A Plea for Help (Psalm 80)
A Plea for Help
There was a teenager who liked to party with his friends. He wanted to be cool and popular. He would drink, act stupid, and make a fool of himself. But, he didn’t care as long as he was popular. He was one of his school’s top athletes. He thought God was for weak people. When someone tried to talk to this guy about Jesus, he would just make fun of them.
When he was a sophomore in high school, something happened that changed the course of his life. His sister, Ashley, was a freshman and was riding in a car driven by one of her friends. The girls were afraid of getting home late so they were driving faster than they should have been. The car hit a rough RR track and flipped over. Ashley wound up in the hospital on life support.
The young man, the brother, was mad at God. He yelled at God, “If you are who you say you are, how could you let this happen?” At the same time, the boy’s love for his family grew stronger and deeper. The time they all spent in the hospital together and all those tears they shed together drew them closer.
The sister survived and recovered, but the doctor said that her brain injury was so severe that she would probably never walk or talk again. Yet, the teenage boy helped his sister as she struggled to stand and eventually to take a few tiny steps. He listened as she began putting words together and forming sentences. The sister was slowing improving and the brother - well, he was starting to change too.
He thought a lot about God and God’s place in everything that had happened. Instead of blaming God for the accident, the boy thanked God for his sister’s life and for his family. He began to see that all those things he had lived for - partying and being accepted as popular - weren’t really all that important. Sports did not even seem so important.
He began hanging out with the church youth group and found that he liked having conversations with his friends about God and Christianity. He decided he wanted to know more about following God. When he was a junior in high school, the young man gave his life to Christ.
What role do hardships play in our walk with God? We get a picture of that in Psalm 80 when Asaph, the author of the psalm, pleads to God for help.
CALL #1 - GIVE EAR:
“Give ear” - the verb form of the word “ear.”
“Shepherd of Israel,” one of the oldest metaphors for Jehovah God: Gen. 48:15; 49:24. Israel is portrayed as a flock of sheep, helpless and defenseless.
God is “enthroned above the cherubim” - a reference to God’s presence at the ark of the covenant.
The psalmist asks God to show His power before three of the twelve tribes of Israel: Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. He wants God to come save them.
In verse 3, he wants God to restore them into a good relationship with God. He echoes the so-called priestly prayer from Numbers 6:24-27: “The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’ “So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”
The result of this call for God is that “we will be saved.”
CALL #2 - HOW LONG WILL YOU BE ANGRY? (80:4-7):
This paragraph begins by asking the question: “How long will you be angry with the prayer of your people?” Of course, Israel’s behavior was not reflecting the expectations God had of them. They were disobedient, not obedient. That motivates God to ignore their prayers.
Instead, God has been disciplining them: “You have fed them with the bread of tears, and you have made them to drink tears in large measure.” That is, God has been disciplining them and making them mourn for their sins.
Not only that, but they are an object of contention to their neighbors and a source of mockery to their enemies. God promises His followers in Proverbs 16:7: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” On the other hand, if a man’s ways do not please the Lord, God can find enemies from the strangest places to punish and discipline His children. Think of David and the many ways that God punished David for his sin with Bathsheba: Amnon, Absalom, Bichri, Sheba, Adonijah.
Verse 7 repeats almost verbatim the thoughts from verse 3.
ISRAEL’S PAST (80:8-13):
Verse 8 goes back in time to the Egyptian slavery. The psalmist pictures Israel as a vine which was plucked up from Egypt. God drove out the nations of Palestine and He planted the vine in Canaan. God took care of them with love and compassion. He cleared the ground around the vine and it took deep root and filled the land. So large and prosperous was the vine that its shadow covered the mountains and its boughs were considered the cedars of God. It was sending out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the river; in other words, Israelites began spreading out all over the place.
But, the sad part comes in at verse 12. God had broken down its hedges. In other words, God had removed her defenses. God made Israel vulnerable to invasion. “All who passed that pay picked its fruit.” The nations around Israel took advantage of Israel when they could: Edom, Ammon, Moab, Assyria, Philistia, Babylon. In that way, the psalmist uses another metaphor, a “boar from the forest eats it away (remember, Israel is pictured as a vine) and whatever moves in the field feeds on it.”
God has punished Israel and brought her down to the earth severely.
CALL #3 - TAKE CARE OF THIS VINE - (80:14-19):
The third call to God is in verse 14. The psalmist asks God to turn again. He wants God to look down from heaven and see the condition of the vine and take care of it.
This vine was precious to God because it was planted by His strength and with His care, by His right hand. Verse 15 pictures the whole nation of Israel as God’s “son.” God strengthened the nation Himself.
Yet, as a result of God’s anger, as a result of God’s discipline, by other nations Israel is burned with fire; it is cut down. Israel perishes because it has been rebuked by God, by His countenance.
So, the psalmist calls on God to let His hand be on the man of His right hand, the man whom God respects, whom God appreciates. Again (ver. 17), Israel is the “son of man” whom God made strong for Himself, for His own purposes.
In verse 18, the psalmist tries to speak for the whole nation of Israel by saying that Israel will not turn back from following God. He wants to be revived and then hopes that Israel will remain faithful to God after that.
Verse 19 repeats verses 3 and 7 - the quotation or allusion to Numbers 6.
We are familiar with Jesus’ words from John 15 where Jesus takes this picture of His people as a vine and applies it to the church. Let’s read John 15:1-11:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away;
and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself
unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him,
he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up;
and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you,
ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love;
just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full.
Take home message: The principle of Psalm 80 is also true to individual Christians who are members of the vine of Christ - when the Lord restores us, we can be saved. We must look for help from Him.