Lectionary Year B
December 1, 2002
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Step II: Disposition


This is a "Public Psalm of Lament" (Sigmund Mowinckel, THE PSALMS AND ISRAEL'S WORSHIP I p. 28). It is a corporate cry to God, apparently after or in the midst of some national calamity. The refrain (vv. 3, 7, and 19) climaxes the parts of the prayer, and seems to me to set the theme for the Psalm.

Section one (vv. 1-2) is a preface, calling to the God who Shepherds and has revealed himself in the past through the peoples' history.

Section two (vv. 4-6) sets out the complaint: "How long?" It lists the anguish and sufferings of the people.

Part of section three (vv. 8-18) is excised by the Revised Common Lectionary. Yahweh's action in planting Israel as a vine is recalled: the "root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself." (v. 15) The RCL takes up the reading at v. 17, that this vineyard/son/righthand man be lifted up.


1.) HOPE in this Psalm lies (for "psalmist" and congregation) in the restoration of Israel, the ruined vine.

2.) Interesting that there is no hint of self-reproach or repentance in the prayer. There doesn't seem to be any sense of "We've sinned, forgive us". Whatever has gone wrong, for whatever inscrutable reason, Yahweh is called on the shine once again and fix it.

3.) We've appropriated this Psalm for Advent. We tie the answer to this cry to heaven with the coming of Jesus Christ. That's a backwards reading into the Psalm. Could those who prayed these words have imagined how we have come to see the answer to their prayer?
      Today, the Gospel reading is on eschatology, the "Parousía". As Y2K gets closer this season, there is a stepping of of imaginative interpretations and schemas for the end of history and the other Advent of Christ. Will God's final consumation of history be ANYTHING like ANY present attempt to read current events into apocalyptic texts?
      Would those who prayed Psalm 80 centuries ago have been happy with how we understand their hope to have been fulfilled? Maybe there is no better way to consider the Parousía/2nd Advent then to watch with anticipation, accepting that its actual shape may be nothing like any interpreter has imagined!

4.) What wrenching honesty in prayer, what willingness to "lay it all out."

5.) "Tears to drink, bread of affliction": I'm just sorry the church I serve doesn't celebrate Communion on Advent 1. Powerful imagery! (see Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, "Psalm 80: 1-7", INTERPRETATION October 1993, 396-399).

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