Here is another of the records of the day of Jacob's troubles. The church is still at the mercy-seat, and adopts similar arguments in prayer to those which were made use of in the foregoing Psalm, namely, God's love to his people, and their interest in him.
To the chief musician upon Shoshannim-Eduth, A Psalm of Asaph.
This first verse is the key to the whole Psalm. Who is the Shepherd of Israel, but Jesus? Uniformly, through all the word of God, this is the well-known character and office of Christ, as Christ. Of him it is specially and particularly spoken; of him it is specially said, that he should feed his flock like a shepherd. He was promised under that character by the Father, Isaiah 40:11. So again, the Lord saith by another prophet, I will set up one Shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David: he shall feed them, and he shall be their Shepherd; Ezekiel 34:23. Hence Christ takes to himself this very name, John 10:11; and the church desired Jesus, as her Shepherd, to tell her where he fed his flock; Song of Solomon 1:7. I dwell the more particularly upon this, because, though it is generally known and confessed, yet believers have too few actings of faith upon the person of Christ in his sweet offices and characters, as distinguished from God the Father, and God the Holy Ghost; for though there be many precious offices in which God the Father hast condescended to put himself, and in the enjoyment of them it is the privilege of the believer to be everlastingly engaged; yet it is in a peculiar and special way that redeemed souls are to behold Christ as their Head, their Shepherd, their Husband, their Surety, their Brother, their Advocate, and the like. I venture, therefore, to believe that this Psalm opens with a cry to Jesus, as Jesus, the church's Shepherd. And surely it is he that hath all along led Joseph and his people like sheep; surely it is he which sitteth between the cherubim, for God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; and he it is that shines forth when God the Spirit shines in the heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:19; 2Co_4:6.
These tribes, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, are probably put for all Israel. As if the church begged that Christ's favor to his people should be as conspicuous, as the pillar of cloud had been in the camp before all Israel.
These are most blessed tokens, and highly expressive of grace in the heart. And the prayer, being again repeated, plainly shows from whence alone the church looked for both the work of true prayer and faith, and the answer.
If we read this in allusion, first, to the old church dispensation, and then again spiritually to the new, and the Holy Ghost condescends to be our teacher, we shall find rich instruction in the beautiful similitude here adopted, of the church represented by a vine. Christ is the Vine, so he himself hath said; and that as the head of his body, the church; John 15:1, etc. God the Holy Ghost calls the church by the same, Isaiah 5:1, etc. Now the Lord Jehovah's glory is celebrated in that Christ, the great Shepherd, first formed his people into a church, a flock, and brought them out of Egypt. To make room for it in Canaan, the Lord drove out the natural inhabitants, seven nations, from thence. There the church was settled: it spread abroad: the hills were covered with the branches of it, and the sea of the neighboring states found Israel flourishing. But when the enemy came in, like the boar of the wood, and sin and corruption brought forth wild grapes, then, though the Lord had planted a choice root, it became a degenerate plant; Jeremiah 2:21. All this is literally the case respecting the history of the old church. But with what increasing strength of allusion is the similitude made in reference to the new! for here Christ, as the true Vine, and his church as his branches, are brought out of the spiritual Egypt of sin and death. When they have taken root in Jesus, the branches of his grace and the fruits of his Spirit go forth in every direction, to his praise and glory. And, agreeably to Jehovah's promise, the dominion of Jesus is from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. Psalms 72:8. Are those branches broken off? Hath the enemy, like the boar, directed his malice against the Vine? Yes, in the person of the elder branch, the Jew, we find sad devastations. The Holy Ghost hath explained this by his servant the apostle, Romans 11:1-26.
This is a beautiful and most interesting prayer: and, after the view which the apostle, hath given of this subject, in his Epistle to the Romans, to which I before referred, may we not consider it as plainly meant for the church of the Gentiles to be daily using at the throne and mercy-seat for their elder branch, the Jews? as if the cry was universal, Lord, help thy church; graft in again thine ancient branches! And, Reader, do not fail to remark, with me, the reference which the Church, hath to Christ, the man at God's right hand, the man whose name is the Branch, and in whom is life; and who hath said, Because I live, ye shall live also. This is he, the Intercessor, and from whose intercession the barren fig-tree, though a cumberer of the ground, is permitted to stand another year; Luke 13:7-8. And observe, the promise of the church, both Jew and Gentile, is, we will not go back from thee, if thou wilt quicken us. Sweet truth! No man quickeneth, and no man keepeth alive his own soul. Observe also the thrice repeated prayer for the Lord's face to shine upon us, and his arm to turn us: Yes, if the Lord turn the heart, then, and not else, the heart is changed. And, finally, observe, that as this prayer is thrice repeated, so the Lord commanded Aaron thrice to bless the people in Jehovah's name: surely all the persons of the Godhead were meant to be kept in view, as jointly and severally blessing the people. Nu 6.
READER! if the church of old, with reference to Christ, as he who was to come as the Shepherd of Israel, thus prayed him to shine forth, and to show himself from between the cherubim, well may you and I look up to Jesus now, who not only hath come and led his sheep-fold, and gone before them, but, like the good Shepherd, hath laid down his life for his sheep. If the church's deliverance from Egypt is spoken of with such praise, and Jesus, who was then only looked to through type and figure, was so dear to the people, surely believers now ought to behold Christ in everything, and enjoy him in everything. Let us, therefore, Reader, look up to God the Holy Ghost, the Glorifier of Christ Jesus, and beg of him for grace to make these two more especial improvements from this very precious Psalm: First, to have more frequent and lively actings of faith upon the person of Christ; and, secondly, to improve those actings of faith upon his Person, by keeping up a constant communion and fellowship with him.
Yes, thou great Shepherd of Israel, for I would call thee, thou blessed Jesus, by that name, do thou give me daily, and every moment, to act faith upon thy glorious Person! Thou art he whom the Father calleth his Shepherd, the Man his fellow! And thou art to all thy people the good Shepherd, the chief Shepherd, the great shepherd, whom the God of peace brought again from the dead! Oh! do thou show thyself to my soul in all the actings of faith, as feeding thy flock, taking account of them, knowing all their names, going before them, leading, guiding, feeding, healing, restoring, and keeping them, and causing them to lie down in green pastures. Yes, Lord! thou art thyself the food of their souls, and their portion forever.
And while, by thy blessed Spirit, thou enablest me to keep up a lively view of thy Person, and to act faith also upon thine offices, help me, Lord, to improve those actings of faith by maintaining constant communion and fellowship with thee. Precious Jesus! while thou art coming forth to bless me, help me to see thy coming, and to be going forth continually to meet thee: Lord, help me to be pressing after greater knowledge of thee, greater improvement of thee, and greater enjoyment of thee. And oh! let thy love, thy grace, thy tenderness, thy compassion, and the infinite preciousness of thy salvation, be my daily, hourly joy, and the food of my soul: and let the hymn of my heart be like this of the church: Give ear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that dwellest between the cherubim, cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Psalms 80". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany