The psalmist here, in the name of the church, applies to God by prayer, with reference to the present afflicted state of Israel.
I. He entreats God’s favour for them (Ps. 80:1, 2); that is all in all to the sanctuary when it is desolate, and is to be sought in the first place. Observe, 1. How he eyes God in his address as the Shepherd of Israel, whom he had called the sheep of his pasture (Ps. 79:13), under whose guidance and care Israel was, as the sheep are under the care and conduct of the shepherd. Christ is the great and good Shepherd, to whom we may in faith commit the custody of his sheep that were given to him. He leads Joseph like a flock, to the best pastures, and out of the way of danger; if Joseph follow him not as obsequiously as the sheep do the shepherd, it is his own fault. He dwells between the cherubim, where he is ready to receive petitions and to give directions. The mercy-seat was between the cherubim; and it is very comfortable in prayer to look up to God as sitting on a throne of grace, and that it is so to us is owning to the great propitiation, for the mercy-seat was the propitiatory. 2. What he expects and desires from God, that he would give ear to the cry of their miseries and of their prayers, that he would shine forth both in his own glory and in favour and kindness to his people, that he would show himself and smile on them, that he would sir up his strength, that he would excite it and exert it. It had seemed to slumber: “Lord, awaken it.” His cause met with great opposition and the enemies threatened to overpower it: “Lord, put forth thy strength so much the more, and come for salvation to us; be to thy people a powerful help and a present help; Lord, do this before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,” that is, “In the sight of all the tribes of Israel; let them see it to their satisfaction.” Perhaps these three tribes are named because they were the tribes which formed that squadron of the camp of Israel that in their march through the wilderness followed next after the tabernacle; so that before them the ark of God’s strength rose to scatter their enemies.
II. He complains of God’s displeasure against them. God was angry, and he dreads that more than any thing, Ps. 80:4. 1. It was great anger. He apprehended that God was angry against the prayer of his people, not only that he was angry notwithstanding their prayers, by which they hoped to turn away his wrath from them, but that he was angry with their prayers, though they were his own people that prayed. That God should be angry at the sins of his people and at the prayers of his enemies is not strange; but that he should be angry at the prayers of his people is strange indeed. He not only delayed to answer them (that he often does in love), but he was displeased at them. If he be really angry at the prayers of his people, we may be sure it is because they ask amiss, Jas. 4:3. They pray, but they do not wrestle in prayer; their ends are not right, or there is some secret sin harboured and indulged in them; they do not lift up pure hands, or they lift them up with wrath and doubting. But perhaps it is only in their own apprehension; he seems angry with their prayers when really he is not; for thus he will try their patience and perseverance in prayer, as Christ tried the woman of Canaan when he said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs. 2. It was anger that had continued a great while: “How long wilt thou be angry? We have still continued praying and yet are still under thy frowns.” Now the tokens of God’s displeasure which they had been long under were both their sorrow and shame. (1.) Their sorrow (Ps. 80:5): Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; they eat their meat from day to day in tears; this is the vinegar in which they dipped their morsel, Ps. 42:3. They had tears given them to drink, not now and then a taste of that bitter cup, but in great measure. Note, There are many that spend their time in sorrow who yet shall spend their eternity in joy. (2.) It was their shame, Ps. 80:6. God, by frowning upon them, made them a strife unto their neighbours; each strove which should expose them most, and such a cheap and easy prey were they made to them that all the strife was who should have the stripping and plundering of them. Their enemies laughed among themselves to see the frights they were in, the straits they were reduced to, and the disappointments they met with. When God is displeased with his people we must expect to see them in tears and their enemies in triumph.
III. He prays earnestly for converting grace in order to their acceptance with God, and their salvation: Turn us again, O God! Ps. 80:3. Turn us again, O God of hosts! (Ps. 80:7) and then cause thy face to shine and we shall be saved. It is the burden of the song, for we have it again, Ps. 80:19. They are conscious to themselves that they have gone astray from God and their duty, and have turned aside into sinful ways, and that it was this that provoked God to hide his face from them and to give them up into the hand of their enemies; and therefore they desire to begin their work at the right end: “Lord, turn us to thee in a way of repentance and reformation, and then, no doubt, thou wilt return to us in a way of mercy and deliverance.” Observe, 1. No salvation but from God’s favour: “Cause thy face to shine, let us have thy love and the light of thy countenance, and then we shall be saved.” 2. No obtaining favour with God unless we be converted to him. We must turn again to God from the world and the flesh, and then he will cause his face to shine upon us. 3. No conversion to God but by his own grace; we must frame our doings to turn to him (Hos. 5:4) and then pray earnestly for his grace, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned, pleading that gracious promise (Prov. 1:23), Burn you at my reproof; behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you. The prayer here is for a national conversion; in this method we must pray for national mercies, that what is amiss may be amended, and then our grievances would be soon redressed. National holiness would secure national happiness.