14 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
14 May 2022 (Psalm 80)

‘You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it’ (Psalm 80: 8) … a vine at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Stony Stratford this morning (14 May 2022) following my brief visit to Dublin and Askeaton during the week, and returning on a flight from Dublin to Birmingham. But, before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 80:

Psalm 80 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 79.

This is the ninth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 80 is sometimes referred to as a testimony to Asaph and is labelled as ‘for the leader.’ It highlights the restoration of the nation through prayer and God's mercy. It combines hope with a memory of great sorrow. The images of Israel as a vineyard and God as a shepherd are both drawn on in this psalm.

This psalm is a ‘communal lament.’ Its main concern is with Northern Israel, so this psalm may come from the period towards the end of the northern kingdom.

However, the Jerusalem Bible describes this as ‘a prayer for the restoration of Israel’ and suggests that ‘it could apply equally well ... to Judah after the sack of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.’

Some links have been traced to Isaiah, with a ‘similar image of a vineyard whose wall God breaks down’ (see Isaiah 5: 1-7), also to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who both refer to God as shepherd, although the exact phrase ‘Shepherd of Israel’ is unique in this psalm.

The existence of a refrain (verses 3, 7, 19) is unusual, and the first two refrains mark off the first two parts of the psalm, with the rest of the psalm forming a final section.

Psalm 80 can be divided as follows:

1, verses 1-2: a call to God for help.

2,, verse 3: the refrain.

3,, verses 4-6: an urgent plea and complaint at God’s treatment of his people.

4, verses 7: the refrain.

5, verses 8-13: a description of God's past care of Israel, with the figure of the vine alluding to the Exodus and conquest, and the present distress.

6,, verses 14-18: a renewal of petition with a vow to return to God in verse 18.

7, verse 19: a repetition of the refrain.

‘Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine’ (Psalm 80: 14) … a vine in Panormos, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 80 (NRSVA):

To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4 O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn of our neighbours;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Celebration in Casablanca.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by the Right Revd David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (14 May 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the people of the Philippines.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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