This very touching and beautiful psalm purports also to be a psalm of Asaph. Compare the notes at the title to Psalm 60:1-12. The word rendered eduth, which means testimony, may have been used here with reference to the contents of the psalm as a public testimony in regard to the dealings of God with his people. But it is not possible now to determine with certainty the meaning of these titles.
The psalm, in its design, has a strong resemblance to Psalm 79:1-13, and was probably composed on the same occasion. It has been generally supposed to have reference to the time of the Babylonian captivity. Some have referred it, however, to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes; and others regard it as a prayer of the ten tribes which had been carried away to Assyria. Doederlein supposes that it refers to the wars of Jehoshaphat with the Ammonites Psalm 80:3, Psalm 80:7, Psalm 80:19.
I. The first part is a prayer, addressed to God as a shepherd - as one who had led his people like a flock - that he would again shine forth on them now that they were in trouble, and that he would stir up his strength, and come and save them, Psalm 80:1-3.
II. The second is a prayer, also - founded on the troubles of his people; a people fed with their tears; a strife to their neighbors; and an occasion of laughter or mirth to their foes, Psalm 80:4-7.
III. The third is also a prayer - founded on the former dealings of God with his people, on his care for them in ancient times, and on the fact that they were now desolate; their state being represented under the image of a vine brought from abroad; planted with care; attentively nurtured until it sent out its branches in every direction, so that it filled the land; and then broken down - torn - rent - trampled on - by a wild boar out of the wood, Psalm 80:8-19. In view of this desolation the psalmist prays that God would interpose, and he pledges the assurance that if this were done for them, the people would no more go back from God.
Give ear - Incline the ear; as if the ear of God was then turned away, or as if he was inattentive to what was occurring. See the notes at Psalm 5:1. O Shepherd of Israel. See the notes at Psalm 23:1.
Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock - Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh. See the notes at Psalm 78:67. The name Joseph seems here to be used poetically to represent the whole people of Israel, as he was a man so prominent in their history, and especially as Egypt is mentioned as the country from which the vine had been transplanted - a country where Joseph had acted so important a part, and in connection with which his name would be so naturally associated. The meaning is, that God had led the tribes of the Hebrew people as a shepherd leads or conducts his flock.
Thou that dwellest between the cherubims - See the notes at Psalm 18:10. The allusion here is to God as dwelling, by a visible symbol - the Shechinah - on the mercy-seat, between the cherubims. Exodus 25:18, Exodus 25:22; Exodus 37:7; 1 Samuel 4:4; 1 Kings 6:25. See the notes at Isaiah 37:16; and notes at Hebrews 9:5. “Shine, forth.” Manifest thyself. Let light come from thy presence in the midst of our darkness and calamity.
Before Ephraim, and Benjamin, and Manasseh - Ephraim and Manasseh were the two sons of Joseph, and their names were given to two of the tribes of Israel. See the notes at Psalm 78:67. They seem to have been particularly mentioned here, because Joseph, their father, had been referred to in the previous verse; and it was natural, in speaking of the people, to mention his sons. Benjamin is mentioned because, in the encampment and march through the wilderness, these three tribes always went together, as the descendants of the same mother. Genesis 46:19-20; Numbers 2:18-24; Numbers 10:22-24. It is probable that they were always especially united in the great operations of the Hebrew people, and that when one was mentioned it was customary to mention the others, as being of the same family, or descended from the same mother. There does not appear, from the psalm itself, any particular reason why the prayer is offered that God would manifest himself especially to these three tribes; and nothing in regard to the occasion on which the psalm was composed, can be argued from the fact that they are thus mentioned.
Hengstenberg indeed supposes that the common idea that the tribe of Benjamin adhered to Judah in the revolt of the ten tribes is erroneous, and that Benjamin was one of the ten tribes which revolted; and that Simeon was not included in the number because he had no separate territory, but only certain towns and places within the limits of the tribe of Judah. Prof. Alexander, embracing this opinion, supposes that the psalm refers to the calamities which came upon the ten tribes at the time of their captivity. But this supposition seems to me to be improbable. The obvious and fair interpretation of the narrative on the subject is, that the tribe of Benjamin adhered to that of Judah at the time of the revolt, for it is said 1 Kings 12:21 that “when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to right against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon.” Besides, even on the supposition that Benjamin was one of the ten revolted tribes, the fact that these three tribes are particularly mentioned together would not prove that the psalm referred to the carrying away of the ten tribes into Assyria, for still the question would arise why these are particularly mentioned rather than any other of the ten. It seems to me, therefore, that the fact that these are specified can be explained on the suppositions above suggested:
(a) That the main reference in the psalm was to the coming out of Egypt - the bringing the “vine” - that is, the people - from that land Psalm 80:8;
(b) That in alluding to that, it was natural to make mention of Joseph, who was so distinguished there, and who, after so many trials, was exalted to so great honor that his name might be given to the whole people;
(c) That when Joseph had been spoken of, it was natural, in the progress of the psalm, to mention particularly the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh; and
(d) that having mentioned them, it was natural also to refer to one whose name was always associated with that of Joseph as his younger brother by the same mother, and to the tribe of that name which was always associated with Ephraim and Manasseh in the march.
