America is experiencing difficult days. 2020 began with a new threat—a virus—but now an ancient foe—failure to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (what the Bible calls “sin”)—has retaken center stage. America looks to be coming apart at the seams. Can God help us? And if so, how? The Psalms show us the way. Last week Psalm 61 showed us how an individual can cope with difficulties; today Psalm 80 will show us how a group of people can draw close to God together. God often called Israel his “grapevine”, emphasizing the meticulous attention God gives to his people (Psalm 80:8-11). But in v. 12-17 we get news of “trouble in paradise”!
In order to see how Psalm 80 applies to us today, we must realize that America is not Israel. God entered into a special relationship with the nation of Israel that he has not entered into with any other nation. He makes promises to Israel which we cannot “claim” (eg. 2 Chronicles 7:14). When handling the Old Testament, we need to distinguish a promise to Israel from the character of God which produced that promise. God has never promised to heal America—but individuals in every nation can know that God will bless them spiritually and individually, even if and when God judges their nation.
In v. 12, the psalmist asked God a question for which he already knew the answer! Israel was suffering because they had sinned (Isaiah 5:1-7). God expected a “crop” of justice and righteousness from his vineyard, but instead he found oppression and violence. God himself brought this adversity as loving, fatherly discipline (v. 4-5; cf. Hebrews 12:6- 11). Many Christians today have a sentimental, shallow, unbiblical understanding of love. Many of us think that God’s love means that he’ll never spank us. The Bible teaches exactly the opposite. God’s discipline is proof that we’re his beloved children. That’s why you discipline your kids—because you love them and want better things for them. That’s what’s happening in Psalm 80 (v. 17-19). This principle—that sometimes our suffering is divine discipline for sin—is the balancing principle to what Pastor Doug taught us three weeks ago, from the man born blind. Remember him? With the man born blind, we learned that it is wrong to assume that your particular suffering can always be traced back to some particular sin in your life. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Psalm 80 cautions us to at least ask the question.
God is the ultimate cause of all things, but he uses means to accomplish his will. Much like you clean your house, but you use a vacuum and mop to accomplish it. The vacuum or mop didn’t clean your house—you did it. But you did it indirectly, through those tools. That’s what Psalm 80:12-13, 16 teaches. God is sovereign over everything that touches our lives—even when a virus, the police, or a governor’s guideline is the “visible, instrumental” cause of our circumstances. This teaching is what the Bible refers to as “solid food”, which is for those who are mature enough to handle it. It is explored in today’s Talking Points.
Three times in this psalm they begged God to intervene (v. 3, 7 & 19). America needs God’s help too. Without it we could descend into barbarism. God’s discipline came on Israel because of their oppression and violence (Isaiah 5:7). America is violent and oppressive too. Police violence is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to race relations in America: did you know that unborn African-Americans are 41⁄2 more likely to be aborted than Caucasians? No children should die from abortion, but Blacks are being disproportionately harmed by the abortion industry! This is wickedness and bloodshed!
When Israel suffered for their oppression and violence, their response was to repent (v. 3, 7, 19). The phrase, “turn us again to yourself”, means, “bring us back to the point of departure”. The psalmist was confessing that they had departed from God and his ways, and that they needed to get back on track. Suffering does not necessarily turn a person back toward God; plenty of people curse God in their suffering. The psalmist is asking God to make this suffering profitable. The psalmist grew in his understanding of God through this suffering—and that’s a good thing (v. 3 “God”; v. 7 “God of heaven’s armies”; v. 19 “Yahweh God of heaven’s armies”). Yahweh is God’s personal, covenantal name. “God, you’re in relationship with us! Come save your people!” Since vows should be reciprocal, the psalmist vows “we will never abandon you again” (18). He admits that the Jews had abandoned their faith commitments.
Today there have been a number of high-profile desertions from the Christian faith (either openly, by discarding the faith, or by acting contrary to our faith while still claiming it). No, suffering doesn’t always indicate that God is disciplining us, but it’s always appropriate to evaluate our devotion to God. If our suffering does happen to be God’s attempt to get our attention—who wants to prolong it?!
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Grow in your reverence for God—“the great ‘I AM’, Lord of Heaven’s Armies”.
- God loves us! Turn to him in your difficulties—ask him for help. If you would like to trust Christ as Savior, contact us here (connect.tcc.org). After providing your contact information, scroll down to the Ministry Information Request section and mark the first or second checkbox. You can also email us at: BiblicalHopeAndHelp@gmail.com. We look forward to helping!
- Take responsibility for any contribution you’ve made to your problems. Need help? Learn more about TCC Counseling here. For free hope and help, write to: BiblicalHopeAndHelp@gmail.com. We look forward to helping!
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)