George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 80

1. Structure

1,2. Prayer for help

3. Refrain
4-6. God’s discipline acknowledged

7. Refrain
(8-16. Lament concerning the Vine)
17,18. Revival only through the Son of Man

19. Refrain

2. Title

Asaph: Therefore belonging historically to the time of Hezekiah.

The subscription: Gittith. The “winepress” (as in Psalms 7 and 83; Judg. 6:11; Neh. 13:15). The “winepress” psalms were designed to be sung in the autumn, in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:39-43). The treading of the grapes was a figure of harvest joy (Isa. 16:10), as well as a symbol of divine judgment (Isa. 63:3-6).

3. Historical reference

Thou that dwellest between (who art enthroned upon: RSV) the cherubim. (“Cherubims” is ungrammatical and redundant: cherub is the singular; cherubim — with no “s” — is already plural!) This is Hezekiah’s phrase, in his prayer of desperation: Isa. 37:16; 2 Kings 19:15.

Shine forth, as in Psa. 50:2 (the “detached” Asaph psalm).
Come and save us implies a people in great extremity, but not yet overwhelmed; this answers to a Jerusalem about to be besieged by an invincible Assyrian army and with few defensive resources.
Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved (as in vv. 7 and 19 also). These words express a conviction (Hezekiah’s? Isaiah’s?) that only repentance can save the city and what is left of the nation from being completely overrun.
How long wilt thou be angry? A frank acknowledgment of the nation’s unworthiness (cp. Psa. 79:5).
The bread of tears implies, perhaps, that food supplies were very low (cp. Isa. 25:8). But for another idea, see Par. 7.
Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves. Such psalms as 83 and 137, and various phrases in Isaiah, imply that Sennacherib in his invasion had the ready assistance of several peoples round about Judah (see also v. 12: “all they which pass by”; cp. notes in 79:6).
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt. The close resemblances between vv. 8-16 here and Isaiah’s parable of the vine (5:1-7) suggest the distinct likelihood that Isaiah wrote this psalm. The details which follow here describe the conquest and settling of the Land and the ensuing prosperity of the kingdom from the time of David onwards.
The present calamitous condition (i.e., in Isaiah’s day) of the nation, invaded and ravaged by the Assyrians.
Why hast thou broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her (fruit) ? This refers to the Assyrian capture and destruction of Judah’s “fenced cities” (cp. 89:40,41).
The boar (an unclean animal: Lev. 11:7) and the wild beast are allusions perhaps to the standards or banners of some of the Assyrian army detachments. Or, more specifically, boar (singular) = Assyria itself, and beasts (most versions have the plural here) = the Assyrian vassal nations (see v. 6 note, above).
The branch is primarily Hezekiah (cp. v. 17), the good king. But see further on this in Par. 4.

  The Hebrew for “branch” is, literally, son (a Hebrew idiom, as if the branch were “son” to its “father” the root); in v. 17 the parallel phrase is son of man, the man of thy right hand. This last phrase alludes very neatly to the fact that the palace of the king was immediately south of the temple — that is, at God’s right hand (in the Old Testament, north and south are left and right respectively — with orientation toward the rising sun assumed).
It is burned with fire, it is cut down. Meanwhile, the original “vine” of Israel has been marked with the axe along its roots, and is now fit only for burning (Matt. 3:10; cp. John 15:6)!

4. Messianic fulfillment

This goes in parallel with such prophecies as Isaiah 30-33, chapters which are clearly based on the Assyrian crisis but which also have a readily discernible Messianic message. Another parallel (which is really the same) is the Hezekiah type of Christ, one of the most impressive in the Old Testament:

Hezekiah was a child of promise (“Immanuel”).
His great work was prophesied beforehand.
He came to a nation estranged from God.
He cleansed the temple of God.
He sanctified priests for a reconstituted temple.
He called worshipers from the north and from Jerusalem to keep a new Passover.
The defiled people were accepted through his merits and prayers.
Gentiles were accepted also.
He offered sacrifices for himself and for the people.
He provided living water (“Siloam” = Sent from God) to a people ready to perish.
He faced without flinching the temptations of the Adversary (Sennacherib/Rabshakeh).
The Adversary was destroyed through his faith.
Although upright before God,...
He was afflicted with an incurable sickness (leprosy — the sin-disease).
He went to “the gates of hell”;
But with a manifestation of the Glory of the Lord...
He was miraculously restored...
On the third day.
Then he went up to the House of the Lord.
In thanksgiving for this the people sang ceaseless praise in the House of God.
After restoration, he took a Gentile bride (see Psa. 45, notes).
Thus the continuing fulfillment of the great Promise to David was assured.
In a great Year of Jubilee,...
The Land was freed from its enemies, and...
The people of God were regathered from dispersion and captivity.
The king was acknowledged by all nations,...
Who brought gifts and homage.
There followed a period of unmatched prosperity.

