Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Psalms 80

Verses 1-19

Psalms 80:0

To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim-Eduth, A Psalm of Asaph

2          Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,

Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock;
Thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth.

3     Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh

Stir up thy strength,
And come and save us.

4     Turn us again, O God,

And cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.

5     O Lord God of hosts,

How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?

6     Thou feedest them with the bread of tears;

And givest them tears to drink in great measure.

7     Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours:

And our enemies laugh among themselves.

8     Turn us again, O God of hosts,

And cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.

9     Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt:

Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.

10     Thou preparedst room before it,

And didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.

11     The hills were covered with the shadow of it,

And the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars.

12     She sent out her boughs unto the sea,

And her branches unto the river.

13     Why hast thou then broken down her hedges,

So that all they which pass by the way do pluck her?

14     The boar out of the wood doth waste it,

And the wild beast of the field doth devour it.

15     Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts:

Look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;

16     And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted,

And the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.

17     It is burned with fire, it is cut down:

They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.

18     Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand.

Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.

19     So will we not go back from thee:

Quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.

20     Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts,

Cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.


Contents and Composition.—On the superscription compare Introd. § 12, No. 13. The fundamental thought of the Psalm, the prayer for the restoration of the former relations to God, and for the help to be obtained thereby, is expressed in a refrain, which Psalms 80:4, Psalms 80:8, Psalms 80:15, 20 repeat, in such a manner that the prayer advances by successive additions to the names applied to God, and in Psalms 80:15 presents a change of expression corresponding to the thought. The first time that this refrain appears, it is introduced in an invocation of God as the Helper; the second time, by a lamentation over the deplorable situation of the people caused by God’s anger; the third time by two strophes, the first of which represents the former prosperity of the people under the image of a vine planted and tended by God, while the second describes the present desolation by relentless foes; when it occurs for the fourth and last time, it is accompanied by a prayer for the destruction of the enemy, and for the protection of God’s chosen. Beyond all dispute the historical occasion of the origin of this Psalm was a season of oppression by foreign nations (Rosen-müller, De Wette). It remains to be determined whether the text furnishes grounds-for assuming it to be the Syrian (Olshausen, Hitzig) or the Chaldean (Geier and others), or the Assyrian (Calvin, Hengstenberg, and others) oppression, or whether it justifies us in going still further back to the period of the distresses occasioned by the Philistines (J. D. Michaelis). The Alex. version has in its superscription to this Psalm, which is in other parts somewhat absurd, an addition which alludes to the Philistines. With this best agrees the circumstance that here, after God is invoked as the Shepherd of Israel (compare the blessing of Joseph by Jacob, Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24) tribes are mentioned which are plainly northern, even if the kingdom of the ten tribes is not directly indicated. Benjamin, it is true, is in 1 Kings 12:21 reckoned with the kingdom of Judah. The capital city Jerusalem, also, was within the limits of this tribe (Joshua 15:18), and the land of Benjamin is (Jeremiah 32:44; Jeremiah 33:13) distinctly mentioned as a part of Judah. But several Benjamite cities (Bethel, Gilgal, Jericho) belonged to the northern kingdom, even if their possession was not undisputed, as was the case with Ramah, 1Ki 15:21; 2 Chronicles 13:19. Benjamin is probably named here, therefore, for another reason than the fact that he and Joseph were children of the same mother. In that case how should he have been named between Ephraim and Manasseh? The boundaries of the kingdom were, as is well known, unsettled, (comp. Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israels, 3d edition, p. 439 ff. Hitzig, Geschichte, 1869, I, 168 ff.) It must not, however, be overlooked that sometimes Joseph, together with Israel, (Psalms 81:5-6) or Jacob (Psalms 77:16), denotes the whole nation, as in Obadiah 1:18, the house of Joseph, along with the house of Jacob, is contrasted with the house of Esau (Psalms 80:10). More than this, in Amos 7:9; Amos 7:15, Isaac appears in place of the designations Jacob and Israel which are usual elsewhere. We may even perhaps assume that a preference for famous names of old influenced the choice of names (Ewald). It is scarcely a mere geographical mode of designating the northern, southern, and eastern country that is intended (Olshausen); and certainly not a mere random poetical selection of names (De Wette). The expression “restore us,” repeated in the refrain, could, if viewed by itself, certainly allude to the Babylonish exile. But it does not force us to such an hypothesis. It may also mean a restoration to a state of favor with God, and the change in Psalms 80:15 leads to this conclusion. Moreover the expressions employed in Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:13 f. allude to oppressions during the residence in the Promised Land.

