Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:19)
Return, Revive, Restore
The other day I did a little research on wolves in Michigan. You see, a visit to Isle Royale National Park in northern Lake Superior has been on my bucket list for about as long as I can remember, and I’d love to experience all of it firsthand—the unspoiled wilderness, the pristine forests and waterways…and of course, the wolves.
The history of wolves in Michigan is fascinating. For thousands of years, countless packs of wolves freely roamed every part of our great state, until “the arrival of settlers, hunters and farmers in the late 1800s nearly extirpated the population.” (Don’t worry, I had to look it up too!) By 1970, there were only about 6 wolves left in the state (apart from Isle Royale), and all of these lived in the upper peninsula. Naturalists worked hard to get the wolves designated as “endangered” and began efforts to build up the population to sustainable levels. Today, the wolf population in Michigan is over 600, and there are even some healthy packs living in the northern counties of the lower peninsula. It’s a great success story…especially for the wolves!
Of course, now there is an ongoing debate in our state. While most people like the idea of having wolves back, and while many can see the benefits of a healthy ecosystem, almost no one wants to hand over control to the wolves see them roaming freely on the streets of their city.
So, what does the story of the wolves have to do with our psalm today? Almost nothing! But let me try to explain…
In Psalm 80, the songwriter begins by asking God, the “Shepherd of Israel” to once again lead his people, to “shine forth” upon them, and to “come and save” them (vs. 1-2). He describes how God’s anger against his chosen people has caused them unbearable anguish and has allowed their enemies to ridicule and mock them (vs. 4-6). He illustrates the story of Israel by using the image of a vineyard that God once lovingly planted and cared for, but that God has now allowed to be plundered, ravaged by beasts and insects, cut down, and burned with fire (vs. 8-13). The psalmist pleads with God to “return to us,” to “revive us,” and to “restore us” (vs. 14, 18, 19).
Three separate times in the psalm, Asaph offers this refrain, “Restore us…make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (vs. 3, 7, 19). But each differs slightly in how it addresses God. In the first refrain, it is simply “Restore us, God” (Elohim in Hebrew). The second refrain is a bit more intense, “Restore us, God Almighty” (Elohim tze-va-ot, literally “God of hosts,” or “God of angel-armies”). Not only is he a god, but he is a powerful god. The third refrain again extends God’s title, using the very name of God “Restore us, Lord God Almighty” (Yahweh elohim tze-va-ot). Asaph’s god is not only the powerful God of angel-armies, He is a personal God…He is Asaph’s God.
In Psalm 80, Asaph implores God to return, to revive, to restore. He knows that Israel needs God to return to them, but returning isn’t enough. Asaph knows that Israel also needs the powerful God of angel-armies to revive them—they are not only alone, they are dying! And ultimately, Asaph knows that Israel needs even more than reviving. They need to be completely restored by Yahweh, the God who knows them and loves them, the God to whom they belong, the One to whom they must hand over complete control of their lives and their future. But how will God return, revive and restore?
“Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you.” (vs. 17-18)
Psalm 80 is more than one man’s plea for God’s temporary help in a time of struggle. It is a messianic psalm for all time—a song that points squarely to the “Son of Man,” the one who is seated at the “right hand” of God Almighty—Jesus Christ.
When Jesus came to earth, he was indeed the return of God. He was Emmanuel, “God with us.” But simply returning wasn’t the end of Asaph’s prayer, and it wasn’t the end of Jesus’ mission. Jesus also came to revive us, to be our Savior, healer and deliverer. He was “God for us.” But Psalm 80 points beyond even revival as well, as Jesus came to restore our right relationship to the God who is King and Lord. He came to be “God in us,” when we agree to hand over control of our lives…to belong to him body and soul, to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
A lot of people like the idea of God being with us, and many of us can see the benefits of welcoming a loving Savior, deliverer and healer into our troubled world. But how many of us are willing to give Jesus control over every aspect of our present and future lives?
Christians pray for Christ’s return one day. They rightly pray for revival in our churches and in our cities. Maybe it’s time to begin to pray for complete restoration of the right relationship we have as beloved children, faithful followers, and loyal subjects to the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the God of Angel-armies.
Return to us, revive us, and restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be truly saved, and that we may be truly yours we pray.
Stay thirsty my friends!