Psalm 80 centers on the psalmist basically crying out, “Hear me, O God! I need you!” Repeated three times at logical dividing points within the psalm is the plea, “Restore us, O God; cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved!” (vs. 3, 7, 19).
The psalm is identified as a psalm of Asaph, along with psalms 50 and 73-83. Asaph was a skilled singer and poet, as was David (2 Chr. 29:30). He was directly commanded to sing thanksgiving to God (1 Chr. 16:7). The “sons of Asaph” are mentioned several times, including as late as during the time of Ezra (Ez. 2:41). Apparently they were skilled poets and singers who modeled themselves after Asaph’s music. This poem was set to the shosannim, literally “lilly of the covenant.” Some date this psalm during the time of Babylonian captivity, though there is no general consensus on the time of writing. It could have been written at any point when the people of Israel were suffering troubles.
The psalm begins with a plea for God to “give ear,” to hear the psalmist’s plea. God’s people in all ages have the need to approach God, to be heard by their Almighty Creator. We need God’s ear at all times, in good times and in times of deep need. We must approach God, recognizing our need for Him. We must approach Him, crying, “O Lord, I need you!”
Asaph refers to God as the Shepherd of Israel. The beautiful image is of a loving God who cares for, feeds, and leads His people. He is pictured here as the Shepherd who leads “Joseph” like a flock. “Joseph,” along with “Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,” are representative of all the children of Israel. Note that it does not refer to only the northern kingdom, since Benjamin was part of the southern kingdom.
He further describes God as the One who dwells “between the cherubim.” Two cherubim were atop the ark of the covenant, forming the mercy seat (Ex. 25:22). This is where the presence of God dwelled and where atonement was made. The psalmist used this imagery representing God’s presence with His people, and His great mercy represented there, as he appealed to God to hear him. It is interesting that in the three time the poet uses the term “restore us,” he goes from referring to God as “O God” to “O God of Hosts” to “Lord God of Hosts.” He recognized the greatness of God in more detail each time.
Following his praise of God, he concluded the first section by asking God to stir up His strength and come and save them. Then he first used the phrase “Restore us.” He wished his people to be restored to favor with God and to be restored to blessings as His people. Asaph noted that they will be saved if God’s face would shine upon them. The problems Israel faced much of the time were self-inflicted because they had rebelled against God. At whatever time this psalm was written, it was understood by the poet that his people needed God.
In the second section (vs. 4-7), the author asked God how long He will be angry against the prayers of His people. The prayers heard and answered by God are those from the humble heart of the faithful servant of God. Other prayers are futile, and the prayers of the rebellious are not tolerated by God. They anger Him instead. The psalmist stated that the people were fed with the bread of tears and drank tears in great measure because of God’s anger. Israel rebelled against God, despite the fact that God had given them abundant opportunities to repent. He had sent great prophets, whom they rejected, persecuted, and often killed. They left God and followed idols. Their tears were earned and well-deserved.
On top of the tears, the poet also pointed out that they were in constant conflict with their neighbors, who had made a laughingstock of them. When those who call themselves by the name of God or Christ act like heathens, they bring reproach upon themselves and on the name of God. This section ends with Asaph once again requesting God to shine His face on them so they can be saved.
In the concluding section (vs. 8-19), Asaph began by talking of Israel’s greatness when it came out of Egypt and into the promised land. He used the imagery of a vine brought from Egypt which supplanted the nations of the land. That vine grew as God had prepared for it to do. It took deep root and covered the hills and cedars. Its boughs and branches ran to the sea and the Euphrates River. However, God broke down its hedges or walls so that anyone going by could pluck its fruit, and boars and the wild beasts could uproot and devour it.
The psalmist then pleaded with God to return to them. He asked Him to look on and see the vine which is now burned, cut down, and perishing at His rebuke. He pleaded with God to put His hand on His right-hand man (possibly the king, but more likely an image of Israel as a whole). The phrase “son of man” is used of Israel, whom God had made strong. The psalmist stated that if God would do this, they would not turn their backs on Him. If God would revive them, they would call upon His name and submit to His will.
How said it is today when the beautiful bride of Christ is led away from God and into error! Let us pray that God will restore those who have departed and shine His face on us so that we can be saved and never turn back!
Editing Correction: I had accidentally neglected to include the final paragraph on Dean’s article in the printed edition of the January/February, 2023 issue. You can read the article in its entirety above. I apologize to Dean and to our readers for the oversight. — J.M.
One thought on ““Restore Us, O God!” — Dean Kelly”
Dean, Thank you for your carefully researched commentary on the prayer of lament in Psalm 80. You note in your final paragraph that we should pray for those in error. In the psalm, the writer numbers himself among those who need restored, but also seems to want God to act first before promising faithfulness. I focused on verses 4 and 5 when I wrote about prayer “in the shadow of the Holocaust,” which seems at the least to have been potentially the case in Psalm 80. Here is where you can find my post: https://callforfireseminar.wordpress.com/2020/01/27/prayer-in-the-shadow-of-the-holocaust/. May God restore us.