Have you ever had the experience where you were focused on learning a certain lesson and then you saw that lesson everywhere? Perhaps you were convicted of a certain sin and over the course of the week, you heard a sermon that spoke about that sin, then read a passage in Scripture about it, and then a friend shared their own struggle with it. Or maybe you were reminded of God’s providential care in your life multiple times and places and each time you thought, “It’s that same lesson again!”
As people who are quick to forget, we need regular reminders, especially when God is working in a particular area of our life. When I read the Old Testament, I see a lesson God’s people learned over and over. It’s a lesson I’m still learning. It’s a lesson that is central to our faith, so central, it goes back to our purpose and meaning as created beings. What is that lesson?
Life is found in God alone.
Psalm 81 and Israel’s Idolatry
In Psalm 81, Asaph called the people to worship the Lord God, but after a few verses, the psalm quickly turned to a proclamation from God, reminding Israel of who God is and what he had done for them. They had turned their hearts away from him and he called them back to himself. “Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god” (vv.8-9). He pointed back to the Exodus, to their redemption story: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you” (Psalm 81:6-7).
God reminded them of his covenant relationship with him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (v.10). These were the words he spoke before the giving of the law at Mount Sinai— the law that reflected who he is and steadfast love for his people. Centuries later, Jesus would tell his disciples that the law was written about him. That’s because he is the source of all life.
Yet God’s people have always sought life outside the One True God. Immediately after their deliverance from Egypt, when they lacked food and water, they looked not to God for help, but longed to return to slavery in Egypt. Throughout their history, they followed the same pattern. When they were in need, they looked for rescue elsewhere. They looked to the false god, Baal, for hope. They looked for rescue from a King, rather than the King of Kings. They looked for help from their pagan neighbors. In the New Testament, the Pharisees placed their hope in their genetic heritage and in their obedience to the law.
And today, our own hearts look for life outside of God. We don’t worship a wooden statue, but we look to idols for help and hope just the same. We pursue success, affirmation, wealth, or status to give our lives meaning and purpose. We look for hope and joy in changed circumstances and new things. We think “If only ______happened, then I would be happy.” We attempt to fill the void with relationships and experiences, only to crash in despair when they fail to deliver.
The Satisfaction of Our Hearts
When we turn from God to false idols, he gives us over to our desires. “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Psalm 81:12). God permits us to chase after false gods so we would see the futility. So we would see how empty and meaningless it is. So we would realize that life does not exist outside of him; true joy and satisfaction are found in his presence alone. “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:16).
Psalm 81 reminds us our God is a generous God. He is rich beyond measure. All that we need is found in him and he is happy to supply it. “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10). Didn’t he prove this to us in giving us the greatest gift of all, his Son, Jesus Christ? In Christ, we are blessed beyond anything the psalmist could have imagined. He made us right with God. He opened the way into the holy of holies so we could come to the throne of grace. He blessed us with eternal life and joy forever with him.
Do you feast on the paltry offerings of this world and still find yourself hungry? Do you desire more? Psalm 81 reminds us that real life and lasting satisfaction is within our reach. Look to Christ for the satisfaction of your soul.