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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Psalms 80

 

 

Verses 1-19

EXPOSITION

A PSALM in which the writer entreats God to restore his favour once more to Israel, and especially to the ten tribes, who are in affliction, and in danger of perishing (Psalms 80:1, Psalms 80:2, Psalms 80:15-17). The psalm is evidently written while the temple is standing (Psalms 80:1), and while Israel still occupies the Holy Land (Psalms 80:8-15), but in a time of deep suffering, when the nation has sustained a severe blow. It probably belongs to the period immediately preceding the final captivity of the ten tribes, when the kingdom of Israel was already tottering to its fall, and the carrying off of the population had begun (2 Kings 15:29). The psalm is "Asaphian," i.e. composed by a member of the Asaphian division of the temple choir, but certainly not by Asaph. It consists of two short strophes (Psalms 80:1-3, Psalms 80:4-7) and one long one (Psalms 80:8-19), each concluded with an almost identical refrain (Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7, Psalms 80:19).

Psalms 80:1

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel. The title, "Shepherd of Israel," is a new one; but it follows naturally from the metaphor, so often employed (Psalms 74:1; Psalms 77:20; Psalms 78:52; Psalms 79:13), of Israel being God's "flock." Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock. "Thou that leddest" (Cheyne). The mention of "Joseph" shows at once that the thoughts of the psalmist are fixed on the northern kingdom. Thou that dwellest between the cherubims. The two cherubim that overshadowed the mercy seat seem to be meant. Shine forth; i.e. "show thyself—manifest thy might" (comp. Psalms 50:2).

Psalms 80:2

Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. "Ephraim" and "Manasseh" form a natural expansion of the "Joseph" of the preceding verse; but it is difficult to understand the mention of "Benjamin" here. Hengstenberg suggests, and both Canon Cook and Professor Cheyne seem to accept the suggestion, that it was only a small portion of Benjamin which adhered to Judah at the division of the kingdoms, the greater part attaching itself to the rival power. Stir up thy strength; i.e. "rouse thyself from thine inaction—come forward, and make thy might to appear." And come and save us; literally, come for salvation to us. The writer identifies himself with the rebel tribes, who, after all, are a part of God's people—a part of Israel.

Psalms 80:3

Turn us again, O God; or, restore us—"bring us back"—i.e. bring those of us who are in exile (2 Kings 15:29) back to our country. And cause thy face to shine (comp. Numbers 6:25; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 67:1). The metaphor scarcely needs explanation. And we shall be saved. If thou lookest upon us with favour, our salvation is assured.

Psalms 80:4

O Lord God of hosts. A form of address unusual in the Psalms, but occurring in Psalms 59:5; Psalms 84:8; and below in verse 18. How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? literally, how long wilt thou smoke? (comp. Psalms 74:1). "Against the prayer" means "in spite of the prayer," or "notwithstanding the prayer." Ordinarily, God forgives, and ceases from his anger, as soon as the afflicted one makes earnest prayer to him. But this is not always so. A time comes when his wrath cannot be appeased—when "there is no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:16). Evil has been persisted in too long.

Psalms 80:5

Thou feedest them with the bread of tears (comp. Psalms 42:2, "My tears have been my meat day and night"). And givest them tears to drink in great measure; or, and givest them to drink a copious draught of tears; literally, shalish is a measure of capacity, probably the third part of an ephah (see Isaiah 40:12).

Psalms 80:6

Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours. A great invasion, Assyrian or Babylonian, was always a signal to the near neighbours of Israel—Syria, Moab, Ammon, Edom—to indulge in hostilities (see 2 Kings 24:2). And our enemies laugh among themselves (comp. Psalms 44:13; Psalms 79:4).

Psalms 80:7

Turn us again, O Goal of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. Here the refrain occurs for the second time, but with the slight variation or "O God of hosts" instead of "O God" simply (see the comment on Psalms 80:19).

Psalms 80:8-19

The poet, to excite God's compassion, proceeds to depict Israel as it was and as it is. He adopts the figure of a vine, perhaps suggested to him by the description of Joseph in the dying speech of Jacob (Genesis 49:22), and carries out his metaphor, in nine consecutive verses, with great beauty and consistency. Isaiah's description of Israel as a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7) is somewhat similar.

Psalms 80:8

Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt. The history of Israel as a nation begins with the Exodus. The nation was transplanted from Egypt into a soil better fitted for it by the loving hand of God, in order that it might have ample room to grow up and develop itself freely. God "brought it out of Egypt," not merely in the exercise of his ordinary providence over humanity, but by an active exertion of his Almighty power, and a long series of miraculous manifestations, without which the transfer could not have been effected. He then cast out the heathen, and planted it—drove out, that is, before Israel the seven nations of the Hivites, Hittites, Gergashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, and Jebusites, and, having driven them out, "planted" in his own people (see Psalms 44:2).

Psalms 80:9

Thou preparest room before it. The "room" was made by the removal of the heathen inhabitants, who were first greatly weakened by Rameses III; and then driven out by Joshua. And didst cause it to take deep root; rather, and it took deep root, as in the Revised Version. And it filled the land (comp. Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:3). Possession was taken of the whole land, not at once ( 1:27-36), but slowly and surely; the furthest limits being reached in David's time (1 Kings 4:21, 1 Kings 4:24).

Psalms 80:10

The hills were covered with the shadow of it. The "hills" intended are probably those of the south—the hill country of Judah—since the clauses which follow designate the boundaries towards the north, west, and east. (So Hengstenberg, Kay, Professor Cheyne, and others.) And the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars; rather, and the goodly cedar trees were covered with their branches. The cedars of Lebanon are intended. They marked the boundary line on the north. The psalmist calls them "cedars of God," by a strong, but not unprecedented (Psalms 36:6), hyperbole.

