Psalm 80: 9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 80, a community lament in a time of military defeat.
The psalm uses the metaphor of a vineyard to sketch the history of Israel’s origin, its growth, and its collapse. In this state of ruin, the psalmist cries out to God for restoration and promises fidelity in the future.
A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it.
This lament contains several striking images for God, the first being a cultivator of vines, with the vineyard being the nation of Israel. Israel was rescued by God from oppression in Egypt and brought into the land of Canaan after the original inhabitants had been driven out.
Israel often referred to itself metaphorically as a vineyard, as seen in the writings of Isaiah (5:1-7, 27:2-5), Jeremiah (2:21), Hosea (10:1), and Matthew (21:33).
It put forth its foliage to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.
Under the reign of David, Israel expanded its influence from the Mediterranean Sea to the great River, the Euphrates.
The psalmist is reminding God of the special care shown to this people in the past, in hope that God will look kindly on them in their current situation.
Why have you broken down its walls, so that every passer-by plucks its fruit,
The misfortune the people are suffering may have been at the hands of other nations, but it only came to pass because of God’s will. In fact, it was God who actively broke down the nation’s defenses so it became vulnerable to outside forces of destruction.
the boar from the forest lays it waste, and the beasts of the field feed upon it?
Boars and beasts of the field were wild animals and consequently considered unclean. Therefore the nation has not only been assaulted, it has also been desecrated.
In agony, the psalmist cries out: Why have you done this?
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
The second image of God: military leader.
“LORD of hosts” is a military title. “Hosts” is a military term meaning “divisions of the army”; “hosts of heaven” refers to units of the heavenly defenders who fight cosmic battles with God as their captain.
Israel believed that whenever necessary, God would marshal these forces of heaven and fight in Israel’s defense (Isaiah 40:26)
look down from heaven, and see;
The psalmist acknowledges that the divine “LORD of hosts” is the same God who cultivated Israel as a choice vine, and so he cries out for God’s attention to his plight.
take care of this vine,
Cultivating grapevines is demanding and tedious work, and it takes a long time to bring a vine to maturity. Vinedressers must be patient, dedicated people. They deal with living things that follow their own laws of growth, which the ones tending cannot control. Vinedressers must be willing to forgo their own comfort in the face of long hours and inclement weather. This image represents the tender solicitude with which God cared for the people in the past.
Picturing God in this way, the psalmist cries: “Take care of this vine!”
and protect what your right hand has planted, the son of man whom you yourself made strong. May your help be with the man of your right hand, with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
The psalmist prays for the nation (the vine) as well as for the king (son of your right hand). This reference signifies the place of honor the king enjoys. However, “son of man” is a reminder that despite this royal privilege, the king is a child of Adam just like everyone else.
Gradually, this kingly reference was applied to the longed-for royal Messiah.
Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name. O LORD, God of hosts, restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.
It isn’t until the final promise that we are given the reason for the nation’s misfortune. It was not simply caused by the wrath of God; the people had turned away from God.
Now, through the agency of the psalmist, they promise not to do this again. They ask for a second chance so they can recommit themselves to the LORD of Hosts.
Their prayer is twofold: Give us new life! Restore us! They are confident that if God looks kindly on them again they will be saved.