Three times the refrain is essentially repeated, “O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved” (verses 3, 7, 19). At a very low point in the history of northern Israel as they experienced the onslaught of the Assyrian army, they hardly reflected anything of the nation that God had redeemed them to be. And so, Asaph, likely writing from the southern kingdom, pleads with God on their behalf that He would again make them what they were meant to be, that He would “restore” them. Three guiding thoughts can be gleaned regarding the framework for this prayer of restoration:
I. God is Our Shepherd and King who Hears (Verses 1-2)
The confidence of the Psalmist to ask God to “give ear” is rooted in God as both the Shepherd and King who hears. In Genesis 48:15, Jacob says that God “has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” This statement is made as he blesses Joseph, which probably explains the additional reference to God as the One “who lead Joseph like a flock.” In the lives of both Jacob and Joseph, as they represent Israel, He had proven His care for His people as Shepherd.
God is also the King who is “enthroned above the Cherubim.” This refers to the Ark of the Covenant, where two Cherubim were positioned on either side facing one another, but looking down on the mercy seat on top of the Ark. God instructed Moses, “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two Cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you” (Exodus 25:22; c.f. 1 Chronicles 13). The God who is “above the Cherubim” condescends to meet with His people at the mercy seat. Of course, the true mercy seat is not in a temple on the earth but is the very presence of God where Christ has entered for us by His own blood.
– We can cry to our Good Shepherd and King, “Give ear,” because He has forever secured our continual access to the throne of grace. When you see your great need for Him to restore you and His people, this is the foundation, that He is both your Good Shepherd and He has given you acceptance with God by His shed blood.
II. God Has No Interest in Unrepentant Prayers (Verses 4-6)
What is the cause of such turmoil in Israel? The psalmist makes clear that it is God’s own doing, because He has become “angry” with their prayers. Their lives were full of hypocrisy. They were offering prayers and sacrifices to God, and yet worshiping and sacrificing to the gods of the nations. They were a society plagued by immorality, and when they approached God in prayer, they had no interest in turning from their sin in repentance. Such hypocritical mockery of God rightly provokes His anger.
– One commentator, Plumer, points out that “One of the great troubles of the Christian life is that we are naturally so much more affected and oppressed with natural than with moral evil, with our sufferings than with our sinfulness.” Are you grieved over your sin against God? Do you pray that God would enable you to love His holiness enough to hate your sin? When you approach God in prayer, are you doing so with a heart that is eager to turn away from, rather than harbor, sin?
III. God’s Past Kindness Gives Hope for Future Mercy (Verses 8-18)
The nation is compared to a vine that God had diligently and personally planted and made fruitful. It prospered and extended to the mountains (South), cedars of Lebanon (North), Sea (west), and Euphrates River (East). But now God had “broken down its hedges.” Yet the psalmist draws courage from His past care for them, and confidently looks forward to the day when God will revive and make them strong again.
- Christ is the True Vine, the true and only hope for God’s people. He is the “shoot which your right hand has planted” and “the Son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.” Only those branches which are joined to Him are revived, restored, and made fruitful. Because He will uphold and sustain His own, those who are in Christ can confidently say, “We shall not turn back from You.” Are you trusting in this Vine? Are you one of His branches, bearing the fruit of love to God?