Psalms 80:11

She sent out her boughs unto the sea. The Mediterranean; the western boundary of the land. And her branches (or, her shoots, Revised Version) unto the river. The Euphrates (see Genesis 15:18; I Kings Genesis 4:21, Genesis 4:24).

Psalms 80:12

Why hast thou then broken down her hedges? or, her fences. Vineyards in the East were fenced round with walls (see Isaiah 5:5). So all they which pass by the way do pluck her; i.e. "pluck off her grapes"—ravage her and plunder her (comp. Psalms 89:40, Psalms 89:41).

Psalms 80:13

The boar out of the wood doth waste it. The "boar out of the wood," i.e. the wild boar—is probably Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29), or the Assyrian power generally. And the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Other beasts, i.e. other enemies of Israel, join in and share in the plundering (see above, Psalms 80:6, and comp. Jeremiah 5:6).

Psalms 80:14

Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts; i.e. "come back to us, to be our Helper and Defender." Look down from heaven, and behold. Condescend to "look down" upon us "from heaven," thy dwelling place, and "behold"—take note of our condition, see how we suffer, and thou wilt be sure to visit this vine; i.e. to "visit" it, not in wrath, but in loving kindness and compassion—to "visit it with thy salvation" (Psalms 106:4).

Psalms 80:15

And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted; rather, the stock. (So Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version.) Some, however, regard כַנָּה as a verb, and translate, "Establish that which thy right hand has planted" (see the LXX; Michaelis, Hupfeld, Canon Cook, and others). And the branch that thou madest strong for thyself; literally, the son, which may mean the offshoot (comp. Genesis 49:22). Is this offshoot Ephraim? or is the entire vine, all Israel, intended?

Psalms 80:16

It is burned with fire, it is cut down. The flames of war have begun to consume it—it is no longer a vine, but mere fuel (comp. Isaiah 33:12), ready to be burned. They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. Here the metaphor is dropped. The climax has been reached, and the matter is too serious for rhetorical treatment. The nation typified by the vine, the Israel of God, is perishing—perishing "at the rebuke of God's countenance"—because his favour is withdrawn from them. Unless God steps in to save, destruction is certain.

Psalms 80:17

Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand. Either upon Israel generally, or upon Ephraim—the northern kingdom—especially. A Judaean poet interceding for the rival state, is touching. Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself (comp. Psalms 80:15 and the comment).

Psalms 80:18

So will not we go back from thee; i.e. "we shall not go hack from thee any more." Gratitude for our deliverance will hind us fast to thy service. Quicken us (comp. Hosea 6:2). The prayer is for national rather than spiritual life—for a recovery from the destruction which has almost come upon them (Psalms 80:16). And we will call upon thy Name; i.e. we will be faithful to thee henceforth; we will not go after other gods, but "call upon" thee, and thee only. The poet makes himself the spokesman of the whole nation.

Psalms 80:19

Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall he saved. The psalm is closed by the refrain in its third and most perfect form. First we had, "Turn us again, O God" (Psalms 80:3); then, "Turn us again, O God of hosts" (Psalms 80:7); now, "Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts"—the appeal to God continually increasing in intensity. Having made his third appeal by the covenant Name, the psalmist seems to feel that he has done all that he can, and desists.

HOMILETICS

Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7, Psalms 80:18

A cry of weakness, a prayer of faith,

"Turn us … we shall be turned." The life of the individual, of the Church, of the nation, depends not on means, methods, forms, institutions. With God is the fountain of life. These words are a cry of weakness, helplessness, humiliation; but also a prayer of faith, hope, joyful expectancy.

I. A CONFESSION OF WEAKNESS, DANGER, SIN.

1. In ordinary affairs a sense of weakness, helplessness, despondency, is the forerunner of failure, often its cause. Rash over boldness, conceit of ability and good luck, though dangerous, are more apt to ensure success than timid self-distrust. Strange, then, that the "glad tidings," calling us to the grandest, most hopeful of all enterprises, begins by bidding us despair of ourselves! for true repentance is nothing less. The reason is precisely the grandeur of the mark set before us. In undertakings and tasks within our reach, calm self-reliance is the winning temper; but when the task is altogether too vast, the aim too high, for our strength and wisdom, self-confidence becomes folly, humility our safety. Further, the reason lies in the original greatness of man's nature, and his undestroyed capacity. The height measures the fall. If a temple or a pyramid be overthrown, what hands have built, hands can rebuild; but if a landslip carries down half a mountain, God's hand alone can rebuild.

2. A confession, not only of weakness, but of sin. The soul has turned away from God, and in so doing destroyed itself (Hosea 13:9). No sense of helplessness more absolute than conscious guilt. The past is irrevocable. Tears cannot wash the memory. Prayer cannot undo the deed ('Macbeth,' act 2. sc. 2, "Wake, Duncan," etc.!). I cannot sever today from yesterday, my present self from my past. This is the sting and burden of remorse ('Macbeth,' act 5. sc. 1, "Here's the smell of the blood"). He whom we have forsaken alone can restore us (Lamentations 5:21).

