1 Hear us, O Israel’s Shepherd, Joseph’s guide, The one enthroned between the cherubim. 2 Show forth your splendour to the threatened tribes, Manasseh, Benjamin and Ephraim. Come to our aid, O God, stir up your might; 3 Restore and save us! Shed on us your light!
4 LORD God of hosts, when will your anger cease To burn against the prayers of your folk? 5 For food and drink you give them endless tears; 6 You make our neighbours rage and enemies mock. 7 Come to our aid, O sovereign God of might; Restore and save us! Shed on us your light!
8 You brought a vine from Egypt to this land; You drove the nations out and cleared the ground. 9 You planted it, and it took root and grew; 10 It filled the land and spread its branches round. 11 Its boughs extended, shading hill and tree, To the Euphrates and to the Great Sea.
12 Why have you broken down its shielding walls, So that all passers-by can pluck its fruit? 13 All creatures of the field make it their food; Boars from the forest tear it from the root. 14 Return to us, Almighty God, and shine: Look down from heav’n upon your ravaged vine!
15 This vine, this root, which by your own right hand You planted for yourself, you now have spurned. This branch, this son, whom you raised for yourself, 16 Has been cut down and in the fire is burned. Your people—those whom for yourself you took— Are perishing because of your rebuke.
17 Your hand place on the man at your right hand— The son of man you raised up strong and true. 18 Revive us; then we’ll call upon your name, And we will never turn away from you. 19 Come to our aid, O sovereign God of might; Restore and save us! Shed on us your light!
The Editors of Sing Psalms suggest either Orlando Gibbon’s Song 1 or the tune Ravendale for this Psalm.
Sometimes the Bible feels as if it was written for a different people, moment and place. At other times it’s obviously for us, here and now. I wonder if Psalm 80 strikes you like that? However much it emerges from history, it could be by/for us.
Possibly reflecting a faith community that is going through hard times, it is like a hymn with a refrain. This metrical version thrice says, ‘Come to our aid, O sovereign God of might’ and punctuates that with a ‘Return to us’ and a ‘Revive us’. It’s not that they don’t think they belong to God. Indeed, they speak of God as the ‘Israel’s Shepherd’ – ‘Shepherd’ is never a negative name for God in the Bible. What is more, they are a ‘vine’ – another Biblical metaphor for those connected to God; they speak of the Lord bringing them from Egypt and planting them where they took root and grew.
But something is amiss. They feel spurned and rebuked by God; the vine is ravaged. Nor do they feel able to restore the relationship themselves. They plead with God to do so; ‘return to us’ isn’t so much a bargain – ‘if you return to us, we’ll return to you’. It’s more a recognition of dependence upon the grace of God, at once both Sovereign and Shepherd.
Is some of today’s Church a ravaged vine? Do we ever wonder if we are spurned and rebuked by God? These can be bewildering times, as our confidence drains, reputation suffers, status dwindles and numbers decline. Adopting this Psalm, we acknowledge our need of turning back to God, but that we can only do so as God first turns to us. And that is what God does in Jesus of Nazareth, remaining forever, in the Spirit of Pentecost. Thanks be to God!
Most gracious Father, we humbly pray for your Church. Fill it with all truth; in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purge it; where it is in error, direct it; where anything is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is in want, furnish it; where it is divided, heal it; and unite it in your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
William Laud 1573-1645
The Rev’d Nigel Uden, Downing Place and Fulbourn United Reformed Churches, Cambridge and Moderator of the General Assembly
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