[The review given above of the various opinions held as to the time when this Psalm was composed, will afford an idea of the difficulties which surround the subject. I would offer another attempt at approximation. It cannot have been composed so late as the destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes, which is the period defended by Hengstenberg. The burden lying so heavily upon the Psalmist is evidently not the sufferings of any one portion of God’s people, but the desolation of the whole. All Israel (or Joseph,Psalms 77:16; Psalms 78:9) was conducted safely from Egypt, and planted like a goodly vine in Canaan, when it took root and filled the land. The nation then formed one flourishing vine. What was the cause of the sad change? The disunion of the tribes. The Psalmist evidently has the whole number of the tribes in their individual integrity before him. He prays that God may shine upon them all with His favor as He was wont to do of old, and mentions some of them by name. In this he seems to have chosen from the kingdom of Judah, the tribe of Benjamin, which contained Zion and the Temple, and which suffered more than did the tribe of Judah from the incursions of Syrian or Assyrian invaders, whom the discord among the tribes brought upon the land. For the last named reason also he mentioned Ephraim and Manasseh, taking also into consideration the favorite name Joseph, and the prophecies relating to them made in Egypt. It is natural to suppose also that greater prominence was given to the northern kingdom on account of its waywardness and rejection of God, and he prays that they too may behold His face shining from the Cherubim, and have His favor in their hearts. The contiguity of these three tribes to one another may also suggest another reason for the selection. The order in which they are named is strange at first sight. Perowne thinks that it was adopted because it was the order of march through the wilderness. This is too remote from the line of thought and imagination followed in the Psalm. I would venture to suggest a reason which seems to me more probable. The Psalmist having before him the tribes to be mentioned and yearning for their union as part of God’s own people, places Benjamin between the others, embraced, as it were, by these northern tribes, thus expressing his desire that such a union should be realized. Then, that most touching refrain, with its emotion intensified by each repetition, would also express a desire for re-union. “Restore us again to what we were once, when Thy face shone upon us; only so can we be saved.” This view of the origin of the Psalm gives to the latter a fulness and beauty of meaning of which it is otherwise shorn. If it is correct, we must assume that the composition took place between the reigns of Rehoboam and Hezekiah, and at some period when foreign foes, taking advantage of the distracted and unsettled state of the whole country, inflicted upon it those blows whose sad effects are presented in the poem. The reign of Ahaz before the captivity of the ten tribes furnishes a period when both Israel and Judah were harassed by both the Syrians and Assyrians whose devastations forcibly suggest to us the figurative language employed in the Psalm.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 80:2-6. Appear, strictly: shine forth.—The expression refers to a Theophany (Psalms 1:2). On the Cherubim see on Ps. 13:11.Psalms 80:5. Until when [E. V., how long], with the præterite, must be explained either by an aposiopesis (Olsh.) or as being a combination of the question: how long wilt thou, etc.? with the complaint: how long hast thou, etc.?3 (Geier, Hupfeld). During the praying, that is: without heeding the prayer (Sept. and most) others: against the prayer; the incense of prayer (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3) being overpowered by the smoke of wrath, instead of overpowering it, Numbers 16:13 (Calvin, Geier, J. H. Michaelis, Stier, Hengstenberg). But it is more correct to conceive the prayers as not being able to pierce through the smoking clouds of wrath with which God had enshrouded Himself.

