AN EARNEST PLEA
THEY REFUSED TO LISTEN. As a result they were left to do as they thought best. That is what happens to those who do not listen to God.
Paul knew that. Those who ignore God have futile thoughts and do not understand. But
that is not all. God gives them over to indulge the lusts of their own hearts (Romans 1.21-24). Some 1000 years before Paul a singer discovered the same truth.
Asaph lived in the days of King David. With Ethan and Heman, he was put in charge of the singing in the House of the Lord. His name is found in the title of twelve Psalms. They were either written by him or for him.
In Psalm 81 Asaph calls us to sing out loud to God. We are to shout with joy for what God does. He loves his people. He sets them free. And he calls them to make him known to the peoples of the world. They enjoy great privileges. They are given many and great promises.
Those who enjoy these blessings are called to be faithful and true to God. They are to love, serve and worship him alone. There is to be no foreign god among them.
Tragically and sadly things did not go as they should have done. In ancient times those who said “We were God’s people” failed. Asaph saw that their failure to love and serve God as God would have us do could be traced back to pride. They proved stubborn and did not obey God (Psalm 81.12).
We shall consider the consequence of this in a moment. But before we do so, we want to explore the way in which our pride expresses itself.
Asaph’s song is a message from God to us. And the message is clear. Stubborn hearts refuse to listen to and walk in the ways of God. In the psalm we read these words:
Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! (Psalm 81.13)
The key words are listen and walk. They are prefaced with the heartfelt plea, O that my people would. The use of the personal pronoun (my) tells us that it is God who speaks. Descendants from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were called to be different from the rest of mankind. They were to do what mankind was created to enjoy but, due to pride, does not do. We are here to listen. We are to listen to God.
Listening is what believers do. It is a key lesson we can learn from Psalm 81. The same lesson is taught throughout the Bible. Take a closer look at Psalm 119 for example.
The key theme of Psalm 119 is delight in and love for God’s law. Eight key words are used. They are commandments, judgments, law, precepts, rules, statutes, testimonies, and word. Each of the twenty-two stanzas (consisting of eight verses) has a minimum of six. Five have all eight.
The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that his followers listen. “I am the good shepherd,” he says,
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10.14, 27 – emphasis added)
Believers, Jesus says, are like sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice. He calls out to each by name. Strangers they do not follow because “they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10.5). But they know his voice. Christ knows his sheep and his sheep know him. As the days go by he adds more and more sheep to his Church. They all enjoy the same privielge. Each one hears his voice (John 10.14, 16).
You may well now ask how does a believer hear the voice of God? Surely, you say, he or she does not hear God speaking directly from heaven. That is right.
We recognise that God has the power to do what he did in the days of Samuel. Four times God spoke to him. On occasions one, two and three he thought it was Eli, the priest, who called. But on the fourth, on Eli’s advice, he said to God, “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3.1ff). He then listened to what God said to him.
In these days God speaks to us primarily by his written Word. Long ago he caused the books of the Bible to be written. They were not all given at the same time. It was over a period of almost two thousand years that God inspired different individuals to speak or write messages to and for his people.
Each message was from God. They were not ideas dreamed up by a prophet, an apostle or someone else. Obviously the minds of the prophets and apostles were active. They knew what they thought, what they said and what they wrote. You should not imagine them in some sort of trance. But, in a way that causes us to marvel, God so overruled all that happened that what was written in Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic is exactly what God wanted written.
Furthermore, God has promised us the help of his Spirit. The apostle Peter informs us that no prophecy ever came by the mere will of a man. Rather, holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1.21). The same Spirit enables us today to understand the very Scriptures that were breathed out by God for our benefit (2 Timothy 3.16).
Our responsibility, therefore, is to listen to the Scriptures given by God. As we listen we can enjoy hearing God’s voice. It should be obvious that you will not hear if you do not listen. We all know what it is to hear someone speak and yet not hear what they say. We need to concentrate. We need to pay attention to the words that someone utters. Without that there is not true hearing.
That was what happened in ancient times. And, sadly, that is what too often happens today. It is probably safe to assume that the people of whom Asaph speaks in Psalm 81 heard about God and even heard messages from God. But they did not listen properly. They were not concerned to hear and heed what God said.
God does not just call them to listen to him. He also summons them to walk in his ways (Psalm 81.13b). There are two points to note from the use of the word walk.
First, it teaches us how a believer lives. Out of love for God he keeps his commands. His life consists in doing what God wants him to do. He says no to what he wants and yes to what God wants. That is the way he lives. He learns that he has been chosen to go and bear fruit (John 15.16). And he also learns that if he truly loves Christ he will do what Christ commands (John 14.20).
Secondly, the use of the word walk points to the fact that a believer is not to be self-centred. Rather he or she learns that each believer is called to walk in God’s ways with other believers. In other words we are not alone and we have a duty toward each other. Simply put, it is to encourage and exhort each other to love God, each other and all people, and to do the good works God would have us do (Hebrews 10.24f).
Some three thousand years ago Asaph was aware that those who profess to be God’s children can behave as though they are not God’s children. Such behaviour shows itself in not listening to God and in not walking in God’s ways. Asaph was also aware that those who listen to and walk with God enjoy the benefits of a great promise. God does great things for his people. Those who listen to his Word and walk in his ways enjoy two benefits.
One, God subdues their enemies (Psalm 81.14). Believers live among people who hate God and his ways. Their enmity toward God is seen in the way they defy him, ignore him, and reject his Word. Those who oppose God also oppose his people. We can see more and more evidence of this today in the United Kingdom as they pursue an equality and inclusion agenda that seeks to define those terms without any reference to God’s revealed will. We have no cause to fear. Those who walk in God’s ways will see their enemies humbled.
Two, God satisfies his people (Psalm 81.16). They find that as they walk with God in his ways they are provided with all that they need for their well-being in this life. They enjoy life, and do so more abundantly (John 10.10).
Sadly, some in the churches do not enjoy these blessings. Psalm 81 tells us why. It is because they neither listen to nor walk in God’s ways. May I urge you to make sure that the same charge is never laid against you.
George Curry 22 October 2017