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Deeper Commentary

Psa 80:1

For the Chief Musician. To the tune of The Lilies of the Covenant. A Psalm by Asaph-
This "Asaph" could be the Asaph of Hezekiah's time (Is. 36:3) who used the Psalms in the context of the events of the Assyrian invasion. The Asaph Psalms all have parts in them relevant to that context (Ps. 50, 73-83). Or the "Asaph" may have been the singers who were relatives of Asaph, prominent at the restoration (Neh. 7:44; 11:17,22). It could mean that the psalms were a part of a collection from the Asaphites, and the name "Asaph" was therefore simply used to identify the temple singers. And again, parts of the Asaph psalms also have relevance to the restoration. The fact the Asaph Psalms speak of elohim rather than Yahweh would support the idea that they were used in the exilic / restoration period. But Asaph was the "chief" of the Levites to whom David assigned the ministry of praise before the ark (1 Chron. 16:4,5). It seems he did compose his own Psalms, which were used by Hezekiah at his time (2 Chron. 29:30). So I would again suggest that all the Asaph Psalms were composed originally by David "for" [not necessarily "by"] Asaph, but were rewritten and edited for later occasions.

Asaph lived at the time of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). All his Psalms draw on the past dealings of God with His people and encourage them on this basis to make the wilderness journey back  to the land, just as they had done at the Exodus. Psalm 80 is a psalm of Asaph, written [or re-edited] in Babylon. He speaks much of the cherubim- of how God dwelt between the cherubs, and still lead His people in that way (Ps. 80:1). Asaph grasped Ezekiel's fundamental point- that God hadn't forgotten His people, but the cherubim was just as actively leading and protecting God's people in Babylon as they had been in the land of Judah. Asaph asks God in this context to "restore us" to the land (Ps. 80:3,14,19 RVmg.), lamenting how the walls of Zion are broken down (Ps. 80:12). He speaks of how the faithful people weep tears "in great measure" (Ps. 80:5), a reference to their weeping by the rivers of Babylon, and the theme of tears and weeping amongst the exiles which we meet so often in Lamentations. But in this context, Asaph speaks of how a "branch" or "son" (Ps. 80:15) would be made strong by God, and this Messiah figure would be the man of God's right hand as well as "the son of man whom you make strong for yourself" (Ps. 80:17). Clearly Asaph prayed for and expected a Messiah figure to arise at the same time as the restoration from Babylon. But none did; those who could've played that role, such as Zerubbabel "the branch", ultimately failed. And the cherubim Angels are hovering above us, too, enabling so, so much.

Psalm 80 appears to be paired with Psalm 79. Ps. 79 has urged God to immediately relieve Judah from their sufferings and take vengeance on the Babylonians, but with little emphasis upon repentance and the fact they were suffering for their sins. Ps. 80 continues to ask for this relief from suffering, but with more spiritual insight and reflection upon their situation.

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock-
This appears to put right some of the reasoning in Ps. 78, which presents David more than God as the shepherd of Israel (see on Ps. 78:71), and presents "Joseph", especially the tribe of Ephraim his son, as rejected by God in favour of Judah (see on Ps. 78:67).


You who sit above the cherubim, shine forth- This is a significant profession of faith in the context of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the exile. The glory of God had shone forth from between the cherubim over the ark; but the ark had disappeared, and the glory of God was not seen in the sanctuary. But Ezekiel had published his vision of the cherubim of glory; they were still in existence, although departed from Jerusalem. So here we find faith that although there were no visible symbols of religion, still God was known to be "there", in all His glory.

David often expresses in the Psalms how he was just as close to God far from the sanctuary as when present in it. He often speaks of how he actually lived in the wilderness in the shadow of the cherubic wings, with God's glory above him and the blood of atonement as it were beneath him on the mercy seat.

