Psalms 79-80 are penned by Asaph and concern the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem. Psalm 79 describes the horror of the destruction upon Jerusalem that took place when the Babylonians invaded. The psalmist calls out to God asking how long the anger of the Lord will burn against Jerusalem because of the sins of the people and their forefathers. Verse 9 is the central part of the psalm: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” Psalm 80 also is a cry out to the Lord for help in the face of the Lord’s anger.
God, the Shepherd of Israel (1-3)
Psalm 80 begins by describing God as the Shepherd of Israel. We particularly know that the psalmist is speaking about the Lord from the description given in verse 1: “you who sit enthroned between the cherubim.” Exodus 25 tells us that the presence of God dwelled between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant. “Set the mercy seat on top of the ark and put the testimony that I will give you into the ark. I will meet with you there above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony; I will speak with you from there about all that I command you regarding the Israelites” (Exodus 25:21-22).
Verse 3 seems to be a chorus which is repeated in verse 7 and verse 19. The chorus is a call from Israel to God for restoration. “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us; that we may be saved.” This is the psalmist’s prayer on behalf of Israel for deliverance.
This description of God as a shepherd also occurs in Psalm 23, a famous psalm that many people know. Understanding that the Jewish people looked to God as their shepherd make the words of Jesus controversial. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). For Jesus to call himself the good shepherd of Israel was an obvious and direct declaration that he is God.
How Long? (4-7)
The psalmist now asks how long God will continue to be anger with the people. The Lord’s wrath is described in three ways. First, God’s anger smolders against the prayers of the people. God does not want our prayers when our actions have kindled His anger. Second, the people have been fed with the bread of tears. The bread of blessings has been replaced with the painful situation of the enemy nations attacking Israel. The tears are so great that they are made to drink their tears by the bowlful. Third, Israel is a source of contention to the neighboring nations and a mockery to the enemies. How long will these things continue? We noted that this is one of the most common questions we have for God during difficult times. After asking the question of how long, the psalmist returns to the chorus, “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”
Israel, The Vine (8-18)
The psalmist goes to a vine image to describe the nation of Israel. Isaiah made this connection of a vine/vineyard as Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7. Asaph describes Israel as a vine that was brought out of Egypt and planted. The vine grew so large that it filled the land and covered the mountains and mighty cedars with its shade. The psalmist is describing Israel as a prosperous nation that God established it to be, likely during the time of its pinnacle under kings David and Solomon.
However, the protection of the vine has been broken and now the vine is being plucked of its fruit. This image is a picture of the nations stripping Israel of its wealth and power. Therefore, the psalmist calls out to God to see what the nations are doing and to watch over the vine again.
There are many Messianic implications that fall out from this psalm. First, the psalmist himself calls for the Messiah for salvation and deliverance. “Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself” (80:17). Here is a call to the person who is at the right hand of God, also called the son of man. Around the same time as the writing of this psalm the prophet Daniel prophesied about the son of man coming in the clouds and given authority, glory, and power over all the peoples and nations. The term “son of man” is rare in the Old Testament and is a reference to the coming Messiah. So the psalmist is calling for the Messiah to come and deliver the people from their troubles as they are enduring invasions from the surrounding nations. This is the ultimate call of the psalmist: to send the Messiah- “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”
The psalmist presents three movements in the psalm, based upon the three calls for restoration. The first movement is in the first three verses, calling for the Shepherd who sits between the cherubim to awaken his might and save the people. The second movement is in verses 4-7 asking God how long God’s anger will burn against the people. The third movement is found in verses 8-18 where the psalmist recalls the greatness of Israel as a vine. But now the vine was been pruned and plucked of its fruit. The psalmist calls for the Messiah to come and restore and revive the vine, raising it up to its former greatness.
This psalm becomes very Messianic in nature when we see how Jesus would then speak to the Jewish people in the first century. We already noted that Jesus described himself as the good shepherd. This was a declaration that he is God.
In John 15 Jesus declares that he is the true vine. Notice that the psalmist has pointed out that the vine has been stripped of its fruit. This gives us another vantage point about Jesus’ teaching in John 15. “Abide in me, and I will abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (15:4-5). Jesus is teaching how the fruitfulness of Israel can return. It would not be through their own works or their own righteousness. They needed to abide in Christ if they were going to be restored and revived, as the psalmist prayed would take place.
This vineyard imagery also explains the many parables that Jesus told about vineyards. In Matthew 20 Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard who were hired at different times. The teaching was how the kingdom of heaven was going to include people outside the original calling given to Israel. In Matthew 21:28 Jesus tells a parable about two sons who are commanded to work in the vineyard. The son refused but later entered the vineyard and worked. The second son said he would work in the vineyard, but then chose not to work. The point of the parable is that the sinners were entering the kingdom of heaven, but the Jews were not. In Matthew 21:33 Jesus tells another parable about a landowner who had a vineyard. The tenants of the vineyard killed the son of the landowner, showing how the Jewish people were rejecting the Son of Man that God had sent to save Israel. In Luke 13:6 Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that was planted in the vineyard but it did not bear fruit. One more year was going to be given before the tree would be cut down and removed from the vineyard. Again, Jesus was warning the Jewish nation that if they did not accept him, the nation would be removed from the kingdom.
These images are all found in Psalm 80 as the psalmist describes the glory of the vine being stripped away because of their sins. Jesus came and said that things had not changed. Jesus came to revive and restore the vine, but the people of Israel rejected him as the Messiah and would not abide in him. God had sent the Son of Man to raise up Israel. But Israel did not accept him. Therefore God would remove the people from the vineyard (from the kingdom).
- Reminder to not reject the commands of Jesus or else we will be removed from the kingdom of God.