For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 80 and its interpreters. I have three items.
Psalm 80:1-2 says (in the King James Version): "Give ear, O Shepherd of
Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest
[between] the cherubims, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and
Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come [and] save us."
these verses focus on Joseph and mention Ephraim and Manasseh, which
were Northern tribes? There have been a variety of explanations. Some
say that Psalm 80 is a Northern Psalm asking God to restore Northern
Israel after her fall in 722 B.C.E. Some say that Psalm 80 is a
Judahite Psalm asking God to restore Northern Israel and presumably to
unite her with Judah. The context for such a Psalm, some scholars have
argued, was Josiah's attempt to make Northern Israel a part of his
But then there's the troublesome reference to the
tribe of Benjamin alongside Ephraim and Manasseh. Benjamin was a tribe
that joined the Southern Kingdom, so why would it be mentioned in a
discussion about the Northern Kingdom? Again, there have been a
variety of explanations. One is that this part of the Psalm was
written when Benjamin was still a part of the Northern Kingdom, which
was before it joined the South shortly following the reign of Solomon.
In this scenario, Psalm 80 is a Psalm with different layers, one layer
going back to a time way before the North fell in 722 B.C.E., and
another layer coming after that time. Another view is that Benjamin
stands for the South, and there is a hope expressed in v 2 that God will
restore all of Israel in a state of unity. And then many have
interpreted Psalm 80:2 in light of Numbers 2, where Ephraim, Benjamin,
and Manasseh all three camp together to the west of the Tabernacle, and
the reason that they were put together was probably that they were all
three considered to be sons of Rachel. The idea in this view may be
that Psalm 80 is hoping that God will intervene on Israel's behalf, as
in days of old.
I liked what the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll
commentary said on Psalm 80:1: that "Joseph" stands for all of Israel.
Why is this the case? Rashi said that it was because Joseph preserved
all of Israel during a time of famine, and Samson Raphael Hirsch affirms
that it was because Joseph exemplified in his own life the loyal Jew,
who is in a foreign land yet does not cave into foreign culture.
Psalm 80:5 states: "Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and
givest them tears to drink in great measure." The word that the KJV
translates as "in great measure" is shalish, which has to do
with the number three. Why is the number three being mentioned in this
verse? One idea is that we're simply dealing with a unit of
measurement. Keil-Delitzsch state, for example, that a third of an
ephah is a large amount for tears, and so the reference to shalish
highlights how sad the Israelites really are. And the Targum affirms
that the meaning is that the Israelites have tears in triple measure.
The Midrash on the Psalms has an interesting interpretation of shalish
in Psalm 80:5. It relates it to the tears of Esau, which means that
Esau either shed three tears or a third of a tear when he cried after
Jacob had stolen his blessing (Genesis 27:38). Rabbi Abin in
the name of Rabbi Simlai says that God acknowledged Esau's tears by
making Esau the ruler of the earth, as the Roman empire is treated as
Esau, or Edom. If God acknowledged Esau's tears, the argument runs,
should not God also give heed to the tears of his people Israel? I like
the concept of God being sensitive to Esau's tears, even though Esau
was not part of God's line of promise.
3. Psalm 80:17
states: "Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of
man [whom] thou madest strong for thyself." Who is the "son of man" in
this verse? Many scholars say that it's the king, one reason being
that Psalm 110 indicates that the king sits at God's right hand. Which
king? One view is that it's a king from the Davidic line, and another
view is that it's Saul, who was from Benjamin (which means "son of right
hand", and notice that Psalm 80:17 mentions the "man of thy right
hand"). Those who believe it was Saul hold that Psalm 80
manifests layers from different time periods. And then later Jewish
interpretation tended to regard the son of man in Psalm 80 as the
Marvin Tate, however, maintains that the son of man in Psalm 80 is Israel.
His reason is that Psalm 80:15 appears to equate a son with a vineyard,
and the vineyard in Psalm 80 (and also many places in the Hebrew Bible)
represents Israel. The idea here may be that the Psalmist
hopes that God will strengthen Israel, which is dependent on God in its
humanity (to draw from ideas from Keil-Delitzsch).
Interestingly, even John MacArthur states that the son of man in Psalm
80:15 is Israel in terms of the verse's primary meaning. For thoughts
on the son of man, see Truthceeker's comments under my post here.