“For the director of music. To the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant.” Of Asaph. A psalm.

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

How long, LORD God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?

You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us.

Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1-7, NIV)

Psalm 80 is an interesting contrast to what we saw in Psalm 126. Psalm 126 was written by an anonymous person, upon the return of Jews who had been living in captivity in Babylon. Psalm 80, written by a member of the Temple Choir, of Asaph, was written before the Babylonians were anywhere near Jerusalem. Psalm 126 is short and filled with joy. Psalm 80 is longer and seemingly filled with fear and sorrow. Yet, both Psalms teach us more about prayer.

As we know we should joyfully praise God during times of His blessings. We should learn to seriously and reflectively pray to the Lord, especially when His presence seems far away and His countenance seems angry with us. Psalm 80 is just such a prayer. It is a Psalm of recall.

  1. It re-calls the Lord to manifest tokens of His presence and favor to His people. [Vv.1-3] Most likely written after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Tribes of Israel, this Psalm recognizes the grief of this loss and the need for God to hear and help His people in Judah and Jerusalem. The title, “To the tune of  The Lilies of the Covenant.” Calls to mind the lilies that grow in the valleys and also calls to mind the faithful Covenants of God. Like Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” Psalm 80 recalls God’s faithfulness in this plea for His hearing ear.
  2. Psalm 80 also recalls the faithfulness of God to rebuke and chastise those He loves, even while rehearsing how much that chastisement hurts. [Vv. 4-7] Israel had been warned and warned about the consequences of idolatry and unfaithfulness to God. Now, the Northern Kingdom was essentially gone, and the Southern Kingdom was facing the same kinds of consequences. Their foundations were shaking, and their prayers seemed ineffectual. The psalmist’s complaints were valid, but also deserved.
  3. The Psalm also recalls the history of God’s dealings with Israel. [Vv. 8-16] From the Exodus to the present God had been faithful to His covenant, including the curses He promised would come if they were not faithful in return.
  4. Finally, Psalm 80 recalls God’s mercy and grace and in so doing calls upon the Lord to prepare His mercy for them and prepare them for His mercy. [Vv.17-19]

Actually, God’s mercy is seen in several places in this Psalm. In verses 1-2 he calls upon God as the Shepherd of Israel who sits “enthroned between the cherubim”, a reference to the Mercy Seat covering the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The psalmist prays for God to “shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.”, the three tribes who followed the Ark in the wilderness. Then he prays for God to “Awaken your might; come and save us.”, for only God in His mercy can save a rebellious people.

Beginning in verse 3, the psalmist teaches us to pray for mercy by reminding the Lord of His gracious blessings. “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” This prayer is founded upon the Aaronic Blessing in Numbers 6:24-26; “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” The author of Psalm 80 emphasizes this focus three times, repeating this prayer in verse 7, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”, and in verse 19, “Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”

This thrice repeated prayer also reminds us of the publican’s prayer that Jesus pointed out in Luke 18:9-13, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Which leads us to look at verses 17-18 here in Psalm 80; “Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.”

As Psalm 80 was penned during times of trial for the Old Testament “Church”, so we live during similar times of trials and tribulations for the New Testament Church. Churches are compromising the New Covenant for the sake of politically correct expediency. Seminaries are tearing away the authority of the Bible. People in the pews don’t act much different than their unbelieving neighbors. And it seems the enemy of life is extinguishing the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Living, as we do, between the first advent of Christ and His longed for second coming, perhaps the words and spirit of Psalm 80 speak well to us. It certainly teaches about prayer during trying times when revival is so necessary. But, verses 17-18 also highlight the Light of the World who died to make the world right again. Jesus is indeed the man at God’s right hand. He is the son of man whom God raised up three days after Jesus died for the sin of the world. In Christ we have all we need to not turn away from God the Father, for in the Spirit of Christ we have the power, to become and remain the daughters and sons of God. In Christ we have the never-ending mercy of God for “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” [I John 2:2] Jesus literally is the Shepherd enthroned between the cherubim, seated on the Mercy Seat of God’s grace.

C. H. Spurgeon wrote; “The Lord's special presence was revealed upon the mercy seat between the cherubim, and in all our pleadings we should come to the Lord by this way: only upon the mercy seat will God reveal his grace, and only there can we hope to commune with him. Let us ever plead the name of Jesus, who is our true mercy seat, to whom we may come boldly, and through whom we may look for a display of the glory of the Lord on our behalf.”

This Advent and beyond, let us learn, even in the darkest of nights and the deepest of valleys to pray, “Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” Saved from our sinfulness, our troubles, by God’s faithful grace and mercy, into the peace of Christ our Lord.

As we close, consider Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” [Luke2:6-14]

While they were there, the Prince of Peace was born. While we are here, may we know the peace of our Shepherd’s hearing ear.