I regard the psalm, therefore, as referring to the entire Hebrew people, and the names of these three tribes as representatives of the whole nation. The prayer is, that God would manifest; himself in the presence of his people.
Stir up thy strength - As if he were indifferent to their condition; as if he put forth no effort to save them. See the notes at Psalm 35:23.
And come and save us - Margin, as in Hebrew, come for salvation to us. That is, Come and deliver us from our enemies and our dangers.
Turn us again - This phrase in our translation would seem to mean, “Turn us again from our sins,” or, “Bring us back to our duty, and to thy love;” and this idea is commonly attached to the phrase probably by the readers of the Bible. But this, though in itself an appropriate prayer, is not the idea here. It is simply, Bring us back; cause us to return; restore us. The idea thus suggested would be either
(a) restore us to our former state of prosperity; that is, Cause these desolations to cease; or
(b) bring us back, as from captivity, to our own land; restore us to our country and our homes, from which we have been driven out.
Thus understood, it would be properly the language of those who were in captivity or exile, praying that they might be restored again to their own land.
And cause thy face to shine - Be favorable or propitious to us. Let the frown on thy countenance disappear. See the notes at Psalm 4:6.
And we shall be saved - Saved from our dangers; saved from our troubles. It is also true that when God causes his face to shine upon us, we shall be saved from our sins; saved from ruin. It is only by his smile and favor that we can be saved in any sense, or from any danger.
O Lord God of hosts - Yahweh, God of armies. That is either
(a) the God who rules among the hosts of heaven - the inhabitants of that holy world; or
(b) God of the hosts of the sky - the worlds above - the stars, that seem marshalled as hosts or armies, and that are led forth each night with such order and grandeur; or
(c) God of the hosts on earth - the armies that are mustered for war. The phrase is one which is often applied to God. See the notes at Psalm 24:10; and at Isaiah 1:24.
How long wilt thou be angry - Margin, as in Hebrew, wilt thou smoke. The allusion is derived from the comparison of anger with fire. See the notes at Psalm 74:1.
Against the prayer of thy people - That is, Thou dost not answer their prayer; thou seemest to be angry against them even when they pray; or in the act of calling upon thee. The earnest inquiry here is, how long this was to continue. It seemed as if it would never end. Compare the notes at Psalm 77:7-9.
Thou feedest them with the bread of tears - literally, “Thou causest them to eat the bread of tears,” or of weeping. That is, their food was accompanied with tears; even when they ate, they wept. Their tears seemed to moisten their bread, they flowed so copiously. See the notes at Psalm 42:3.
And givest them tears to drink - So abundant were their tears that they might constitute their very drink.
In great measure - Or rather by measure; that is, abundantly. The word here rendered “great measure” - שׁלישׁ shâlı̂ysh - means properly a third, and is usually applied to a measure for grain - a third part of another measure - as, the third part of an ephah. See the notes at Isaiah 40:12. Then the word is used for any measure, perhaps because this was the most common measure in use. The idea seems to be, not so much that God gave tears to them in great measure, but that he measured them out to them, as one measures drink to others; that is, the cup, or cask, or bottle in which their drink was served to them was as if filled with tears only.
Thou makest us a strife - An occasion of strife or wrangling; that is, of strife among themselves, to see who will get the most of our spoils; or of contention, to see which could do most to aggravate their sufferings, and to bring disgrace and contempt upon them. They were emulous with each other in the work of desolation and ruin.
Unto our neighbors - The surrounding nations. See Psalm 79:4.
And our enemies laugh among themselves - Over our calamities. They exult; they glory; they triumph in our ruin.
Turn us again, O God of hosts - This verse is the same as Psalm 80:3, except that here the appeal is to the “God of hosts;” there, it is simply to “God.” This indicates greater earnestness; a deeper sense of the need of the interposition of God, indicated by the reference to his attribute as the leader of hosts or armies, and therefore able to save them.