                        (H.A. Whittaker, Hezekiah the Great, pp. 98,99)

In the psalm here, note especially:

The picture of national devastation (vv. 4-6, 12-16).
The tribulation is an expression of God’s anger against His people (v. 4, and “Thou...thou...” in vv. 5,6).
The indications of helpless repentance (“Turn us again” in vv. 3,7,19; and also v. 18).
The key to all hopes of national redemption: (1) “The lamb in the midst of the throne” (cp. v. 1 here) who will be the “Shepherd” of his people (Rev. 7:17); (2) “the true vine” (John 15:1) to replace the discarded vine of Israel (Ezek. 15:6); (3) “the Son of Man whom thou madest (past tense!) strong for thyself... so (i.e., in him) shall we not go back.” Instead of apostasy, the remnant of Israel may put their dependence on “thy name” — God’s expressed Purpose becomes an anchor of their faith.
Note the terms, so fitting with reference to Messiah: “the Man (ish = a man of distinction) of thy right hand (cp. Psa. 110:1), the son of man (adam) (cp. Psa. 8:4,5) whom thou madest strong for thyself.” Compare 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 3:16. In v. 17: “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand” may be compared with Isaiah’s description of Messiah as “the Arm of the Lord” (Isa. 53:1; cp. 51:9,10; 63:5).
Observe how appropriate is the phrase “Turn us again” to the regathering of Israel: cp. Gen. 28:15 (Jacob’s return from servitude), and Jer. 23:3:

“And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds: and they shall be fruitful and increase.”

— all this in the days of the King who is a “Branch” (v. 5; cp. v. 15 here), and who is called “the Lord our Righteousness”.

The situation envisioned in this psalm is yet to materialize. But already in the Messianic Jews there are the first flickers of national repentance, the necessary preliminary to any Messianic salvation. The final crisis of Israel’s helplessness will bring, overnight, the manifestation of Messiah in glory and the dissipation of every hostile threat.

5. Other details

O Shepherd of Israel. Observe the frequency of this lovely figure in the Asaph psalms: 74:1; 77:20; 78:13-16,52-55,70-72; 79:13; and cp. Isa. 63:11.

Thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth. Note Deut. 33:2 (God in glory on mount Sinai) and Lev. 16:2,12,13 (the Glory of God in the Most Holy on the Day of Atonement — note Par. 7).

  The original cherubim, at the east of Eden, were accompanied by a flaming sword — not so much to bar the way to the tree of life, as to keep or preserve it (Gen. 3:24; cp. John 14:6). According to John Thomas, this flaming sword would flash forth its fire for the consumption of the acceptable sacrifices offered by the family of Adam before the Lord (Elpis Israel, p. 153) — thus corresponding in a general way to the function of the “mercy-seat” above the Ark in the Most Holy.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength. All these three tribes were descended from Rachel (= “ewe”; hence “Shepherd of Israel”) (Gen. 33:2). These tribes encamped together on the west side of the Tabernacle, hence the preposition “before”. When Israel was on the march these tribes also followed immediately after the Ark (Num. 2:17-24). Note here also the union of northern and southern tribes which Hezekiah encouraged so strongly.
O God (Elohim) becomes, progressively, O God of hosts (Elohim Tzvaoth) (vv. 4,7,14) and then Lord God of hosts (Yahweh Elohim Tzvaoth) (v. 19): an ascending scale of power!
God of hosts. Is it possible that this is a name of God specially associated with the Cherubim of Glory? Compare v. 1 here, and consider also 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; Psa. 24:10; Isa. 6:1-3; Jer. 23:36; Hag. 2:7; and Zech. 14:16.
Be angry is, literally, “smoke”, as in Psa. 74:1; Exod. 14:20.
Now tears are their food and drink, instead of “the bread from angels” and the water from the rock (Psa. 78:20,25)!
Vine: Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 15:6; 17:6; 19:10; Hos. 1:10; Deut. 32:32,33.

