meant to protect His people. But God gives believers free will. Here, He warned that He may let rebellious peoples embrace their desires: “So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk by their own plans.” (Ps. 81:12). Paul repeats this warning in the New Testament. “Therefore God gave them up to vile impurity in the lusts of their hearts, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. . . For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged natural relations for that which is contrary to nature,” (Ro. 1:24, 26). Thus, you should take sin seriously.

  • God desires obedience more than sacrifice.  Even though this psalm occurred in connection with a new moon festival that came with sacrifices, God wanted the Jews’ obedience more than their sacrifices.  “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”  (1 Sam. 15:22). 

  • Jesus is not your Lord if you refuse to do what He says.  A believer may proclaim Jesus as Lord.  But Jesus is not your Lord if you disobey Him:  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”  (Matt. 7:21). “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  (Lk. 6:46).  “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (Jam. 1:22).  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  (Matt. 7:24).  “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”  (Matt. 7:26).  If you call Jesus your Lord, is there any area of your life where you are refusing to obey Him?

Here’s how to obey God’s commandments! - Christian Messenger

Let your obedience be the fruit of your faith6

6. Dependence: Maintaining Your Walk Requires that You Depend Upon God and Walk in His Ways. Ps. 81:13-15.

  • Depend upon God, walk in His ways, and He will deliver you from your enemies. God lamented that if His people had walked in His ways, He would have protected them: “13 Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! 14 I would quickly subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their adversaries. 15 Those who hate the Lord would pretend to obey Him, and their time of punishment would be forever.” (Ps. 81:13-15). “Now here God looks upon them with pity, and shows that it was with reluctance that he thus abandoned them to their folly and fate. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? Hos 11 8, 9. So here, O that my people had hearkened! See Isa 48 18. Thus Christ lamented the obstinacy of Jerusalem. If thou hadst known, Luke 19 42. The expressions here are very affecting (v. 13-16), designed to show how unwilling God is that any should perish and desirous that all should come to repentance (he delights not in the ruin of sinful persons or nations), and also what enemies sinners are to themselves and what an aggravation it will be of their misery that they might have been happy upon such easy terms.” (Matthew Henry on Ps. 81) (italics original).7

  • God promises to bless those who depend upon Him. If the Jews had acted with faith-led obedience to depend upon God instead of idols, God promised to bless them: “If only they had such a heart in them, to fear Me and keep all My commandments always, so that it would go well with them and with their sons forever!” (Dt. 5:29). “A Song of Ascents. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways.” (Ps. 128:1).

  • When you depend upon God, you will want to obey out of love and not obligation. God never wanted the Jews to obey Him out of compulsion. Instead, He wanted them to obey Him out of love: “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His directive, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments.” (Dt. 11:1). Your salvation is not dependent upon your obedience. If that were the case, Jesus died needlessly at the cross (Gal. 2:21). Jesus still wants you to depend upon Him and walk with Him out of love and not obligation. If your motive to serve is love, you are more likely to remain on your walk with Him. Jesus will in turn bless your walk with Him.

7. Contentment: Maintaining Your Walk Requires that You Remain Content with God’s Provision in Your Life. Ps. 81:16.

  • Be content with God’s provision in your life. God lamented that if His people had only accepted what He offered He would have provided for all their needs: “16 But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Ps. 81:16). God also wants you to be satisfied with His provision for you.

  • Jesus offers abundant life. Following God did not mean that the Jews were destined to live hard lives. “For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30). He promised the Jews a land of milk and honey if they only had faith: “He had him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He had him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock, curds of the herd, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs and rams, the breed of Bashan, and of goats, with the best of the wheat; and you drank wine of the blood of grapes.” (Dt. 32:13-14).

Psalms 81:16 KJV Desktop Wallpaper - He should have fed them also with the finest of

Be content with God’s provision, and He will satisfy you8

  • Be content with God’s provision, and He will bless you. Paul learned to fight covetousness by being content with God’s provision in his life: “Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. . . .And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:11, 19). “And God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;” (2 Cor. 9:8). Jesus also calls upon you to be content with your circumstances: “And soldiers also were questioning him, saying, ‘What are we to do, we as well?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone, nor harass anyone, and be content with your wages.”’ (Lk. 3:14). Are you content with what God has given you in your life?

  • If you delight yourself in God, He will give you your heart’s desires. God will fill your heart with contentment if your greatest desire is your relationship with Him: “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). “For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and He has filled the hungry soul with what is good.” (Ps. 107:9). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your comfort delights my soul.” (Ps. 94:19). Do you love most things of God or the world?