Psalms 80:6. Bread of tears means the bread which consists of tears, (Psalms 42:4); not bread wet with tears. In accordance with this, the second member of the verse does not say that God gives to them the usual measure for drinking (literally: the third; the third part of a larger measure, Isaiah 40:12) filled with tears for them to drink (Lud. de Dieu, De Wette, Von Ortenberg), but that tears constitute their drink as well as their food. We must therefore render either: a measure full of tears (Hitzig), or: with tears by the measure; that, is, not in a threefold measure (Jerome, Rosenmüller) but: in great measure (Sept., Hengst., and others) since this one-third measure, however small it might be thought for other purposes, is a large one for tears. The accusative is therefore that of closer definition, (Gesenius, Olshausen, Hupfeld, Delitzsch).

Psalms 80:7. A strife does not mean: object of contention, (most), or the object for which the neighboring nations contend with one another; but: the object against which they direct their upbraidings, taunts, and warlike efforts (Muntinghe, Hupfeld, Delitzsch). [It would better accord with the tone of the whole Psalm to understand this verse in the former sense. The country had been brought so low by fratricidal war and strife that the tribes around it were quarreling for its possession. The picture is thus made much more affecting. Besides, this is more in accordance with the primary meaning of מָדוֹן. It also agrees better with the second member of the verse. If the people were an object of rage and enmity of the heathen, the latter would hardly make merry over them, as in the other case they might do.—J. F. M.] These neighbors are the smaller tribes in their immediate vicinity (Geier, J. H. Michaelis, Hengstenberg, Hupfeld), rather than the great kingdom of the world (De Wette, Olshausen, Hitzig). The last word of Psalms 80:7, לָמוֹ, is not to be changed into לָנוּ after Psalms 22:8; Nehemiah 2:19 (Baur), or with a like purpose to be explained as=over us. (The ancient translators, Clericus, Venema, and others); but is the so-called dat. commodi=for sport to themselves.

[Psalms 80:10. Instead of “didst cause it to take deep root,” should be, “and it struck its roots deep.” In Psalms 80:11 a literal rendering of the last words would be: “cedars of God.” Alexander: ‘Some interpreters suppose the southern range of mountains west of Jordan, sometimes called Mount Judah or the Highlands of Judah, to be here specifically meant and contrasted with the Cedars of Lebanon, the northern frontier of the Land of Promise, just as Lebanon and Kadesh are contrasted in Psalms 29:5-8. That Lebanon, though not expressly mentioned, is referred to, appears probable from the analogy of Psalms 29:5; Psalms 92:13; Psalms 104:16. The literal fact conveyed by all these figures is the one prophetically stated in Genesis 28:14; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4.” Delitzsch: “The ‘cedars of God’ are the cedars of Lebanon, as monuments of the creative power of God.”—J. F. M.]

The wild boar (Psalms 80:14, comp. Jeremiah 5:6), is regarded by many as an emblem of the Assyrian king, like the fly (Isaiah 7:18), or as the Nile-horse, sea-serpent, and crocodile are those of Egypt (Psalms 68:31; Isaiah 30:6; Ezekiel 29:3), and the eagle that of Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 17:0) This, however, is not certain. The Rabbins refer the expression to Seir-Edom, and the wild beast (or: stirring thing) of the field, to the Arabs dwelling in tents, according to Genesis 16:12. The suspendedע in the word מִיַּעַר (out of the forest), is so explained by some Rabbins as to show another reading, namely מיאר=out of the river, comp. Judges 18:30; but it belongs to the category of large and small letters, and according to tract. Kidduschin 30 a, is intended to mark the middle letter of the Psalter (Geier, Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel, 1857, p. 259) as in Leviticus 11:42, a ו marks the middle letter of the Pentateuch. But the Ayin suspensum may be merely the result of a later correction (Delitzsch), since a Phœnician inscription has יר = forest-wood (Levy, Phöniz. Wörterbuch, p. 22. Schröder, Die phöniz. Sprache, 1869, pp. 19, 98) and the כּ written large in Psalms 80:16 appears to be the consequence of a necessary erasure. On the different mystical meanings attached to this suspended letter by the Jews, see Buxtorf, Tiberias, c. 16, p. 172.

