Theme: A Chorus of Restoration
In this week’s lessons we learn that there is no restoration of God’s favor without repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 80:1-19
Psalm 80 is a psalm with a chorus. It is repeated three times, in verses 3, 7 and 19. Thus, there are also three stanzas to this psalm, though they are of unequal length. Stanza one is in verses 1-2; stanza two is in verses 4-6; and stanza three is in verses 8-18. In its structure Psalm 80 is a lot like Psalms 42 and 43, which belong together and in which the chorus beginning “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” is likewise repeated three times. A repeated chorus sets the tone and provides the theme for the psalm, and in the case of Psalm 80 it does this by asking, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved….”1
What is this restoration for which the psalm is asking? And what does this indicate about its historical setting? The first stanza begins by talking about God as Israel’s shepherd, which links it thematically with the earlier two psalms, which also talked about God shepherding his people. But the setting here cannot be that of the earlier psalms. They were written after the destruction of Jerusalem. Here not only the southern kingdom but also the northern kingdom is still in existence. Since Psalm 80 focuses on the northern kingdom—it calls God the “Shepherd of Israel” and speaks of Ephraim and Manasseh, two of the major northern tribes—and since it asks for Israel’s deliverance, it is best seen as a plea for the deliverance of the northern kingdom sometime before its fall to the Assyrian armies in 721 B.C. Franz Delitzsch wrote, “The psalmist, as it seems, prays in a time in which the oppression of Assyria rested heavily upon the kingdom of Ephraim, and Judah saw itself threatened with ruin when this bulwark should have fallen.”2
Like Psalm 76, the Septuagint (LXX) version of Psalm 80 begins with the ascription “a psalm concerning the Assyrian.”
1The chorus is identical in all three instances, except that in the second and third occurrences the name of God is lengthened. In the first (v. 3), the word is “God” (Elohim). In the second (v. 7), the words are “God Almighty” or “God of Hosts” (Elohim Sabaoth). In the third (v. 19), the full title is the “LORD God Almighty” (Jehovah Elohim Sabaoth).
2Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 2, p. 383. However, the plea for restoration plus the reference to the walls of God’s vineyard having been “broken down” (v. 12) lead some to believe that it may have been written just after the northern kingdom’s fall.
From the lesson, how does Dr. Boice structure this psalm? Read the psalm and make note of the themes that are found in the different stanzas.
What conclusions can we draw about the historical setting of this psalm?
Observation: Learn to ask the basic questions of who, what, where, and when while looking at a Scripture text.
For Further Study: One of the benefits to a sustained study of the Psalms is an increased understanding of what it means to trust fully in the Lord and to follow him in careful obedience. James Boice’s sermons covering the entire Psalter are available in a three-volume paperback set at 25% off the regular price.