Introduction: We turn this Thanksgiving time to one of the most important of Psalms for our day – a day of apostasy like the days of our author of this Psalm, Asaph. May this godly author teach us much about prayer, lament and hope as he prays for the lost 10 tribes of Israel. In this Psalm Asaph expresses his perplexity at the length and intensity of Israel’s suffering, asking God in verse 4:
How long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
May we, this week, be encouraged to persevere in our prayers for the wandering and the exiled as Asaph did.
Mon/Tues: read Psalm 80:1-7, 13 and Psalm 81:1-2. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that Asaph wrote so many laments because he was a negative, pessimistic kill-joy. Though it is true that, out of the twelve Psalms attributed to Asaph, five are classified as “laments,” it is also true that Asaph and his sons led for generations the joyful praises of God’s people in Jerusalem. Remember: 1 Chronicles 16:4-5 identifies him as a chief choir director who led Israel in “petition, giving thanks, and praising the Lord God of Israel.” What a joy-filled mandate! We see some of this joy, do we not, in how Asaph opens Psalm 81: Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
But such a joyful office presses the natural question: “Why would such a joyful director of the National Choir of Israel write so mournfully in Psalm 80, speaking of God’s anger smoldering against His people? Ah, the answer is a paradox! For it is actually Asaph’s joy in the worship he led in Jerusalem, and his valuing of the joyful privilege of temple worship, which compelled him to grieve for all those who were barred from this great privilege!
Perhaps the descendant of Asaph who penned Psalm 80 was originally a Levite from one of the towns in Northern Israel – who now served in Jerusalem after the exile of all his neighbors from the northern ten tribes. Whatever his birthplace, though, it is clear that he grieves for the invasion of the land of Israel by the “wild boars from the forest” in Ps. 80:13 – a description traditionally understood by many to refer to the Assyrians who deported the northern ten tribes in 722 B.C. (In fact, the title of this Psalm in the Septuagint actually says: “… concerning the Assyrian.”) In other words, this Psalm expresses the grief of the godly in Judah who mourned the loss of their brothers to Assyrian exile – much like, for example, the prophepts Amos and Hosea also grieve the sin of the ten tribes and their eventual banishment from the Promised Land.
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord to use the role of worship in your church’s life to expand your heart in terms of compassion and even tears for the lost. Just as the joy of the Lord expanded Asaph’s heart in worship, so his expanded heart grieved with compassion for those who had lost this great privilege and were scattered as aliens throughout the Assyrian empire. May we likewise go to the Lord in prayer, mourning for the exiles who go through life “without God and without hope in the world.” Amen.
Wednesday: read Psalm 80:1-7 and Amos 6:5-7. Psalm 80 was written by a member of the Levite family of Asaph who served in Jerusalem’s choir for generations. These “Asaphites” had the comfort of being securely settled in Zion with God’s Temple as their daily place of joyful service. They followed the worship laid down by David – including singing the Psalms of David as well as their own compositions. Why, in the days of Hezekiah King of Judah, it is recorded that Israel sang the songs of “Asaph the seer” (2 Chronicles 29:30)!
Yet, is it not beautiful that Asaph and his descendants did not let their privileges and religious standing dull their compassion for the lost? Psalm 80 teaches us the importance of weeping in prayer for those who have “gone into exile.” In this Psalm, “Joseph” (“Joseph” meaning the two northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who were the most numerous northern tribes and taken to be the leaders of Israel.) is mourned as a lost son of God. How different than many in Judah and Jerusalem who, in their complacency and satisfaction in God’s blessings and in their own skillful worship, do not grieve over the lost at all. As Amos 6:1, 5-7 puts it:
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion… You strum away on your harps like David… You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph…
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, give us hearts of love which persevere in loving those who are far from you. Help us to realize that, in the Gospel, the church is to be for the salvation of the lost and not for our comfort and benefit alone. Give us the spirit of hymn # 452 in our Trinity Hymnal. Amen.”
The vision of a dying world is vast before our eyes;
We feel the heartbeat of its need, we hear its feeble cries:
Lord Jesus Christ, revive Your Church in this, her crucial hour!
Lord Jesus Christ, awake Your Church with Spirit given power.