Psalms 80:16 ff. Protect what thy right has planted.—[E. V., The vineyard which thy right hand hath planted]. The Hebrew word כַּנָּה might be a noun (many old expositors, also Rosenmüller, Stier, Ewald, Hitzig) = its slip, twig, or better: its stem (Böttcher) depending upon the verb of the preceding verse. But if it be taken as an imperative (Sept., Luther, and others), then it is to be taken from a verb כנן, cognate with גּנז = to cover, protect (Hupf., Delitzsch). This is better than to take it from בון = to set upright, to uphold (Hengst.) since verbs of caring can be construed both with the accusative and with עַל (here with both).—The son [E. V., branch], Psalms 80:16 b, is probably not the vegetable branch, as in Genesis 49:22 (Kimchi, Ewald, and others), but as in Psalms 80:18 the people of Israel, in the same sense as Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1. The transition from the figurative to the literal mode of designation is however, first prepared in this verse. In Psalms 80:17, they are intermingled as is often the case in strongly emotional passages; for the term, participles refer back to גפן while in the second member of the verse, the Israelites, who in their totality constitute the vine, are mentioned in the plural, and that in an expression which describes their condition more literally than figuratively. Then in Psalms 80:18 the foregoing circle of images is dropped. The people are first termed אִישׁ־יְמִינֶךָ in allusion to the name Benjamin, and then בֶּך־אָדָם as members of the helpless human race. The former designation may bear reference to God’s having with His right hand gained them for Himself, (Kimchi, Luther, Rosenmüller,) or planted and reared them (Calvin, Stier, De Wette, Hupfeld and others). But possibly it alludes to Israel’s standing at God’s right hand (Aben Ezra, Geier, J. H. Mich., Hengst., Del., Hitzig) as his favorite (Genesis 44:20; Deuteronomy 33:8; Deuteronomy 33:12). [Alexander: “The man of thy right hand may either be, the man whom thy power has raised up or the man who occupies the post of honor at thy right hand. That the words were intended to suggest both ideas, is a supposition perfectly agreeable to Hebrew usage. A more doubtful question is that in reference to the first words of the sentence, let thy hand be upon him, whether this means in favor or in wrath. The only way in which both senses can be reconciled is by applying the words to the Messiah as the ground of the faith and hope expressed. Let thy hand fall not on us, but on our substitute. Compare the remarkably similar expressions in Acts 5:31.”—J. F. M.]


1. Even in the midst of the direst calamities we can trust ourselves to God’s guidance, and commit ourselves to him with full confidence as soon and as long as we are persuaded of His watchful love and faithfulness as our Shepherd, and of His supreme power exalted above all earthly and heavenly might. But it is above all important for the suffering and oppressed that God should manifest such a guidance by changing their condition which is so bitter and distressing. And he who belongs to God’s Church knows right well how much such a change is hindered by the sins of men, and how little the sinner is entitled to it. Accordingly the most urgent and important need is that of the shedding forth of God’s favor. Only by this can the true relation to Him be restored. And that may be gained by prayer.
2. The contemplation of the Divine nature helps us greatly in our strivings after greater delight and increased support in prayer. The abundant manifestations of that glory with the many comforting aspects of each can never be sufficiently kept before the soul. In this exercise there can be no tedious verbosity, no useless superfluity of words, no heathenish or childish babbling. “It is all-important in prayer, that God appear before the soul in the full glory of His nature. Only by pouring out into the bosom of such a God as this our complaints and entreaties, can requital be found.” (Hengstenberg).
3. Not less important and consoling is the reflection, that God is not disposed to destroy or abandon the work, begun out of mercy, in and with His Church, but remains ready to complete it, in so far as her welfare depends upon the manifestation of His favor, and according as she places herself penitently and believingly under the protection and care of God, whom she cannot cease to praise as her Founder and Preserver, but to whom she has ever cause to render thanks for what He has planted, reared, and blessed in her. Thus feeling and acting, she can, even in the troubled present, draw lively hope of future aid and fresh deliverances from the recollection of former experiences of blessing and seasons of mercy.


