Psalm 81: The Language of God

I hear a language I had not known…

I wonder what language God heard that caused him to have Asaph pen these words?

I wonder if God listened to his people in Egyptian exile and hoped they would cry out to him? That seems a possibility, for verses 9-10 state that they are not to bow down to foreign gods. Maybe the Israelites had lived under the canopy of Egyptian idol worship so long that they only heard the priests of the gods of Egypt and not the voice of God.

I used to think the night sky in Akron with its many scintillating stars and planets populating the dark canopy above was amazing, until I ventured to South Africa many years ago. I was visiting an old high school friend who was now a missionary, and we were sitting on the porch of their tiny house late in the evening. There was a single light bulb lighting our faces that blinded us to the dark world just beyond the lighted perimeter. But within moments of the light being extinguished, my eyes adjusted and I saw a night sky I had never seen before. The depth and beauty of the nearly infinite canopy of stars put to shame what I had once thought was a sight of beauty in the skies of Akron. At first, I wondered if there might be more stars visible in the southern hemisphere than the northern, but I knew that was not the case. What keeps me from first seeing the vast number of stars in the Akron sky is the same thing that kept me at first from seeing the beauty in the African sky: a canopy of intense light. But once that light was turned off, the night sky came alive! In Akron, however, there is not a single lamp but a large canopy of light emanating from every street light, house lamp, and car headlight blinding us to the infinite number of stars above.

I wonder if the Israelites had lived so long under the canopy of Egyptian idol worship that they had lost the ability to hear the voice of God? I wonder if that is why God said in verse 11, “But my people did not listen to my voice?” Had they begun speaking the language of idolaters, having forgotten the language of God? If they had, it would not be a new thing.

Do you remember how Eve reasoned as she contemplated eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” In addition to beauty and function (the same things God said of the tree in Genesis 2:9), she believed the tree would give her wisdom. But does wisdom come from a tree or from God? Did not Adam and Eve have direct communion with God in the garden, and could they not ask him anything they wanted so as to gain wisdom and insight from the one who created the universe? If so, why would she think a tree could grant her wisdom beyond what the creator could provide? And yet, she ate of the tree. She longed for a foreign language to teach her instead of submitting herself to the one who by his very words spoke the universe into existence.

But before we think so poorly of Adam and Eve, look briefly at scripture to note how many times people longed for a foreign voice and sought out wisdom from sources other than God. Think of the people in Judges and how everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Think of Saul and his encounter with the witch of Endor. Think of David, listening to the voice of his own heart. Think of the many kings doing what was right in their own eyes. Think of those remnants left in Jerusalem who chose to go to Egypt instead of listening to God’s words spoken through Jeremiah. Think of Peter listening to tradition instead of Christ’s words. Think of…well, it does not end there.

Think about ourselves. Might we be living under a similar canopy, becoming so saturated with the voices of our modern gods that we are unable to hear God’s words? And as a result, might have we become unable to speak anything but the words of idolatry?

I wonder.

I don’t know about you. (I really don’t.) But for my part, I know it gets more difficult each day to hear the voice of God. He often seems quite distant, almost as though he is hidden behind a cloud of sound made up of the din and roar of the voices of modern idolatry. It seems that the one true voice giving life, breath, and meaning has been drowned out.

But even so, all is not lost. We can pierce this deafening canopy of the cloud of unknowing that God knew would eventually cover our lives. In verses 1-3, God prescribed the one thing that would allow us to hear his voice and him to understand ours:

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Raise a song; sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our feast day.

God commanded that our voices should be lifted to him in worship. Regardless of the voices around us, we are called to speak a language God knows, the language of the foundation of the universe. If for no other reason (and there ARE other reasons), we are called to do this so that God would not be forced to say…

I hear a language I had not known…

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