Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.
Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves.
Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.
Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Distress is the context of this Psalm of Asaph. Who was Asaph? He was a worship polymath: Asaph was a choral leader, appointed by King David, and a percussionist; he played the Levitical cultic cymbals (cultic meaning “ritual” and “religious observation”). Oh, and lest we forget, he also wrote psalms for choral worship (Psalms 50 and 73-83). See 1 Chronicles 16:4-5.
And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, and to record, and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, Jeiel, and Shemiramoth, and Jehiel, and Mattithiah, and Eliab, and Benaiah, and Obededom: and Jeiel with psalteries and with harps; but Asaph made a sound with cymbals.
Distress is the context of this psalm — “O Israel’s Shepherd, Hear Our Pleading.” The psalmist in verse 3 petitions the Lord to Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. This is a request to God the restorer; a request to “turn us again”, literally meaning “to return” or as the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, renders it – epistrepson – “convert us.” This request, however, is not merely an individual request. It is a corporate request. And the congregation sings a threefold, ascending address (verses 3, 7, 19): O God . . . , O God of hosts . . . , O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
- This corporate cry of distress is a great song of pleading to Elohim (verse 3): “Like its English equivalent, it is, grammatically considered, a common noun, and conveys the notion of all that belongs to the concept of deity, in contrast with man and other created beings” (F.F. Bruce).
- This corporate cry of distress is a great song of pleading to Elohim Sabaoth (verse 7): Israel’s God is the supreme and true God. This is the God of hosts, that is, the God of the armies of Israel (1 Samuel17:45). This is also the God of the cosmic hosts, i.e. the heavenly powers, angelic armies.
- This corporate cry of distress is a great song of pleading to Yahweh Elohim Sabaoth (verse 19):“’The LORD of hosts’, is a divine title. It does not occur in the Pentateuch; it appears first in 1 Samuel 1:3 as the title by which God was worshiped at Shiloh. It was used by David in defying the Philistine (1 Samuel 17:45); and David again makes use of it as the climax to a glorious song of victory (Psalm 24:10). . . . it is common in the prophets (88 times in Jeremiah), and is used to exhibit Yahweh as at all times the savior and protector of his people (Psalm 46:7, 11)” (F.F. Bruce).
The corporate “flock” (verse 1) and corporate “vine” (verse 8) are corporately pleading with their Shepherd and Husbandman (Vinedresser) – “Turn us again!” Consider the thoughts of G. Campbell Morgan.
This is therefore a great song of God as Shepherd. The aspects of the shepherd nature dealt with are those of his guidance and care and protection. The Shepherd of glory, Who by the shining of his face reveals the way, and by stirring up of His might saves from danger, is appealed to. Then the figure is changed, and God is the Husbandman. His vine, which he planted and which flourished so perfectly has become a prey to the ravages of wild beasts and fire. Suddenly the figure ceases, and its meaning is revealed in the words,
“Let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand,
Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for Thyself.”
The burden of this psalm is expressed in the thrice repeated prayers (verses 3, 7, 19). The suffering of the people is due to their own sin in turning away from God as Shepherd, Husbandman, and King. Their restoration can only come as He turns them back to Himself.
This is a corporate prayer to the “God,” “God of hosts,” “Yahweh God of Hosts”; it is a plea to return to God. In the final analysis, this is a prayer for revival.
We have just begun the season of Advent. We ought to meditate and prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Why did Christ come? Christ came to earth to both save and reveal “God the restorer of His people.” The sheep needed “to turn again” to their Shepherd. The vine needed “to turn again” to its Husbandman. The sheep and the vine needed to be restored to Shepherd and Husbandman. But this return journey is impossible for sinners without the strength of the “son of man” who turns us and shines and shows us the path of return. Through the “son of man” we do not turn away, rather we are quickened and “call upon the name” of “God, “God of hosts,” “Yahweh God of Hosts.”
This was originally a prayer of Israel led by their choral master Asaph. This continues to be a prayer of the Church but we are led by the “son of man” choral master Jesus Christ. This psalm of distress reminds us that the “son of man” Jesus Christ revives us through the promises of the Gospel: a Savior and salvation has been promised and sent to sinners who lift up the corporate cry of distress, a great song of pleading. The only way we will ever return to God is by God turning us back to Himself, and the Gospel proclaims that God has turned us back to Himself through Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ came to be the “son of man” that God made to be strong for Himself. This Incarnate “son of man” came to turn us, to cause God’s face to shine, to show us the way, to show us the path of ascent to reconciliation with the LORD God of hosts. There is no better time than the Advent season to sing this corporate psalm of revival!