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Psalm 80

Make your face shine on us

What do you do when you or your loved ones suffer for going astray and it seems God is behind it? Where else can you turn when you know he alone can bring you back into the light of his face?

An Asaph psalm.

1 Listen, Shepherd of Israel
who leads Joseph’s descendants like a flock
and sits enthroned above the cherubim.[a]
Show your glorious light
2 to Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Call on your strength and come save us!
3 Bring us back, God!
Make your face shine on us
and we’ll be rescued. 

4 Yahveh God of heaven’s armies
how long will you be annoyed
by your people’s prayers?
5 You’ve given us only tears for food
washed down by jarfuls of yet more tears!
6 You’ve made us
a source of contention to our neighbors
an object of derision to our foes.
7 Bring us back, God of heaven’s armies!
Make your face shine on us
and we’ll be rescued.

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt.
You drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground
and it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade
the mighty cedars with its boughs.
11 It sent out its branches to the sea
its shoots to the Euphrates.
12 Why now have you broken down its walls
so every passer-by can plunder its fruit?
13 So wild boars from the forest can root it up
and every pest of the field devour it?
14 Turn back, God of heaven’s armies!
Look down from heaven and behold.
Take care of this vine.
15 Protect the root you yourself planted
the son you yourself made strong.
16 It’s been chopped down
and burnt by fire—
destroyed by your angry frown.
17 May your hand of protection
rest on the man you chose
the son of man you yourself strengthened.[b]
18 Then we’ll never turn away from you.
Give us life and we’ll call on your name.
19 Bring us back
Yahveh God of heaven’s armies.
Make your face shine on us
and we’ll be rescued.

The psalmist describes God as Israel’s shepherd-king since the ancient world often pictured kings as shepherds, protecting and providing for their people. The problem is that God isn’t doing either. The psalmist argues this in her extended metaphor of the transplanted vine, implicitly recounting Israel’s history from the Exodus to David’s expanded kingdom.[c] Instead of protecting Israel, God has broken down their wall. Instead of feeding them, he lets the nations feed on them! The psalmist’s pathos-filled cry asks God why, after putting so much into this vine, he’s now forsaken it—why Israel’s creator has become their destroyer. Not only are Israel’s prayers unanswered. They seemingly annoy God. Thus, he must turn back to them, so they can turn back to him.

Naming three tribes representative of Israel’s idolatrous northern kingdom, the psalmist identifies herself with and intercedes for God’s wayward people. She sees that Israel’s dire situation is the direct result of their abandonment by their warrior-God. So with gradually increasing intensity, she ends each of the psalm’s three sections with a refrain recognizing that God alone can rescue Israel, bring them back to him and restore them to their ancient Aaronic blessing.[d] The psalmist ends with hope, envisioning that blessing being so rich that his people will never turn away again.

Though our idols aren’t made of stone, Lord, your people are as lost today as the Israelites of long ago. We once flourished—we now languish under your frown. Turn back to us, so we can turn back to you. Look down, see our plight. Make your face shine on us and we’ll be saved! Amen.

In your free moments today, pray these words:

Bring us back, Yahveh God of heaven’s armies.
Make your face shine on us and we’ll be rescued.


[a] This alludes to the ark of the covenant, viewed as God’s earthly throne. Since it was covered by two cherubim, the Israelites imagined God as enthroned above the cherubim.

[b] Prior to Israel’s exile, the son mentioned here and in v. 15 was taken as a metaphor for Israel. Afterward some Jews took it as referring to the Messiah.

[c] Israel was often pictured as a vine (e.g., Isa. 5:1-7). The psalmist is also picking up on Jacob’s prophecy in which Joseph is likened to a fruitful vine (Gen. 49:22). Since God has reversed Israel’s situation from flourishing under his blessing to languishing under his curse, the psalmist now asks God to reverse his reversal. Brueggemann and Bellinger (2014) 349.

[d] Num. 6:22-26.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.