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt - Referring to his people, under the image (which often occurs in the Scriptures) of a vine or vineyard. See the notes at Isaiah 5:1-7. Compare Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:6; Matthew 20:1; Matthew 21:28, Matthew 21:33; Luke 13:6.
Thou hast cast out the heathen - The nations; to wit, the nations that occupied the land of Canaan before the children of Israel dwelt there. See Psalm 2:1, note; Psalm 2:8, note; Psalm 77:15, note.
And planted it - Thou hast established thy people there as one plants a vine in a field. See Psalm 44:2.
Thou preparedst room before it - The Hebrew word used here means properly to turn; to turn the back; then, to turn in order to look at anything; to look upon; to see; then, in Piel, to cause to turn away; to remove. Then it comes to mean to remove, or to clear from impediments so as to prepare a way Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10; Malachi 3:1, and hence, to remove the impediments to planting a vine, etc.; to wit, by clearing away the trees, brush, stones, etc. Compare Isaiah 5:2. Here it means that the hindrances in planting the vine were taken out of the way; that is, God removed the pagan so that there was room then to establish his own people.
And didst cause it to take deep root - Hebrew, “And didst cause it to root roots;” that is, Its roots struck deep into the soil, and the plant became firm.
And it filled the land - Its branches ran everywhere, so as to fill the whole land. See the notes at Isaiah 16:8.
The hills were covered with the shadow of it - That is, It made a shade, by its luxuriant foliage, on the hills in every part of the land; it seemed to cover all the hills.
And the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars - Margin, as in Hebrew, cedars of God; that is, lofty, majestic cedars. See the notes at Psalm 65:9. The reference here is to the cedars of Lebanon, among the most majestic objects known to the Hebrews.
She sent out her boughs unto the sea - To the Mediterranean Sea on the one side.
And her branches - Her sucklings. The word is usually applied to little children, and means here the little branches that are nourished by the parent vine.
Unto the river - The Euphrates, for so the river usually means in the Scriptures. The Euphrates on the one side, and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, were the natural and proper boundaries of the country as promised to Abraham. See Psalm 72:8; 1 Kings 4:21. Compare the notes at Psalm 60:1-12.
Why hast thou then broken down her hedges? - Why hast thou dealt with thy people as one would with a vineyard who should break down all its enclosures, and leave it open to wild beasts? The word rendered hedges means wall or enclosure. Compare the notes at Isaiah 5:2.
So that all they which pass by the way - All travelers; or, wild beasts. So that there is nothing to prevent their coming up to the vine and plucking the grapes.
Do pluck her - Pluck, or pick off the grapes; or, if the phrase “all which pass by the way” denotes wild beasts, then the meaning is, that they eat off the leaves and branches of the vine.
The boar out of the wood - Men come in and ravage the land, whose character may be compared with the wild boar. The word rendered boar means simply swine. The addition of the phrase “out of the wood” determines its meaning here, and shows that the reference is to wild or untamed swine; swine that roam the woods - an animal always extremely fierce and savage.
Doth waste it - The word used here occurs nowhere else. It means to cut down or cut off; to devour; to lay waste.
And the wild beast of the field - Of the unenclosed field; or, that roams at large - such as lions, panthers, tigers, wolves. The word here used - זיז zı̂yz - occurs besides only in Psalm 50:11; and Isaiah 66:11. In Isaiah 66:11, it is rendered abundance.
Doth devour it - So the people from abroad consumed all that the land produced, or thus they laid it waste.
Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts - Again come and visit thy people; come back again to thy forsaken land. This is language founded on the idea that God had withdrawn from the land, or had forsaken it; that he had left his people without a protector, and had left them exposed to the ravages of fierce foreign enemies. It is language which will describe what seems often to occur when the church is apparently forsaken; when there are no cheering tokens of the divine presence; and when the people of God, discouraged, seem themselves to be forsaken by him. Compare Jeremiah 14:8.
Look down from heaven - The habitation of God. As if he did not now see his desolate vineyard, or regard it. The idea is, that if he would look upon it, he would pity it, and would come to its relief.
And behold, and visit this vine - It is a visitation of mercy and not of wrath that is asked; the coming of one who is able to save, and without whose coming there could be no deliverance.
And the vineyard - Gesenius renders this as a verb: “Protect;” that is, “Protect or defend what thy right hand hath planted.” So the Septuagint renders it κατάρτισαι katartisai - and the Vulgate, perfice, fit, prepare, order. Prof. Alexander renders it sustain. DeWette, “Guard what thy right hand hath planted.” This is doubtless the true idea. It is a prayer that God would guard, sustain, defend what he had planted; to wit, the vine which he had brought out of Egypt, Psalm 80:8.
