In Psalm 81, it begins with praise to God, (V 1-5a) and then ends with preaching by God (V5b-16). Providing a sermon by God’s heart. In the middle verses, we see examples of how they worshiped. The Bible also shows the different celebrations that took place at the time (81:3). 81:5b-16 are the verses that are a sermon by God. Then in 81:6 & 7, God responds to the cries of His people. He (in verse 6) is reminding Israel of there slavery in Egypt. Go down to verses 8 and 9 and He warns them of danger. You shall not bow down to any foreign god (from Ex. 20). God then tells them of the abundance that He has promised them. Then in verses 11-15, God lets us suffer the consequences. In 81:13, God’s compassion for Israel is clearly seen.
If we’re honest, there is truly nothing more painful than the times when we experience our Father’s discipline and displeasure. Psalm 80 puts words to our feelings in those moments:
- How long will you be angry with [my] prayers? (vs. 4)
- My enemies are laughing at me. (vs. 6)
- I’m eating and drinking my tears (vs. 5)
It leads us along a path of remembering too—of remembering God’s past favor toward us even against the impenetrably bleak backdrop of the present.
For Asaph this meant recalling God’s choosing Israel as a vine, and then bringing them out of captivity, clearing the ground, planting them only to see them take root and “fill the land” in every direction. Yet despite God’s past favor, in the present God had “broken down” the walls of His vineyard and wild boar and beasts ravaged it and those passing by ate its fruit. Asaph asks simply and painfully “Why then have you broken down its walls….”? Why Lord? Yet here, we learn a helpful lesson from Asaph as to what we can do in this situation: keep praying. Three times he calls out to God: “Restore us [or turn to us]…Let your face shine, that we may be saved.” And each time he prays it, the intensity of his prayer grows. The lesson is simple for us: when we fail and sin and suffer we must keep praying. That was Asaph’s hope—hope in the God who will turn and need only smile to change our situation entirely.
However it is also helpful to remember in such times that the hope that Asaph had in part we now have in full. Even in the darkness we can dare to believe that God will turn to us and forgive. What gives us such audacious hope? Jesus. He is our Shepherd, the true Vine, the one who gives life, the Son at God’s right hand—the one who faced the full turning away of the Father’s face and the fierceness and fullness of His wrath. In Him is life. In Him we have access to the God who sits enthroned above the mercy seat. Forever. In Jesus is our hope and trust. Even in times of grievous sin with terrible consequences on our part, God will turn and be gracious to us and smile on us because of his Son. So then in the darkness let us continue to pray:
Restore us…Let Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.