Psalm 80


This is a psalm of lament where Asaph laments over some kind of trouble that God’s people were facing because of their sins. In the psalm, Asaph is assured that God will once again return and help His people as He has done in the past.


‘For the director of music. To the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant.” Of Asaph. A psalm.’

Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding about the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.

1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.

2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.

3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.

4. How it was used.

The heading tells us that this was written for the director of music. Some commentators believe that ‘director or music’ is God Himself and others believe that it is a song leader who led choirs or musicians, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 1 Chronicles 16:17 / 1 Chronicles 25:6.

It was a covenant song to be sung to the tune of Lilies. A lily was probably some kind of musical instrument which looked like or was shaped like a lily. Or it may refer to general beauty of the composition. The phrase may refer to the general beauty of the composition, to the tune, or even to a six-stringed instrument known as the Shoshannim.

Most commentators agree that the Asaph mentioned here is another Asaph. This Asaph was probably a descendant of the earlier Asaph who worked during the reign of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 35:15.

‘Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. How long, LORD God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us. Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.’ Psalm 80:1-7

Asaph begins by asking God to hear His people. He acknowledges that God is the Shepherd of Israel who leads Joseph, that is, His people, like a flock, Genesis 49:24 / Psalm 23 / Isaiah 40:11.

God sits enthroned between the cherubim, which is a reference to the ark of the covenant and Asaph asks that He makes His face shine, that is, he wants the glory of God to shine on His people.

The name Joseph often represents all of Israel, Ezekiel 37:16 / Ezekiel 37:19 / Amos 5:6 / Amos 5:15 / Amos 6:6 / Zechariah 10:6 / Psalm 81:5 / Obadiah 1:18. Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh were all grouped together around the tabernacle and moved whenever the tabernacle was moved, Numbers 2:18-24 / Numbers 10:22-24.

Barnes, in his commentary says the following.

‘1. ‘Thou leadest Joseph like a flock’ was a common reference to God as the leader of all Israel. 2. This came about because of the vital part Joseph had in preserving the life of the nation from the famine and for his favourable location of Israel in the Nile Delta. 3. Ephraim and Manasseh seem to be mentioned here because Joseph their father had been referred to in the previous verse; and it was natural in speaking of the people to refer to his sons.’ Benjamin was mentioned because he was the brother of Joseph, and all three of these constituted the whole Rachel branch of the Twelve Tribes.’

Coffman, in his commentary says the following.

‘It appears to us that there is also another good reason. The two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh represented the northern Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin represented the southern Israel, where they remained faithful to the house of David. How beautifully all of this fits! God is the ‘Shepherd of Israel,’ who leads Joseph like a flock, not merely part of Joseph, standing for Israel, but all Israel, as represented by the three descendants of Jacob through Rachel.’

Asaph asks God to awaken His might, to come and save His people. Asaph asks God to act now and display His strength, so that He can deliver His people once again. He asks God to restore His people, and show them His favour, that is, make His face shine upon them, Numbers 6:24-26.

Asaph asks the LORD Almighty how long will He be angry against the prayers of His people? This is the prayer of a man who is just pouring their heart out to God. The people were in prayer, but Asaph was asking for answers to their prayers.

When Asaph speaks about feeding of bread of tears and drinking tears by the bowlful, he’s expressing the great sorrow that God’s people were going through, Psalm 42:3.

Israel’s enemies were making a laughing stock out of Israel, because they were victorious in a battle with Israel, whereas before Israel was usually victorious when God was with them.

Asaph, once again, pleads with God to restore His people, show favour on them and save them from their enemies.

‘You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. Its branches reached as far as the Sea, its shoots as far as the River. Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it, and insects from the fields feed on it.’ Psalm 80:8-13

Notice Asaph pictures Israel as the vine, Deuteronomy 32:32-33 / Isaiah 5:1-7 / Isaiah 27:2-6 / Jeremiah 2:21 / Jeremiah 12:10 / Ezekiel 17:5-10 / Hosea 10:1 / Joel 1:7 / Matthew 20:1 / Matthew 21:33 / Mark 12:1, whom God delivered out of Egypt.

