Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Augustine notes the title of Psalm 81 including a reference to “presses.” He normally looks for significance of a title in the body of the Psalm but finds no reference to an olive press or wine press. For this reason, he takes it to refer to the pressure and the division of what is pressed, for instance, oil and lees, separated under that pressure (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332694). In Augustine’s day it was common for the broader society to brag or to blame Christians for their troubles. This Augustine sees as the material cast off after pressing, while the valuable product, oil or wine, is retained in the Church (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332705). The title’s reference to the “fifth day” is also significant to Augustine. He sees it relevant that on the fifth day of creation the “creeping things” were brought forth. He compares this to life being brought out of the water, in Christian thought, of baptism (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332716). Augustine further translates the name, Asaph, as “the congregation.” Thus he sees the Psalm as significant of a bringing forth of valued life within the Christian congregation through baptism (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332721).
In verse one, then, the Church receives a call to delight in God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332726). The exulting leads to both giving and receiving, using instruments which are pleasing. The theme of music continues in verse three, with the mention of trumpets in play. This is reminiscent of the celebration at the start of a new month (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332747).
Verse four speaks of the exultation of God’s people as a command and a judgment. Augustine points out that God’s commands are regularly related to judgment (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332753). Again, in verse five, with the symbolism of Joseph, who went to Egypt, Augustine sees the passing of God’s will into the land of the Gentiles as a means by which God brought exultation to increase among the peoples. Augustine compares this again to the fifth day and life coming out of the waters (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332763).
Augustine understands verse six as a direct reference to Jesus, who called those laboring under the load of sin to himself (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332778). Jesus performed the servile work of carrying burdens, as with a basket, for all who trust in Him. So, in verse eight, those who call on God are delivered.
Augustine sees in verse eight a shift. The beginning of the Psalm spoke “of the oil of the press. What remains is rather for grief and warning: for it belongs to the lees of the press” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332808). Verse nine warns against setting up any new gods. Augustine sees that Israel, the true Israel, does not have false gods. There is only one God, the one who existed from the beginning. All the others are new, even if they seem old to us (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332819). Yet, in verse 11, God’s people did not obey him. Augustine observes that they remain God’s people Israel even in their disobedience (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332830). They are given over to their own desires (v. 12). This is exactly what Paul speaks of in Romans 1 (Augustine Psalms, loc. 3232835). Verses 13-14 note that the disobedience of God’s people also condemns them to be oppressed by their enemies.
Verse 15 further speaks of God’s enemies lying to God hmself. Augustine observes that the things we would renounce are negative things. So the enemies of God say they are reforming but truly have no intention of doing so (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332846).
Augustine enters into a very brief explanation of the concept of those who build on Christ ubt using “wood, hay, stubble” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332851), but that they are saved, though their works are burned up. His solution is that the one who is in love with the things of this world, but is not actively entering into sin on the account of those things, will be saved though he will see the things he loves burned away (Augustine Psalms, loc. 332867). Rather than enduring this, verse 16 reminds the reader that God has given his people all they need or should want.