1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.
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.
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 the river.
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.
Standing in the middle of a demolished church, the faithful pray that God will turn the hearts of His people back to Himself.
Whatever faith once marked the people of God has now pretty much disappeared. We look around us and see the devastation brought about by disobedience and faithlessness. The hearts of men in the church have turned to stone, and God Himself has turned His face from His people. Here is an impossible situation. We are left to the oppression of the enemy. We are now defenseless to both the enemy within and the enemy without. We have a keen sense of our helplessness and our utter dependence upon God. Unless God intervenes and turns our hearts toward repentance, the church is destined for obliteration. We are decimated. We are intensely, desperately grieving over the remnants of the church. Three times throughout this psalm, we issue a desperate cry for God’s intervention. Three times we cry out for the gift of repentance and the favor of God’s grace. Only God could have turned our hearts enough to issue a cry for help like this one!
Verses 1–3. The psalmist directs his plea to the Shepherd of Israel. Besides the reference to God as Shepherd in Psalm 23, this is the only other such reference in the Psalms. This psalm constitutes a desperate cry for help, and it is appropriate that this tender and poignant title for God be used in the address. Also, Asaph refers to Israel as “Joseph” and “Benjamin,” who were the favored sons of Jacob. By his use of such wisely-appropriated references, Asaph appeals to the special relationship God has with His people Israel. He brings to mind a godly heritage and tender memories of a better time in Israel’s history.
The prayer is a plea for Yahweh to take action. It is essential that God act for the preservation of His people, if His people will be preserved. Throughout the psalm, the core element of Asaph’s prayer is repeated three times:
“Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved!”
If the condition of the church will ever turn around, it will only happen when those who make up the church turn their hearts back to God. Asaph knows that this turning will only come by the sovereign and efficacious work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of these people. So three times he prays for God’s merciful intervention.
Verses 4–7. To accentuate the miserable condition of the people of God, the psalmist describes Yahweh as being so angry that He is even irritated by the prayers of His people. What confidence then do they have that God will answer this prayer, if He is so angry with His people? The setting of this psalm has Israel suffering at the hands of their enemies, and the psalmist plainly attributes this suffering to God’s sovereign purpose. It is God Who has brought them to bitter tears. But their enemies will now take advantage of their weakened condition as they have fallen out of favor with God. As in Israel’s history, the relationship of God’s people with their unbelieving neighbors and enemies has always been a tenuous thing. There is always the potential for lawsuits, persecutions, and war. Whether we live in a state of relative peace and comfort or we are plagued with constant strife and loss is ultimately determined by God. “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7). So when the people of God face resistance from enemies and a disruption of peaceful relationships with neighbors, we conclude that God’s hand must be in it. How do we address these unsettled relationships and stop the mouths of derisive enemies? The best thing the psalmist knows to do is to cry out, “Turn us again, O God, and cause your face to shine!” There is only one important relationship that needs fixing, and that is our relationship with God Himself!
Verses 8–19. The remainder of the psalm takes up the allegory of the vine. In both Old and New Testaments the church is compared to a vine, a plant, or a tree; however, most people today do no picture the church in such an organic, connected way. In other words, most people today think of the church as twelve eggs sitting in a carton. But the Bible configures the twelve eggs as cracked and cooked in the frying pan. There is still a distinction between the individual eggs, but they are all connected in a single mass of whites and yolks. By the Bible’s constant references to trees and vines, Scripture employs God’s organic creation to beautifully portray both the unity and particularity of the covenant body.
As the story is retold in verses 8–11, God took this vine out of Egypt and planted it in the land of Canaan. After 400 years, King David and King Solomon finally consolidated the kingdom, and the nation enjoyed a wonderful time of prosperity and peace. But the hearts of the Israelites turned away from God, and as a consequence they faced attacks, invasion, subjugation, and exile at the hands of enemies.
Again, the psalmist recognizes God as the chief cause for Israel’s success. But it is also God’s hand that brought severe retribution for their disobedience. After building up this beautiful nation, God proceeded to tear it apart. Asaph compares the destruction of Israel to what happens when wild boars run rough-shod through a neatly-cultivated garden. If you put a few pigs in a garden, it won’t take long before they have plowed up the whole yard. Over the years, Israel turned into something similar, largely due to the constant military incursions from Philistia, Moab, Syria, Assyria, and Babylon.
God has torn up His beautiful, fruitful garden. He has turned on his own son (verse 14). Why would He do this? The psalmist pleads that God would return to His vineyard that He had so carefully cultivated over previous generations. He presses for a change in God’s countenance towards His own people. When God smiles on His people, they will prosper. But when He frowns, destruction overwhelms them.
What a predicament for the church of God! In this desperately hopeless condition, the psalmist calls out for a Messiah, a Savior in the form of the Son of Man. Surely, verse 17 is a prophetic reference to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and He will arise from this very same vine. If God does not preserve the vine, there will be no Savior. With no Savior, there will be no Son of man who rises up to deliver the people of God!
Two truths interlock in verse 18 as the psalmist testifies to the perseverance of a remnant and hinges it upon God’s quickening, regenerating work. The church will persevere. That is its commitment. But if we did not believe that God will quicken, we could never commit to a lifetime of fidelity to God. This is always the testimony of the godly. We turn to God in faith, while at the very same time we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in regeneration.
This psalm speaks worlds to the condition of the church today. What can possibly restore the church in England, Scotland, Holland, or America to its former state? The tidal wave of apostasy sweeps each successive generation into a hundred streams of heterodoxy and increasingly egregious forms of unbelief. Israel had its idolatry; our churches are plagued with homosexuality, divorce, and materialism. Israel broke into two nations after Solomon; the church of Christ has fractured into a thousand denominations. The older denominations countenance every form of sin even within the clergy while the “reforming” sects fight within themselves over every minor thing until there is hardly any unity left at all!
What can possibly salvage the church when God has removed His presence from us? Will the mega-church save the body of Christ in our generation? What if we repackage the message with more palatable terms and organizing features? Or what about introducing new programs for the children? Could we make the services more informal? Shall we remove all hierarchy in organization? Or would it be better to increase hierarchy and formality? Perhaps a worship band performing popular music forms would tune these hearts to love God more. Or would it be better to bring the old pipe organ back and introduce a form that might inspire more reverence in worship? And so it goes as well-meaning leaders in the present day church desperately attempt any and all possible solutions to correct the degradation of the faith in the Western world. They have tried everything. But we know that all of these things are vain efforts: they are just superficial solutions to a heart problem.
Unless God turns the hearts of His people back to Him, the church will fade away. Those who cannot see how these psalms apply to the devastating conditions of the churches have a false impression of the church. They are themselves on the road to apostasy, and their hearts are consumed with pride. Truly, the destruction that has wasted the church is breathtaking. What was once a strong church in this country is now a broken, despised, abandoned shell of a church, so weak that it is hardly able to impact any of our own institutions let alone disciple the nations through a vibrant missionary outreach. May God give us eyes to see our broken-down condition! This is a psalm to be prayed on our knees with tears and a sincere, passionate appeal to the Shepherd of the church.
“Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved!”
Let us pray that God will turn the hearts of His church to repentance. May God move us from a man-centered orientation to a God-centered view of truth, ethics, worship, and life!
1. This is a psalm calling for corporate repentance within the church. Whether we are talking about the church on a denominational level or some small local church, the message is the same. Some churches may enjoy a little repenting zeal for a while, but so quickly these churches wander from biblical truth and right practice. Hearts drift away from a warm, close relationship with the living Christ. The great psalms and hymns once sung with zeal and knowledge are now sung as an empty ritual. Great pride is taken in mere assent to doctrinal propositions, but it is empty knowledge without life. It is pseudo-faith without works. This church is “reformed,” but it sees no need to reform and repent any more. As long as we live in a sinful world, there will never be a time when the church is not in need of repentance, a fresh and new turning back to God. Although most churches today would never refer to themselves as “Repentance Community Church,” every true church must at least consider itself as such. Therefore the leaders, pastors, elders, presbyteries, and denominational general assemblies must issue regular calls for repentance, and they should lead in this repentance. This repentance must reframe the preaching, teaching, and practice of the church.
2. Though this Psalm and a few other psalms do employ repetition of a key phrase, this is rare in biblical worship. There is far more repetition in modern hymnody, choruses, and prayers. In fact, Jesus discourages the use of vain repetition in worship. Repetition should therefore be used on occasion for emphasis, reserved for our most desperate pleas for God’s help in times of great distress.
1. Give several examples of Deliverance Psalms.
2. What sort of metaphor does this psalm use to help us visualize the church? Give several other examples where Scripture uses this metaphor.
3. Who cultivated the garden of Israel, and who sent the boars into the garden to destroy it?
4. What is the fundamental problem with Israel that brought such destruction upon them?
5. How do we solve this problem?
1. Can you catch a vision for the needs of our family and our church? Are you aware of the struggles of the body of our local church or even the church as a whole in this country? How does the weakness of the church affect our individual family?
2. What are the sins that are addressed from the pulpit of our church? What is our “repentance agenda”? Does our family need to repent of certain sins from time to time? What sorts of sins could we confess and repent?