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God’s Word for You

Psalm 80:4-7 O God of Armies

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, April 23, 2019

4 O LORD God of Armies,
  how long will your anger burn
  against the prayers of your people?

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew title Adonai Sabaoth (not “sabbath”) was translated “Lord Almighty” (pantokrator, παντοκράτωρ). Here and throughout the Psalms, pantokrator is not used, but dynameon (δυνάμεων) is used instead. This is a word that means “powers,” and is closer in meaning to the Hebrew Sabaoth, which means “armies.” Some readers may recall the King James Version’s preference for the military term “Hosts,” which was a reference to armies so vast as to be uncountable. While we can’t say that every time this title for God is used it is always a reference to his angelic armies, we would be remiss if we translated it in such a way that this were never clear to anyone. Here, the power of God is made clear as the prayer goes up about his anger burning even against the prayers of his people! Because they have not turned from their sin, the Lord is withholding answers to their prayers. He does not hear the prayers of unbelievers, and his people were inching closer and closer to the status of the pagans.

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears.
  You have given them tears to drink by the gallon. ¹
6 You have made us the scorn of our neighbors.
  Our enemies mock us.

¹ 80:5 Hebrew “third [of an ephah?]” An ephah was a measurement of about 3-5 gallons (see commentary).

Our Psalm writer pictures God feeding his people with tears, tears upon tears. He says in verse 5 “by the third” (see footnote). This is probably a reference to one third of an ephah, which was a measure of 3-5 gallons (hence the translation). That would be a lot of water to drink; it’s an awful lot of tears. My son Peter once calculated the number of pocket handkerchiefs it would have taken to have cleaned up all of the blood shed in the American Civil War (he felt challenged by a comment in a Ken Burns documentary). Perhaps the same kind of calculation could be made to estimate the number of tears “drunk” (shed) by Judah in this verse. I’ve already said that it’s an awful lot of tears.

Verse 6 draws our attention to a little more evidence that this was perhaps not the Assyrian invasion in Isaiah’s time. Israel was not mocked by her neighbors then, since her neighbors were also pillaged and ravaged by the Assyrians. In the context of the Assyrian crisis, the references in the prophets to “mocking” (Isaiah 28:22, 29:20; Hosea 7:5) are usually from within Israel, those who have fallen from faith who mock the faithful, or mockery that is now turned back on God’s enemies (Isaiah 37:22). Asaph is asking God to consider whether the mockery of the nations gives glory to God. Here is a prayer for the end of the conflict that was dividing God’s people.

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

Here the refrain is repeated almost exactly as it was presented in verse 3. The only difference is that here, “O God” becomes “O God of Armies,” which is the address the writer gave in the beginning of this stanza. Only by the grace of God are we saved. Save us, O God of Armies!

Just as Christ is the Savior God, he is also the one who commands the armies of angels, those heavenly hosts. They ascend and descend only upon (and by the will of) the Son of Man (John 1:51). He sends them as ministering spirits “to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). They are here for our protection against all the unseen dangers that surround us, shielding us so that we will focus our eyes always on Jesus, and inherit 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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