Psalm 81

Honey from the Rock

Some time ago, Claire and I attended a worship service in a large church which billed itself as ‘seeker-sensitive.’  The worship consisted of about 30 minutes of praise songs followed by a short prayer and a 30 minute sermon.  The service closed with a few announcements.  The benediction was:  ‘Goodbye, see you next week.’

I don’t want to be too critical; it’s obvious that the church has a lot of support and numerous programs for all ages.  Nevertheless, I found the format a little thin.

Psalm 81 gives us another way to think about worship.  The service begins with praise: numerous instruments join the people’s voices as they ‘Shout for joy to…God’ (v.1).   

Next comes the ‘hearing/listening’ part of the service.  Scripture is read, perhaps the children are told a story, and then the sermon begins (v.5-16).

The minister is clear: his words were given by God and he must speak them.  He begins the sermon with a recital of God’s actions for God’s people in the past, namely the deliverance from slavery in Egypt (v.5-7). 

From Egypt, the people journeyed to Mt Sinai where they were given the Ten Words which were to guide their lives (v. 7).

In vs. 9-10, the preacher reminds the people of the First Commandment – to love God and God alone.

But then our preacher turns sober and reminds the people that they did not ‘listen’ (the word is used four times).  God’s frustration is clear but God still wants the best for the people.

The sermon includes two notes of hope:  First, is God’s desire to be heard.  It is significant that each time the word ‘listen’ occurs, the people are addressed as ‘my people.  The preacher reminds the congregation that even when they stray from God’s good ways, they are still ‘God’s people.’

A mundane example:  One day I had to reprimand our little four-year-old grandson.  He was crushed and the tears flowed copiously.  Then he opened his arms and came towards me saying, ‘Hug me Papa.’  How do you think I responded?  I opened my arms wide and swept him into a warm embrace.

Listening to God is crucial.  It reminds us that the revelation of God is not something confined to the past.   God’s word is living and active in the present moment – today!  To challenge the congregation to listen is to invite them to respond to God’s exclusive claim upon their lives.  Listening to God is still at the heart of what it means to be the people of God. 

Second, the promise of abundance (v.16). 

        16 But I would feed you with the finest wheat.                                               

                  I would satisfy you with honey from the rock.”      

The preacher reminds the people that God’s good intent is to provide for them, as He did in the past.

God made Israel glide over the highlands;
    he fed him with food from the field,
        nursed him with honey from a boulder,
        with oil from a hard rock:
14         curds from the herd, milk from the flock,
            along with the best of lambs,
        rams from Bashan, he-goats too,
        along with the finest wheat—
        and for drink, wine from the juiciest grapes!
15 Jacob ate until he was stuffed….’  
            [Dueteronomy 32.13-14]

The worship service thus ends with a note of hope: the future is not closed but open to those who will ‘listen and walk in God’s ways.’


(This summer I discovered a group called Poor Bishop Hooper – Jesse and Leah Roberts – who create music together.  One of those projects is to record a musical version of all 150 psalms.  So…each week I will include a link to the musical version of the psalm.  Please do read the psalm as well).  -  Poor Bishop Hooper