“Restore us, O God,
let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
— Psalm 80:3, 7, 19 (NRSV).
This Song of Asaph is a heartfelt cry of the community for saving in the midst of dire distress. The cry has been a persistent one and, in faith, it remains.
We only need think of present-day Israelis or Palestinians and we sense periods of such national stress that evoke a cultural response — one of defence for the respect of one’s basic ethnic rights; to inhabit and control the land of our ancestors.
A Song, Literally
This psalm features a very definite chorus — featured above; verses 3, 7 and 19 — and vineyard imagery, with differing ebbs and flows visible.
It’s a song of high emotion. Anguish invokes gut-founded hysteria.
Themes of Vine and Vine-Dresser
Israel is portrayed as a vine — one transplanted by the Lord from Egypt.
Using this imagery, verses 8-15 present a compelling recount of Israel’s redemptive history — the Lord as Divine Engineer and Constructor of the Exodus.
Justice Against the Elect
It’s biblically true that God turns against his own when they stray from righteousness. The Lord’s no favourer of persons when they sin, and Israel had sinned... yet again.
This psalm uses the abovementioned landscaping imagery to describe the plight of then-current-day Israel.
A Promise to Obey – If They’re Saved
The penultimate verses 17-18 feature Israel promising to “not turn away” from God if the Lord would just raise them up or revive them.
This is indicative for the pattern of deliverance for repentance that precedes the Lord’s favour — see Judges 2:11-23 which explains this model. Salvation, as an experience — actual delivery from misery — comes after genuine repentance.
Lessons for Us
We all tend to be patriotic souls. We quickly identify with the nationalism in this psalm — a lament of the community. The World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001 is a poignant example. America grieved — as did the world.
Our lives depend on songs, and this psalm is indeed a song, as it identifies with our daily difficulties. The emotional qualities of this psalm are ever-relevant. We enjoy reading such Scripture because it’s true to life. It’s not too ethereal.
We use the vineyard metaphor to see how inherently connected we are to God. We must desire to continue to see this operating in our lives.
Sin will get us into judgment quickly or ultimately. Just because we are the elect of God — the church — does not save us. God cannot favour anyone with partiality.
The pattern in Judges chapter 2 is the key.
Whenever we begin to pray for the Lord to save us, repentant as we are in our way, turning back to God, God’s judgment is on us again, however this time in our favour.
Our cries to God, per this psalm, need to be persistent and regaling; time is not really the key issue.
We can trust the pattern of God’s deliverance. We can trust God’s reliability. God never changes. When we turn to God, our Lord turns to us.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.