Israel was God’s vine and it was God who planted them in Canaan. It was God who prepared the ground for Israel to be planted there, Israel planted their roots in Canaan and filled the land. They grew as big as the mountains and as big as the mighty cedars.

Under David and Solomon’s reign, Israel reached as far as the Sea, that is, the Mediterranean Sea, and it reaches the River, that is, he Euphrates River. This was the fulfilment of God’s promise to them, Exodus 23:31 / Deuteronomy 11:24 / 1 Kings 4:21.

Asaph asks God why has He broken it’s walls so that all who pass by pick it’s grapes? He appears to acknowledge that it was God who had broken down the walls, that is, God was no longer their protection.

It was God who allowed Israel to be plundered by their enemies. Asaph wants God to return to make Israel strong again so that they can defend themselves against their enemies.

Israel’s enemies are described as wild boars who came in and ravaged the land. Although the N.I.V. uses the word ‘insects’ the word should be ‘wild beasts’, and refers to animals such as lions and wolves, Psalm 50:11 / Isaiah 66:11. Asaph describes their enemies as wild and out of control.

‘Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.’ Psalm 80:14-19

Once again, Asaph pleads with God to return to help His people, he ask God Almighty to look and see what’s happening to His people, Jeremiah 14:8. It was God who planted the vine, that is Israel, and it was God who raised them up, Psalm 80:8.

Notice Asaph acknowledges that Israel were cut down and burned at God’s rebuke, it was God who was rebuking His people, it was God who was allowing His people to perish.

Israel are in a desperate place, and so Asaph asks God rest His hand on the man at His right, that is, he wants God to be with them and bless them. The reference to the ‘son of man’ who is at God’s right hand side is probably a reference to the Christ, Ephesians 1:20-23 / Hebrews 8:1.

With the strength of the son of man, God’s people would once again be faithful to Him, they would be revived, Psalm 80:18, and would call upon God’s Name.

Asaph, ends his psalm by asking God to restore His people, for the third time, he asks LORD God Almighty, that is, the God of Hosts, to show favour to His people and save them from their enemies.


Asaph reminded us that Israel was God’s vine, whom He brought out of Egypt and planted in the Promised Land.

In John chapter fifteen Jesus and His disciples had just celebrated the Passover. The disciple Judas has left the group to set up the betrayal. Jesus and the eleven remaining disciples left Jerusalem and went down into the Kidron Valley and up the slope of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane.

As they walk along the trail Jesus and the disciples pass through the vineyards that surround the city. Along the trail are gnarled grapevines that showed the scars from recent pruning’s.

They can see in the distance the temple at Jerusalem, above and round the gate, seventy cubits high, which led from the porch to the holy place, a richly carved vine was extended as a border and decoration.

The branches, tendrils, and leaves were of finest gold, the stalks of the bunches were of the length of the human form, and the bunches hanging upon them were of costly jewels, this vine must have had an uncommon importance and a sacred meaning in the eyes of the Jews. With what majestic splendour must it likewise have appeared in the evening.

Jesus picked up a cutting and turned to His disciples and said, ‘You know how Israel is pictured as a vine which is to produce refreshing fruit. Well, she failed. I am the authentic Vine. I am the true and genuine Vine as opposed to a mere copy or symbol. I am the fulfilment of all that this symbol suggests. I am the Vine, the true One.’ John 15:1 / John 15:5.

The word ‘true’ is also used of that which is the ultimate realisation. Jesus is the fullest realization of the hope of Israel, of her expectations, of what God intended her to be. Israel as a vine never achieved her goal. She was a failure.

However, the Lord Jesus Christ Who came as the True Vine accomplished all that God intended His Messiah to do. Jesus drew a sharp contrast between the degenerate vine of Israel and Himself. He transferred the privileges and responsibilities from the Hebrew people to Himself.

Go To Psalm 81


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 1:1