Verse 1. - Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel. The title, "Shepherd of Israel," is a new one; but it follows naturally from the metaphor, so often employed (Psalm 74:1; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 78:52; Psalm 79:13), of Israel being God's "flock." Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock. "Thou that leddest" (Cheyne). The mention of "Joseph" shows at once that the thoughts of the psalmist are fixed on the northern kingdom. Thou that dwellest between the cherubims. The two cherubim that overshadowed the mercy seat seem to be meant. Shine forth; i.e. "show thyself - manifest thy might" (comp. Psalm 50:2).
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.
Verse 2. - Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. "Ephraim" and "Manasseh" form a natural expansion of the "Joseph" of the preceding verse; but it is difficult to understand the mention of "Benjamin" here. Hengstenberg suggests, and both Canon Cook and Professor Cheyne seem to accept the suggestion, that it was only a small portion of Benjamin which adhered to Judah at the division of the kingdoms, the greater part attaching itself to the rival power. Stir up thy strength; i.e. "rouse thyself from thine inaction - come forward, and make thy might to appear." And come and save us; literally, come for salvation to us. The writer identifies himself with the rebel tribes, who, after all, are a part of God's people - a part of Israel.
Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Verse 3. - Turn us again, O God; or, restore us - "bring us back" - i.e. bring those of us who are in exile (2 Kings 15:29) back to our country. And cause thy face to shine (comp. Numbers 6:25; Psalm 31:16; Psalm 67:1). The metaphor scarcely needs explanation. And we shall be saved. If thou lookest upon us with favour, our salvation is assured.
O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?
Verse 4. - O Lord God of hosts. A form of address unusual in the Psalms, but occurring in Psalm 59:5; Psalm 84:8; and below in ver. 18. How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? literally, how long wilt thou smoke? (comp. Psalm 74:1). "Against the prayer" means "in spite of the prayer," or "notwithstanding the prayer." Ordinarily, God forgives, and ceases from his anger, as soon as the afflicted one makes earnest prayer to him. But this is not always so. A time comes when his wrath cannot be appeased - when "there is no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:16). Evil has been persisted in too long.
Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure.
Verse 5. - Thou feedest them with the bread of tears (comp. Psalm 42:2, "My tears have been my meat day and night"). And givest them tears to drink in great measure; or, and givest them to drink a copious draught of tears; literally, shalish is a measure of capacity, probably the third part of an ephah (see Isaiah 40:12).
Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves.
Verse 6. - Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours. A great invasion, Assyrian or Babylonian, was always a signal to the near neighbours of Israel - Syria, Moab, Ammon, Edom - to indulge in hostilities (see 2 Kings 24:2). And our enemies laugh among themselves (comp. Psalm 44:13; Psalm 79:4).
Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Verse 7. - Turn us again, O Goal of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. Here the refrain occurs for the second time, but with the slight variation or "O God of hosts" instead of "O God" simply (see the comment on ver. 19).
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
Verses 8-19. - The poet, to excite God's compassion, proceeds to depict Israel as it was and as it is. He adopts the figure of a vine, perhaps suggested to him by the description of Joseph in the dying speech of Jacob (Genesis 49:22), and carries out his metaphor, in nine consecutive verses, with great beauty and consistency. Isaiah's description of Israel as a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7) is somewhat similar. Verse 8. - Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt. The history of Israel as a nation begins with the Exodus. The nation was transplanted from Egypt into a soil better fitted for it by the loving hand of God, in order that it might have ample room to grow up and develop itself freely. God "brought it out of Egypt," not merely in the exercise of his ordinary providence over humanity, but by an active exertion of his Almighty power, and a long series of miraculous manifestations, without which the transfer could not have been effected. He then cast out the heathen, and planted it - drove out, that is, before Israel the seven nations of the Hivites, Hittites, Gergashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, and Jebusites, and, having driven them out, "planted" in his own people (see Psalm 44:2).
Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.
