The psalm begins by calling on the people of Israel to worship God. It had been composed for use on one of Israel’s feast days (v. 3). In verse 2, there is an example of how public worship was practised in Israel (singing and music) during the Old Testament period; and verse 1 informs us what kind of singing was required – God’s praise should be loud and joyful.
Why should they have praised God in this way and for what were they to praise him? God himself had intimated what they should do and what they should say (v. 4). Israel was to praise him for his mighty liberation of them at the time of the Exodus. They had been rescued from the terrible bondage of slavery (vv. 5-6). In that deliverance the Lord displayed his great power on their behalf.
Yet their devotion at that time was very fickle. They would not listen to God’s clear requirements regarding idolatry (vv. 8-9). Despite the fact that he had delivered them from Egypt and despite the fact that he promised to give them great amount of blessings (v. 10), they refused to listen to him (v. 11). The outcome was that God let them have what they wanted (v. 12), but they discovered that their own wisdom was not sufficient to guide them and protect them.
The lessons for us from this historical event are many. One is that we will not enjoy the Lord’s provision and protection if we refuse to listen to his commandments. In making such a choice, we would be choosing dross instead of gold, although we may enjoy the dross for a while.
Another lesson is that God can give overflowing blessings to his loyal people. This is pictured in the illustration of an open mouth in verse 10. He does not say, ‘Half open your mouth and I will half fill it’; that would mean half of their mouths were filled with things of which he disapproved. But if they made available all their mouths, then he would fill them with his blessings. Christian commitment is always 100 per cent; and when we are dedicated to him he will bless us. Such commitment is not perfect, but it is wholehearted.
The Lord regretted the backsliding choices that his people made (v. 13). He listed what they missed out on because they refused to walk in his ways. They deprived themselves of victories over enemies (vv. 14-15) and of satisfying provision (v. 16). What was true literally of Israel will be true of us if we don’t walk in God’s paths. Backsliders in heart suffer ongoing defeats in the Christian life and their souls are starved because they are not given heavenly sustenance.
It was appropriate for the Israelites to think about divinely-given victories and sustenance on their feast days, and also to repent of their folly if they had turned away from the Lord. Similarly, on our feast days, and we have one every week on the Lord’s Day, we can meditate on what the Lord has done for his cause and on the many promises he has made to us. And when we discover features of backsliding, of not listening to his voice, we should repent of our sins and then say to him, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’