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blog meditation Psalms

Meditation Psalm 80

For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Lilies of the Covenant’. Of Asaph. A psalm.

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
    shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
    come and save us.

Restore us, O God;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty,
    will your anger smoulder
    against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
    you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours,
    and our enemies mock us.

Restore us, God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
    you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
    and it took root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
    the mighty cedars with its branches.
Its branches reached as far as the Sea,
    its shoots as far as the River.

Why have you broken down its walls
    so that all who pass by pick its grapes?
Boars from the forest ravage it,
    and insects from the fields feed on it.
Return to us, God Almighty!
    Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
    the root your right hand has planted,
    the son you have raised up for yourself.

Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
    at your rebuke your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
    the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
    revive us, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

(Ps. 80:1-19 NIV)

Restore O Lord

The Psalmist is praying for the Northern tribes. He does not name all the Northern tribes but just the near neighbours to Judah. Some suggest that naming Joseph and his two sons is a shorthand way of referring to the whole of Northern kingdom. Another suggestion is that the near neighbouring tribes are mentioned because a remnant from these tribes had survived and were seeking asylum in Judah. Adopting either approach does not alter the meaning of the Psalm. The Psalmist from Judah is praying for Israel (Northern Kingdom) possibly just after the fall of Samaria.

The Lord is the great Shepherd of Israel and has led the Northern Kingdom. The Lord sits enthroned upon the ark of the covenant that is covered by the mercy and has cherubim either side. The Psalmist calls for God to shine forth upon the Northern tribes. The Lord has the might to show His salvation. The Psalmist prays that God will awaken His might and come and save the people.

V3 is a refrain seen again in v7 and v19. The only change is the way that the Psalmist refers to God. It is God, then God Almighty, and then LORD God Almighty. The refrain at one level simply means a plea for the fortunes of God’s people to be restored, and the burden of suffering lifted from them. However, the word translated ‘restore’ has an ambiguous meaning, and is often used to describe repentance. It could be read ‘cause us to repent, O God’. The restoration of circumstances is inextricably linked with their relationship with God. The people have brought their sufferings down upon them, because of their failure to walk in God’s ways. Genuine repentance is hard. It is hard because we obfuscate so often, blaming others, blaming God, suggesting excuses why we did what we did. I have heard a number of people say, ‘I can’t believe God would allow me to do that.’ Genuine forgiveness is preceded by genuine repentance. The Psalmist feels the need to ask God’s help in their act of repentance. The Psalmist asks three times that God’s face may shine upon them. He is referring to the Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

‘“‘The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
    and give you peace.’”

‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’

(Num. 6:22-27 NIV)

At the end of the service of worship, the minister confers the Lord’s benediction upon the congregation. Benediction is not just a way of ending a service, it is the conferring of the blessing of the Triune God upon His people. We leave the special presence of the Lord with the Lord’s blessing upon us. The Psalmist prays that God’s full blessing will replace the experience of pain and loss. The prayer for restoration is first addressed to God in v3, God Almighty v7 and LORD God Almighty in v19. The Psalmist is reminding the people that the God to whom he prays is God of the armies of Heaven, He is the covenant God who has made promises. This God is the strong God, the God who is bound to His people by promises or oath. Warrior God, God of the armies of heaven, hear our prayer. The capacity that God has for Sovereign Almighty power is not in doubt. The people are not worthy of blessing, the only hope is to plead the covenant. As a church we do not deserve mercy, love, compassion or even sympathy, yet in Christ we have it all. Our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness, our worth is Christ’s worth. The prayers we pray are mediated through Christ, the songs we sing are meditated through Christ; what could we offer if we tried to come to God without Christ?

To the LORD God Almighty the Psalmist asks, ‘How long will your anger smoulder against the prayers of Your people?’ It was not international tensions that caused the people suffering, it was God who was angry with them. It is a shocking statement to read that God’s anger was smouldering against their prayers. God was angry with His people when they didn’t pray, and now He is angry because they are praying. An answer is found in Isaiah:

‘The multitude of your sacrifices –
    what are they to me?’ says the Lord.
‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations –
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.

(Isa. 1:11-16 NIV)

Their cry to God was for relief, but now the Psalmist expresses their need for repentance. Their food and drink were tears by the bowlful. They have suffered loss of reputation and they are mocked by their neighbours.

The Psalmist turns to use the metaphor of the vine to describe God’s people. God as the great husbandman brought the vine out of Egypt, He drove out the nations in the Promised Land and planted the vine. God had cleared the way and planted the vine, and the vine had prospered and filled the land. We have a cherry tree, two apple trees and a plum tree in our garden in Tiptree, there is also a vine which we vigorously cut back each year. The vine loses all its leaves and looks like a gnarled dead piece of wood. We always mean to train the vine along the fence but there is an explosion of growth and the branches grow quickly and entwine themselves in the other fruit trees. I can imagine the image that the Psalmist has in mind, the vine spreads out to cover the mountains and the mighty cedar trees. From shore to shore it covers the land. The Psalmist extends the metaphor to think of the vineyard enclosed by a wall. The Psalmist asks why God has broken down the wall so that outsiders come and plunder the fruit. Now unclean animals and wild beasts run free in the land. Return, look down from heaven and see. That is another way of saying ‘cause Your face to shine upon us’.

Watch over the vine, the root that Your right hand has planted. The people were once the honoured man and God’s right hand v17. The Psalmist refers to the Davidic line as the son of man that has been raised up. The hope of the people is in this line of descent, because from the line of David, Messiah will come. Christ was the only hope of the OT church as He is the only hope of the NT church. The Psalmist looks to the Lord to revive them and then the people will call on the name of the Lord. This must begin with God because the people have no strength. If the LORD God Almighty were to allow His face to shine upon them, then they will be saved.

Prayer
Lord our God we thank You that we dwell in Christ, that Christ is the vine and we are the branches, and we draw our strength from Christ. Lord help us to repent, help us to bear fruit, help us to rest in Christ. Come quickly and sustain Your people by Your love, for Christ our Saviour’s sake in whose name we pray. Amen