Psalms 80 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 80
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

That this plaintive cry for restoration to a state which should be indicative of the Divine favour, arose from Israel when groaning under foreign oppression which it was powerless to resist, is plain and incontestable. And if, with the almost unanimous consent of critics, we are right in rendering Psalm 80:6, “Thou makest us an object of strife to our neighbours,” we should be able to approximate very nearly to the date of the poem. For there are only two periods when Palestine became an object of dispute between rival powers: when Assyria and Egypt made it their battleground; and, at a much later date, when it was the apple of discord between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ. But at the earlier of these two periods the language of the poet descriptive of utter prostration and ruin (Psalm 80:16) would hardly have been suitable. We hear, too again, in Psalm 80:4, the pathetic “how long?” of the Maccabæan age. No argument for date or authorship can safely be drawn from the mode in which the tribes are mentioned and arranged in Psalm 80:2. (See Note.) The refrain at Psalm 80:3; Psalm 80:7; Psalm 80:19 indicates the structure of the poem.

Title.—See Psalms 45, 60, and comp. title of Psalms 69.

To the chief Musician upon ShoshannimEduth, A Psalm of Asaph. Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.
(1) The reference to the shepherd, so characteristic of the Asaphic psalms, is, no doubt, here chosen especially in recollection of Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24. “Shepherd” and “Rock” were Jacob’s especial names for God, as the “Fear” was that of Isaac, and the “Mighty” that of Abraham; but in the blessing of Joseph the patriarch seems to have made more than usually solemn pronunciation of it. It is, therefore, very doubtful whether we must press the selection of Joseph here as a distinct and intended reference to the northern tribes or kingdom, in distinction to Judah or the southern kingdom.

Dwellest.—Rather, sittest (enthroned). (Comp. Psalm 99:1.) That this is not a merely poetical idea drawn from clouds (as possibly in Psalm 18:10), but is derived from the throne, upheld by the wings of the sculptured cherubim in the Temple, is proved by Exodus 25:22. (Comp. Numbers 7:89. Comp. also “chariot of the cherubim,” 1 Chronicles 28:18; Ecclesiasticus 49:8; also Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 37:16; Ezekiel 1:26.)

Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.
(2) Before Ephraim . . .—The tribes named from Joseph’s sons and his uterine brother naturally range together; they encamped side by side on the west of the Tabernacle, and when the ark moved forward they took their places immediately behind it to head the procession. The preposition “before” would alone show that this ancient arrangement, and no recent political event, determines the manner in which the poet introduces the tribes. It is used of a funeral procession (2 Samuel 3:31; Job 21:33).

Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
(3) Turn us againi.e., “restore us,” not necessarily with reference to the Captivity, but generally, restore us to our pristine prosperity.

Cause thy face to shine.—The desert encampment and march is still in the poet’s thought. As in Psalm 67:1 (see Note) we have here a reminiscence of the priestly benediction.

Saved.—Or, helped. This verse constitutes the refrain.

O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?
(4) How long wilt thou be angry?—Literally, until when hast thou fumed? A pregnant construction combining two clauses. Thou hast been long angry; how long wilt thou continue to be angry? (Comp. Psalm 13:2, Note, and Exodus 10:3.) Others say the preterite here has the sense of a future perfect, which comes to the same thing: “How long wilt thou have fumed? (See Müller’s Syntax, § i. 3, rem. (a), Prof. Robertson’s trans.)

Against the prayer.—Literally, in, i.e., during the prayer. The smoke of the Divine anger is, perhaps, conceived of as a cloud through which the prayer (often symbolised by an ascending incense) cannot penetrate.

Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure.
(5) Bread of tears.—See Psalm 42:3.

In great measure.—Heb., shalîsh, i.e., a third part. (Comp. Isaiah 40:12, Margin.) Probably meaning a third part of an ephah. (See Exodus 16:36; Isaiah 5:10, LXX.) But here evidently used in a general way, as we say “a peck of troubles.”

Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves.
(6) A strifei.e., an object of contention. In no other sense could Israel be a strife to neighbouring nations. For the bearing of this on the date of the psalm see its Introduction.

Laugh among themselves.—Literally, for themselves. But LXX. and Vulg. read, “at us.”

Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
(8) Thou hast brought.—The verb is to be taken as a historic present, “Thou bringest.” It is a verb used both of horticulture (Job 19:10) and, like the word “planted” in the next clause, of breaking up and removing a nomadic encampment, “pulling out the tent-pins, and driving them in.,,

The vine (or vineyard), as an emblem of Israel, is so natural and apt that we do not wonder to find it repeated again and again in the Old Testament, and adopted in the New. Probably Isaiah 5:1-7 was the parent image, unless the Patriarchal benediction on Joseph (Genesis 49:22) suggested that song.

Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.
(9) Thou preparedst room.—The reference is, of course, to the casting out of the heathen in Psalm 80:8.

Didst cause . . .—Rather, it struck its roots deep; literally, rooted its roots.

The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars.
(10) Goodly cedars.—Literally, cedars of God. The branches of the vine are to grow to resemble the luxuriance of the most magnificent of all forest trees.

She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.
(11) The sea . . . the riveri.e., the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, the limits of the Solomonic empire. (See Deuteronomy 11:24; comp. Genesis 28:14; Joshua 1:4.)

Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her?
(12) Pluck.—For the same image of the broken fence, and the fruit gathered by the passers by, see Psalm 89:40-41.

The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.
(13) Boar.—This is the sole mention of the wild boar in Scripture. But it must not therefore be inferred that it was rare in Palestine. (See Tristram’s Nat. Hist. Bib., p. 54.) The writer gives a sad picture of the ravage a herd of them will make in a single night. Comp.—

“In vengeance of neglected sacrifice,

On Oencus’ fields she sent a monstrous boar,

That levell’d harvests and whole forests tore.”

HOMER: Iliad (Pope’s Trans.).

Wild beast.—It seems natural, at first, to take this beast as the emblem of some particular power or oppressor, as the crocodile is of Egypt, the lion of Assyria, &c. But the general term—literally, that moving in the field (see Ps. 1:11)—makes against such an identification.

Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;
And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.
(15) And the vineyard which . . .—Most modern scholars follow the LXX. and Vulg. in making the word rendered vineyard an imperative of a verb, meaning protect: And protect what thy right hand hath planted. This makes a good parallelism.

It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
(16) It is burned.—This verse would certainly be far more intelligible, and also fit better into the rhythm, if it followed immediately after Psalm 80:13. The poet, while complaining that God fumed with anger while Israel prayed, would scarcely speak of themselves as perishing under His rebuke, which, in Psalm 76:6, is used of His attitude towards foes actually contending against Him. But if we read Psalm 80:13; Psalm 80:16 together, we avoid this:—

“The boar out of the wood doth waste it

And the wild beast of the field doth devour it:

It is burned with fire, it is cut down;

Let them (the beasts) perish at the rebuke of thy


(See also Note to next verse.)

Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.
(17) Man of thy right hand.—This is manifestly a continuation of Psalm 80:15, and should follow it:—

“Protect what thy right hand hath planted,

The branch which thou hast made strong for thyself:

Let thy hand be over the man of thy right hand,

Over the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.”

A fine instance of the mode in which the thought can pass naturally from the figurative to the literal. The man of God’s right hand is evidently the man protected by the right hand, but the expression introduces such a tautology that we suspect a misreading.

In the words “son,” “son of man,” some see a reference to the Messiah. But the parallelism and context show that the poet is thinking of Israel as a community, of which the vine is the emblem.

So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.
Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
(19) Turn us.—By a fine gradation in the style of the address to God, the refrain has at last reached its full tone, expressive of the completest trust—

“God’s ways seem dark, but soon or late

They touch the shining hills of day.

The evil cannot brook delay;

The good can well afford to wait.”


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