PSALM 80 OVERVIEW
Title. To the Chief Musician upon Shoshannim Eduth. For the fourth time we have a song upon Shoshannim, or the lilies; the former ones being Psalms 45, 60, and 69. Why this title is given it would be difficult to say in every case, but the delightfully poetical form of the present Psalm may well justify the charming title. Eduth signifies testimony. The Psalm is a testimony of the church as a "lily among thorns." Some interpreters understand the present title to refer to an instrument of six strings, and Schleusner translates the two words, "the hexachord of testimony." It may be that further research will open up to us these "dark sayings upon a harp." We shall be content to accept them as evidence that sacred song was not lightly esteemed in the days of old. A Psalm of Asaph. A latter Asaph we should suppose, who had the unhappiness to live, like the "last minstrel," in evil times. If by the Asaph of David's day, this Psalm was written in the spirit of prophecy, for it sings of times unknown to David.
Division. The Psalm divides itself naturally at the refrain which occurs three times: "Turn us again, O God," etc. Psalms 80:1-3 is an opening address to the Lord God of Israel; from Psalms 80:4-7 is a lamentation over the national woe, and from Psalms 80:8-19 the same complaint is repeated, the nation being represented in a beautiful allegory as a vine. It is a mournful Psalm, and its lilies are lilies of the valley.
Verse 1. "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel." Hear thou the bleatings of thy suffering flock. The name is full of tenderness, and hence is selected by the troubled psalmist: broken hearts delight in names of grace. Good old Jacob delighted to think of God as the Shepherd of Israel, and this verse may refer to his dying expression: "From thence is the Shepherd, the stone of Israel." We may be quite sure that he who deigns to be a shepherd to his people will not turn a deaf ear to their complaints. "Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock." The people are called here by the name of that renowned son who became a second father to the tribes, and kept them alive in Egypt; possibly they were known to the Egyptians under the name of "the family of Joseph," and if so, it seems most natural to call them by that name in this place. The term may, however, refer to the ten tribes of which Manasseh was the acknowledged head. The Lord had of old in the wilderness led, guided, shepherded all the tribes; and, therefore, the appeal is made to him. The Lord's doings in the past are strong grounds for appeal and expectation as to the present and the future. "Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth." The Lord's especial presence was revealed upon the mercyseat between the cherubim, and in all our pleadings we should come to the Lord by this way: only upon the mercyseat 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 mercyseat, to whom we may come boldly, and through whom we may look for a display of the glory of the Lord on our behalf. Our greatest dread is the withdrawal of the Lord's presence, and our brightest hope is the prospect of his return. In the darkest times of Israel, the light of her Shepherd's countenance is all she needs.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. It is an Asaph prayer again, full of pleas in Israel's behalf. It is as if they had before them Isaiah 63:1 , "Then he remembered the days of old." They call to his mind the days of Joseph, when ( Genesis 49:24 ) the Lord miraculously fed them in Egypt. And then the tabernacle days, when (first, since the days of Eden), the Lord was known to dwell between the cherubim, on the mercyseat. They call to his mind wilderness times (verse 2), when their march was gladdened by his presence, "Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh" looking on the Pillar of Glory as it rose before them, the guide and partner of their way (see Numbers 10:32-34 ) "O God, bring us back again! Cause thy face to shine! and all shall be well again!" Andrew A. Bonar.
Verse 1. The prophet does not nakedly begin his prayer, but mingles therewith certain titles, by which he most aptly addresses God, and urges his cause. He does not say, O you who sustain and govern all things which are in heaven and in earth, who hast placed thy dwelling place above the heaven of heavens; but, Thou who art the Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock, thou that dwellest between the cherubims. Those things which enhance the favour and providence of God revealed to Israel, he brings to remembrance that he might nourish and strengthen confidence in prayer...Let us learn from this example to feed and fortify our confidence in praying to God, with the marks of that divine and paternal kindness revealed to us in Christ our Shepherd and propitiation. Musculus.