II. A PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS AND FULL FAVOUR. "Cause thy face to shine," etc. Salvation can be nothing less than full restoration to God's favour, childlike trust; no middle ground between condemnation and acceptance (Romans 5:1). When the storm cloud is blown away, what comes in its place is not mere daylight, but sunshine. Our sins are the cloud that hides God's face (Isaiah 59:1). The sort of half-and- half condition in which many seem contented to live—between hope that they shall be saved, and fear that they shall be lost—has no warrant in Scripture. "We shall be saved," not "We hope we may be." Salvation is God's free, full gift in Christ, if not rejected or neglected, to be accepted fully, and wrought out with all our might (Philippians 2:12, Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10). "He that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12). The true Christian temper, therefore, is the perfect, habitual union of these two—profound humility because of our sin and sinfulness; joyful trust and thankfulness because of "the salvation which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:10).

HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY

Psalms 80:1

The cherubim.

Who and what were they? We regard them as types of redeemed humanity, and designed to prefigure and promise that redemption. In proof, consider—

I. THE VARIOUS REFERENCES TO THEM IN THE SCRIPTURES.

1. In connection with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. (Genesis 3:24.) This passage tells but little of the nature of these exalted beings, only that they were held fit to occupy the place where only perfect righteousness could dwell. But neither their form, number, nor service are revealed to us. But inasmuch as the word "place" signifies rather "to place in a tabernacle," it seems as if the spot (see Genesis 4:14-16) where God had placed them had become a sort of local tabernacle, and was called "the presence of the Lord," and so for a long time remained, probably until the Deluge. Thus the idea of the cherubim seems to have become familiar to the Jews. Bezaleel, when he was bidden make cherubim for the ark of the covenant, knew exactly what he was to do (Exodus 31:2; Exodus 25:18, etc.). There must, therefore, have been some tradition concerning these mysterious beings, though that tradition is almost entirely lost to us. But we cannot but believe that our unhappy first parents, as they looked upon the cherubim, must have had some idea as to what they meant, and, like the first promise made to the woman of her seed that should bruise the serpent's head, so these mysterious beings would convey to their minds a gleam of bright, blessed hope, that restoration to what they had lost was destined for them, and that, though not now, yet in the future, they should again find themselves amid that favour and joy and righteousness from all which their sin had cast them out.

2. In the construction of the ark of testimony. (See Exodus 25:18, etc.) Now, at first sight this seems as if it was a contradiction of the command not to "make any graven image, nor any likeness," etc. (Exodus 20:1-26.). But that command had reference to the making of such likenesses for the purpose of worship, as did the Egyptians, who paid to such things religious honour. But this Israel was not to do; nevertheless, they might and did make these cherubim, on the ark, woven in the curtains, and all about the tabernacle and temple. They were not representations of God, or of angels, or of anything upon earth, but, as we believe, of the spiritual character and condition of humanity when redeemed. Then:

3. The cherubim are told of in Ezekiel 1:10, and in Ezekiel 10:1-22; where a description is given of them, but such as is impossible of pictorial representation. They were, when represented as in the tabernacle, but sacred hieroglyphs, symbols, not of earthly or heavenly bodies, but of spiritual realities. Then:

4. In Revelation 4:1-11 the "four living ones" told of there (not "beasts," as our most unfortunate translation gives it) are again the cherubim.

II. WHAT THEY REPRESENT. We have already said that we take them as symbols of redeemed man.

1. They represent humanity, not the elemental forces of nature. This has been affirmed from Psalms 18:10; Psalms 104:4, etc. Hence the air, fire, winds, have been regarded as the cherubim. But if so, how can they be called "living ones"? The blind forces of nature have no "life" in them. But the cherubim have. And it is the life of humanity.

2. The creature representation tells of character. The ox (see Ezekiel and Revelation) tells of patient meekness, readiness for sacrifice or for toil, accustomed to the yoke—the character our Lord tells of, and exemplified, when he said (Matthew 11:1-30.), "Take my yoke upon you." The lion, symbol of nobleness of nature, of courage and might. Hence Christ is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." The eagle tells of the swift, strong, upward-soaring spirit that mounts heavenward, Godward. Man, the chief of all creatures, in whom all these excellences combine.

3. Of perfect man. For the cherubim are in the presence of God, but standing on the mercy seat; hence they tell of man redeemed by the blood of Christ, and ever there, abiding always. Amid such God loves to dwell.

III. THEIR TEACHING FOR US.

1. The infinite compassion of God. See the depths of distress in which they were to whom these visions were given. But then God thus came to them with hope, and so with help. It is his blessed way.

2. We may be as the cherubim, shall be, if "in Christ." That is, we shall be perfect, holy, blessed, because dwelling forever in God's presence.—S.C.

Psalms 80:3

Real salvation.

1. Three times is this prayer repeated, but with slight, though noticeable, difference. Here, in its first utterance, it is addressed only to God. But the second time (Psalms 80:7) it calls on God as "God of hosts." The eye of faith saw the ministers of God's power around him, the hosts of the holy angels who waited to do his will. Then the third time (Psalms 80:19) it is the "Lord God of hosts" on whom he calls, making mention of the covenant name by which God was known in Israel as especially their God. Hence our argument for faith. If God be our God, then he will help us. Thus "Faith's clay grows brighter as the hours roll on; and her prayers grow more full and mighty." Prayer warms to its work, and in it. Often we begin with but scant store of trust, but as we pray on our hope and confidence grow. Therefore be instant in prayer.

