As with others of the psalms of Asaph, this is likely either in the tradition of the school of Asaph, or by another Asaph downstream from the father of that tradition. The events described here are not what we see in the time of David and Solomon, so it is either written later, or it is prophetic.
“. . . Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved . . .” (Ps. 80:1-19).
Summary of the Text:
We will divide this psalm into three sections, each one concluding with the refrain turn us again. Each refrain builds on the previous one—turn us again, O God, then turn us again, O God of hosts, and finally turn us again, O Lord God of hosts. The first section is the invocation (vv. 1-3). The second section is a brief lamentation over Israel’s condition (vv. 4-7), and the third section is a more detailed lamentation using the extended metaphor of Israel as a ravaged vine (vv. 8-19). This is a mournful psalm.
God is the Shepherd of Israel, and He is asked to “shine forth” (v. 1). He is asked to stir up His strength for salvation before the sons of Rachel (v. 2). Turn us, O God, and we will be saved (v. 3). How long will God be angry with the prayers of His people (v. 4)? What does He give them but tears (v. 5)? It is God who has made His people a laughingstock among their enemies (v. 6). In one way it shouldn’t matter, but it still does. Turn us, God of hosts, and we shall be saved (v. 7). God brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it (v. 8). It flourished there, filling the land (v. 9). The vines covered the cedars, the way kudzu might (v. 10). She expanded to the sea to the west, and the river (the Euphrates) to the east (v. 11). She was greatly blessed. And so then the lament sets in. Why has God broken down the hedges of her protection (v. 12)? The boar has wasted the vine, which is something a boar can certainly do (v. 13). Return, O God, and visit your vine (v. 14). After all, You planted it; You made it strong in the first place (v. 15). It is burned, wasted, and it perished at the look of God’s countenance (v. 16). God, let your hand be upon the man of your right hand (v. 17), let your hand be upon your Benjamin. In order that we not fall away, “quicken us” is the prayer. Then we will call upon You (v. 18). And the last prayer is offered for the third time—turn us again, O Lord God of hosts. Cause your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved (v. 19).
A World of Hurt
When God is judging a people, they smart under it. Being in that condition, they cry out for deliverance. But there is a Catch-22 involved. Because they are under chastisement, they pray. But also because they are under chastisement, God is angry with their prayers. “How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people” (v. 4)?
Make Your Face Shine:
As the plea to “turn us” is offered up three times, other expressions come in alongside it. Two times God is referred to as the God of hosts, which is to say the “God of armies.” When the God of armies turns you back to Him, the reason is that He has victory in mind. And three times, the expression “cause your face to shine” is used. When that happens, the end result is deliverance and salvation.
The expression makes you think instantly of the great Aaronic blessing. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Num. 6:24–26).
When we turn to God on our own steam, our prayers for deliverance just add to the offense (v. 4). When we repent autonomously, our repentance requires repenting. We don’t know how to return to God without wandering off from Him. We do not know how to repent any more than we know how to do anything else right. If we “turn us,” we will not really be turned. But if God gives the gift of repentance, it really does the work.
“Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old.” (Lam. 5:21).
“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).
Repentance is not the coin that we come up with to put into the vending machine of God’s forgiveness. All of it is the gift of God. Not just the salvation afterward, but the repentance and faith that receives the salvation. All is grace.
The Son of His Right Hand:
The tribe of Benjamin is mentioned earlier in the psalm, along with the other (grand)sons of Rachel. Benjamin is alluded to again later in the psalm, with a strong messianic statement.
Remember this is a call for deliverance in the midst of mourning. And what does the psalmist call for? He calls for this:
“Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself” (Ps. 80:17).
Who is the man of God’s right hand? These expressions apply in their fullness to Christ. Christ was made to sit at God’s right hand (Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:5). And the next phrase, son of man, is applied to the Lord Jesus constantly. As one scholar notes, it is used of Christ in Scripture 71 times. Of those instances, 67 were from Christ Himself. Daniel uses it once, Stephen once, and twice by the apostle John in Revelation.
Let your hand be upon Christ, let Him be seated at your right hand. Let your hand be upon the son of man, the man you have strengthened for your own glory. What will be the result? Then we shall be turned. Then your face will shine. Then we will be saved.