Theme: “Son of Man”
In this week’s lessons we learn that there is no restoration of God’s favor without repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 80:1-19
Today we examine the three possibilities in answer to the question of who this “son of man” of verse 17 is. First, “the man at your right hand” could be the current king, either of the northern kingdom (if Samaria had not yet fallen) or of the southern kingdom (if Samaria had fallen and the psalm is really for the preservation of Judah). H. C. Leupold writes, “There seems to be no other feasible way of interpreting verse 17 than to think of it as being a prayer for the king that sits upon the throne of Israel.”1 If this is right, the stanza means that if God would bless the king by leading him in the way of righteousness, then the people would remain faithful to God as well, and would not perish. The king would point the way to restoration.
Second, the reference could be to the people themselves. The best reason for thinking this is that verse 15 also uses the word “son,” and in that verse the reference is certainly to Israel since it is parallel to “the root your right hand has planted.” This led no less a careful exegete than Calvin to identify “the son of man” as Israel. It is also the position taken by J. J. Stewart Perowne.2 It fits this view that Israel is called God’s “firstborn son” in Exodus 4:22 (see Hosea 11:1).
The third view is the one I referred to earlier, namely that “the son of man” is the Messiah. This was the interpretation given to the text by the later rabbis. It is also the interpretation adopted by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He wrote, “There is no doubt here an outlook to the Messiah, for whom believing Jews had learned to look as the Savior in time of trouble.”3 And later, quoting other commentators in the section on “Quaint Sayings,” “To whom can the title apply but to him? For to which of the angels said God at any time, ‘Sit on my right hand?’ (Heb. 1:5); and much less has he said this of any Jewish king…. Though the phrase, ‘man of thy right hand,’ may have an immediate reference to the King who ruled in Judah when this psalm was penned, it must ultimately and most properly intend Jesus Christ, the great antitype of all the kings of David’s line.”4
For my part, I think Calvin was right so far as the setting of the psalm is concerned. The prayer is that God would bless Israel by turning this “son of man” back to God again. It is how we should all pray. At the same time, from our perspective on this side of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, we cannot forget that Jesus applied the image of the vine to himself, calling himself the “true vine,” that is, the one, essential and enduring vine before whom all other vines are but shadows. Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). He also said, “You are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).
Without God, Israel itself could do nothing. At least it could do nothing but sin, which it did abundantly, eventually falling away into the Lord’s terrible national judgment. To survive, to prosper, even to live—the people of the old covenant had to abide in God.
No less do we! Without Jesus Christ and his power, we cannot come to faith, trusting him as our Savior. Without Jesus Christ and his power, we cannot live a righteous life, turning our backs upon sin and cleaving to our master. Without Jesus Christ and his power, we cannot achieve any spiritual victory or produce any spiritual fruit. Spurgeon wrote, “Without the Lord you will do nothing. Immeasurable cloudland of proposals and not a spot of solid doing large enough for a dove’s foot to rest on.”5 On the other hand, as Paul wrote, in Christ we can do “everything” (Phil. 4:13).
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 584.
2J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, p. 89.
3Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 391.
4Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, p. 397.
5Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Without Christ—Nothing,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 27 (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), p. 601.
Who is the son of man? List three possible interpretations.
What is the prayer contained in this psalm?
How did Jesus apply the image of the vine to himself?
Application: Recall those times when you resisted the temptation to try to shepherd yourself, and instead depended on the Lord for help.
For Further Study: To understand more fully what it means to belong to Christ, download and listen for free to two messages from Donald Barnhouse: “The Believer in Christ” and “Christ in the Believer.” (Discounts will be applied at checkout.)