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God’s Word for You

Psalm 80:1-3 Hear us O Shepherd

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 22, 2019


You Have Cut Down the Son of Man and Raised Him Up Again

This is the ninth of the twelve Psalms ascribed to Asaph in the Bible (Psalm 50, 73-83). It is sometimes thought to be a Psalm written shortly before the fall of the Northern Kingdom due to its references to Ephraim and Manasseh (vs. 2), but since Asaph lived many years before the Assyrian crisis, during the time of King David, this would seem unlikely. It is best to take the superscription at face value, that this is a Psalm by Asaph, David’s temple musician (1 Chronicles 6:39, 15:17 and especially 16:4), and written at that time.

This Psalm has a long refrain that occurs three times (vs. 3, 7 and 19) and which is expanded into a longer refrain/main theme in verses 14-15. The Psalm follows this outline:

  80:1-2   Help us against our enemies, Israelites in revolt
  80:3     Refrain: Restore us, O God.

  80:4-6   Our neighbors mock us
  80:7     Refrain: Restore us, O God.

  80:8-13 You brought us up like a vine, but it is ravaged
  80:14-15   Return to us, O God.

  80:16-18   Your vine is cut down, raise the Son of Man up again.
  80:19     Refrain: Restore us, O God.

For the choir director. To the tune “Lilies.” A Testimony of Asaph. A Psalm.

Should we take the tune to be “Lilies,” or “Lilies of the Testament”? The NIV has “Lilies of the Covenant.” However, this is contrary to the accents of the text. The accents of this phrase are not difficult to analyze. Hebrew accents show how the most ancient commentators on the Hebrew text (scribes who still spoke Biblical Hebrew) understood the text of the Old Testament. “Lilies” is accented with athnach, which here is the main division (the middle of the verse).  A construction such as “Lilies…of the covenant” could not occur across this division. The word that follows, “covenant,” is accented with tarha which joins it to the word that follows it, which is “of Asaph.” Therefore “To [the tune] ‘Lilies.’ A Testimony of Asaph” is the correct interpretation and translation of the passage. “Lilies” is a tune or musical motif used in two other Psalms: 45 (title) and 69 (title). Psalm 45 is for a (royal) wedding, and Psalm 69 is a prayer for help from God. The error probably came about because “Lily of the Covenant” is a tune mentioned in the heading of Psalm 60, where the accents allow and even insist on that translation. We should note that there, “Lily” is the word shushan in the singular. Here, the word is plural (shoshanim) as it is in Psalms 45 and 69.

The question that we must ask is, in what way is Psalm 80 a testimony or reminder? The answer is in the text, of course. It is a testimony as to the sin of Israel’s enemies. It is a call for the Lord to stop their ravaging work (like that of the wild boar in the forest, vs. 13) and bring them to justice. The great enemies of the Church of God are the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. May God keep all of them at bay.

1 Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel,
  you who lead Joseph like a flock!
  You who sit above the cherubim, shine forth

The image of God seated and shining above the cherubim is a reminder of the arrangement of the forever unseen room known as the Most Holy Place. The Shepherd of Israel is not the “pretty good” shepherd, David, but the absolutely Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:11,14). He is the Shepherd who supplies all his people’s needs (Psalm 23:1), who searches for his lost sheep and rescues them (Ezekiel 34:11-12), and who was struck down by the hand of God to atone for the sins of all mankind (Zechariah 13:7). He is “the ruler who will be a shepherd of my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6).

2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
  stir up your might; come to save us.

The “before” here is probably spatial, “In front of.” However, for the Lord to stir up his might, the Psalmist certainly implies an enemy. If neither Judah nor Israel are mentioned, is it possible that this “before” reveals the enemy within the very phrase, as we have in 1 Samuel 4:3 (“before the Philistines”) or Leviticus 26:37 (“You will not be able to stand before your enemies”)? Most commentators take this verse to be a reference to God coming to the aid of his people, including Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. However, I think it would make sense for this to be a reference to a specific incident in the reign of King David.

In 1010 BC, when David succeeded Saul as King of Israel, he had a rival. 2 Samuel 2:8-9 tells us: “Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri [Asher] and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.” Note that Ephraim and Benjamin are specifically mentioned, and that Gilead (eastern Manasseh) and Jezreel (western Manasseh) are also mentioned. This fits our passage here perfectly. David’s musician Asaph is calling on God to remember his covenant with David and to throw down his opponents in this rebellion. It was David’s treatment of Ish-Bosheth’s murderers (2 Samuel 4:12) which appeased the rebellious tribes and brought them forward to take part in his coronation when he was made king over all Israel at Hebron (2 Samuel 5:3-5; 1 Chronicles 11:1-3).

Another aspect to be considered is the grammatical form of the verb “stir up.” This is a rare instance of the long imperative. According to a study by Professor Paul Eickmann, the long imperative most often shows an act which is requested for the benefit of the speaker. He proposed a translation for this verse: “Awaken your might and come to save us.” So, in this verse, “Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh” are not part of “us,” but are the enemies that attack “us.”

This interpretation also seems to best explain the later verses about the vine being ravaged from within Israel (80:8-16) and would make the “son of man” in verse 17 not merely a “Davidic king” (NIV Study Bible notes) but King David himself. Furthermore, it also brings the whole Psalm into a beautiful foreshadowing (if not a direct prophecy or Type) of the Messiah rejected by his own people and crucified (“your vine is cut down,” 80:16) and then raised again from the dead (“the son of man you have raised up for yourself,” 80:17). The concluding verses about salvation also fit this context.

3 Restore us, O God.
  Let your face shine, so that we will be saved!

The prayer, “Restore us!” has the idea of “Bring us back!” This is one of many, many reminders in the Scriptures that the redemption of mankind is not up to us, but it is God’s work alone.

The request for God’s face to shine recalls the Aaronic blessing with which we end our worship even today, “The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). Five Psalms make this prayer to the Lord: Psalms 4:6, 31:16, 67:1, 80:3,7,19); and 119:135. The combined emphasis on grace and salvation resounds throughout the Bible. “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (Acts 15:11). “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5; cp. 2:8-9). And also, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:8-9). Furthermore: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11), and “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care” (1 Peter 1:10).

Apart from the grace of God, we cannot be saved. But God’s face shines on us; his mercy covers us, and the blood of Jesus has covered over the guilt of our sins. By the grace of God alone, we are saved. This testimony of Asaph is one more reminder of the gospel of forgiveness and everlasting life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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