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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 80

Verses 1-2

The psalmist appealed to Yahweh as the Shepherd of His people Israel (cf. Psalms 23:1; Psalms 28:9); "shepherd" was a common title of the king in the ancient Near East (cf. Psalms 78:71). He also referred to Him as sitting enthroned above the cherubim in the temple (cf. Psalms 99:1). Ephraim was the leading tribe in the north and Benjamin was the leader in the south. Manasseh was the leader in Transjordan in the east.

Verses 1-3

1. An appeal to Israel’s Shepherd 80:1-3

Verses 1-19

Psalms 80

Again Asaph called on God to deliver and restore Israel. The nation was downtrodden and needed Yahweh’s salvation. This community lament psalm is unusual because of the figure the psalmist used to describe Israel. He pictured the nation as a grape vine (Psalms 80:8-16). The fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. may be in view. [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 288.] Psalms 77, 81 also lament the destruction of Samaria, the former capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

"Except for the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, the psalms have more to say about tears than any other book in the Bible." [Note: Armerding, p. 116.]

Verse 3

This cry for restoration is a refrain that the writer also used in Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19. The figure of the face shining on another suggests favorable inclination toward that one (cf. Psalms 4:6; Numbers 6:25).

Verses 4-7

2. A lament due to divine discipline 80:4-7

The title "Lord of hosts" suggests God’s ability to deliver His people whenever He chooses to do so. The Lord’s silence in response to the people’s cries for deliverance implied that He was angry with them. As a shepherd, God had fed His people, but He had given them tears to eat and to drink rather than nourishing food. Their condition led their neighbor nations to mock them. This pericope also closes with the refrain (cf. Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:19).

Verses 8-14

3. Israel’s downtrodden condition 80:8-14a

The psalmist now changed his figure and pictured Israel as a vine that God had transplanted from Egypt to Canaan (cf. Ezekiel 17:6-10; Hosea 10:1). He cleared the land of Canaan for her by driving the native people out. Israel had taken root in the Promised Land and, as a vine, had spread out in all directions. It had become strong and luxuriant under God’s blessing. However, God had broken down the wall that protected it, and its neighbors were now consuming it (cf. Isaiah 5:5). This section closes with a refrain similar to, yet slightly different from, the one in Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19.

The figure of a vine to represent Israel is very old. It probably originated in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph (Genesis 49:22). The prophets used it often (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 12:10; Ezekiel 15; Ezekiel 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1). The Lord Jesus also used it to describe Himself, the ideal Israel (John 15:1; John 15:5). It is an appropriate figure because a vine is a source of blessing to others (cf. Genesis 12:3).

Verses 14-16

Asaph called on God to give attention to the vine’s condition. Psalms 80:15 looks at the vine as root and branch with the parts representing the whole (a merism). The term "son" is a literal rendering of the Hebrew word that metaphorically means branch. It describes the new growth on the vine, the new generation of Israelites. Matthew applied this reference to Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:15; cf. Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1). The psalmist saw the vine of Israel burned and cut down by its enemies whom God had allowed to damage it.

Verses 14-19

4. An appeal for deliverance 80:14b-19

Verses 17-19

Psalms 80:17 refers again to the present generation of Israelites as "God’s son." There is a play on words since Benjamin (Psalms 80:2) means "son of my right hand." The psalmist called on God to support with His strong hand the son of His right hand (i.e., the nation God used as His powerful right hand). He promised that the Israelites would follow God faithfully and call on Him for their needs if He would revive His vine. The psalm ends with a repetition of the refrain.

God’s people are similar to a grapevine, in that God has called them to be a blessing to others. However, if we who are God’s people do not walk in trust and obedience, God may prune us back and limit our fruitfulness, with a view to increasing our ultimate productivity. The vine experiences blessing itself as it becomes a blessing to others. If we depart from God, we need to call on Him to restore our fruitfulness and commit ourselves to Him again. The figure of Israel as an olive tree in Romans 11:17-24 teaches similar lessons.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 80". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.