This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Lilies.” A Testimony of Asaph. A Psalm. As with Psalm 45, Psalm 60 and Psalm 69, this psalm is Set to “The Lilies.” The phrase may refer to the general beauty of the composition, to the tune, or even to a six-stringed instrument known as the Shoshannim (the literal translation of the Hebrew).
As with several of the Asaph psalms, this one is often attributed to a later Asaph. “Here not only the southern kingdom but also the northern kingdom – it calls God the ‘Shepherd of Israel’ and speaks of Ephraim and Manasseh, two of the major northern tribes – and since it asks for Israel’s deliverance, it is best seen as a plea for the deliverance of the northern kingdom sometime before its fall to the Assyrian armies in 721 B.C.” (James Montgomery Boice)
“A later Asaph we should suppose, who had the unhappiness to live, like the ‘last minstrel,’ in evil times. If by the Asaph of David’s day, this Psalm was written in the spirit of prophecy, for it sings of times unknown to David.” (Charles Spurgeon)
A. Israel’s Shepherd and sorrow.
1. (1-3) A prayer to Israel’s Shepherd for restoration.
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!
Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
Stir up Your strength,
And come and save us!
Restore us, O God;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!
a. Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel: The image of a king or ruler over a people being regarded as the shepherd was common in the ancient world. Asaph rightly understood that in a special and wonderful way, Yahweh was the Shepherd of Israel. It was He who had and would lead Joseph like a flock.
i. “Although appearing frequently elsewhere, the idea of God being Israel’s shepherd occurs in the Psalter only twice, here and in Psalm 23.” (Boice)
ii. “The name is full of tenderness, and hence is selected by the troubled Psalmist: broken hearts delight in names of grace.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Shepherd of Israel: “Thou that feedest thy people, watchest over them, defendest, redeemest, reducest them; thou that handlest them, curest them, washest them, drivest them as they are able to go, carryest them in thy bosom, doest all the offices of a good shepherd for them.” (Trapp)
iv. “‘Shepherd of Israel’ reminds us of Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh in which he invoked ‘the God who shepherded me all my life long’ to ‘bless the lads,’ and of the title in Genesis 49:24, ‘the shepherd, the stone of Israel.’” (Maclaren)
v. Because of the prominence of Joseph among his brothers, and because of the size of the tribes of the sons of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), sometimes the Scriptures refer to all of Israel as Joseph (Ezekiel 37:16,19; Amos 5:6, 5:15, 6:6; Zechariah 10:6; Psalm 81:5; Obadiah 1:18).
b. You who dwell between the cherubim: This refers to two aspects. The lesser aspect is the presence of God as connected with the ark of the covenant and the institution of the tabernacle/temple. The greater aspect is the recognition that in heaven and its reality, God does dwell between the cherubim.
c. You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth: Asaph asked that the God of this majesty and glory would shine forth on behalf of His people. When God does shine forth, darkness and gloom vanish and He is magnified.
d. Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh: In the order of arrangement around the tabernacle and in the order of march, these three tribes were grouped together on the west side of the tabernacle (Numbers 2 and 10).
i. “These three tribes went next after the ark, when it removed, Numbers 2:18-24; Numbers 10:22-24.” (Trapp)
e. Stir up Your strength, and come and save us: The God mighty enough to shepherd Israel and bring the people from Egypt to Canaan was strong enough to deliver them in their present crisis – if His strength was stirred. This was a prayer of faith, understanding, and dependence.
f. Restore us, O God: This begins a refrain that is repeated three times in this psalm (Psalm 80:3, 7, and 19). It expressed trust and dependence upon God, and confidence that His favor (shown by His shining face) was all that was needed for Israel’s restoration and blessing.
i. “It is not so much said, ‘turn our captivity’ but turn ‘us.’ All will come right if we are right. The best turn is not that of circumstances but of character. When the Lord turns his people he will soon turn their condition.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Spurgeon saw in this line and the following a description of the factors in revival. First there is the restoration or turning of the people to God, and then there is the radiant face of God, shining in all the goodness of His presence. In those two combined we see the work of true revival happen.
iii. “I want to see those times again, when first the refreshing showers came down from heaven. Have you never heard that under one of Whitfield’s sermons there have been as many as two thousand saved? He was a great man; but God can use the little, as well as the great to produce the same effect; and why should there not be souls saved here, beyond all our dreams?” (Spurgeon)
g. Cause Your face to shine: This goes back to the blessing the priests were commanded to proclaim to the people of Israel (Numbers 6:24-26). It has the idea of God’s presence, pleasure, and favor.
i. “The psalmist must have heard this blessing a thousand times. So he prays here, ‘Make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.’” (Boice)
ii. “Our greatest dread is the withdrawal of the Lord’s presence, and our brightest hope is the prospect of his return. In the darkest times of Israel, the light of her Shepherd’s countenance is all she needs.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We shall be saved: “To be ‘saved’ means here to be rescued from the assaults of hostile nations. The poet was sure that Israel’s sole defence was God, and that one gleam of His face would shrivel up the strongest foes.” (Maclaren)
2. (4-7) God’s anger makes His people sorrowful.
