That this plaintive cry for restoration to a state which should be indicative of the Divine favour, arose from Israel when groaning under foreign oppression which it was powerless to resist, is plain and incontestable. And if, with the almost unanimous consent of critics, we are right in rendering Psalms 80:6, “Thou makest us an object of strife to our neighbours,” we should be able to approximate very nearly to the date of the poem. For there are only two periods when Palestine became an object of dispute between rival powers: when Assyria and Egypt made it their battleground; and, at a much later date, when it was the apple of discord between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ. But at the earlier of these two periods the language of the poet descriptive of utter prostration and ruin (Psalms 80:16) would hardly have been suitable. We hear, too again, in Psalms 80:4, the pathetic “how long?” of the Maccabæan age. No argument for date or authorship can safely be drawn from the mode in which the tribes are mentioned and arranged in Psalms 80:2. (See Note.) The refrain at Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19 indicates the structure of the poem.
Title.—See Psalms 45, 60, and comp. title of Psalms 69.
(1) The reference to the shepherd, so characteristic of the Asaphic psalms, is, no doubt, here chosen especially in recollection of Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24. “Shepherd” and “Rock” were Jacob’s especial names for God, as the “Fear” was that of Isaac, and the “Mighty” that of Abraham; but in the blessing of Joseph the patriarch seems to have made more than usually solemn pronunciation of it. It is, therefore, very doubtful whether we must press the selection of Joseph here as a distinct and intended reference to the northern tribes or kingdom, in distinction to Judah or the southern kingdom.
Dwellest.—Rather, sittest (enthroned). (Comp. Psalms 99:1.) That this is not a merely poetical idea drawn from clouds (as possibly in Psalms 18:10), but is derived from the throne, upheld by the wings of the sculptured cherubim in the Temple, is proved by Exodus 25:22. (Comp. Numbers 7:89. Comp. also “chariot of the cherubim,” 1 Chronicles 28:18; Sirach 49:8; also Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 37:16; Ezekiel 1:26.)
(2) Before Ephraim . . .—The tribes named from Joseph’s sons and his uterine brother naturally range together; they encamped side by side on the west of the Tabernacle, and when the ark moved forward they took their places immediately behind it to head the procession. The preposition “before” would alone show that this ancient arrangement, and no recent political event, determines the manner in which the poet introduces the tribes. It is used of a funeral procession (2 Samuel 3:31; Job 21:33).
(3) Turn us again—i.e., “restore us,” not necessarily with reference to the Captivity, but generally, restore us to our pristine prosperity.
Cause thy face to shine.—The desert encampment and march is still in the poet’s thought. As in Psalms 67:1 (see Note) we have here a reminiscence of the priestly benediction.
Saved.—Or, helped. This verse constitutes the refrain.
(4) How long wilt thou be angry?—Literally, until when hast thou fumed? A pregnant construction combining two clauses. Thou hast been long angry; how long wilt thou continue to be angry? (Comp. Psalms 13:2, Note, and Exodus 10:3.) Others say the preterite here has the sense of a future perfect, which comes to the same thing: “How long wilt thou have fumed? (See Müller’s Syntax, § i. 3, rem. (a), Prof. Robertson’s trans.)
Against the prayer.—Literally, in, i.e., during the prayer. The smoke of the Divine anger is, perhaps, conceived of as a cloud through which the prayer (often symbolised by an ascending incense) cannot penetrate.
(5) Bread of tears.—See Psalms 42:3.
In great measure.—Heb., shalîsh, i.e., a third part. (Comp. Isaiah 40:12, Margin.) Probably meaning a third part of an ephah. (See Exodus 16:36; Isaiah 5:10, LXX.) But here evidently used in a general way, as we say “a peck of troubles.”
(6) A strife—i.e., an object of contention. In no other sense could Israel be a strife to neighbouring nations. For the bearing of this on the date of the psalm see its Introduction.
Laugh among themselves.—Literally, for themselves. But LXX. and Vulg. read, “at us.”
(8) Thou hast brought.—The verb is to be taken as a historic present, “Thou bringest.” It is a verb used both of horticulture (Job 19:10) and, like the word “planted” in the next clause, of breaking up and removing a nomadic encampment, “pulling out the tent-pins, and driving them in.,,
The vine (or vineyard), as an emblem of Israel, is so natural and apt that we do not wonder to find it repeated again and again in the Old Testament, and adopted in the New. Probably Isaiah 5:1-7 was the parent image, unless the Patriarchal benediction on Joseph (Genesis 49:22) suggested that song.
(9) Thou preparedst room.—The reference is, of course, to the casting out of the heathen in Psalms 80:8.
Didst cause . . .—Rather, it struck its roots deep; literally, rooted its roots.
(10) Goodly cedars.—Literally, cedars of God. The branches of the vine are to grow to resemble the luxuriance of the most magnificent of all forest trees.
(11) The sea . . . the river—i.e., the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, the limits of the Solomonic empire. (See Deuteronomy 11:24; comp. Genesis 28:14; Joshua 1:4.)
(12) Pluck.—For the same image of the broken fence, and the fruit gathered by the passers by, see Psalms 89:40-41.
(13) Boar.—This is the sole mention of the wild boar in Scripture. But it must not therefore be inferred that it was rare in Palestine. (See Tristram’s Nat. Hist. Bib., p. 54.) The writer gives a sad picture of the ravage a herd of them will make in a single night. Comp.—
“In vengeance of neglected sacrifice,
On Oencus’ fields she sent a monstrous boar,
That levell’d harvests and whole forests tore.”
HOMER: Iliad (Pope’s Trans.).
Wild beast.—It seems natural, at first, to take this beast as the emblem of some particular power or oppressor, as the crocodile is of Egypt, the lion of Assyria, &c. But the general term—literally, that moving in the field (see Ps. )—makes against such an identification.
(15) And the vineyard which . . .—Most modern scholars follow the LXX. and Vulg. in making the word rendered vineyard an imperative of a verb, meaning protect: And protect what thy right hand hath planted. This makes a good parallelism.
(17) Man of thy right hand.—This is manifestly a continuation of Psalms 80:15, and should follow it:—
“Protect what thy right hand hath planted,
The branch which thou hast made strong for thyself:
Let thy hand be over the man of thy right hand,
Over the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.”
A fine instance of the mode in which the thought can pass naturally from the figurative to the literal. The man of God’s right hand is evidently the man protected by the right hand, but the expression introduces such a tautology that we suspect a misreading.
In the words “son,” “son of man,” some see a reference to the Messiah. But the parallelism and context show that the poet is thinking of Israel as a community, of which the vine is the emblem.
(19) Turn us.—By a fine gradation in the style of the address to God, the refrain has at last reached its full tone, expressive of the completest trust—
“God’s ways seem dark, but soon or late
They touch the shining hills of day.
The evil cannot brook delay;
The good can well afford to wait.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 80". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany