The Church Of Christ’s
‘Visit This Vine’

a brief study of Psalm 80, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 20 March 2009

Psalm 80 is another Psalm of Asaph. As with Psalms 74 and 79, it was probably written after 586 BC when the Babylonians razed Jerusalem.

Is Psalm 80 a Messianic Psalm? Well, it has not made it to the list of 13 psalms considered to be Messianic by many commentators. However, any lay person reading this psalm can see, I believe, a reference to Christ in verse 17—

“Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself” (Ps 80:17).

Who is this man of God’s right hand? Who is this son of man? Some commentators suggest that it referred to a temporal king reigning at that time. Others argue that the man of God’s right hand refers to ‘Benjamin’ whose name means “Son of my right hand”; whereas “son of man” refers to Israel. 

Well, is it not much easier to see a reference to Christ who is in a figure seated at the right hand of the throne of God today, and who always referred to himself ‘son of man’ during his incarnation? Whether or not the terms had a reference to a type of Christ at the time the Psalm was written is not really the most important point. The point is they appear to have ultimate reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, “Many interpreters, both Jewish and Christian,” says Matthew Henry, “apply this to the Messiah, the Son of David, the protector and Saviour of the church and the keeper of the vineyard.”

The church Father Augustine, for example, says: “The song here is of the Advent of the Lord and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His vineyard.

We may entitle this Psalm: “The Church’s plea for full restoration”, or perhaps better, “The Church of Christ’s  ‘Visit this Vine’.” This is a psalm which we may use as a church when we have experienced God’s chastisement in one way or another just like Israel of old had experienced His chastisement.

It is difficult to come out with an outline for this psalm, but we can see three sections, each ending with a refrain that begins with the word, “Turn us again, O God” (cf. v. 3, v. 7 and v. 19).

In the first section (v. 1-3), we see a plea that God would hear the cry of his saints. The key words here are “Give Ear” (v. 1).

In the second section (v. 4-7), we see an expression of the longing of the people. The key words are: “How Long?”

Finally, in the third section (v. 8-19), we have a petition for full restoration argue upon our union with the Son of Man. The key words are “Visit this Vine” (v. 14).

1. Give Ear

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.  2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.

Who is the Shepherd of Israel? Bishop Horne suggests that:

The Christian Church is now become the “Israel” of God. Jesus Christ is the “Shepherd” of this Israel, who leadeth his people “like a flock;” he dwelleth in the midst of them by his spirit, as of old he dwelt in the holy places, “between the cherubim.”

Well, this is a very nice thought that fits with the analogy of Scripture in which Christ is often called the Shepherd of his people.

However, the content of this psalm suggests that it is a plea to the father in the name of the Son. As such, it is perhaps better for us to think of the Shepherd here as referring to the Father. The Father is inseparable from the son, and indeed it is in the Son that the Father Shepherds us.

Nevertheless, we cry to the Father, as the Lord Jesus teaches us to. Our Father’s ears are open to our cry not because we deserve to be heard, but because of Christ our mediator. The Father dwells, as it were, between the cherubims in the Holy of holies. But the body of Christ was broken for us that the curtain separating us from the holy of holies might be torn that we may come boldly before his throne of grace.

Like Israel of old went to him, so we may go to him. We may go to him in Christ to seek his favour and blessing. This is what the plea to “shine forth” or to cause his face to shine forth (v. 3) means. The children of God can find no greater blessedness in life that to know that God’s face is shining upon them especially in times of distress.

But at such times, we would desire not only to know God’s heavenly smile, but also to know God’s heavenly guidance. And so we cry out to him as in verse 2, “stir up thy strength, and come and save us.

During the days in the wilderness, whenever the people moved from place to place, the Ark of God would lead the way, and all the people would march in a tribal formation appointed by the Lord. The tribes Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh were to march together as the rear column (Num 2:20-24).

They were marching in the rear because Benjamin and Joseph were the sons of Rachel and favoured by Jacob. When Jacob went to meet Esau after His exile in Paran, Joseph and Benjamin were placed last in the convoy because Jacob wanted to ensure maximum safety for them.