O LORD God of hosts,
How long will You be angry
Against the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And given them tears to drink in great measure.
You have made us a strife to our neighbors,
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!
a. O LORD God of hosts, how long will You be angry? Asaph’s heart poured out in sorrow before God. It is a terrible thing to sense that God is angry and that He is against the prayer of His people. The sorrow is deeper when it is recognized that it is the God of heavenly armies, the LORD God of hosts, who has in some way set Himself against His people.
i. “The rendering ‘wilt Thou be angry?’ is but a feeble reproduction of the vigorous original, which runs ‘wilt Thou smoke?’ Other psalms (e.g., Psalm 74:1) speak of God’s anger as smoking but here the figure is applied to God Himself.” (Maclaren)
ii. Against the prayer: “That God should be angry with us when sinning seems natural enough, but that he should be angry even with our prayers is a bitter grief.” (Spurgeon)
b. Tears to drink in great measure: Asaph used the metaphor of drinking tears to express the great sorrow of God’s people. Psalm 42:3 uses a similar image: My tears have been my food day and night.
i. “There cannot be a more striking picture of Sion in captivity. Her bread is dipped in tears, and her cup is filled to the brim with them: no time is free from grief and lamentation.” (Horne)
c. Our enemies laugh among themselves: The mocking and taunting of Israel’s enemies were painful for Asaph and the people of God in their low condition. It stung to be strife to their neighbors, and to hear their mocking laugh.
i. A strife to our neighbors: “Always jealous and malicious, Edom and Moab exulted over Israel’s troubles, and then fell to disputing about their share of the spoil.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The psalmist points to an angry God, a weeping nation, and mocking foes, a trilogy of woe.” (Maclaren)
d. Restore us, O God: Asaph repeats and strengthens the refrain from Psalm 80:3, adding of hosts, emphasizing His power and authority. Fresh expression of their misery made for a fresh prayer for restoration and rescue by the shining, approving face of God.
B. Israel as a vine.
1. (8-11) The vine of Israel is planted in the Promised Land.
You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
You have cast out the nations, and planted it.
You prepared room for it,
And caused it to take deep root,
And it filled the land.
The hills were covered with its shadow,
And the mighty cedars with its boughs.
She sent out her boughs to the Sea,
And her branches to the River.
a. You have brought a vine out of Egypt: The vine is a familiar picture of Israel in the Old Testament. This vine was transplanted from Egypt and brought into the Promised Land. In Canaan, God planted it, making room by casting out the Canaanite nations.
i. Many passages of the Old Testament speak of Israel as a vine: Deuteronomy 32:32-33, Isaiah 5:1, Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 17:5-6, Hosea 10:1, and Joel 1:7. The New Testament also applies the figure to Israel (Matthew 20:1, Matthew 21:33, Mark 12:1), and then more broadly to the people of God in general.
ii. “The vine is a plant weak and lowly, and needing support; when supported, wild and luxuriant, unless restrained by the pruning-knife; capable of producing the most valuable fruit, but if barren, the most unprofitable among trees, and fit only for the flames.” (Horne)
b. Caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land: The vine of Israel was blessed in the Promised Land. Under God’s blessing they took deep root and filled the land in a way that the variety of Canaanite tribes had not. It grew so strong and secure in the land that it did what was botanically impossible in a literal sense: the vine grew big as the mighty cedars and cast its shadow upon the hills.
i. “The figure is carried out with much beauty in detail. The Exodus was the vine’s transplanting; the destruction of the Canaanites was the grubbing up of weeds to clear the ground for it; the numerical increase of the people was its making roots and spreading far.” (Maclaren)
c. She sent out her boughs to the Sea, and her branches to the River: At its height under King David and King Solomon, Israel’s domination stretched from the Mediterranean Sea (the Sea) to the Euphrates River.
i. This broad dominion of Israel was promised in Exodus 23:31 and Deuteronomy 11:24. 1 Kings 4:21 shows it was fulfilled by the reign of Solomon, who inherited David’s dominion.