The savage hugs a god of stone and fears descent of night;
The city dweller cringes lone amid the garish light:
Lord Jesus Christ, arouse Your Church to see their mute distress!
Lord Jesus Christ, equip Your Church with love and tenderness.
The warning bell of judgment tolls, above us looms the cross;
Around are ever-dying souls – how great, the loss!
O Lord, constrain and move Your Church the glad news to impart!
And Lord, as now You stir Your Church, begin within my heart.
Thurs/Fri: read Psalm 80:8-15. In order to have a real, bleeding, weeping and praying compassion for the lost, such as the author of Psalm 80 shows us, it is necessary to appreciate Scripture’s depiction of life without God. Only then will we be moved to extend ourselves in prayer for the lost – whether the lost tribes of Israel or the lost nations of men. To help us be stirred up by the predicament of the lost, consider the description of their condition in Psalm 80:8ff, which can be summed up in one phrase: Living with the regret of wasted days of blessing.
For those among God’s people who were only followers of God outwardly, and who would eventually be exiled, they, nevertheless, enjoyed the blessings of Ps. 80:8-11. They experienced the goodness of God as His eye “watched over” that well-watered Promised Land of milk and honey. But now it was all lost. One can well imagine the regrets of the exiles after so many years of ignoring God’s grace in this way. No wonder Jeremiah mourned with words which expressed (just like Asaph in Ps. 80), not only his grief over the exiles’ lost condition, but also the terrible regrets of lives wasted in Jeremiah 8:19-21:
Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away… “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”
“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me.
Meditate and Pray: Oh, how we ought to love the Gospel of God and its power to remove the regrets of sinners. May God give us boldness to “get up on a mountain” and boldly declare that only God in Christ can “restore the years the locust has eaten” and give us a clean slate with no regrets! Moreover, let us weep with godly Jeremiah when we see the devastation of wasted lives all around us, using the words of Jeremiah 9:1:
Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.
Sat./Sun: read Psalm 80:16-19. Make no mistake: the consequences of turning from God are permanent and lasting. Though we pray that God’s saving work of grace will indeed triumph in every life exposed to the Gospel message, we must accept that God ordains that His justice triumph over those who implacably refuse Him. Psalm 80:16 speaks of this Divine vengeance and of the role the Psalmist takes as he appeals to God’s justice in the ESV translation of this verse:
They have burned it (your vine) with fire; they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
According to this translation, the Psalmist prays for the destruction of those who have destroyed God’s people in the Promised Land, asking that implacable foes like the Assyrians perish at God’s rebuke. Note that he is not praying for personal vengeance or delighting in the destruction of fellow sinners. Clearly it is God alone who can righteously avenge, as Romans 12:19 says: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Instead, in his role as a priest, choir director and leader of worship, Asaph here is interceding for the deliverance of God’s people from enemies who will destroy God’s inheritance if left to their own devices. In this way Asaph foreshadows the role of our Savior, Jesus Christ – a meek interceder for those who crucified and abused Him personally, but lion-like against those who would ultimately destroy His sheep if they were allowed to continue in their violent ways. Perhaps Asaph himself was mindful of this greater High Priest who would succeed him, as by inspiration he points to Jesus Christ the judge of all in Ps. 80:17:
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the Son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Who then will avenge the deaths of so many lost sinners at the hands of monsters like the Assyrians, Adolph Hitler and others? The Man of God’s own choosing, the “Son of Man” in Ps. 80:17! More than 60 times in the New Testament this title “Son of Man” is used of Jesus Christ. He is the judge who rescues those who are condemned and snatches lost sheep being led to eternal destruction.
Meditate and Pray: Use the prayer of hymn # 349 as your prayer against those who would aid Satan in seeking to sweep countless lost souls into eternal fire, chopping up God’s lost people as if they were firewood:
|O Thou Who the Shepherd of Israel art,
Give ear to our pray’r and Thy favor impart;
Thou Leader of Joseph, Thou Guide of his way,
’Mid cherubim dwelling, Thy glory display.
The axe hews it down; it is burned in the fire;
|No more shall we wander, delighting in shame;
Revive us, O Lord, we will call on Thy Name.
O Lord God of Hosts, us restore to Thy grace,
And then we shall live in the light of Thy face.