2. Note the opening words of this prayer. It is "turn us," not our circumstances and conditions. Many people think that if these were right they would be right; but the truth is far more often just the other way: it is toe who want changing; if the Lord turn us, then all the rest will be of small import, and will be turned as much as will be for our good. And it is not a mere improvement, a patch on the old. garment, that is wanted—just a partial reformation here and there, but a complete change. "Ye must be born again." God must "turn us." An old sea captain replied to a faithful minister who, in seeking to lead him to God, told him that he had better sail from henceforth under another flag, "No," said the sailor, "that won't do; I mean to scuttle the ship, and get a new one altogether; there's nothing else to be done. I've tried to mend the other often enough." He was right. No partial amendment will save any soul. And God must turn us. There is a human side in man's salvation, but there is still more a Divine side, and the first work is of God. He ever seeks us before we seek him. And when he fully saves a man, it is along the lines suggested by our text. There are three stages in the work.

I. GOD TURNS US. And he does this:

1. By giving us repentance. Too many keep calling on men to "only believe." Christ and his apostles never bade men "only believe," when they sought salvation. But Christ commanded that "repentance and faith" should be preached, not faith only. Where, as with the Philippian gaoler, the apostle said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," etc; it was because repentance had already taken place, the man was really repentant at that moment. And whenever God turns a soul to himself, it is by way of repentance. This means that the soul sees its sin, feels and grieves over it, renounces it before God and man.

2. My leading us to faith. Not the mere belief of any doctrine about Christ, but more than that—the actual committal of himself to Christ for salvation; actually trusting him to pardon, accept, and save. Now, this is the complete spiritual change which the word "turn" implies. It is the first great step in the soul's salvation. Then—

II. GOD TURNS US AGAIN. The prayer is, "Turn us again." Now, what does this mean?

1. It may be the prayer of a penitent backslider. This psalm contemplates Israel as such. And unless the backslider is turned again, he cannot be saved. He must come back to God. But:

2. It is the prayer of one who seeks full salvation. After repentance and faith, which constituted the great first step in salvation, and which do save a man if he abide therein, there is given a higher gift to him who heartily desires it. It is called in Acts 8:1-40; Acts 18:1-28; Acts 19:1-41; speaking of the Samaritan converts, of Apollos, and of the twelve disciples of John at Ephesus, "the receiving of the Holy Ghost" It is a distinct and further and most blessed gift, qualifying for service, and uplifting the soul to a stage of experience which it has not known as yet. It separates the soul from sin, secures the clean heart, and wins the fulfilment of that glorious promise in Ezekiel 36:25, and the many others like unto it. The believer is made "pure in heart," and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses him from all sin. This comes from the receiving of the Holy Ghost. We are delivered from that miserable round of sinning and repenting, which the mass of professing Christians wearily travel, and, instead thereof, a life is lived in which the "whole spirit, soul, and body is preserved blameless." It is the "abundant life" which our Lord came to give.

III. GOD CAUSES HIS FACE TO SHINE. This tells of "the joy" of God's salvation, that walking in the light which ensures that here and now the days of our mourning are ended. It is that holy, happy, joyful, winsome religion which is what our God intended us to have, which not a few have enjoyed, and which waits for all those who truly seek it. Then, when all this is, then "we shall be saved." God will be glorified, we ourselves filled with the love of God, and our fellow men will be blessed through us as otherwise they cannot be. Then will our religious life answer to the beautiful description given in Ezekiel 36:8-11. "Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus."—S.C.

Psalms 80:8-15

The vine of God.

These verses may be taken—

I. AS A SYMBOLIC HISTORY OF ISRAEL.

1. For God's people were as a vine. Designed for fruit; carefully tended; highly esteemed; thoroughly cleansed; diligently guarded.

2. Israel had been brought out of Egypt.

3. The nations of Canaan were driven out.

4. Israel became a settled nation.

5. Strong.

6. Populous. "Filled the land;" coveting the hills and the plains.

7. Dominion increasing, from the Mediterranean in the west to the Euphrates in the east. Then, at the time when this psalm was written:

8. A great change had come. Fierce foes, as Assyria and Babylon; and wild-boast-like enemies, Edom, Amman, Moab, and others, all made havoc of Israel, uprooting and devouring. But all this led Israel, as God purposed it should, to turn again unto him in penitence, faith, prayer, and reconsecration (Psalms 80:18). But also—

II. AS AN ALLEGORY OF THE CHRISTIAN SOUL.

1. In prosperity. For it, too, is God's vine. Redeemed from the slavery and wretchedness and sin of the Egypt-like world. The heathen, the terrible spiritual enemies, God drove out, and saved his people from their sins; planted the soul in the kingdom of grace; made it happy in God, so that it took "deep root." And that grace of God governed the whole being, "filled the land," so that, as Paul, he could say, "I live, yet not I, but," etc. The Divine life in him attained to noble proportions, in height, in breadth (Psalms 80:10). And became victorious over many, and possessor of wide and beneficent power (Psalms 80:11). All this tells of the soul happy and strong, and abiding and useful in God. Blessed condition.

2. In adversity. (Psalms 80:12.) We are told (2 Chronicles 32:31) how God left Hezekiah. That was an instance of God breaking down the "hedges." It was done "to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." This God often does. At other times in anger, to punish, as with Israel. Yet again to teach the soul its dependence upon God. What are these hedges? Holy habits, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul, means of grace. Sin forfeits all these, breaks through holy habit, drives away the Spirit, sterilizes all means of grace. It is not God who breaks down the hedges, but our sin—our forgetfulness of God, our disobedience, our pride. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed," etc. And then what is told of here is sure to follow (Psalms 80:12, Psalms 80:13). Any passer by is able to pluck away her strength, to rob the soul of some of its power. The soul gives in to them, does what they say. And some foul, fierce, strong, wild-boar-like sin will get itself entrance into the soul, and, oh] the wasting that there is then! what rooting up and devouring of all good! and lesser creatures, but of like nature, rush in and do similar work. O my soul, keep near thy God, lest thy hedges be broken down!