Verse 9. - Thou preparest room before it. The "room" was made by the removal of the heathen inhabitants, who were first greatly weakened by Rameses III., and then driven out by Joshua. And didst cause it to take deep root; rather, and it took deep root, as in the Revised Version. And it filled the land (comp. Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:3). Possession was taken of the whole land, not at once (Judges 1:27-36), but slowly and surely; the furthest limits being reached in David's time (1 Kings 4:21, 24).
The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars.
Verse 10. - The hills were covered with the shadow of it. The "hills" intended are probably those of the south - the hill country of Judah - since the clauses which follow designate the boundaries towards the north, west, and east. (So Hengstenberg, Kay, Professor Cheyne, and others.) And the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars; rather, and the goodly cedar trees were covered with their branches. The cedars of Lebanon are intended. They marked the boundary line on the north. The psalmist calls them "cedars of God," by a strong, but not unprecedented (Psalm 36:6), hyperbole.
She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.
Verse 11. - She sent out her boughs unto the sea. The Mediterranean; the western boundary of the land. And her branches (or, her shoots, Revised Version) unto the river. The Euphrates (see Genesis 15:18; 1 Kings 4:21, 24).
Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her?
Verse 12. - Why hast thou then broken down her hedges? or, her fences. Vineyards in the East were fenced round with walls (see Isaiah 5:5). So all they which pass by the way do pluck her; i.e. "pluck off her grapes" - ravage her and plunder her (comp. Psalm 89:40, 41).
The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.
Verse 13. - The boar out of the wood doth waste it. The "boar out of the wood," i.e. the wild boar - is probably Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29), or the Assyrian power generally. And the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Other beasts, i.e. other enemies of Israel, join in and share in the plundering (see above, ver. 6, and comp. Jeremiah 5:6).
Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;
Verse 14. - Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts; i.e. "come back to us, to be our Helper and Defender." Look down from heaven, and behold. Condescend to "look down" upon us "from heaven," thy dwelling place, and "behold" - take note of our condition, see how we suffer, and thou wilt be sure to visit this vine; i.e. to "visit" it, not in wrath, but in loving kindness and compassion - to "visit it with thy salvation" (Psalm 106:4).
And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.
Verse 15. - And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted; rather, the stock. (So Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version.) Some, however, regard כַנָּה as a verb, and translate, "Establish that which thy right hand has planted" (see the LXX., Michaelis, Hupfeld, Canon Cook, and others). And the branch that thou madest strong for thyself; literally, the son, which may mean the offshoot (comp. Genesis 49:22). Is this offshoot Ephraim? or is the entire vine, all Israel, intended?
It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
Verse 16. - It is burned with fire, it is cut down. The flames of war have begun to consume it - it is no longer a vine, but mere fuel (comp. Isaiah 33:12), ready to be burned. They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. Here the metaphor is dropped. The climax has been reached, and the matter is too serious for rhetorical treatment. The nation typified by the vine, the Israel of God, is perishing - perishing "at the rebuke of God's countenance" - because his favour is withdrawn from them. Unless God steps in to save, destruction is certain.
Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.
Verse 17. - Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand. Either upon Israel generally, or upon Ephraim - the northern kingdom - especially. A Judaean poet interceding for the rival state, is touching. Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself (comp. ver. 15 and the comment).
So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.
Verse 18. - So will not we go back from thee; i.e. "we shall not go hack from thee any more." Gratitude for our deliverance will hind us fast to thy service. Quicken us (comp. Hosea 6:2). The prayer is for national rather than spiritual life - for a recovery from the destruction which has almost come upon them (ver. 16). And we will call upon thy Name; i.e. we will be faithful to thee henceforth; we will not go after other gods, but "call upon" thee, and thee only. The poet makes himself the spokesman of the whole nation.
Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Verse 19. - Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall he saved. The psalm is closed by the refrain in its third and most perfect form. First we had, "Turn us again, O God" (ver. 3); then, "Turn us again, O God of hosts" (ver. 7); now, "Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts" - the appeal to God continually increasing in intensity. Having made his third appeal by the covenant Name, the psalmist seems to feel that he has done all that he can, and desists.