All this prepared the way for Israel to understand God's glory in His now invisible Son. "In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9) would have been easily perceived as an allusion to the way that Yahweh Himself as it were dwelt between the cherubim on the mercy seat (2 Kings 19:15; Ps. 80:1). And yet the Lord Jesus in His death was the “[place of] propitiation” (Heb. 2:17), the blood-sprinkled  mercy seat. “There I will meet with you, and I will commune with you from above the mercy-seat... of all things which I will  command you” (Ex. 25:20-22). In the cross, God met with man and communed with us, commanding us the life we ought to lead through all the unspoken, unarticulated imperatives which there are within the blood of His Son. There in the person of Jesus nailed to the tree do we find the focus of God’s glory and self-revelation, and to this place we may come to seek redemption.

Psa 80:2

Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your might! Come to save us!-
As noted on :1, the mistaken assumption that Judah and Benjamin were better than Ephraim and Manasseh is now corrected. For they are mentioned together, in the hope that not only Judah but also the scattered ten tribes will be restored together. The language of stirring up and coming to save is used in later Isaiah of God's eagerness to do just that in the form of a Messianic deliverer for the exiles. But the reality was that all the various options tried, e.g. Zerubbabel and Joshua, all failed; and the exiles preferred to remain in exile for the most part. And so these things were reapplied and rescheduled to the Lord Jesus.

Psa 80:3

Turn us again, God. Cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved-
"Turn us again" is the word used for the 'return' of the exiles, both to their land to their God. But the psalmist has the insight to realize that most didn't want to repent, and so he asks God to elicit that repentance, to work by His Spirit to actually give them repentance and a turning again to Him, so that there might be a turning again of Judah's fortunes. Repentance itself is therefore a gift (Acts 11:18). This is indeed the grace shown by the work of the Holy Spirit upon human hearts.

Psa 80:4

Yahweh God of Armies, How long will You be angry against the prayer of Your people?-
The "God of armies" typically refers to the Angels. The psalmist perceived that the Angels had been used to bring about the scattering, and could likewise be used to answer these prayers for restoration.

Psa 80:5

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in large measure-
Despite the apparent complaint, the psalmist recognizes that God was still active with the exiles; He was giving them food and drink, even if it was unpleasant. It was David who had been fed with the bread of tears in consequence of his sin with Bathsheba (s.w. Ps. 42:3); if Judah followed his pattern of repentance, then they too would be restored to Zion as he was after having to go into exile from Absalom. "In large measure" is literally "three times over". And yet God had punished the exiles less than their iniquities deserved (Ezra 9:13). These prayers for restoration so often seem to present pictures which are not to true to reality, and which fail to take account of the fact Judah had sinned and were being given the consequences of their sin.  

Psa 80:6

You make us a source of derision to our neighbours, our enemies laugh among themselves-
This was indeed the case, but the prophets had so often said that this was what would happen if Judah continued in their rejection of God; and indeed this was the fulfilment of the curses for breaking the covenant. But the psalmists seem to always put the blame on God and try to as it were guilt trip Him for the situation- instead of accepting that the people were the ones who had caused this to happen.

Psa 80:7

Turn us again, God of Armies. Cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved-
This repeats :3, and as noted there, this is a request for God to give repentance [and not just forgiveness] to the exiles. But here "God" is defined as "God of Armies". Perhaps the idea is that the Angels would operationalize this request for God to act upon human hearts and make them repentant. The shining forth of God's face perhaps alludes to the situation on the day of atonement, when forgiveness was pronounced and the shekinah glory supposedly shone forth. The exiles at this point were without the temple and the ark, so we see them coming to realize what David did when in exile from those things- that the presence of God can be found anywhere, including outside of visible religious symbols and structures. 

Psa 80:8

You brought a vine out of Egypt, You drove out the nations and planted it-
As God had brought Israel out of Egypt and cleared out the Canaanite nations, so the psalmist is asking that God does this for the exiles, clearing away the Samaritan opposition as He did the Canaanites. But Israel at that point were still worshipping idols, taking the idols of Egypt with them through the Red Sea (so Ezekiel says), and carrying the tabernacle of Remphan along with that of Yahweh. Their bringing out and placing back in their land was then an act of grace, and the psalmist asks God to do the same with the exiles.