Thou hast cast out the heathen: Exod. 15:14-16.

And planted it. What a contrast in vv. 12,13,16! See also 2 Sam. 7:10:

“Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more: neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them anymore, as beforetime.”
Thou preparest room before it, by removing the stones and roots — i.e., the seven Canaanite nations (Gen. 15:18-21).
Geographical references?: The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars: Lebanon? She sent out her boughs unto the sea: the Medi-terranean? And her branches unto the river: the Euphrates?
The boar out of the wood doth waste it. The s.w. (in LXX) describes the havoc the persecutor Saul of Tarsus (of Benjamin: v. 2!) made in the early ecclesia (Acts 8:3). Nevertheless God showed His favor upon the martyr Stephen by causing His face to shine upon him (cp. Psa. 80:3,7,19 with Acts 6:15!).
Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts. This is reminiscent of Num. 10:35,36, the wilderness trek of the Ark. Contrast this with the “Turn again” in vv. 3,7,19.
Thy right hand recalls “Benjamin” (v. 2) — which means “son of the right hand”. The right hand is, of course, the place of honor and blessing: 1 Kings 2:19; Psa. 45:9; 110:1; Matt. 25:31-34; Mark. 14:62; 16:19; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:34; 7:55,56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1.
It is burned with fire; it is cut down. Yet, since the root is still in the ground, through the scent of water it will bud (Job 14:7-9)!

Countenance is panim (s.w. “face” in vv. 3,7,19). So we have the face of God both in (a) rejection and judgment (v. 16), and in (b) acceptance and blessing (vv. 3,7,19).

6. Links with other Scriptures

Psalm 80
(2. Ephraim and Manasseh)
Genesis 49:22-24
(regarding Joseph)

A vine out of Egypt

Implied in v. 22



Made strong
Arms, hands made strong

The hand of God
The hands of God

The shepherd

The stone (s.w.) of Israel

Psalm 80

Psalm 79

Shepherd, flock

How long?



Thy Name

Psalm 80

Isaiah 63

Thy face / “presence” = face

Shepherd of the flock

Look down, etc.


We shall be saved

We will call upon thy Name

7. The Day of Atonement

Compare also the significance of Gittith in Par. 2, as pointing generally to the autumn of the year. In the early part of the psalm possible connections with the Day of Atonement are very marked. But which Day of Atonement? The Year of Jubilee, following immediately on the destruction of the Assyrian, was inaugurated on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:9); but the tone of the psalm hardly fits that time of deliverance. The alternative is a year earlier. At such a time Jerusalem was not yet beleaguered, but already it would be obvious that without God’s help disaster was inevitable. The saving stroke of the angel of the Lord came at Passover, just half-way between these two Days of Atonement. Details:

Thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth. This is a clear allusion to the divine acceptance of the people’s repentance and sacrifice.

Cause thy face to shine quotes the high-priestly blessing on the people (Num. 6:24-26).
The prayer of thy people is very appropriate to the communal prayer of the throng gathered before the Lord on this special day.
The bread of tears might well imply not only misery and repentance but also fasting, on the day when the people were to afflict their souls.

8. Israel’s lament

Jehovah! who of old cast out
        The heathen from the land,
And saved thy vine from Pharaoh’s power,
        By thine Almighty hand:
Who planted her, and made her grow,
        And send her branches round,
To cover hills, and stretch to sea,
        And to thy praise resound.

Oh! why is broken now her hedge,
        Her branches all thrown down?
Why hast thou cursed thy ancient race?
        Why dost thou on her frown?
Behold her now! oh, Abraham’s God!
        From all the world she cries,
And prayers, forced out by cruel fears,
        From all thy children rise.

Then turn again, oh, Lord of Hosts!
        And make thy face to shine;
Look down from heaven, and behold
        Thine own and only vine.
Remember now the promise made
        To Abraham, our sire:
Restore thy vine to its own land;
        Oh! send us thy Messiah.

Tom Turner
Next Next Next