Psalm 81 - I hear a voice I had not known

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To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.
1) Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2) Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
3) Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
4) For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5) He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
6) "I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
7) In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
8) Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9) There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10) I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

11) "But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12) So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
13) O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14) Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
15) Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their doom would last forever.
16) I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."

Psalm 81
9th Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, verses 1-10
Proper 4, Sunday between May 29 and June 4, Year B, verses 1-10
Proper 17, Sunday between August 28 and September 3, Year C, verses 1, 10-16

Some themes appear in many psalms. The Exodus story, the people Israel being led out of Egypt and through the wilderness, is the most frequent historical reference. Unsurprisingly, as it is so crucial to the nation's and people's identity.

Sing aloud! Shout for joy! Raise a song! Blow the trumpet! God our strength went out over the land of Israel, brought release for the captives, and led them towards a new life.

This is a great and familiar story. Yet then comes a verse like none other in the psalms. "I hear a voice I had not known."

And the psalm changes. Before, the narrator speaks that well-known triumphal story of praise and glory. And now, there is a new voice. Is this when the psalmist first hears from the Lord, as when Samuel heard the call in the night? Or is it that the tone and the message have undergone a tectonic change?

Freedom brings testing. And not every test is passed. Our stubborn hearts...

"Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!"

Would that we would listen to this voice. But there is a failure to communicate. We hear "admonish," and chances are good we tune out, we hide, we defend, we deny.

Should, out of our fear, we retreat into our failures and stop listening at "admonish," we will miss the longing. We will miss hearing the One who once relieved our shoulder of the burden, who would today defend and protect us, who wants only our trust and companionship.

"I would feed you with the finest wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." If we are focused on ourselves, we cannot be fed. Until we listen to the voice who loves us, we can't get no satisfaction. May we recognize that voice of steadfast love in our lives.

Anonymous, Leaf from a Beatus Manuscript: The Fourth Angel Sounds the Trumpet and an Eagle Cries Woe, Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, circa 1180. The Cloisters. Used under the Metropolitan Museum of Art Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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