3. In recovery. Thank God, the allegory does not close with the misery we have just contemplated; but we see recovery beginning. For there is (Psalms 80:14) earnest crying to God; pleading of the ancient covenant (Psalms 80:15). God himself planted the vine and loved it. Confession of utter misery (Psalms 80:16) and helplessness and guilt; for their misery is because of God's rebuke. Pleading again God's former love, so great, so precious, how he made Israel "strong for thyself;" protesting (Psalms 80:18) that they will no more go back from God; and interceding for that again turning to God, and that consciousness of his favour which would ensure that they would go back no more. These are the steps of the upward ascent, even out of the depths.—S.C.

Psalms 80:18

Going back from God.

This psalm, this verse, is a penitent confession that Israel had been guilty of this sin, and it is a prayer for pardon and restoration. But such backsliding did not cease with Israel. We have here—

I. A CONFESSION OF THE SIN. Israel needed to make such confession. But so do others now.

1. Apostates, like Demas, Judas, etc.

2. Those who know God has called them, but from fear of man refuse to confess him.

3. Those who have confessed him, but live inconsistent lives.

4. Those who, after special seasons of nearness to God, go back to indulge their old sins. These, and yet others, need this confession.

II. A PORTRAYAL OF ITS MISERY. (See Psalms 80:5, Psalms 80:6, Psalms 80:12, Psalms 80:13, Psalms 80:16.) The backslider is the most miserable man on the face of the earth. He can never forget that he has known the better way, and has chosen the worse.

III. AN ASSURANCE OF ITS PREVENTION.

1. Such prevention needed; for going back is so easy, so secret, so perilous, so shameful, so condemned of God.

2. And is sure, by the grace of God turning us again, leading us into the possession and retainment of the fulness of his grace, and giving us the joy of his salvation.—S.C.

HOMILIES BY R. TUCK

Psalms 80:1

Throned above the cherubim-a conception of God.

Prayer book Version, "Thou that sittest upon the cherubim;" Perowne, "Thou that sittest (throned above) the cherubim;" Revised Version margin, "dwellest between." It is plain that this psalm was composed when Israel was groaning under some foreign oppression which it was powerless to resist. It is a plaintive cry for restoration to a state which should be indicative of the Divine favour. Two periods may be mentioned as times when Palestine became the battleground of rival powers (see Psalms 80:6)—when Assyria and Egypt fought in it; and in the post-Exilic period, when it was the apple of discord between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae. There is evident poetical reference to the tabernacle of the wilderness, rather than to the temple at Jerusalem; for the poet was thinking of God as leading his people, and in vision saw the tribes in their camping and marching order. The cover, or mercy scat, of the ark was thought of as the throne of Jehovah. Above it rested the bright light, which was the symbol of the Divine presence; and the figures of the cherubim, with their wings extended and touching each other, formed the canopy of the throne. God's presence there was the sign of his abiding presence, and close, helpful relations with his people. His shining out, or shining forth, was the sign of his specially acting in judgment on the rebellious, or in vindication of the Divine honour, as in the case of Korah. So the psalmist, in Psalms 50:2, says, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined." (The account of the cherubim is given in Exodus 25:19-22.) We inquire what thoughts of God are specially associated with his manifestations from between the cherubim.

I. GOD IS EVER PRESENT WITH HIS PEOPLE. To the Jewish mind the symbol was always there between the cherubim, though not one of the people ever beheld it. It helped them to realize that their God was in their midst. No matter what might be the national calamities, at least they could be sure of this—that symbol of the present God remained. There could be no overwhelming calamity while the Keeper of Israel was still between the cherubim.

II. GOD MAY BE HIDING HIMSELF FROM HIS PEOPLE; or rather, he may seem to them to be hiding himself. This is the trouble of the psalmist—Israel is in sore distress, and God seems to keep silence, to "dwell in the thick darkness," and hold aloof from the strife. God never is uninterested in his people's cares; but his interest may sometimes best be shown in withholding his hand, and biding his time. His time is sure to come.

III. GOD MAY BE ASKED TO MANIFEST HIMSELF TO HIS PEOPLE. It may be precisely for the attitude which expresses itself in asking that God may be waiting. He manifests himself by "stirring up his strength to help us, and by shining forth his glory to cheer us."—R.T.

Psalms 80:2

God's strength needed for saving work.

"Stir up thy strength, and come and save us." It is singular that three only of the twelve tribes should be mentioned; but the poet's mind was full of the wilderness associations, and he knew that these three tribes followed in the order of procession immediately behind the ark. So the shining forth of the glory is thought of as at once seen by them. "The writer prays that the brightness of the Shechinah, the light of God's countenance, thus manifested in old time 'before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,' may be once more vouchsafed as a sign of favour." The expression here used, "Stir up thy strength for our salvation," implies that all God's savings may be thought of as expenditures of the Divine strength—the strength of the Divine activity, the strength of the Divine wisdom, and the strength of the Divine love.

I. THE STRENGTH OF GOD'S ACTIVITY NEEDED FOR SAVING WORK. This is the point of the prayer of the psalmist. He wants God to show energy, to put forth energy, to bestir himself in order to do something for his people. The poetical thought is of God dormant, unconcerned with the trouble of his people. It is as if he would even awaken him to activity. The expression must be treated poetically. It brings out the idea that man needs God's active strength, since man asks his help only when he feels helpless. The saving needed is beyond man, so he has a high idea of the energy and the power that must be required.

