Summary: No matter what the world throws at us, we will persevere in the LORD.
GIVE EAR, O SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL
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. In Psalm 80 the writer bemoans the plight of the divided tribes of Israel, and boldly expresses his perplexity at God’s dealings with them.
The Psalmist uses two metaphors: that of God as shepherd (Psalm 80:1-7; Psalm 80:17-19), and that of Israel as a vine (Psalm 80:8-16). Both of these Jesus applies to Himself (John 10:11; John 10:14; John 15:1). He as the God-man embraces both.
Asaph 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 so-called chances 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.
There is a picture in the Hebrew language of the LORD “fuming” against the prayers of His people (Psalm 80:4): “How long You fume?” This may not be anger on God’s part, but rather an expression of the Psalmist’s frustration that his prayers seem unable to penetrate the cloud of God’s glory. Sometimes our prayers might seem to reach no higher than the ceiling: nevertheless we must still pray, and tell Him about it!
This Psalm is different to another great Shepherd song, Psalm 23. There the LORD sets a table before us, but here He allegedly feeds us with the bread of tears (Psalm 80:5). God is unchangeable, but our experience of His Providence may vary from time to time.
Sometimes our neighbours bring us strife, or our enemies laugh at us (Psalm 80:6). Or, as Jesus warned us, a man’s foes may be those of his own household (Matthew 10:36). The solution is the same: we must look to Him to shine upon us, “turn us” and save us (Psalm 80:3; Psalm 80:7; Psalm 80:19), and “return” to us (Psalm 80:14).
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).