This picture lends us a wonderful mental image, for though we be furthest from the favourable presence of God represented by the ark, we may know that we are there because we are most beloved.

And so when as the church is in a wilderness of chastisement, we may cry out unto the Father confidently to ask Him to make his face to shine upon us and to lead us unto a full restoration of His blessing and joy.

 And so let us learn to cry with the Psalmist:

3 Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.


2. How Long?

If God loves us and we know he loves us, then surely, he will hear us when we come to him to show him the wounds in our soul that has been afflicted. I think of how a child who has received a spanking from his father might come to him after he has repented to show him the weal (mark) from the spanking, and so to seek some comfort and restoration. The father who loves the child will no doubt be grieved by what he sees even though the punishment had been necessary. Though he might have refused to talk to the child before, he will hear his cries and comfort him.

And so when we have been chastised and have repented of our sin, we may go to the Father to seek his comfort and reassurance:

4 O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?  5 Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. 6 Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.

God is angry with the prayer of his people when they disregard his law. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps 66:18). “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov 28:9).

We will experience God’s chastisement when that happens. But as soon as we repent of our sin, so soon does God opens his arms to us when we come to him. Go to him therefore with your tears. Go to him with your grief in regards to the enemies’ laughter.

The Lord will hear our cries and show us again his heavenly smile.

But let us go to him not only with sorrows, but with the confidence that Christ affords.

3. Visit This Vine

Go to the Lord confessing how we are a vine plucked out of Egypt and how it was by the mercies of the Lord that we were able to prosper (v. 8-11).

Go to him also to complain about the robbers who break down her hedges to pluck her fruits (v. 12). Go to him to complain about the wild boar of the woods that waste it (v. 13). This verse became famous in the time of Reformation, when in 1520, the Pope wrote a papal bull to excommunicate Martin Luther, calling him the wild boar which destroyed the Lord’s Vineyard.

But far from being the wild boar, Luther was being used by the Lord as a fellow-labourer of the vine-dresser to prune the vine.

The wild boar is the devil and all that do his will, who would destroy the church of Christ throughout the ages. We must cry unto the Father against the wild boar whenever we find him wandering into the vineyard and bringing pain and sorrows.

Then cry with the Psalmist, verse 14—

14 Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine

Plead with the Lord for mercy, acknowledging that he not only planted it and made it to grow (v. 15), but also that all the troubles that she experiences have come about because of we have angered him (v. 16).

16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.

But as soon as we make that acknowledgement, let us appeal to the Lord for grace on account of our Saviour:

17 Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. 18 So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.

Who is this man of God’s right hand or the son of man, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation. It is in his strength that we are strong. It is because he deserves God’s blessings that we are blessed. Matthew Henry puts it beautifully when he says:

The stability and constancy of believers are entirely owing to the grace and strength which are laid up for us in Jesus Christ, Ps. 68:28. In him is our strength found, by which we are enabled to persevere to the end.

The Father will no doubt not lift his hand of blessings that is upon His son our Lord. But let us humbly plead with him nevertheless to keep his hand there in recognition of the fact that we can receive no blessing but through Christ to whom we are united by faith. And so let us plead that God may quicken us that we may have faith to believe and to walk in newness of life.

Do we not need to pray this prayer often? We are so prone to wander, bent on backsliding. Shall we not come to him whenever we find ourselves wandering and fruitless to seek his strength through Christ?

Shall we not plead once again:

 19 Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.


Beloved brethren, do you love the church? Christ has his church universal, but we cannot love the church universal until we love the church local. What will you do when you see that there are great needs in the church? Will you not come to the Lord often to pray, to plead with the Father, as the psalmist has taught us in this psalm?

Let us not only pour out our complaints. Let us pour it out in recognition of our own failures and how we deserve God’s chastisement. But let us also confidently plead God’s intervention for the sake of His Son. The church we must remember belongs not to the elders or pastors. She belongs to Christ. We can always plead his name as we call unto the Father to turn us again, to revive and to restore us that we may bear more fruit for His glory. Amen.

—JJ Lim