2. (12-13) The unprotected vineyard.
Why have You broken down her hedges,
So that all who pass by the way pluck her fruit?
The boar out of the woods uproots it,
And the wild beast of the field devours it.
a. Why have You broken down her hedges? In ancient Israel a vineyard was often surrounded by a thick and thorny hedge that kept out thieves and wild animals. Asaph looked at Israel’s troubled state and could see that the symbolic hedges were broken down by the hand of God.
b. All who pass by the way pluck her fruit: Without protection of God’s hedges, the land of Israel was ready to be plundered and devoured by her enemies.
c. The boar out of the woods uproots it: Wild boars are noted for their destruction, and can quickly lay waste to a vineyard. The enemies of God are pictured as such wild, destructive beasts.
i. “No image of a destructive enemy could be more appropriate than that which is used. We have read of the little foxes that spoil the vines, but the wild boar is a much more destructive enemy, breaking its way through fences, rooting up the ground, tearing down the vines themselves, and treading them under its feet. A single party of these animals will sometimes destroy an entire vineyard in a single night.” (Wood, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. In 1520, as Martin Luther rose in prominence as a reformer, Pope Leo X published a condemnation of Luther and his work known as Exsurge domini. In the opening paragraph, he used this image from Psalm 80: “At thy ascension into heaven thou hast commanded the care, rule and administration of this vineyard to Peter as head and to thy representatives, his successors, as the Church triumphant. A roaring boar of the woods has undertaken to destroy this vineyard, a wild beast wants to devour it.”
3. (14-16) A prayer for God to take pity upon the desolate vine.
Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this vine
And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted,
And the branch that You made strong for Yourself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.
a. Return, we beseech You: With an earnest plea Asaph prayed on behalf of the nation, begging God to return to them, to look upon the greatness of their need and to visit this vine that He Himself had planted.
i. “The suffering of the people is due to their own sin in turning away from God as Shepherd, Husbandman, and King. Their restoration can come only as He turns them back to Himself.” (Morgan)
ii. Visit this vine…and the branch that You made strong: “A prayer for the leader whom the Lord had raised up, or for the Messiah whom they expected.” (Spurgeon)
b. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: The great desolation of this vine came from the rebuke of God Himself, the rebuke of Your countenance.
4. (17-19) Restoration in the Man of God’s Right Hand.
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
Then we will not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!
a. Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand: In Israel’s low place, Asaph knew that the nation needed leadership. He asked God to be with and to bless (Let Your hand be upon) a particular man – the man of God’s right hand. Perhaps Asaph had first in mind the present king of Israel; but ultimately the Man of God’s Right Hand is Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:20, Hebrews 8:1).
i. “Nations rise or fall largely through the instrumentality of individuals: by a Napoleon the kingdoms are scourged, and by a Wellington nations are saved from the tyrant. It is by the man Christ Jesus that fallen Israel is yet to rise, and indeed through him, who deigns to call himself the Son of Man, the world is to be delivered from the dominion of Satan and the curse of sin.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The man of Your right hand: “The only person who can be said to be at the right hand of God as intercessor, is JESUS THE MESSIAH. Let him become our Deliverer: appoint him for this purpose, and let his strength be manifested in our weakness! By whom are the Jews to be restored, if indeed they ever be restored to their own land, but by JESUS CHRIST? By HIM alone can they find mercy; through HIM alone can they ever be reconciled to God.” (Clarke)
b. Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself: Again, this was likely prayed with reference to the present king of Israel. Yet the ultimate Son of Man was Jesus Christ, who received God’s strength as a submitted Son to His Father in heaven.
c. Then we will not turn back from You: In the strength of this Son of Man made strong, this Man of God’s Right Hand, God’s people would be restored to faithfulness. They would be revived and once again call upon His name.
i. Revive us: “Only the Lord can ‘revive’ (Psalm 80:18) the people by forgiveness of their sins, by renewal of the covenant, and by driving out the enemies. This is not merely a prayer for deliverance from the enemy but an urgent petition for the blessings of God.” (VanGemeren)
d. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts: The refrain is repeated a third and final time, yet this time adding Yahweh, the covenant name of God (LORD God of hosts). Under the leadership of God’s great Messiah, God’s people would be restored and once again know the shining radiance of God’s face. They would be rescued.
i. Cause Your face to shine: “Both for Israel and the Church this prayer has been answered in Christ. In Him we may be restored to God. In Him, the face of God is shining upon us in grace.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org