If thou wouldst have God for thy Shepherd, keep close to His flock.—To crave God’s assistance and to strive against His will, are acts which do not agree.—He upon whom God’s face is to shine must turn himself towards it.—So long as men are without a reconciled God, the whole world cannot give them the least help.—Tears are not the worst food; let them only not be food for ever.—God has not only planted His vine; He protects it too, and makes it grow.

Starke: We can indeed thrust ourselves into misfortune, but it is not in our power to bring ourselves out. How good it is for us to have a God, who can and will bring us back to prayers of penitence!—It is ingratitude that we should have God near to us, as He is indeed near at all times and in all places, and that we do not implore His help.—If God appears to be angry with the prayer of His people, because He does not give heed to it at once, must He not be angry indeed with a prayer, which is offered without repentance or faith?—The violence of our enemies harasses us, but God strengthens us; affliction makes it dark for us but God’s mercy makes it bright; men destroy us, but through God’s goodness we are revived and preserved from despair.—From a vine, that we have planted, we expect not only leaves, but grapes; so it is not enough that Christians have the leaves of good works to show; God seeks also good fruits. O that He might find them in all!—So long as God keeps over a place His protecting hand all goes well: but, if for the sins of the inhabitants He draws it away only a little, then everything tends to ruin.—We live that we may worship God, and He who does not call upon His name is not worthy to live—If God did not perform the chief part in nurturing and perpetuating the vine, all the care of the husbandman would be in vain.—Arndt: The Shepherd of Israel—how we are to trust ourselves to His protection and presence, and worship Him in His holiness.—Frisch: Where the spiritual vineyard is preserved in bloom and luxuriance, there the temporal vineyard will flourish too.—Rieger: We are to mark with special care the names which are given to God in His word and by which we are to call upon Him in all our troubles.—Guenther: The Church of God has many more times of distress, than years of glory upon earth.—Diedrich: The ungodly do not ask for the help of God, but the righteous cannot live without it, and keep asking day and night: how long? how long?—Taube: Light, love, life, these are essential attributes of the Divine nature which mutually repose upon one another. When He comes forth clothed with them, and manifests Himself, it becomes bright, we feel His love, we live. But when He retires within Himself, it is night, we feel His wrath, we die.—Appuhn (At the Reformation festival): We observe today (1) a thanksgiving, for we call to mind the establishment, the prosperity and extension of our German Evangelical Lutheran Church, (2) a day of humiliation, for we have to recall forsaken confession, mournful divisions and lamentable insubordination; (3) a day of prayer, for we take our stand upon God’s honor, power, and mercy.

[Matt. Henry: (1) No salvation but from God’s favor, (2) no obtaining favor with God unless we are converted to Him, (3) no conversion to God but by His own grace.—We cannot call upon God’s name in a right manner, unless He quicken us; but it is He who puts life into our souls, who puts liveliness into our prayers.

Scott: The vine cannot be ruined nor any fruitful branch perish: but the unfruitful will be cut off and cast into the fire.

Bishop Horne: The end of our redemption is that we should serve Him who hath redeemed us and “go back” no more to our old sins. That soul which has been quickened and made alive by Christ, should live to His honor and glory; that mouth which hath been opened by Him, can do no less than show forth His praise, and “call upon” His saving “name.”—J. F. M.].


[3][This method, generally adopted in all the cases where this phrase occurs, is grammatically incorrect. To give to the words the sense of an interjection would require that עַד should be treated as an adverb of quantity, which of course it cannot be. It is better to give the præterite the force of past time continuing through the present, whose termination is not seen.—J. F. M.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 80". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.