Psalm 80: not quite enough
August 18, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The tone here is more subdued, more humble than in Psalm 79. That’s good. Still, this psalm is short on repentance and big on requests. Give us this, give us that, restore us, why did you leave us — the whole thing goes on like this. The only acknowledgment of guilt is in verse 18: “Never again will we turn away from You, give us life and we will call upon Your name.”
In view of this admission, brief and full of empty promise as it is, the question posed in verse 12 becomes rhetorical: “Why have you broken down its fences?” There’s no fooling anyone here. The author of the psalm knows why, we know why, and more importantly, God knows why — He had a very good and just reason.
The psalm is otherwise full of metaphors, which by themselves are quite beautiful. In the larger context, I fail to see what value they bring to a prayer which was meant to have less flourish and more honest repentance. Nevertheless, I like the reference to God as a shepherd in verse 1, the presentation of Israel as a vine in verse 8 (this image is carried through to the end of the prayer), and the wonderful entreaty (repeated in verses 3 and 19), “let Your face shine on us and we shall be safe.”
Taking another step back from the text, I have to wonder how many of our own prayers are like this. We’re always asking God for more things, complaining about how things are going, wanting it to be better, but not wondering why they’re going that way, and what part we played in causing things to work out that way.
Israel had it easy — or at least it looks that way in retrospect. What I mean by that is that they knew they had to stay close to God in order to survive and thrive as a nation surrounded by hostile, pagan people. Nowadays it’s a lot harder to see God’s presence among us. We can easily slip into superficiality in our beliefs, and go to church or the synagogue while not really clinging to God as if our lives depended on it. We begin to think we can make out just fine on our own, that we don’t really need God. Before we know it, we wonder what’s the point of religion, and then things really start going downhill…
Because it’s so much harder to see God at work in today’s world, it’s very important that we keep an account of our prayer requests, and see when and if they’re fulfilled. I’m talking about even those simple little requests — like those times when we ask Him to keep us safe as we’re driving home, or to make our tires last a few months longer, till we can afford new ones. If we do this, we’ll be surprised, even shocked, as we tally up the count and discover Him right there, beside us, the whole time, working things out for our protection and benefit, quietly, peacefully, lovingly.
In those moments of awe, the perfect thing to do is to fall on our knees in a quiet spot, and thank Him. I tell you, if we truly knew how many times God helps us, every single day, by keeping us from danger, or working things out to our benefit, or creating opportunities for us to use our talents, we would never doubt His existence and love for us.