"Twas great to speak a world from nought;

'Twas greater to redeem."

Apply to the redemption of the world from sin through our Lord Jesus Christ. What activity, energy, skill, and power were required for the great salvation!

II. THE STRENGTH OF GOD'S WISDOM NEEDED FOR SAVING WORK. The histories of the Old Testament abundantly illustrate the fact, that God's times and ways of saving are seldom such as man could have thought of. The wisdom of them was fully seen in their issues; but it was altogether beyond men, too strong for men to grasp and understand. How Israel was to be saved from Egypt, or Assign, or Babylon, men could not tell. It was done in the times of Moses, and of Hezekiah, and in the "Return," through the strength of the Divine wisdom, combined with the strength of Divine energy. Apply to the great salvation from sin. The Divine wisdom in it has been the marvel of the ages, and it is marvellous still, deeper than even an ocean line can reach. "The wisdom of God in a mystery."

III. THE STRENGTH OF GOD'S LOVE NEEDED FOR SAVING WORK. This leads into familiar ranges of thought. Our best deeds are done, and are best done, in the strength and inspiration of our love. And we are bidden to try and realize that love of God in human redemption, which is "beyond all manner of so much."—R.T.

Psalms 80:3

The turnings and returnings of God.

"Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine." The expression, "turn us," seems to have been used in the prayers of the captives in Babylon; they are represented as saying, "Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south!" The exiles are not praying for repentance, but for a change in their circumstances—a change in the evident relations of God to them. Their captivity seemed to them God's turning them away from him. What they asked was a gracious returning to them. Putting the sentence in modern form, it would read, "Turn to us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved." Some render, "O God, restore us!" which conveys the same idea.

I. GOD'S TURNING AWAY DECLARES THE NEED FOR DIVINE JUDGMENTS. If we estimated life aright, we should think more of the presence and working of God in our life, as the Overruler, Restrainer, Guide, who is ever moulding and moderating our impulse, ever putting straight what we bend awry. And then we should regard aright God's holding aloof, turning away, "drawing up into a cloud," and leaving us to the miseries of our own self-ordering; which miseries would become his correcting judgments. This point may be effectively illustrated by God's word to Moses when Moses was interceding in the matter of the golden calf. God proposed to withdraw his own Presence as Guide, Restrainer, and Overruler; and Moses knew well that would prove the severest of judgments. The same thing may be shown in the case of King Saul. It is figured as the withdrawal of God's Spirit from him. Left without Divine restrainings and overrulings, Saul runs down into woes that are Divine judgments. So with Israel in captivity. They had so grieved God that he had "turned away," and left them to follow their own political devices. They sought Assyria, or they sought Egypt, and they would not seek Jehovah. They must come under Divine judgments, and learn through them; but they brought the judgments on themselves. And God's turning and leaving them alone was at once the necessary thing, and the most merciful thing. When men are wilful, Divine severities are Divinest mercies.

II. GOD'S TURNING TOWARDS SHOWS THE TIME HAS COME FOR DIVINE RESTORINGS. It is the sign that men have learned the lesson of their judgments and calamities, and have come to a better mind. They have began to realize what God turned away means and involves; they have begun to want the sight of God's face again, and the cheer of the shine or smile on his face. And when that is man's mood, God can turn round, and can enter again on those guiding, overruling, and restraining relations, which then are rightly esteemed. Bunyan illustrates, in his 'Holy War,' very effectively the turning away of Emmanuel, the consequent misery of Mansoul, the awakening desire for Emmanuel, and his gracious return.—R.T.

Psalms 80:4

The refusal of prayer.

"How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?" The sign of the anger was God's not heeding their cry. "They asked and received not, because they asked amiss." The Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15) even represents God as saying to his sinful people, "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood." And the prophet, for himself, says (Isaiah 59:2), "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." And a psalmist expresses the true feeling when he writes, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." "Angry against the prayer" expresses quite a human kind of feeling. When men refuse our request, our first thought is that they must be angry with us. This, then, represents man's thought and fear concerning God; but it does not precisely represent the actual fact. God is angry, as anxious, loving parents are angry. He refuses prayer for the sake of the offerer. And parents know that it is often much harder to refuse a request than to grant it. The refusal is love, not anger. The exiles ask the question of the text in an impulsive spirit, half complainingly. We, may ask quietly and calmly their question. How long wall God hold aloof from men's prayers?

I. GOD NEVER REFUSES PRAYER IN "MERE SOVEREIGNTY." Caprice or jealous feeling must never be associated in our minds with God. "We speak of the Divine sovereignty; but sovereignty is not an arbitrary, capricious thing; it is a righteous and holy thing; and God must ever act in conformity with the unalterable principles of his character." "There is no mystery in those temporary desertions with which God sometimes visits his own people. The reason of them is to be found in themselves—in their sinfulness, in their unsteadfastness, in their unfaithfulness." All Divine withdrawals and temporary refusals mean discipline.

II. GOD MAY HOLD ALOOF UNTIL JUDGMENT HAS DONE ITS WORK. Note that this involves uncertainty as to time of restoration. Judgment acting on different moral natures is prolonged according to the response different natures make to it. It would be no kindness to resume gracious relations before the disciplinary work was complete.

III. GOD MAY HOLD ALOOF UNTIL HUMILITY TONES THE PRAYER. Take humility as representing the state of mind when self-win and self-pleasing are mastered. Humility is holding our will in submission to God's will.

