The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Psalm 80

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 8, 2012

I’m using the text of the RSV which is under copyright: The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

I’m also using the verse numbering of the RSV which is one verse behind the NAB in this psalm. Biblical links in the post are to the NRSV.

BACKGROUND~The time of composition and the historical circumstances of this psalm are debated by modern scholars. I accept the view that the psalm was composed during the last troubled decade of the northern kingdom of Israel (circa 732-722 BC, see 2 Kings 15:29 and 2 Kings 17), which had split off from the Davidic kingdom after the death of Solomon (circa 922 BC, see 1 Kings 11-12). Possibly in was composed during the time of King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned circa 727-698 BC). At some point during his reign, possibly before the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, Hezekiah sent out an invitation to all the peoples in both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem; according to 1 Chron 30:11 some from the northern kingdom “humbled themselves and went down.” It may be that the Ps 80 was composed in relation to this event. Another possibility is that it dates from the time of King Josiah of Judah (reigned circa 639-609 BC). Josiah instituted a reform and sought to incorporate people from the northern tribes-those who had not been exiled by Assyria-into his kingdom (see 2 Chron 34:1-7).

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou who leadest Joseph like a flock! Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

Give ear. The people call upon God to hear their petition to save (2, 3) and restore them (3), and to let [his] face shine (3).

Vs. 1 God is described as both a shepherd and as one enthroned. Combining royal and pastoral images and titles for human kings (especially David) is commonplace in the bible (2 Sam 5:2; 2 Chron 11:2; Ps 78:71). More often, when God is described as a shepherd, he is also described as Israel’s maker (Ps 95:6-7; Ps 100:3; Isa 40:9-14) or protector (Ps 23:1-4; Ps 77:19-20; Ps 78:52-53).

Enthroned upon the cherubim calls to mind the Ark of the Covenant and the Law (Exodus 25:17-22) and, consequently, God’s presence in the Temple at Jerusalem (1 Chron 13:5-6; 2 Kings 19:14-15.

Shine forth. When God is said to shine forth he is being portrayed as a warrior (Deut 33:2; Ps 50:2-6; Ps 94:1-3). If the psalm dates from the time of the Assyrian crisis the description takes on added meaning.

 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh! Stir up thy might, and come to save us!

Vs 2. Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, along with Joseph (1) are names all associated with the northern tribes and, therefore, with the kingdom of Israel.

Stir up thy might, that is, take action, come to save us.

3 Restore us, O God; let thy face shine, that we may be saved!

Restore us.The Hebrew word השׁיבנו is translated literally as “make (or cause) us to return.” This could be a request that the people who have been taken into exile by Assyria be returned (assuming a post 722/21 BC date), or it could be a call to  God that he recognize the repentance (i.e., their return to God)  of the people who are praying and respond to it. In light of the next verse (4) this seems to me to be the most obvious meaning.

Let thy face shine. The request is for a blessing (Ps 4:6; Num 6:24-26).

4 O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry with thy people’s prayers?

LORD God of hosts. “Hosts” in Hebrew is Sabaoth.  From the Catholic Encyclopedia: “(In Hebrew, plural form of “host” or “army”). The word is used almost exclusively in conjunction with the Divine name as a title of majesty: “the Lord of Hosts”, or “the Lord God of Hosts”. The origins and precise signification of the title are matters of more or less plausible conjecture. According to some scholars the “hosts” represent, at least primitively, the armies of Israel over whom Jehovah exercised a protecting influence. Others opine that the word refers to the hosts of heaven, the angels, and by metaphor to the stars and entire universe (cf. Genesis 2:1). In favour of the latter view is the fact that the title does not occur in the Pentateuch or Josue though the armies of Israel are often mentioned, while it is quite common in the prophetic writings where it would naturally have the more exalted and universal meaning.” The word could however be taken to mean a fulness of power or might. However one takes it, it should be seen in reference to the previous military imagery (God as warrior, but also as protector and shepherd-warrior).

How long wilt thou be angry with thy people’s prayers? This implies God is angry (see Lam 3:44). God works according to his own time schedule, a fact which can be both a mystery and a trial for believers (2 Peter 3:8-9; Ps 74:1-11; ). The question implies that the people are reaching the end of their endurance, perhaps in danger of losing confidence in God which is so necessary for endurance of trials (Heb 12:7-13).

