Year A – Advent 4 – Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Psalms 80:1–7, 17–19 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 neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.   7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.   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.

Overview – Between about 734 and 722 BC the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were taken into captivity by Assyria. It seems this Psalm laments this and calls repeatedly for “restoration.” Though Israel (northern kingdom) and Judah (southern kingdom) had been divided shortly after the days of Solomon’s death, in 2Chr. 30:1, King Hezekiah had reached out for survivors to unite, in the face of Assyria’s threat: “Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel.” Sadly the response was mocking:  “So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2Chr. 30:10). The rest of the story is that the northern kingdoms were drowned in the Gentile sea. This Psalm was written by the musicians of Asaph at the temple in Jerusalem (Judah), yet it calls for the Lord to “Stir up your might, and come to save us!” (a united Israel) (v2). Given the peril of those days, the faithful were calling for God intervene in restoration. Striking in this Psalm is v 17, “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.” In the context of the original hearers this would have been understood as God’s firstborn, “Israel.” Let Yahweh strengthen all of Abraham’s children (north and south).

Insight  – Though God’s firstborn was “Israel,” Israel was to give birth, in the fullness of time to the Final, One True Israelite, the hope of Israel, born of  “Woman” and born under Law in order to redeem us all from the curse of the Law (Gal. 4). God would restore the family of Abraham, but in a way that no one could imagine. It is as though the cry for deliverance and restoration that first rang out in this Psalm from Judah, echoed throughout those hundreds of years until it was answered in the whimper of a newborn in Bethlehem. A Child that was to be laid in a manger, a feeding trough. Jesus was the True and ultimate Shepherd of Israel because He gave Himself for His people.

Child’s Catechism – Why is the final Shepherd of Israel Jesus? Because Jesus gave Himself for His people.

Discussion – If you were to write this Psalm today, what would you be asking God to do in this “restoration”?

Prayer – O Shepherd of Israel, we give You praise because of your mysterious and marvelous plan of redemption. You made promises and You kept them. You have always shepherded Your people. Grant that we may be faithful sheep who love and serve You in the victorious kingdom of Christ our Lord, especially in this time of Advent, as we anticipate the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus the Lamb of God. Amen.

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