Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 80

Turn around and smile on us

What if you or yours suffer for going astray and it seems God is behind it? There’s nowhere else to turn when he alone can restore you to the light of his smile.

An Asaph psalm.

1 Listen, Shepherd of Israel
who leads Joseph’s descendants like a flock
and sits enthroned above the cherubim.
Beam your glorious light
2 on Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Call on your strength and come save us!
3 Bring us back, God!
Turn around and smile on us
and we’ll be rescued. 

4 YHWH God of Heaven’s Armies
how long will you be angered
by your people’s prayers?
5 You’ve put us on a diet of salt tears
washed down by still more tears.
6 You’ve made us
a source of contention to our neighbors
an object of derision to our foes.
7 Restore us, God of Heaven’s Armies!
Turn around and smile on us
and we’ll be rescued.

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt.
You drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground
so that it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade
the mighty cedars with its boughs.
11 It sent out its branches to the Mediterranean
and its shoots to the Euphrates.
12 Why have you now broken down its walls
so every passer-by can plunder its fruit?
13 So wild boars from the forest root it up
and every pest of the field devours it?
14 Turn back, God of Heaven’s Armies!
Look down from heaven and behold.
Take care of this vine.
15 Protect the root you yourself planted
the son you yourself made strong.
16 It’s been chopped down
and burnt by fire—
destroyed by your angry frown.
17 May your hand of blessing
rest on the man on your right
the son of man you strengthened for yourself.
18 Then we’ll never turn away from you.
Give us life and we’ll call on your name.
19 Bring us back
YHWH God of Heaven’s Armies.
Turn around and smile on us
and we’ll be delivered.


Asaph describes God as Israel’s shepherd-king, kings in the ancient world often being portrayed as shepherds, who protect and take care of their “flock.” Asaph’s—and Israel’s—problem is that God isn’t doing either. Jacob had long before prophesied that Joseph’s descendants would be like a fruitful vine. Alluding to that prophecy, Asaph recounts Israel’s history from the Exodus to David’s expanded kingdom, charging God with negligence through his extended metaphor of a transplanted vine. Since God has turned Israel’s flourishing under his blessing into languishing under his curse, Asaph now asks God to reverse that reversal.

Instead of protecting his people, God has broken down their wall. Instead of feeding them, he lets the nations feed on them. The psalm is one pathos-filled cry asking why, after putting so much loving care into this vine, God has now forsaken it—why the nation’s maker has turned into their destroyer. Not only do Israel’s prayers go unanswered. They appear to anger God. Thus, God must turn back to his people, so they can rightly turn back to him.

Naming three tribes representative of Israel’s idolatrous northern kingdom, Asaph intercedes for God’s wayward people. He sees Israel’s dire situation as the direct result of their abandonment by their warrior-God. So with gradually increasing intensity, each of the psalm’s three sections ends with a refrain recognizing that God alone can rescue Israel, bring them back to himself, and restore them to the Aaronic blessing of God’s smile beaming down on them. Asaph ends with hope, envisioning God’s blessing on his anointed king being so rich that his people will never turn away again.

While our idols aren’t made of stone, Jesus, we’re as lost as the Israelites of old. We who once flourished now languish under your frown. Graciously turn back to us, so we can truly turn back to you. Look down, see our plight. Turn and smile on us again, and we’ll be saved! Amen.

In your free moments today, pray these words:

Bring us back
YHWH God of Heaven’s Armies.
Turn around and smile on us
and we’ll be delivered.

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.