Theme: Prayer for God’s Favor
In this week’s lessons we learn that there is no restoration of God’s favor without repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 80:1-19
The first time the recurring chorus appears is in verse 3, after the appeal to the great might of Israel’s divine shepherd. It is an obvious prayer based on what has been said. What is unusual about it is that the second line seems to be a reference to the Aaronic blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” The psalmist must have heard this blessing a thousand times. So he prays here, “Make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”
When the blessing refers to God making his face to shine upon us, this is at the very least a prayer that God might be gracious to us in this life, as the parallel line indicates. But it also has overtones of the believer actually seeing God, the specific blessing Moses asked for but was told was impossible for anyone in this life (Ex. 33:18-20). Theologians call this the beatific vision, the ultimate blessing for which those who love God long. In Psalm 80 the prayer that God might make his face shine upon the people is that God might be favorable to them again. They are threatened by the Assyrian armies. God’s face seems to be turned away. They desperately need him to turn his face back to them, smile on them favorably and rescue them from the destruction that is about to take place.
If the psalm was written before the fall of the northern kingdom, as it seems to have been, we know that God did not smile favorably. And we know the reason, too! It is because the people did not repent of their sins and truly seek after God and his righteousness. So the psalm is a warning among other things. It warns us that restoration is not automatic. God is good, he is a good shepherd; but he is also a stern judge of unrepented sin.
The second stanza of Psalm 80, following the chorus, is a description of Israel’s present plight. It is an explanation of why the nation needs to be restored, since nothing thus far in the psalm has shown why. The reason is that God is angry and has judged them in his anger. God is so angry, in fact, that his anger is described as smoldering even “against the prayers” of his people (v. 4). What could have caused God to be so angry? There is only one answer. It is sin, sin for which the people will not repent and in which they stubbornly persist. Sin has consequences. Thus, the stanza also speaks of these, saying in poetic language that the people have been made to eat and drink tears and that they have become the taunt of their enemies. We have a good example of such taunting from the account of the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s challenge to Hezekiah, who was king of the southern kingdom of Judah about the time of the northern kingdom’s fall. Sennacherib had his field commander say, “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand” (2 Kings 18:33-35)?
Thankfully, Hezekiah was a strong believer who laid the matter before God and sought his aid. God delivered the kingdom by sending his angel to strike down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. This did not happen in the north. The people persisted in their sin and perished. In this stanza, in just three verses “the psalmist points to an angry God, a weeping nation, and mocking foes, a trilogy of woe,” says Alexander Maclaren.1
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 409.
What is the Aaronic blessing?
What is meant by God’s face shining on us?
In what way is this psalm a warning?
Why did God deliver the southern kingdom from its enemies? Why did he not deliver the northern kingdom?
Reflection: Reflect on times God has been gracious to you or your family and spared you from harm.