Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven and see; have regard for this vine,
the stock that Your right hand planted, and for the son whom You made strong for Yourself.
They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of Your face!
But let Your hand be on the man of Your right hand, the son of man whom You have made strong for Yourself!
Then we shall not turn back from You; give us life, and we will call upon Your name!
Restore us, O Yahweh God of hosts! Let Your face shine, that we may be saved!
We last read from Psalm 80 (vv. 1-7) last month in the article, Turn to God in Suffering, where my focus was on the imagery of God “shining His face” upon His people especially as they suffer. In this last section of the psalm, we have (A) movement of God (“turning” and “looking down”), (B) God’s “right hand” and making “the son/son of man strong for Himself,” and (C) concluding with a return to the plea for God to shine His face upon His people in order that they might be saved.
This movement of God matches the plea for God to shine His face. Recall from Psalm 80:1-7 that for God to “shine His face” upon a people is to show His favour (grace) for a people (this is from the Aaronic Benediction in Numbers 6). In the movement of God in this section, God moving to shine His face, or to “lift up His countenance,” is the turning of God’s entire “body”—that is, God moving His whole self toward a people. For God to “shine His face” upon a person is not merely to look at them, but to turn His whole being toward them as a show of favour.
When I am having a conversation with someone, I turn my whole body toward them—they have my favour because they have my undivided attention. If I’m in line at a coffee shoppe, however, and I merely want to get my coffee and leave while someone wants to have a conversation with me for some reason, I don’t turn my whole being toward them, but rather my face. I might even be so distracted by looking at my phone that I don’t even look at them but keep the side of my face toward them while scrolling through my phone and saying things like, “uh huh, yeah, gotcha’, oh cool.” This could be sinful behaviour on my end, but that’s besides the point.
Asaph is pleading for God’s wholly (= holy) undivided attention according to His graciousness. God’s “right hand” is an image the Scriptures often use for God’s omnipotence. God established “this vine”—Israel—with His “right hand,” that is, with the extension of His full power. God does not lose interest in the things He creates and establishes.
We know the “vine” is Israel because of verses 8-9, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.” God planted His “son,” Israel, and Asaph knows God does not lose interest in what He plants. Thus, he pleas for God’s continued faithfulness in their current struggles, whatever these may be. In verse 17, “the son” changes to “the son of man.” At first, this seems to have a Messianic connotation, but its primary reference is to Israel as God’s firstborn of the nations that would be blessed by Him.
Nevertheless, Israel the vine, God’s son of man, indeed looks toward the Vine and the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Also, “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed, and go home’” (Matthew 9:6).
Jesus is the shining of God’s face. “Whomever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In verse two of his hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way (LSB #765), William Cowper writes, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense / But trust Him for His grace / Behind a frowning providence / Faith sees a smiling face.”
Jesus Christ is the gracious face of God. He is Israel perfected—the Vine, the Son of Man. Christ is the Vine in whom God roots us—in whom He grafts us; Christ is the Son of man who sits at the right hand of God the Father with the authority to forgive all your sins and raise you from death into eternal life. In Jesus, God shines His face upon you.