Verse 1. "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel." It is the part of the shepherd to give ear to the bleatings and cries of the sheep, to call them to mind, that he may readily run to their help. Venema.
Verse 1. "O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock." Yon shepherd is about to lead his flock across the river; and, as our Lord says of the good shepherd, you observe that he goes before, and the sheep follow. Not all in the same manner, however. Some enter boldly, and come straight across. These are the loved ones of the flock, who keep hard by the footsteps of the shepherd, whether sauntering through green meadows, by the still waters, feeding upon the mountains, or resting at noon beneath the shadow of great rocks. And now others enter, but in doubt and alarm. Far from their guide, they miss the ford, and are carried down the river, some more, some less, and yet, one by one, they all struggle over and make good their landing. Notice those little lambs. They refuse to enter, and must be driven into the stream by the shepherd's dog, mentioned by Job in his "parable." Poor things! how they leap and plunge, and bleat in terror! That weak one yonder will be swept quite away, and perish in the sea. But, no; the shepherd himself leaps into the stream, lifts it into his bosom, and bears it trembling to the shore. All safely over, how happy they appear. The lambs frisk and gambol about in high spirits, while the older ones gather round their faithful guide, and look up to him in subdued but expressive thankfulness.
Now, can you watch such a scene, and not think of that Shepherd who leadeth Joseph like a flock, and of another river which all his sheep must cross? He too, goes before, and, as in the case of this flock, they who keep near him fear no evil. They hear his sweet voice saying, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee." With eyes fastened on him, they scarcely see the stream, or feel its cold and threatening waves. The great majority, however, "linger, shivering on the brink, and fear to launch away." They lag behind, look down upon the dark river, and, like Peter on stormy Gennesaret, when faith failed, they begin to sink. Then they cry for help, and not in vain. The Good Shepherd hastens to their rescue, and none of all his flock can ever perish. Even the weakest lambkins are carries safely over. I once saw flocks crossing the Jordan "to Canaan's fair and happy land," and there the scene was even more striking and impressive. The river was broader, the current stronger, and the flocks larger, while the shepherd's were more picturesque and Biblical. The catastrophe, too, with which many more sheep were threatened -- of being swept down into that mysterious sea of death, which swallows up the Jordan itself, - - was more solemn and suggestive. W. M. Thomson, in "The Land and the Book."
Verse 1. "Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock." Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock art considered by the unbelieving to have no thoughts for our affairs; therefore stretch forth thine hand for our assistance, that the mouth of them that speak iniquities may be shut. We seek not gold and riches, or the dignities of this world, but we long for thy light, we desire more ardently to know thee, therefore "shine forth." Savonarola.
Verse 1. "Thou that dwellest between the cherubims." From this phrase the following ideas may be derived:
- That God is a King, sitting on his throne, and surrounded by his "ministers." His throne is the heavens, the symbol of which is the holy of holies, his "ministers" are "angels," and are elsewhere distinguished by that name, as Genesis 3; Psalms 18:11 ;
- that God is the "King" of Israel, dwelling among them by the external symbol of his presence. His most illustrious ministers are depicted by the "Cherubims," who comprehend his heavenly as well as earthly ministers;
- that God is the covenant "King" of his people, and has fixed his dwelling place above the "ark of the covenant," an argument that he will observe the covenant and fulfil its promises, that he will guard his people, and procure for them every felicity;
- lastly, that God is willing to reveal to the people his grace and mercy through the covering of the ark, called the "mercyseat," on which God sat. Venema.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. In what respects the Lord acted as a Shepherd to Israel, as illustrative of his dealings with his Church.
WORKS ON THE EIGHTIETH PSALM
Hieronymi Savonarolae Ferrariensis Meditationes in Psalmos -- Miserere - - In Te Domine Speravi, et Qui Regis Israel (12mo. Leyden: 1633).
A Few Words on the Eightieth Psalm. By CHARLOTTE ELIZABETH. 1835.