Psalm 80

Come, Lord, Restore Us

How have you prayed in times of desperation? What were the results of those prayers?

There's a story about an airplane that spinning out of control. As the passengers realize they are about to die, some curse while some pray. While I admit this story probably began as a flight of fancy, it does clearly define how people react in times of desperation. Some look inward only to find despair. Others reach out to God.

Psalm 80 was a prayer of desperation, but not despair. The tone of the psalm revealed a weak Judea ravaged by its neighbors. This was the situation during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC). The Assyrians had swept away the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judea had been whittled away to the city-state of Jerusalem. The priest-cantor cried out to YHWH so he would restore the former glory of the kingdom.

For the Chief Musician. To the tune of "The Lilies of the Covenant." A Psalm by Asaph.

1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock,
you who sit above the cherubim, shine forth.
2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might!
Come to save us!
3 Turn us again, God.
Cause your face to shine,
and we will be saved.
4 YHWH God of Armies,
How long will you be angry against the prayer of your people?

World English Bible

In 80:1-3, the cantor implored the Shepherd of Israel to reveal himself to the areas of the northern kingdom of Israel and some of the lost regions of Judea (the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh). Notice revelation, power, and salvation were synonymous; as YHWH revealed himself, he would show his power (in the might of the armies of Judea?) and save his people. After these petition, the cantor sang the refrain (80:4) that would be repeated in 80:8 and 80:20; Lord, restore your people and let your face shine upon us (i.e., give us your blessings).

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in large measure.
6 You make us a source of contention to our neighbors.
Our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Turn us again, God of Armies.
Cause your face to shine,
and we will be saved.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt.
You drove out the nations, and planted it.

80:5-7 stated the condition of the people; they cried tears of lamentation that were so common, they acted as daily food. They lamented, "Why us, O Lord?" The nation was weak, its reputation was ridiculed. "Why us, O Lord?'

9 You cleared the ground for it.
It took deep root, and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shadow.
Its boughs were like God's cedars.
11 It sent out its branches to the sea,
Its shoots to the River.
12 Why have you broken down its walls,
so that all those who pass by the way pluck it?
13 The boar out of the wood ravages it.
The wild animals of the field feed on it.

In 80:9-12, the analogy of the vineyard described the activity of God and the glory of Israel. God brought the people out of Egypt and planted them in Canaan. The nation grew in power and prestige; it reached its height under Solomon (the growth of the vine described the extent of Solomon's empire). But, 80:13-14 described the downfall of the nation whose enemies attacked and ravaged the land (walls broken down and the wild boar eating the fruit).

14 Turn again, we beg you, God of Armies.
Look down from heaven, and see, and visit this vine,
15 the stock which your right hand planted,
the branch that you made strong for yourself.
16 It's burned with fire.
It's cut down.
They perish at your rebuke.
17 Let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
on the son of man whom you made strong for yourself.
18 So we will not turn away from you.
Revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Turn us again, YHWH God of Armies.
Cause your face to shine, and we will be saved.

The psalm ended with a prayer for restoration. 80:15-19 returned to the theme of revelation and power. O Lord, return and fight against our enemies. Part of that restoration was a strong monarchy (80:18, the king who sat at the Lord's right hand). In response to the restoration, the cantor promises the fidelity of the people.

Psalm 80 was a prayer that grew out of desperate times, but not times of despair. It is not an inward reflection on hopelessness, but a cry to the Lord for help. The psalm looked forward to better days, when the Lord would restore his people.

We, too, look forward to times of happiness. We look forward to the return of the Lord in glory, at the end of time and at the celebration of Christmas.

How can times like Advent restore your spirit?