Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 80
on the Whole Bible
This psalm is much to the same purport with the foregoing. Some think
it was penned upon occasion of the desolation and captivity of the ten
tribes, as the foregoing psalm of the two. But many were the distresses
of the Israel of God, many perhaps which are not recorded in the sacred
history some whereof might give occasion for the drawing up of this
psalm, which is proper to be sung in the day of Jacob's trouble, and
if, in singing it, we express a true love to the church and a hearty
concern for its interest, with a firm confidence in God's power to help
it out of its greatest distresses, we make melody with our hearts to
the Lord. The psalmist here,
I. Begs for the tokens of God's presence with them and favour to them,
II. He complains of the present rebukes they were under,
III. He illustrates the present desolations of the church, by the
comparison of a vine and a vineyard, which had flourished, but was now
IV. He concludes with prayer to God for the preparing of mercy for them
and the preparing of them for mercy,
This, as many psalms before and after, relates to the public interests
of God's Israel, which ought to lie nearer to our hearts than any
secular interest of our own.
To the chief musician upon Shoshannim, Eduth. A psalm of Asaph.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph
like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine
2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy
strength, and come and save us.
3 Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we
shall be saved.
4 O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the
prayer of thy people?
5 Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them
tears to drink in great measure.
6 Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies
laugh among themselves.
7 Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine;
and we shall be saved.
The psalmist here, in the name of the church, applies to God by prayer,
with reference to the present afflicted state of Israel.
I. He entreats God's favour for them
that is all in all to the sanctuary when it is desolate, and is to be
sought in the first place. Observe,
1. How he eyes God in his address as the Shepherd of Israel, whom he
had called the sheep of his pasture
under whose guidance and care Israel was, as the sheep are under the
care and conduct of the shepherd. Christ is the great and good
Shepherd, to whom we may in faith commit the custody of his sheep that
were given to him. He leads Joseph like a flock, to the best
pastures, and out of the way of danger; if Joseph follow him not as
obsequiously as the sheep do the shepherd, it is his own fault. He
dwells between the cherubim, where he is ready to receive
petitions and to give directions. The mercy-seat was between the
cherubim; and it is very comfortable in prayer to look up to God as
sitting on a throne of grace, and that it is so to us is owning to the
great propitiation, for the mercy-seat was the propitiatory.
2. What he expects and desires from God, that he would give ear to the
cry of their miseries and of their prayers, that he would shine forth
both in his own glory and in favour and kindness to his people, that he
would show himself and smile on them, that he would sir up his
strength, that he would excite it and exert it. It had seemed to
slumber: "Lord, awaken it." His cause met with great opposition and the
enemies threatened to overpower it: "Lord, put forth thy strength so
much the more, and come for salvation to us; be to thy people a
powerful help and a present help; Lord, do this before Ephraim,
Benjamin, and Manasseh," that is, "In the sight of all the tribes
of Israel; let them see it to their satisfaction." Perhaps these three
tribes are named because they were the tribes which formed that
squadron of the camp of Israel that in their march through the
wilderness followed next after the tabernacle; so that before them the
ark of God's strength rose to scatter their enemies.
II. He complains of God's displeasure against them. God was angry, and
he dreads that more than any thing,
1. It was great anger. He apprehended that God was angry against the
prayer of his people, not only that he was angry notwithstanding
their prayers, by which they hoped to turn away his wrath from them,
but that he was angry with their prayers, though they were his own
people that prayed. That God should be angry at the sins of his people
and at the prayers of his enemies is not strange; but that he should be
angry at the prayers of his people is strange indeed. He not only
delayed to answer them (that he often does in love), but he was
displeased at them. If he be really angry at the prayers of his people,
we may be sure it is because they ask amiss,
They pray, but they do not wrestle in prayer; their ends are not right,
or there is some secret sin harboured and indulged in them; they do not
lift up pure hands, or they lift them up with wrath and doubting. But
perhaps it is only in their own apprehension; he seems angry with their
prayers when really he is not; for thus he will try their patience and
perseverance in prayer, as Christ tried the woman of Canaan when he
said, It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to
2. It was anger that had continued a great while: "How long wilt
thou be angry? We have still continued praying and yet are still
under thy frowns." Now the tokens of God's displeasure which they had
been long under were both their sorrow and shame.
(1.) Their sorrow
Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; they eat their meat
from day to day in tears; this is the vinegar in which they dipped
They had tears given them to drink, not now and then a taste of that
bitter cup, but in great measure. Note, There are many that spend their
time in sorrow who yet shall spend their eternity in joy.
(2.) It was their shame,
God, by frowning upon them, made them a strife unto their neighbours;
each strove which should expose them most, and such a cheap and easy
prey were they made to them that all the strife was who should have the
stripping and plundering of them. Their enemies laughed among
themselves to see the frights they were in, the straits they were
reduced to, and the disappointments they met with. When God is
displeased with his people we must expect to see them in tears and
their enemies in triumph.
