The Book of Psalms

Thursday: “If My People…”

Theme

Theme: Lacking a Knowledge of God by the People of God
In this week’s lessons, Psalm 81 serves as a warning to take care that our worship is of the true God, and in the right way.
Scripture: Psalm 81:1-16
The people of God should know the Bible and practice its commands within the context of the wider world. But often they do not, which is what the fourth stanza of Psalm 81 is about (vv. 11, 12). Looking to their actions in the past, God says that he heard them, delivered them, instructed them and warned them. “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me” (v. 11).
The remarkable thing about this rejection is that it is by “my [that is, God’s] people,” not the world. This is emphasized, because the words “my people” are repeated in verses 8, 11 and 13, that is, at the start of each of the last three stanzas. Alexander Maclaren says, “There is a world of baffled tenderness and almost wondering rebuke in the designation of the rebels as ‘my people.’ It would have been no cause of astonishment if other nations had not listened; but that the tribes bound by so many kindnesses should have been deaf is a sad marvel.”1
Isn’t this exactly the problem we face today? The problem is not that the world does not know God. How can we expect it to? The problem is that the people of God do not know God, or at least they do not act as if they do. Instead of worshiping the Lord and him only, Christians seem to be worshiping the gods of the secular culture—gods of wealth, pleasure, fame, status and self-absorption.
I have said on more than one occasion that when I travel around the country and speak in so-called evangelical churches, the thing that strikes me the most is how little awareness of the presence of God there seems to be, even on a Sunday morning. The services are relevant in the sense that they deal with supposed human needs. They are lively, often entertaining. Like the worship described at the beginning of this psalm, they are often loud, joyful and boosted by musical instruments. But there is almost no serious mention of God. The hymns are increasingly man-centered, dealing with who we are rather than with who he is, and there are almost no prayers. To judge from what I hear, Christianity has become either a form of Sunday entertainment, a political pressure group or a twelve-step recovery process, rather than a community of those who know and are learning to obey God.
This is what we have to offer our culture, however, and it is what our culture needs. In a book exploring these evangelical weaknesses and our true opportunities, Michael Scott Horton says, “What is required in our day, as even many non-Christian thinkers are saying, is nothing less than a spiritual quest. Will we be there, ready for the ultimate questions with answers from the personal God of biblical revelation, who is the source of all truth, or will we still be entangled in the ideological movements and draw our water from streams which have run their course, progressing from a mighty ocean to a stagnant pond?”2
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 422.
2Michael Scott Horton, Beyond Culture Wars (Chicago: Moody, 1994), p. 60.
Study Questions:

What is remarkable about the rejection described in verse 11?
What does Alexander Maclaren term a “sad marvel”?

Reflection: In what ways today can you observe God’s people displaying a lack of knowledge of God? 
Application: Evaluate your own worship and the worship of your church next Sunday. Are there any tendencies to be man-centered? What can be done to correct them?

Study Questions
Application
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