And the branch - literally, the son; that is, the offspring or shoots of the vine. Not merely the original plant - the parent stock - but all the branches which had sprung from it and which had spread themselves over the land.
That thou madest strong for thyself - Thou didst cause it to grow so vigorously for thine own use or honor. On that account, we now call on thee to defend what is thine own.
It is burned with fire - That is, the vineyard. This is a description of the desolations that had come upon the nation, such as would come upon a vineyard if it were consumed by fire.
It is cut down - It has been made desolate by fire and by the axe.
They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance - At the frown on thy face, as if God has only to look upon people in anger, and they perish. The word they refers to those who were represented by the vine which had been brought out of Egypt - the people of the land.
Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand - Luther renders this, “Let thy hand guard the folks of thy right hand, and the people whom thou hast powerfully chosen.” The right hand is the place of honor; and the phrase “the man of thy right hand” means one who occupies such a position of honor. The phrase “Let thy hand be upon” is ambiguous. It may denote either favor or wrath; let it be upon him either to protect him, or to punish him. The connection, however, evidently demands the former interpretation, for it is in reference to the “man whom God had made strong for himself.” The allusion is either
(a) to some individual man whom God had raised up to honor, as a prince or ruler of the people; or
(b) to the people as such - as Luther understands it.
Most probably the former is the correct interpretation; and the prayer is, that God would interpose in behalf of the ruler of the people - the king of the nation - whom he had exalted to so high honor, and whom he had placed in such a position of responsibility; that he would now endow him properly for his work; that he would give him wisdom in counsel, and valor in battle, in order that the nation might be delivered from its foes. It is, therefore, a prayer for the civil and military ruler of the land, that God would give him grace, firmness, and wisdom, in a time of great emergency. Prof. Alexander strangely supposes that this refers to the Messiah.
Upon the son of man - This means simply man, the language being varied for the sake of poetry. Compare the notes at Psalm 8:4. It is true that the appellation “the Son of man” was a favorite designation which the Lord Jesus applied to himself to denote that he was truly a man, and to indicate his connection with human nature; but the phrase is often used merely to denote a man. Here it refers to the king or civil ruler.
Whom thou madest strong for thyself - The man whom thou hast raised up to that exalted station, and whom thou hast endowed to do a work for thee in that station. A magistrate is a servant and a representative of God, appointed to do a work for him - not for himself. See Romans 13:1-6.
So will not we go back from thee - That is, if thou wilt thus interpose; if thou wilt deliver the nation; if thou wilt help him whom thou hast placed over it, giving him wisdom and valor, we will hereafter be obedient to thy law; we will not apostatize from thee. It is a solemn promise or pledge of future obedience made by the psalmist as expressing the purpose of the people if God would be merciful and would withdraw his judgments; a pledge proper in itself, and often made by the Hebrew people only to be disregarded; a pledge proper for all who are in affliction, and often made in such circumstances, but, as in the case of the Hebrews, often made only to be forgotten.
Quicken us - literally, Give us life. See the notes at Ephesians 2:1. Restore life to us as a people; save us from ruin, and reanimate us with thy presence.
And we will call upon thy name - We will worship thee; we will be faithful in serving thee.
Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts - See Psalm 80:3, note; Psalm 80:7, note; Psalm 80:14, note. This is the sum and the burden of the psalm. The repetition of the prayer shows the earnestness of the people, and their conviction that their only hope in their troubles was that God would interpose and bring them back again; that he would be favorable to them, and lift upon them the light of his countenance. So with all. In our backslidings, our afflictions, and our troubles, our only hope is that God will bring us back to himself; our proper place is at the throne of mercy; our pleadings should be urgent, earnest, and constant, that he will interpose and have mercy on us; our solemn purpose - our expressed and recorded pledge - should be that if we are restored to God, we will wander no more. But, alas! how much easier it is to say this than to do it; how much easier to promise than to perform; how much easier to pledge ourselves when we are in affliction that if the troubles are removed we will be faithful, than it is to carry out such a purpose when the days of prosperity return, and we are again surrounded by the blessings of health and of peace. If all people - even good people - kept the vows which they make, the world would be comparatively a pure and happy world; if the church itself would only carry out its own solemn pledges, it would indeed arise and shine, and the world would soon be filled with light and salvation.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 80". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany