The True Vine: Psalm 80

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Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 80 (NIV)

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
    shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
    come and save us.

Restore us, O God;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty,
    will your anger smolder
    against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
    you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors,
    and our enemies mock us.

12 Why have you broken down its walls
    so that all who pass by pick its grapes?
13 Boars from the forest ravage it,
    and insects from the fields feed on it.
14 Return to us, God Almighty!
    Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
15     the root your right hand has planted,
    the son you have raised up for yourself.

16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
    at your rebuke your people perish.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
    the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
    revive us, and we will call on your name.

19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

This psalm compares Israel to a vine that God planted in his vineyard (v. 8). Using lofty language, Asaph exults in how strong and beautiful the vine became under God’s tender care. Then, due to Israel’s sin, the vine became ravaged by wild beasts and now lay in ruins. The psalmist is praying for deliverance and a restoration of the vine of Israel.

Like so many of the psalms, Psalm 80 extends its full flower of worship when we recognize how this psalm simultaneously looks back and looks forward. Comparing Israel to a vine was a favorite metaphor of the prophets, found in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 5:1–7), Jeremiah (e.g., Jer. 2:21), and Hosea (e.g., Hos. 10:1). These prophetic images are brought into an act of worship in Psalm 80.

However, Psalm 80 also points toward the day when God would someday answer this prayer for deliverance. This psalm has a prayerful refrain that occurs three times (and is also drawn from the great Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24–26, as we saw in Psalm 67). The prayer is, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (vv. 3, 7, 19). This prayer for God to restore the ravaged vine and bring forth fruit was fulfilled when Jesus Christ came among us and called himself the true Vine ( John 15:1–8). He embodies the whole experience of Israel, including coming “out of Egypt” (Matt. 2:15), taking on the full weight of Israel’s sin and rebellion on the cross, and ultimately demonstrating that he alone is the true Israelite who comes to deliver his people. The psalmist questions whether God, who once planted this vine known as Israel, is now forsaking his vineyard. But even the fear that God might, in the face of our rebellion, forsake his people, is finally dispelled on the cross when Jesus absorbs our rebellion and conquers it through the power of God’s love.

Many of the great prayers of the Psalms (both hopes and fears) are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In the same way, we should always look to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all our hopes and the dispeller of our fears. He alone can restore the ravaged vines of our lives, and the ravaged hopes of this world. Jesus alone is without sin, and he alone is our only hope for final deliverance.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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