Psa 79.1-13 was written after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians. Since the Asaph that is most famous lived in the days of David and Solomon, the Asaph that wrote this psalm lived at a later time. We know that the descendants of Asaph lived during the reign of King Josiah in 2 Chr 35.15. This psalm is a lamentation (eicha) over the destruction of Jerusalem. The heading reads simply, “A Song of Asaph.” If this was the Asaph of david’s day, then this psalm is prophetic.
Psa 79.1-7 talks about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. The nation of Babylon has come into the land and have defiled the temple and laid waste to the city (v 1). Birds and beasts devour the dead bodies of the people, even the tzadikim (righteous ones) have perished (Ezek 14.12) and their blood was poured out like water around Jerusalem and there was no one to bury them (v 2-3).
The survivors have become a reproach to their neighbors and the scoff at God for not being powerful enough to save the city and the Temple (v 4). Asaph asks how long will the Lord be angry and punish the people for their sins (v 5). He wants the Lord to punish the nations who don’t even know Yehovah ( v 6). For they devoured Jacob and laid waste to the Temple, the city and the land (v 7).
Psa 79.8-13 is a prayer asking God to help his people. Asaph speaks on behalf of the survivors and confesses their sins against God and wants God’s mercy to quickly meet them, because they are brought low (v 8). Asaph asks God for help, his only hope. Showing mercy would bring glory to his name with the Temple altar destroyed. Asaph knows that man-made remission is not possible. He knew from Gen 22.8-14 that God must provide the atonement (v 9). Why should the nations gloat over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Avenge the blood of God’s dead servants (v 10).
Let the groaning of those kept prisoner (exiles) by Babylon come to God’s ears and preserve them from death (v 11) and return upon the heads of their conquerors judgment seven times what they inflicted (complete measure) and for reproaching the Lord (v 12) so that the people, the flock of his pasture, will give thanks and trust Yehovah for all time and to all generations (v 13).
Psa 80.1-19 is a psalm that speaks of the captivity of the ten tribes (northern kingdom) by the Assyrians. The heading reads, “For the Conductor to the Shoshanim (trumpet-shaped lilies), a testimony (edut), a song of Asaph.” The shoshanm were shaped like trumpets and that is one reason this is a Rosh Ha Shanah psalm.
Psa 80.1-3 is a prayer of restoration. Asaph asks God to give ear and calls Yehovah the “Shepherd of Israel” who leads Joseph like a flock. The ten tribes were led by Ephraim and had the privileges of the first-born (v 1). Before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh (all names for Israel-2 Sam 19.20) stir up thy power to act, and come and serve them. These tribes camped on the west side in the wilderness and the sun sets in the west, a picture of the latter days. These tribes are used to give us eschatological pictures about the second coming of the Messiah (v 2). This is explained in detail in our study of the Book of Numbers.
They wanted God to restore them and deliver them from the problems they were having by causing his “face to shine” upon them and be saved. This alludes to the priestly blessing in Num 6.24-26 and it refers to God’s favor (v 3).
Psa 80.4-7 tells us that God’s wrath makes his people feel mournful. He is the ruler of the heavenly army and they were used against them (v 4). He has fed them with tears to drink and this is a Hebrew way of saying poverty, oppression and persecution (v 5). They were the object of strife, scoffing and taunts by their neighbors and their enemies mocked them and God (v 6). Asaph again says they are in needs and he is the Lord of the Armies (Yehovah Tzavaot) so he has the power to save them (v 7).
Psa 80.8-13 gives us a very familiar picture of Israel as a vine (Deut 32.32; (sa 5.1; Jer 2.2; Ezek 17.5-6; Hos 10.1; Joel 1.7; Matt 20.1, 21.33; Mark 12.1). God removed a vine (Israel) from Egypt and drove out the seven Canaanite nations and planted it by giving them the land of Canaan (v 8). He cleared the ground before it, making enough space for them to live in, and it took deep root (established) in the land (v 9). Israel grew mighty as the cedars and cast its shadow on the hills (v 10). It was sending out its branches (spreading out) from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River at the height of the reign of David and Solomon (v 11). Why has God broken down its hedges (protection) so that anyone passing through could “pick its fruit” or plunder them (v 12). A boar from the forest (a neighboring nation) eats it away (digs with its tusks) and whatever moves in the field feeds on it. The entire country was helpless. Pigs were symbolic of the enemies of God in Isa 65.4, 66.17 and Lev 11.7 (v 13).
Psa 80.14-19 contains a petition for God to take care of the vine. Asaph wants the Lord of the Armies to turn his eyes again to the vine and restore it (v 14), even the shoot (Israel) which God planted himself, and the Branch (Israel) whom God has made for himself. Branch is translated as “son” in the NASB and it says “ben” in the Hebrew text (v 15). The branch burned with fire and was cut down and they (Israel) perished at the hands of the Lord’s rebuke (v 16). “Let thy right hand (power) be upon the man of the right hand (Messiah), upon the son of man (Dan 7.13; Isa 49. Matt 16.13; Psa 110.1), whom thou didst make strong for thyself.” The Targum says, “King Messiah” in this verse (v 17). Because God has not abandoned them, Israel will not turn away from Yehovah. Revive us (from exile Asaph says and they will call on Yehovah (v 18).