5 Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

See Psalm 42:3~My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, “Where is your God?” Tears to eat and drink should be seen (I believe) in contrast to the image of Israel as a vine latter in the Psalm. When God planted Israel like a vine in the Holy Land it had plenty to drink: it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River (11). It took deep root, implying sustenance (Ps 80:9). Do to the people’s sins others have plucked its fruit and fed off from it (Ps 80:12-13).

6 Thou dost make us the scorn of our neighbors; and our enemies laugh among themselves.

The scorn probably consists in the accusation that God has abandoned them and should not therefore be trusted. God’s punishment of his people is not an abandonment, and so the mockery of God’s punished people is actually a mockery of God, and becomes a motive for God to act (Ps 79:9-10; Ps 115:1-3; Joel 2:17; And see especially Micah 7:8-10). One must maintain confidence  in God, even in the most dire of straits (Ps 3; Ps 22).

 7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let thy face shine, that we may be saved!

Repeats verse 3 but with the addition of the words “of hosts” (used as a title for God in verse 4).  See notes on verse 3 and 4.

8 Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt; thou didst drive out the nations and plant it.
9 Thou didst clear the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.

God is here portrayed as a master of husbandry, and his people are described as a vine which he transplanted successful from Egypt to the Holy Land.

God didst drive out the nations and plant the vine Israel there to be holy(Deut 7:1-6), not like other nations who were driven out because of their wickedness (Deut 9:4).

10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;

In the Bible, mountains and mighty cedars (or trees in general) are used as images of pride and arrogance (Isa 2:12-17). By acting on an insignificant nation God has brought the arrogance of other nations low. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor 1:26-29). This idea is was lay behind the choice of Israel (Deut 7:7). Their success, the outcome of fidelity to God (a major theme in Deut), was to be an example to the nations.

11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.

To the sea… to the river. The promised boundaries of the Holy Land if the people maintained fidelity (See Deut 11:22-25). The sea is the Mediterranean; the river is the Euphrates.

12 Why then hast thou broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

Walls for vineyards and gardens were often constructed of thorny brush to keep out predators and thieves. Sometimes thick thorn bush hedges were planted around the vineyard As the brush rotted it would need to be replaced, as the thorn bushes grew they would need to be pruned lest the branches rub together, become entwined, debarked and die, leaving gaps in the hedge.  Here, however, the breakdown of the walls is directly attributed to God.

14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15 the stock which thy right hand planted.

vs. 14. Turn again, O God of hosts! This verse, especially the first part, recalls the refrains of verses 3 and 7 (see also Ps 80:19) but differs markedly from them also.

The imperatives turn, see, and regard call to mind the Exodus tradition, and build upon the Exodus motif of verse 8; especially in the narrative blocks of Exodus 2:23-4:31, where God begins to responds to the people’s plight, and Exodus 32-34, where God forgives the apostasy of the golden calf. Turn, see Ex 32:12. See, see Ex 2:25; Ex 3:7; Ex 4:31; Ex 34:10. Regard, see Ex 3:16; Ex 4:31. The people are requesting God will show again the mercy he has shown in the past. This post is not yet complete. I hope to have it completed by Wednesday.

Which thy right hand planted. The right hand of God, a symbol of both strength and fidelity.

16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance!

Fire is a common theme of judgement. It is also commonly associated with military action, which is probably the problem being addressed in verse 12 ff.

May they perish at the rebuke of they countenance. God’s countenance recalls the reference to his face in verse 3~Restore us, O God; let thy face shine, that we may be saved! The contrast between perish in the present verse, and restore and saved in verse 3 should not be lost sight of.

17 But let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, the son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself!

Thy hand recalls the reference to God’s right hand in verse 17. Here God’s people are called the man of thy right hand, the son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself. The phrase man of thy right hand  (אישׁ =  ‘ı̂ysh ימין = yâmı̂yn) is a play upon the name of Benjamin (בּנימין = binyâmı̂yn), one of the eponymous ancestors of the people (see verse 2). It is God who is their strength, their stay and their staff.

Whom thou hast made strong for thyself. Their strength lies with God, not Egypt, Assyria, or any other human.

18 Then we will never turn back from thee; give us life, and we will call on thy name!

They are ready to re-dedicate themselves to the God of their life, and will praise him.

19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! let thy face shine, that we may be saved!

See verses 3, 7, and 14, and the comments offered.

One Response to “My Notes on Psalm 80”

  1. […] My Notes on Psalm 80. […]

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