IV. GOD MAY HOLD ALOOF UNTIL MAN IS UNITED IN HIS PRAYER. Part of a man may pray for, and part of him may pray against. Will may pray for, heart may pray against. Duty may pray for, feeling may pray against. Illustrate by the figure in Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22.

V. GOD MAY HOLD ALOOF UNTIL HIS ANSWER CAN BE THE FULLEST BLESSING. Oftentimes to give too soon would but be to give a part. God waits till we are empty of self, and can be filled with himself.—R.T.

Psalms 80:5

Tears to drink: the mission of troublous experiences.

"Givest them tears to drink in great measure." Reference must be to the dreariness and hopelessness and misery of the captives in Babylon. There was no other time in the national history when the expression was so suitable. The misery is forcibly pictured in Psalms 137:1-9. When the eyes of the exiles were full of tears, it was bitterness indeed to be asked to sing "one of the songs of Zion." "How could they sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" Eastern people are very expressive in their grief, and shed tears very freely; but the expression here is poetical. Men are thought of as having so much trouble in their lot that they seemed to feed upon their tears. Stanley says, "The psalms of the time answer to the groans of Ezekiel, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, as deep to deep. No human sorrow has ever found so loud, so plaintive, so long protracted a wail. We see them in the places of their final settlement, often lodged in dungeons with insufficient food, loaded with contumely, their faces spat upon, their hair torn off, their backs torn with the lash. There were the insults of the oppressors, there were the bitter tears which dropped into their daily beverage, the ashes which mingled with their daily bread." This subject may be profitably treated by recalling the fact that our Lord Jesus is recorded to have wept tears on three occasions, and these occasions may be regarded as representative. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus; Jesus wept in sight of unreceptive Jerusalem; Jesus wept in the garden of Gethsemane.

I. THE MISSION OF THE TEARS OF BEREAVEMENT. Tears seem specially sacred to such times. They are, indeed, nature's relief. We feel anxious when our bereaved friends cannot weep. Tears are brain relief as well as emotional relief; but they are the sign of the broken heart, the unavailing regret, the love that has become only a memory. But see the mission of such tears.

1. They call out sympathy.

2. They satisfy our feeling that we ought to feel.

3. They honour our departed friends.

4. They are silent prayers which God heeds.

II. THE MISSION OF THE TEARS OF CONCERN FOR OTHERS. Illustrated by our Lord's concern for Jerusalem. Observe that tears are not becoming while there is any hope of their yielding to gracious influence. The tears come when those we would bless seem determined to "resist the Holy Ghost." As long as Jesus could hope to save Jerusalem, there was no room for tears. They came when Jesus was compelled to say, "Now they are hid from thine eyes. Your house is left unto you desolate." We weep when we are forced, in hopelessness, to let alone those whom, from our very hearts, we desire to bless.

III. THE MISSION OF THE TEARS FORCED OUT BY MENTAL STRAIN. Illustrated by our Lord's tears in Gethsemane, Times when we want to understand, and cannot; when we want to believe, and cannot; when we want to obey, and cannot; when we want to see our way, and cannot; when we want to submit, and cannot. Such was the condition of the exiles.—R.T.

Psalms 80:8

The vine-figure of God's people.

A favourite figure with the prophets. The metaphor is applied to Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:6; Ezekiel 17:6-8. There was a golden vine representing the nation, sculptured on the gate of the temple. The association of the vine with Egypt has been disputed; but the mural paintings at Thebes, at Beni-Hassan, and in the pyramids contain representations of vineyards. Boys are seen frightening away the birds from the ripe clusters; men gather them and deposit them in baskets, and carry them to the wine press. Two things are suggested—

I. THE VINE AS A FIGURE FOR GOD'S PEOPLE.

1. The vine is a foreign plant, not really belonging to Canaan. Quite possibly it had actually been introduced from Egypt; but its proper home seems to be the hilly region on the southern shares of the Caspian Sea. Israel, like the vine, was transplanted, not a native of Palestine—transplanted in order to accomplish a Divine purpose, remaining only so long as the Divine Husbandman may think right.

2. The vine itself is a worthless plant; its value lies wholly in the fruit that it bears. Vine wood is altogether useless, too porous and light to serve any good purpose. It only carries the sap that is to appear as luscious fruit. So Israel was reminded that it had no merit as a nation; it could only convey the Divine life to men as it brought forth the fruits of righteousness.

3. The vine represented Israel because it is a plant which is so dependent, needs so much care, and has such splendid possibilities. It must be held up; it must be vigorously pruned and thinned; it must be richly nourished. And so Israel needed Divine upholding, discipline, and encouragement; and that Divine care had been fully and freely given.

II. MAN'S TREATMENT OF HIS VINES A FIGURE OF GOD'S TREATMENT OF HIS PEOPLE. See the details given in Isaiah 5:1-30; and compare the description of planting vineyard, given by Van Lennep, in 'Bible Lands and Customs,' vol. 1. p. 112. Note:

1. Careful selection of ground—soil and aspect are most important. So God selects Palestine for the nation of Israel. Show the singular appropriateness of its situation, and its characteristic features.

2. Fencing it in. This necessary because of the enemies of the vine—little foxes that are cunning, wild bears and bears that are strong. See the fencing in of Israel—on the west, by sea; on the north, by mountains; on the east and south, by deserts.

3. Gathering oat the stones. Because richness and depth of earth are needed, and there should be no hindrance to the spreading of the roots. So God dispossessed the nations that were occupying the soil.

4. Building a tower. For a watchman to see approaching foes in time of the ripening. So God's guiding eye and hand were ever on his people.

