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Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

Psalm 80 has a chorus!

When I was a kid, songs had choruses. Back then I was instructed that the Psalms were the hymn book of Israel and of Christ. But I couldn’t find the choruses. And now, at long last, I am told that Psalm 80 has a chorus. How fun is that! Here it is:

“Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” (vv. 3, 7, 19).

The chorus appears three times in the psalm. Verse 3 is simply addressed to God; verse 7 addresses God Almighty; and verse 19 is addressed to Lord God Almighty. It’s as if the psalmist is expanding his perception of God by building to a crescendo. The title “God Almighty” of verse 7 can be rendered “God of hosts” which emphasizes his authority and power over the heavenly angel armies. “Lord” is added in verse 19 to locate us relationally with who he is and who we are.

Psalm 80 is attributed to one of several men named Asaph. Like Psalms 45, 60 and 69, this psalm is also titled “Set to the Lilies.” David Guzik explains 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).”[1]

In addition to being a song, Psalm 80 is also a corporate prayer. This musical prayer is pleading for God to renew his blessing on Israel which had been withdrawn due to God’s anger caused by the nation’s unfaithfulness.

In verses 1 and 2, James Mays sees “God as the shepherd–king of Israel who occupies a throne supported by cherubs who appears in flashing theophany when his people–flock are threatened.”[2] This image continues to apply to the church today. We, God’s people–flock, daily follow Our Shepherd–King into his future for us. We no longer have access to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle where the cherubim were located on God’s throne, the Ark of the Covenant. Our Shepherd-King used the Ark to lead his people–flock in the wilderness. Now God’s throne is in each believer’s heart. He personally guides us individually.[3]

As a psalm of Asaph, Psalm 80, like most of his other psalms, includes the northern tribes of Israel. First, he refers to Israel as “Joseph,” then he singles out the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.[4] Joseph and Benjamin were the sons of Jacob’s preferred wife, Rachel. Ephraim and Manasseh were Joseph’s sons, which made them Jacob and Rachel’s grandsons. When Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:15-16), Jacob described God as “my shepherd all my life, to this very day.” He carefully explained how that same Shepherd–King led his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. It makes great sense that God would be called “Shepherd of Israel” when Jacob’s sons and grandsons are mentioned. Jacob would have desired the best lands, flocks, families, health, and success for them. But as the psalm unfolds, we discover much the opposite has occurred.

In verse 8 and for the rest of the psalm, the author uses the metaphor of Israel growing like a vine in the Promised Land which God transplanted from Egypt by way of the Exodus. Just as God owned his people–flock, so too God owns the vineyard and the vine. The imagery of Israel as a vine is found many of the books of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, John 15 is the classic passage of the Church being God’s vine.

Verses 7 and 8 metaphorically imply the Exodus from Egypt and the Conquest of Canaan. In verses 10 and 11, the mountains, mighty cedars, Sea and River refer to the extent of David’s Kingdom from the south to the north and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Under Solomon, the Kingdom stretched to the Euphrates River. But the psalmist wrote well after the Golden Age of the Kingdom had passed.

The psalmist next describes the vine – a Kingdom – in decline (verses 12 and 13). A Kingdom that has been picked at, even ravaged, by passers-by, boars and even insects. The boars and insects symbolically represent Israel’s enemies both powerful and diminutive who have had the upper hand with Israel.

The prayer of the people–flock becomes very earnest beginning in verse 14. They implore God “to return” (in the NIV and various other versions), “to turn back” (NASB and YLT), or “to come back” (NET, NLT, VOICE, and a few others). While we generally understand repentance as what we must do to become Christians, Mays sees Israel asking God to repent: “The prayer calls on God to repent, to return (NRSV, ‘turn again’) to his former ways with Israel and take responsibility for the vine whose stock was planted by his right hand.” Just as repentance requires us to make a drastic change in our lives, Israel is asking God to make a 180° change of course in his treatment of them.

The psalmist now moves from the imagery of sheep and vines to that of a person. The phrase “the son you have raised up for yourself” occurs in verses 15 and 17. Asaph may have been thinking of a present or future king to fill this role. The Spirit doubly intended this phrase to also refer to the coming Messiah. Again in 17, the psalmist further specifies this person as “the man at your right hand.” Some commentators see this phrase describing the relationship between God and Israel. Asaph’s full statement asks God to “Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand.” Such a relationship would definitely be the result of God making a 180° change of direction. Ultimately, Christ is the man at God’s right hand and that is good news for all of us. Sam Allberry tells us that, no matter the type or number of our sins, “Jesus loves being our Savior!” [5]

Note: If you are unfamiliar with Sam Allberry, he is worth a long listen. Along with Ray Ortlund, he co-hosts The Gospel Coalition’s