Psa 81.1-16 is a psalm that may have been written to accompany the Temple sacrifice on Rosh Ha Shanah (Talmud, Rosh Ha Shanah 30b). It is also the Psalm of the Day for the fifth day of the week (Thursday) that was sung in the Temple. The heading reads, “For the Conductor, upon Gittit, by Asaph.” The “Gittit” may have been a musical instrument that was made in the city of Gath. Asaph’s name, as we have said, means “to gather” and this psalm alludes to the ingathering of the people at the Natzal (plucking up, rapture) on Rosh Ha Shanah (2 Thes 2.2; Isa 13.2).
Psa 81.1-2 is a call to praise God. Let songs of joy ring out and shout joyfully to the Lord of Jacob (v 1). Raise a song (psalm) and strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre (kinor) with the harp (nevel). The mention of the tambourine (timbrel) means the people probably danced while singing (v 2).
Psa 81.3-5 is calling God’s people together, like what will happen ion the Natzal. Psa 81.3 says, “Blow the shofar at the new (chadash or “renewed) moon, at the covered (keseh) moon on our appointed feast day.” This is clearly speaking about Rosh Ha Shanah. It is the only festival that starts on a new moon, when the moon is still mostly covered. The word “keseh” (hidden) is related to the word “kiseh” meaning “throne” and this is another Rosh Ha Shanah theme. Thrones had a covering over them and there are two solemn festivals in the religious calendar, Rosh Ha Shanah and Yom Kippur. This is clearly talking about Rosh Ha Shanah (v 3). “For it (the appointed time of “moed”) is a statute for Israel (Lev 23.24; Num 29.1), a judgment (mishpat) of the God of Jacob (v 4). He established it for a testimony (edut) in Joseph when he went through the land of Egypt (Talmud says Joseph was brought before Pharaoh and made viceroy on Rosh Ha Shanah), I heard a language that I did not know” means the Egyptian language was not understood by the Israelites and that made their burdens heavier (v 5).
Psa 81.6-10 tells how God delivered Israel. He relieved his shoulder from slavery and his hands were freed from the baskets used to carry building materials (v 6). God says, “You called in trouble and I rescued you; I answered you in the hiding place of thunder.” In other words, they prayed in private but he answered them in public. This also alludes to Rosh Ha Shanah bec ause the mouth of a shofar is narrow, but the other end where the sound comes out is wide. This alludes to when Israel makes a small request, he amplifies the silent prayer into a prayer of thunder (“Tehillim” by Mesorah Publications, P. 1029). He proved them (tested) at the waters of Meribah when they were thirsty, and he gave them water from a rock (v 7). The Lord wants Israel to listen to him if they want everything to be well with them (v 8). There are no other “gods” (powers) and so it was Yehovah who performed all the miracles for them in the past, so God did not want them to bow down to any foreign gods (v 9). It was Yehovah who brought them out of Egypt. He wants them to open their mouths wide and ask for what they need and he will fill it (v 10).
Psa 81.10-16 says that Israel did not listen to Yehovah. The whole Exodus experience did not impress them much evidently (v 11) so they disobeyed the Torah, which is disobeying the Lord. So he gave them over to the fantasies of their heart (v 12). God yearns that his people would listen to him and walk in the Torah (v 13). He would have driven out the seven nations a lot easier if they had (v 14). Those that hate Yehovah would lie and say they were not guilty, but their time of judgment was coming. Their time of peace and happiness should have endured forever (v 15). He would have fed them with the finest (cream) of wheat (Deut 32.14) and with honey out of a rock (Deut 32.13). The land of Canaan had rocks and hills, perfect for bee hives. Honey is used as a food on Rosh Ha Shanah referring to having a “sweet year” (v 16).
Psa 82.1-8 was the Psalm of the Day in the Temple for the third day of the week because God “uncovered” the earth by his wisdom in Gen 1.9. The heading reads, “A Song (psalm) of Asaph.”
God takes his stand in the ‘Adat” (assembly) and he judges in the midst of the rulers (“elohim” or “gods” or “powers”) of the earth (v 1). God wants to know how long will the judges of the earth judge lawlessly, and show unwarranted privileges to the wicked (v 2). These judges were to defend the poor and the fatherless, those with no political power, and do justice to the afflicted, making it their responsibility to make sure what was done to them was right (v 3). They were to rescue the weak and deliver them out of the hand of the wicked, making sure justice is administered, not only in the courts, but all injustices they encounter (v 4).
But they do not know the Lord or do they understand the ways of righteousness, but they walk in darkness with no understanding. All the foundations of the earth are shaken because justice is the basis for all stability (Prov 29.4) and a corrupt judge shakes the confidence of everyone (v 5). God has said “you are gods” (rulers, judges, powers) and it is from him that they have their positions to represent the people. They are children of God and will answer to him for what they do (v 6). But in spite of all this, they will die like anyone else and fall like one of the princes, meaning the angels and rulers on earth as in Isa 24.21 (v 7). The last verse shows us that God will function as a judge over the earth if the earthly judges do not judge with righteousness. All the nations belong to Yehovah, and truth and integrity will allow all the nations to flourish.