Salvation from Oppression
“Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?” – Isaiah 64:11-12
Even with a good translation and some basic background information, it can be difficult for us to connect with the lyrics of ancient songs on an emotional level. We are far removed from the context of the Psalms.
Psalm 80 was written in a time of great distress, around the time of the fall of Samaria in the north. This was when the ten northern tribes of Israel were invaded and destroyed by Assyrian armies, leaving the city of Jerusalem in the south almost completely exposed, and the people of the northern kingdom either exiled in Assyrian cities or scattered all over the earth.
As the stories of the books of the Kings remind us, the people of the northern kingdom were anything but innocent, and the people of the southern kingdom weren’t much better. The northern kings repeatedly provoked God’s wrath; they built temples to other gods and turned their backs on the heritage of King David and God himself.
Still, in the midst of this new foreign threat, even as the people of both the north and the south came to grips with their guilt and idolatry, readers today can still appreciate that Psalm 80 takes a bold tone for those brave enough to sing along. These singers approach God with appeals to his character and ability to restore and protect his people. They approach God as sons and daughters, members of his family – not as those who have something to prove or cower in fear. This is reflected in the images of the shepherd and the vine, and also in the refrain: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19)
Today, the oppression on display in our world may not be exactly like the Assyrian threat from thousands of years ago, but it is every bit as severe. The news tells us of inner city violence and racial tension, poverty and uncertainty, wars and betrayals. But the words of Psalm 80 remind us that we can approach God with confidence, just as the story of Christmas reminds us that Christ (our true Shepherd and God’s true Vine) is not ignorant of our sufferings, but entered into them as a baby boy.