5. Making a wine vat. Implying full expectation of fruitage. So God looks that his people bring forth "much fruit."—R.T.

Psalms 80:12, Psalms 80:13

Bitter experiences as Divine chastisements.

The wild boar is a creature which abounds in all parts of Asia Minor, and it is the farmer's greatest plague. It is specially mischievous in vineyards—what with eating and trampling underfoot, it will destroy a vast quantity of grapes in a single night. Homer writes of

"A monstrous boar,

That levell'd harvests and whole forests tore?

The bitter experiences of the vineyard are of three kinds.

1. The vineyard loses its fence (Psalms 80:12).

2. The beasts make it a ruin (Psalms 80:13).

3. Found in hopeless condition, it is at last cut down and burnt.

So Israel began its national woes when it lost the Divine Guard and Defence. Its enemies then gained their power and opportunity. Illustrate from the supreme anxiety of Moses, because Jehovah threatened no longer to lead and guide the people; also, from Joshua's trouble, when Israel lost its Divine fence before Ai. See the consequences of the withdrawal of God's protection from the first king, Saul. It may be said that circumstances sufficiently account for the national calamities that befell Israel; but it is of supreme importance that we see deeper than the movement of circumstances, and trace the working of him who moves the circumstances. Withdrawing his special defence, and leaving a man to himself and to his circumstances, is the severest form of Divine chastisement, because it implies that God is grieved. The man or the nation has not only done wrong, he has done wrong in such a way as to offend or insult God. There is no chastisement so hard as being "left to our own devices." It involves our supreme humiliation. We then find ourselves out, and learn that "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" and we find our perils out. The child that loses its mother has to learn from what varied forms of danger its mother preserved it; and we find out what God's "compassing our path and lying down" means, when God, grieved with us, withdraws into a cloud. When God held aloof from Israel, Assyria came in on the vineyard, like a wild boar, and Babylon like a bear, trampling and destroying. In this, however, we are but to see God's sternest form of chastisement, not vindictiveness, not mere punishing for the sake of upholding authority, but chastisement with a view to correction. Grace withdrawn that grace may come to be sought and valued.—R.T.

Psalms 80:18

God's grace our best safeguard.

"So will not we go back from thee." This assurance implies that the people, in whose name the psalmist speaks, had fully learned the lesson which God designed to teach them by the withdrawal, which was chastisement, and involved bitter distress and humiliation. They had turned to God, and God had turned, in mercy and in restoring grace, to them. The issue of bitter experience was, that the people desired to be steadfast servants of God henceforth. Compare the psalmist's personal exclamation, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now will I keep thy word." But there is a yet deeper sign of their return to right mindedness. They do not merely make a promise, "So will not we go back from thee;" they acknowledge that they need Divine help in the endeavour to keep their promise. They go on to say, "Quicken us, and we will call upon thy Name." That is the supreme lesson which the discipline and the chastisement of life are to teach us—our entire dependence on the Divine grace and upholding.

I. THE PROMISE MADE BY THE DISCIPLINED. A promise of steadfastness. The disciples of Christ went back, and walked no more with him, because his higher, spiritual truth was beyond their reach; and, as they could not apprehend it, they were offended by it. But these Israelites had wavered in their allegiance to Jehovah, because they wanted to "follow the devices and desires of their own hearts." So the result of their discipline was that most hopefully humiliating thing, the abating of self-confidence. They felt their need of God, their dependence on God, and made their resolves that henceforth they would cleave closely to him. So far good. Resolves are good; but everything depends on the spirit in which they are made. Trust in the resolve soon ends in worse failure.

II. THE HOPE OF KEEPING THEIR PROMISE, WHICH THE DISCIPLINED MIGHT CHERISH. The hope that God's grace would be their inspiration and support. They pray, "Quicken us," which not only means, "Give us life," but, "Renew to us life;" "Ever keep up the energizing, the vitalizing, and the controlling." Life expresses exactly that which we need, to change barren resolve into constant, active, and holy endeavour. We need never fear "going back," if God will graciously quicken us. That grace is our sure defence from our weak selves.—R.T.

HOMILIES BY C. SHORT

Psalms 80:1-19

God's redemption.

"It is not a bringing back out of exile that is here prayed for, for the people are still on the soil of their own country; but in their present Feebleness they are no longer like themselves, but stand in need of Divine intervention, the shining forth of the hidden countenance of God, in order again to attain a condition that is in harmony with the promises." Suggests—

I. GOD HAS MADE A GLORIOUS REDEMPTION POSSIBLE FOR US. (Psalms 80:8.) Has transplanted us from the darkness and slavery of Egypt into a glorious land of promise.

II. BY THE ABUSE OF OUR PRIVILEGE WE MAY BRING OURSELVES INTO GREAT FEEBLENESS AND MISERY.

1. God may seem not to answer our prayers. (Psalms 80:4.)

2. And to leave us to unavailing remorse. (Psalms 80:5.)

3. Appetite and passion may destroy us by their ravages. (Psalms 80:13.)

III. GOD IS STILL NEAR TO HELP ALL WHO EARNESTLY DESIRE RESTORATION.

1. He goes before us as he went before the Israelites in the wilderness. (Psalms 80:1.) As a Shepherd.

2. He has also the power to help us. Dwells between the cherubim, the symbol of his earthly power; and is Lord of hosts—symbol of his heavenly power.

3. When we can see our duty and privilege in the light of God's face, we shall repent and return. (Psalms 80:3.) That is, we must see them in the very strongest light before we shall repent.—S.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 80:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/psalms-80.html. 1897.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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