III. He prays earnestly for converting grace in order to their
acceptance with God, and their salvation: Turn us again, O God!
Turn us again, O God of hosts!
and then cause thy face to shine and we shall be saved. It is
the burden of the song, for we have it again,
They are conscious to themselves that they have gone astray from God
and their duty, and have turned aside into sinful ways, and that it was
this that provoked God to hide his face from them and to give them up
into the hand of their enemies; and therefore they desire to begin
their work at the right end: "Lord, turn us to thee in a way of
repentance and reformation, and then, no doubt, thou wilt return to us
in a way of mercy and deliverance." Observe,
1. No salvation but from God's favour: "Cause thy face to shine,
let us have thy love and the light of thy countenance, and then we
shall be saved."
2. No obtaining favour with God unless we be converted to him. We must
turn again to God from the world and the flesh, and then he will cause
his face to shine upon us.
3. No conversion to God but by his own grace; we must frame our doings
to turn to him
and then pray earnestly for his grace, Turn thou me, and I shall be
turned, pleading that gracious promise
Burn you at my reproof; behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto
you. The prayer here is for a national conversion; in this method
we must pray for national mercies, that what is amiss may be amended,
and then our grievances would be soon redressed. National holiness
would secure national happiness.
8 Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the
heathen, and planted it.
9 Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take
deep root, and it filled the land.
10 The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs
thereof were like the goodly cedars.
11 She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto
12 Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all
they which pass by the way do pluck her?
13 The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast
of the field doth devour it.
14 Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from
heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;
15 And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the
branch that thou madest strong for thyself.
16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at
the rebuke of thy countenance.
17 Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son
of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.
18 So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will
call upon thy name.
19 Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine;
and we shall be saved.
The psalmist is here presenting his suit for the Israel of God, and
pressing it home at the throne of grace, pleading with God for mercy
and grace for them. The church is here represented as a vine
and a vineyard,
The root of this vine is Christ,
The branches are believers,
The church is like a vine, weak and needing support, unsightly and
having an unpromising outside, but spreading and fruitful, and its
fruit most excellent. The church is a choice and noble vine; we have
reason to acknowledge the goodness of God that he has planted such a
vine in the wilderness of this world, and preserved it to this day. Now
I. How the vine of the Old-Testament church was planted at first. It
was brought out of Egypt with a high hand; the heathen were
cast out of Canaan to make room for it, seven nations to make room
for that one. Thou didst sweep before it (so some read
to make clear work; the nations were swept away as dirt with the besom
of destruction. God, having made room for it, and planted it, cause it
to take deep root by a happy establishment of their government both in
church and state, which was so firm that, though their neighbours about
them often attempted it, they could not prevail to pluck it up.
II. How it spread and flourished.
1. The land of Canaan itself was fully peopled. At first they were not
so numerous as to replenish it,
But in Solomon's time Judah and Israel were many as the sand of the
sea; the land was filled with them, and yet such a fruitful land
that it was not over-stocked,
The hills of Canaan were covered with their shadow, and the branches,
though they extended themselves far, like those of the vine, yet were
not weak like them, but as strong as those of the goodly cedars. Israel
not only had abundance of men, but those mighty men of valour.
2. They extended their conquests and dominion to the neighbouring
She sent out her boughs to the sea, the great sea westward, and
her branches to the river, to the river of Egypt southward, the
river of Damascus northward, or rather the river Euphrates eastward,
Nebuchadnezzar's greatness is represented by a flourishing tree,
But it is observable here concerning this vine that it is praised for
its shadow, its boughs, and its branches, but not
a word of its fruit, for Israel was an empty vine,
God came looking for grapes, but, behold, wild grapes,
And, if a vine do not bring forth fruit, no tree so useless, so
III. How it was wasted and ruined: "Lord, thou hast done great things
for this vine, and why shall it be all undone again? If it were a plant
not of God's planting, it were not strange to see it rooted up; but
will God desert and abandon that which he himself gave being to?"
Why hast thou then broken down her hedges? There was a good
reason for this change in God's way towards them. This noble vine had
become the degenerate plant of a strange vine
to the reproach of its great owner, and then no marvel if he took
away its hedge
yet God's former favours to this vine are urged as pleas in prayer to
God, and improved as encouragements to faith, that, notwithstanding all
this, God would not wholly cast them off. Observe,
1. The malice and enmity of the Gentile nations against Israel. As soon
as ever God broke down their hedges and left them exposed troops
of enemies presently broke in upon them, that waited for an opportunity
to destroy them. Those that passed by the way plucked at them; the
board out of the wood and the wild beast of the field
were ready to ravage it,
2. See also the restraint which these cruel enemies were under; for
till God had broken down their hedges they could not pluck a
leaf of this vine. The devil could not hurt Job so long as God
continued the hedge round about him,
See how much it is the interest of any people to keep themselves in the
favour of God and then they need not fear any wild beast of the field,
If we provoke God to withdraw, our defence has departed from us,
and we are undone. The deplorable state of Israel is described
It is burnt with fire; it is cut down; the people are treated
like thorns and briers, that are nigh unto cursing and whose end is to
be burned, and no longer like vines that are protected and cherished.
