Summary: You turn us, O LORD, You shine on us. Without You there is no salvation.
A METAPHOR OF A VINE
There are two metaphors in this Psalm: that of God as Shepherd (Psalm 80:1-7), and that of Israel as a vine (Psalm 80:8-16). It is upon the second of these that I wish to concentrate our attention. But first we must remind ourselves of the context.
The Psalmist bemoans the plight of the divided tribes of Israel, and boldly expresses his perplexity at God’s dealings with them. Belief in the God of Israel is not blind faith, but an informed trust. One expression of our confidence that the LORD is in control of all things is to make our complaints known to Him.
The writer begins his prayer with an appeal that God will hear (Psalm 80:1). Sometimes our Shepherd seems distant, and deaf to our cries. We might need, like the Psalmist, to remind ourselves just who He is - “the one who dwells between the cherubim” - and what He has done on behalf of His church in the past (1 Samuel 7:12).
It is customary to think of our salvation as a single event, ‘when I got saved’. In one sense this is true, but it is also an ongoing event in our lives. The changes and challenges of life may present us with new problems as we grow from one level in our Christianity to another, so we need to call on God anew to continue His saving work within us (Psalm 80:2).
There is a refrain throughout the Psalm, growing in intensity and boldness. The appeal for our restoration is first addressed to “God” (Psalm 80:3), then to “God of hosts” (Psalm 80:7), and finally to the “LORD God of hosts” (Psalm 80:19). The prayer that God’s face would shine upon us reminds us of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), and of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration.
The change in metaphor occurs in Psalm 80:8. This begins with the exodus: “You have brought a vine out of Egypt” (cf. Exodus 15:22); continues through the conquest: “You cast out the heathen” (cf. Joshua 24:18); and ends with the settlement of the land: “and planted it” (cf. Psalm 78:55). This is celebrated in Psalm 44:2.
From there the plant grew, eventually filling the land (Psalm 80:9-10; cf. Joshua 24:12). Until, at the height of David’s Empire, it stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Euphrates (Psalm 80:11).
The complaint of the Psalmist, that the God who has so carefully planted and cared for this vine has “broken down her hedges” (Psalm 80:12-13; cf. Psalm 89:40-41) is answered by other prophets. They envision a time when the vine will have gone wild (Jeremiah 2:21) and will yield only wild grapes (Isaiah 5:4-5). Jesus has a curious story about a fig tree planted in a vineyard, which makes the same point to His generation (Read Luke 13:6-9).
“The vineyard that your right hand has planted” (Psalm 80:15) is clearly Israel; but a second clause reads “and the branch that you made strong for Yourself” and may introduce Messiah. As for the vineyard, meantime, “It is burned with fire, it is cut down” (Psalm 80:16).
Psalm 80:17 is clearly Messianic. It is Jesus who is at the right hand of God, ever interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34): Jesus, whose favourite name for Himself whilst He was upon the earth was “the Son of man” (Mark 14:62). It was Jesus who was “made strong”, strengthened by an angel in the garden of Gethsemane in order that He might do God’s will (Luke 22:43).
We still await our final great rescue, the culmination of our salvation when the Son of man comes in the clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26). Meantime we profess with the Psalmist, “we will not go back” (Psalm 80:18). No matter what the world throws at us, we will persevere in Him. We look to Him for quickening, for He is our life, and we call upon God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Once more the refrain rings out, by now reaching a crescendo. You turn us, O LORD, You shine on us. Without You there is no salvation (Psalm 80:19).