Psa 80:9

You cleared the land for it. It took deep root, and filled the land-
The vine and vineyard was a symbol of the people of Israel (Ps. 80:15; Is. 1:8; 5:7; 27:2; Jer. 12:10; Mt. 21:41). The land was "cleared" for them to live there, but again, they didn't make full use of the potential; they didn't drive out all the tribes living there, even though potentially the land had been cleared for them. See on Ps. 81:14. And the same was true at the restoration. The way back to Zion was "prepared" (Mal. 3:1; s.w. "cleared"); but most of the exiles chose to remain in exile. And so the land was not filled by the exiles, the vine of Israel didn't fill the face of the promised land with literal and spiritual fruit (Ez. 34:27; Is. 27:6). These things were therefore reapplied and rescheduled to the acceptance of the gospel of restoration by Gentiles in Christ.   

Psa 80:10

the mountains were covered with its shadow. Its boughs were like God’s cedars-
Cedars are associated with the Jerusalem temple; the idea was that the nations ["mountains"] within the eretz promised to Abraham would come under the shadow of the restored kingdom of God in Judah, so that the entire land became as the sanctuary in Zion. But this didn't happen, just as the picture is exaggerated here of what actually happened when Israel established their kingdom on entering the land. For they were constantly under pressure from their neighbours within that land and hardly brought the surrounding nations under the shadow of Israel's God. Instead they accepted their gods.

Psa 80:11

It sent out its branches to the sea, its shoots to the River-
An allusion to the extent of the promised land, from the sea to the River Euphrates. But apart from briefly in Solomon's time, this great potential was not experienced by Israel, and the returning exiles likewise didn't achieve anything like the potential Divinely set up for them. And so these things are rescheduled to the things of God's Kingdom under the Lord Jesus.

Psa 80:12

Why have You broken down its walls, so that all those who pass by the way pluck it?-
The answer to that question is given clearly in the prophets. The walls were broken down by God's people themselves, and the walls of the vineyard were in turn removed by God because they refused to bring forth spiritual fruit (Is. 5). But the psalmists seem too focused upon the removal of the consequences for sin, rather than facing up to the sin and appealing for repentance.

Psa 80:13

The boar out of the wood ravages it, the wild beasts of the field feed on it-
Again we might reflect that the psalmist ought to have given more weight to the prophetic pictures of the surrounding nations (the Biblical "beast") coming into the land because Israel had failed to keep them out; they had welcomed them in, and placed their gods within the Jerusalem temple. But the focus seems all upon lamenting the consequence of sin, rather than repentance and humility.

Psa 80:14

Turn again, we beg You, God of Armies. Look down from heaven and see, and visit this vine-
What Judah prayed for by the rivers of Babylon was indeed heard. There they had asked that God would “visit” them and “return” them (Ps. 80:14). The same two Hebrew words are to be found in Jer. 27:22, where we read that God would exile His people to Babylon and then “visit” them and make them “return”. We meet the same two words in Zeph. 2:7, where God would ‘visit and return’ the captivity of the remnant of Judah. But when God did “visit” His people, just as when He ‘visited’ His people in the gift of His Son, they didn’t want to ‘return’ or respond. Those who had desired ‘the day of the Lord’ at that time had been praying for it, when it was ‘to no end’ for them. And we have to ask ourselves whether we really mean our prayers for the Lord’s return.

Jer. 27:22 predicted that God would “visit” His people and “bring them up”. Those very two words are found in the declaration of Cyrus as recorded in 2 Chron. 36:23: “God hath charged [s.w. “visited”] me to build him a house in Jerusalem… who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up [s.w. “bring them up”]”. The most powerful monarch in the Middle East made the humanly bizarre and inexplicable command to “go up” to the land. ‘Going up’ and ‘visiting’ are language associated with Angels. The people were being encouraged to follow the cherubim-Angel. But most of the people said ‘No that’s fine, we’ll give some money, but we’ll stay here thanks. We won’t be ‘going up’’. And in essence, we are so similar as a community.