They perish not through the rage of the wild beast and the boar, but
at the rebuke of thy countenance; that was it which they dreaded
and to which they attributed all their calamities. It is well or ill
with us according as we are under God's smiles or frowns.
IV. What their requests were to God hereupon.
1. That God would help the vine
that he would graciously take cognizance of its case and do for it as
he thought fit: "Return, we beseech thee, O Lord of hosts! for
thou hast seemed to go away from us. Look down from heaven, to
which thou hast retired,--from heaven, that place of prospect, whence
thou seest all the wrongs that are done us, that place of power, whence
thou canst send effectual relief,--from heaven, where thou hast
prepared thy throne of judgment, to which we appeal, and where thou
hast prepared a better country for those that are Israelites
indeed,--thence give a gracious look, thence make a gracious visit, to
this vine. Take our woeful condition into thy compassionate
consideration, and for the particular fruits of thy pity we refer
ourselves to thee. Only behold the vineyard, or rather the root, which
thy right hand hath planted, and which therefore we hope thy
right hand will protect, that branch which thou madest strong for
thyself, to show forth thy praise
that with the fruit of it thou mightest be honoured. Lord, it is formed
by thyself and for thyself, and therefore it may with a humble
confidence be committed to thyself and to thy own care." As for God,
his work is perfect. What we read the branch in the Hebrew
is the son (Ben), whom in thy counsel thou hast made strong for
thyself. That branch was to come out of the stock of Israel (my
servant the branch,
and therefore, till he should come, Israel in general, and the house of
David in particular, must be preserved, and upheld, and kept in being.
He is the true vine,
Destroy it not for that blessing is in it,
2. That he would help the vine-dresser
"Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand," that king
(whoever it was) of the house of David that was now to go in and out
before them; "let they hand be upon him, not only to protect and cover
him, but to own him, and strengthen him, and give him success." We have
And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon
me. Their king is called the man of God's right hand as he
was the representative of their state, which was dear to God, as his
Benjamin, the son of his right hand, as he was president in
their affairs and an instrument in God's right hand of much good to
them, defending them from themselves and from their enemies and
directing them in the right way, and as he was under-shepherd under him
who was the great shepherd of Israel. Princes, who have power, must
remember that they are sons of men, of Adam (so the word
is), that, if they are strong, it is God that has made them strong, and
he has made them so for himself, for they are his ministers to serve
the interests of his kingdom among men, and, if they do this in
sincerity, his hand shall be upon them; and we should pray in
faith that it may be so, adding this promise, that, if God will adhere
to our governors, we will adhere to him: So will not we go back from
thee; we will never desert a cause which we see that God espouses
and is the patron of. Let God be our leader and we will follow him.
Adding also this prayer, "Quicken us, put life into us, revive
our dying interests, revive our drooping spirits, and then we will
call upon thy name. We will continue to do so upon all occasions,
having found it not in vain to do so." We cannot call upon God's name
in a right manner unless he quicken us; but it is he that puts life
into our souls, that puts liveliness into our prayers. But many
interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, apply this to the Messiah, the
Son of David, the protector and Saviour of the church and the keeper of
(1.) He is the man of God's right hand, to whom he has sworn by his
right hand (so the Chaldee), whom he has exalted to his right hand,
and who is indeed his right hand, the arm of the Lord, for all power is
given to him.
(2.) He is that son of man whom he made strong for himself, for
the glorifying of his name and the advancing of the interests of his
kingdom among men.
(3.) God's hand is upon him throughout his whole undertaking, to bear
him out and carry him on, to protect and animate him, that the good
pleasure of the Lord might prosper in his hand.
(4.) The stability and constancy of believers are entirely owing to the
grace and strength which are laid up for us in Jesus Christ,
In him is our strength found, by which we are enabled to persevere to
the end. Let thy hand be upon him; on him let our help be laid who is
mighty; let him be made able to save to the uttermost and that will be
our security; so will not we go back from thee.
Lastly, The psalm concludes with the same petition that had been put up
twice before, and yet it is no vain repetition
Turn us again. The title given to God rises,
O God of hosts!
O Lord (Jehovah) God of hosts! When we come to God for his
grace, his good-will towards us and his good work in us, we should pray
earnestly, continue instant in prayer, and pray more earnestly.