Psalm 80 Commentary
The timing of this psalm is some time after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. It is a petition. The psalmist prays for restoration. Several thoughts are crossing paths as he sits down to write the song.
God is the Shepherd of Israel. The mention of Joseph evokes the thoughts of God’s hand behind his life. An encapsulation of the history-long blessing that the LORD handed down to Jacob through Isaac. Joseph’s life is what God’s blessing would look like when described in human terms.
Is the psalmist thinking through the difficulties of the nation in the light of the grand purposes of the LORD? Hatred, the pit experience, slavery, and injustice: could these present difficulties be part of God’s plan for Israel’s elevation as was for Joseph? We can only guess.
Regardless, the psalmist calls for restoration. But the circumstances are different. Joseph was righteous; Israel wasn’t. Israel’s godlessness makes prayer very difficult. Where do you start? I deserve it, nevertheless, restore me. Probably this point.
There is a sense in which we feel the psalmist is doing exactly that. There is an admission that Israel cannot restore herself. Humanity can destroy itself but it cannot ‘undestroy’ itself. It’s a fallacy when men and women think they can undo their own corruption. It is always a one-gear operation. Only the LORD can restore humanity.
In the statement that the LORD has fed them with the bread of tears, the modern reader may accuse the psalmist of blaming God. We are hearing the words of the saint who has more faith than ourselves. He believes the LORD can save even when the child is experiencing pain because of self-imposed difficulties.
We do well to remember that first, we are children of God who must find our way back to the palace. Second and most importantly, it is job-impossible. Hence the prayer to the LORD God who alone can make it possible. Then we will not turn away from you. Again, this is only possible as the LORD shines His face on us.
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