The design of the temple which Ezekiel communicated to the captives featured the motif of cherubim all over it, especially in the holy place. This wasn't mere decoration. The idea was clearly that if the captives returned and built the temple as specified, then the cherubim would again dwell there. It was up to them. But there's no indication that they were very obedient to the pattern given them; hence perhaps it was the more spiritually perceptive who wept when the foundation of the second temple was dedicated, knowing how far it was from Ezekiel's commands (Ezra 3:12). Ezekiel saw the temple as if it were already there, located at Jerusalem; he wasn't transported to Heaven to view it (Ez. 40:2). And it was there, potentially, that whole glorious temple. But the captives had to return and build it. turning the prophetic word into flesh, the logos into reality. But they didn't.

Psa 80:15

the stock which Your right hand planted, the branch that You made strong for Yourself-
This paves the way for :17. The palmist perceives that the restoration will come through a specific "branch". The potential fulfilment in Zerubbabel, the 'branch from Babylon', didn't come about; and so the fulfilment was rescheduled to the Lord Jesus Christ as the branch (Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5).

Asaph lived at the time of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). All his Psalms draw on the past dealings of God with His people and encourage them on this basis to make the wilderness journey back  to the land, just as they had done at the Exodus.  Ps. 80:16,17 asks God to strengthen a Son of Man to be Messiah, seeing that the temple is in ruins; the raising up of a Messiah was perceived as potentially possible at the time.

Psa 80:16 It’s burned with fire. It’s cut down. They perish at Your rebuke-
Although in :15 and :17 the psalmist has a specific individual in view, he perceives that this individual will be a personification and embodiment of God's people. The branch was also Israel and Zion, who were at that time cut down and burnt. Salvation in our age is likewise predicated upon being "in Christ". The suffering servant was both Israel and finally the Lord Jesus, who suffered as their representative. 

Psa 80:17

Let Your hand be on the man of Your right hand, on the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself-
The psalmist perceives that the restoration will come through an individual Messianic figure. There were various possible potential fulfillments of this, such as Zerubabbel and Joshua, but they all let the baton drop. The final fulfilment is therefore in the Lord Jesus, who allowed Himself to be made strong by God's hand (s.w. Ps. 89:21). Whilst His utter moral perfection was in a sense His own achievement, and that must never be taken away from the Lord, the path there involved allowing God to make Him strong for Himself. And this is our pattern too, in allowing the work of the Holy Spirit to do likewise with us, paralleled here with God's hand being upon us, making us strong. The prophecy could have had an earlier fulfilment in Hezekiah, 'made strong by Yah', but he too disallowed it and went off to this present world. The lead characteristic of Jacob was that he and his descendants would be 'made strong' (s.w. Gen. 25:23), even though they were so spiritually weak. So many times Israel are encouraged to be "of good courage", s.w. "made strong" (Dt. 31:6,7 etc.), so that they might inherit the promised kingdom. But they generally didn't make use of this potential strengthening. The exiles likewise were potentially "made strong" but they refused to make use of that, remaining in Babylon for the most part (s.w. Is. 35:3; 41:10).

Psa 80:18

So we will not turn away from You; accept us, and we will call on Your name-
The appeal is for God to turn His people to Himself, giving them repentance (see on :3,7,19) and psychological strengthening, so that they would never again turn away from Him. And only then would they call upon His Name. We would frankly expect the order to be the other way around; calling upon God's Name, vowing not to turn away again, and then being accepted. But the psalmist perceives God's grace is such that He is willing to turn men to Himself, accept them- and then in awe at such grace, they call upon His Name.

Psa 80:19

Turn us again, Yahweh God of Armies. Cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved-
This repeats :3,7, and as noted there, this is a request for God to give repentance [and not just forgiveness] to the exiles. This runs as a refrain throughout this Psalm and is clearly the lead request of the psalmist. Whilst God does indeed give repentance as well as forgiveness, we would perhaps wish that the exilic psalmists showed more awareness of the depth of their sins and appealed more for repentance.