Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
PSALM 80 THE ANGUISHED CRY OF A DESOLATE NATION
PROBLEMS OF THE CORRUPT VINE
The first of these titles we have taken from Leupold, and the other is our own, based upon the fact of the "rather full development of the figure of Israel as a vine of God's planting."
There are two divisions in the psalm: (1) a prayer (Psalms 80:1-7); and (2) the metaphor of the vine.
The occasion of the psalm is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Barnes summarized various views as follows:
"This psalm strongly resembles Psalms 74 and Psalms 79, and is generally supposed to refer to the same period, namely, that of the Babylonian captivity. Others have referred it to the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, or to those of Jehoshaphat, or to the period following the fall of Samaria and the loss of the northern kingdom."
In any case, the occasion was a period of hardship and disaster for the entire Hebrew nation.
"Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock;
Thou that sittest above the cherubim, shine forth.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up thy might,
And come to save us.
Turn us again, O God,
And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.
Oh Jehovah, God of hosts,
How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?
Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears,
And given them tears to drink in large measure.
Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbors;
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
Turn us again, O God of hosts;
And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved."
Barnes stated that there are two prayers here (Psalms 80:1-3 and Psalms 80:4-7), but there are similarities. God is petitioned for salvation in both; He is requested to "Turn us again" in both (Psalms 80:3,7); and the reference to the Aaronic blessings of Numbers 6:25, "Cause thy face to shine," is in both (Psalms 80:3,7).
The problem in these verses is the mention of Ephraim and Manasseh and Benjamin with no specific reference to any other of the tribes of Israel. Some have made this the basis of supposing that the falling away of the northern Israel was the occasion of the psalm; but Benjamin did not belong to the ten tribes who rebelled against the house of David.
Barnes' explanation here of how these three names came to be mentioned is: (1) "Thou leadest Joseph like a flock" was a common reference to God as the leader of all Israel. (2) This came about because of the vital part Joseph had in preserving the life of the nation from the famine and for his favorable location of Israel in the Nile Delta. (3) "Ephraim and Manasseh seem to be mentioned here because Joseph their father had been referred to in the previous verse; and it was natural in speaking of the people to refer to his sons." Benjamin was mentioned because he was the brother of Joseph, and all three of these constituted the whole Rachel branch of the Twelve Tribes.
It appears to us that there is also another good reason. The two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh represented the northern Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin represented the southern Israel, where they remained faithful to the house of David. How beautifully all of this fits! God is the "Shepherd of Israel," who leads Joseph like a flock, not merely part of Joseph (standing for Israel) but all Israel, as represented by the three descendants of Jacob through Rachel.
"Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears" (Psalms 80:5). This is a reference to the times of extreme sorrow, disappointment, and suffering through which Israel was passing at the time this psalm was written.
THE METAPHOR OF THE VINE
This metaphor of Israel as a vine is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament.
"My well-beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; he digged it, gathered the stones out of it, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in the midst of it, hewed out a winepress; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes" (Isaiah 5:1-2).
"Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt:
Thou didst drive out the nations and plantedst it.
Thou preparedst room before it,
And it took deep root, and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with the shadow of it,
And the boughs thereof were like cedars of God.
It sent out its branches unto the sea,
And its shoots unto the River.
Why hast thou broken down its walls,
So that all that pass by the way do pluck it?
The boar out of the wood doth ravage it,
And the wild beasts of the field feed on it.
Turn again, we beseech thee, O God of hosts:
Look down from heaven,
And behold and visit this vine.
And the stock which thy right hand planted,
And the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down:
They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand,
Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.
So shall we not go back from thee:
Quicken thou us, and we will call upon thy name.
Turn us again, O Jehovah God of hosts;
Cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.
There is not a more tragic prayer in all the Word of God than here."
"Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt ... plantedst it" (Psalms 80:8). This is a reference to the bringing forth of Israel out of Egyptian slavery.
"Thou preparedst room before it" (Psalms 80:9). This speaks of God's driving out the pagan nations of Canaan to make room for the settlement of Israel in the Promised Land.
"It took deep root, and filled the land" (Psalms 80:9). This describes the growth and prosperity of Israel in Canaan. Psalms 80:10 is an expansion of the thought here.
"Branches unto the sea ... shoots unto the River" (Psalms 80:11). This refers to the expansion of the Hebrew kingdom from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Euphrates, the boundaries of the nation during the reign of Solomon.
"Why hast thou broken down its walls" (Psalms 80:12)? `Walls' here is a reference to the walls of the vineyard, the walls of Jerusalem. Coupled with Psalms 80:16, below, where it appears that the vineyard has been burned with fire and cut down, it is clear enough that the total destruction of Jerusalem has taken place at the time of the writing of this psalm.
"The boar out of the wood ... the wild beasts" (Psalms 80:13). These were nations such as Assyria and Babylon which ravaged and destroyed the "degenerate vine."
"Turn again, we beseech thee, O God of hosts" (Psalms 80:14). This is a plaintive cry for God again to nourish the vine as in the days of old; but the degeneracy of the vine was a great hindrance to God's doing any such thing.
"And the Branch that thou madest strong for thyself" (Psalms 80:15). We have capitalized "Branch," here because that title belongs to no other in heaven or earth except the Son of God. (See a full discussion of this in Vol. IV of my minor prophets Commentaries, pp. 56-58, under Zechariah 3:8.) The alternative reading for "Branch" in this passage is "Son," another word which we capitalize, because it appears to this writer that there are definitely Messianic overtones in this fervent plea of God's people for "salvation." From what other source, either in heaven or upon earth could salvation have been available for any person whomsoever?
In this connection, we note that Addis entitled this psalm, "The Messianic Hope," stating that, "The psalmist looks forward to ... the advent of the Messianic age." We believe this is correct and that in this we have the only adequate interpretation of Psalms 80:17, below.
"Burned with fire ... cut down" (Psalms 80:16). See under Psalms 80:12, above for the implications of these words.
"Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the Son of Man whom thou madest strong for thyself" (Psalms 80:17). Barnes identified this person with the king of northern Israel, but the words `Son of Man' (which we have capitalized) absolutely forbid such a view.
Barnes interpreted "Branch" in Psalms 80:15 to mean, "all the offspring or shoots of the vine," reading "branches" here, instead of "Branch," thus making it mean all Israelites.
"The man of thy right hand" (Psalms 80:17). Who else, other than Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of Man, could properly be referred to as, "The man of God's Right Hand"? Is it not He who sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High?
Barnes gave an opposite view of this, affirming that, "This is a prayer for the and military ruler of the land." This seems very strange to us in that no `land' is mentioned here.
"Upon the Son of Man" (Psalms 80:17). Here again capital letters should be used. This was Christ's favorite of all the expressions that he used in reference to himself, and this writer finds it impossible to deny its reference to Christ here. Again, we regret to find ourselves in disagreement with Barnes who stated that. "This expression means simply `man,' the language being varied for the sake of poetry ... It refers to the king or ruler." Nevertheless, we cannot believe that any ruler of that whole era would have been referred to by the Spirit of God as "the man of God's right hand" (Psalms 80:17).
"Quicken thou us, and we will call upon thy name" (Psalms 80:18). Here the psalmist is coming closer to what is really needed in Israel, namely, a change in the people themselves.
"Turn us again, O Jehovah God of hosts" (Psalms 80:19). Here is the climax of the psalm. God will turn to Israel when Israel turns to God. The great change so desperately needed is not in the attitude of God, but in that of the degenerate vine with its wild grapes.
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