Psalm 80 – SING & LEARN – Israel, grapevine

Our recording to Tehillim 80 ‘s song did not work so well, and so the below recording is the only option I’ve found in Youtube… Here are the words of verses 15-16 in any case:
אֱלֹהִים צְבָאוֹת שׁוּב נָא הַבֵּט מִשָּׁמַיִם וּרְאֵה וּפְקֹד גֶּפֶן זֹאת. וְכַנָּה אֲשֶׁר נָטְעָה יְמִינֶךָ וְעַל בֵּן אִמַּצְתָּה לָּךְ
The despair inspiring Asaph to compose Song 80 is clear in the opening verses; verses 2 to 4 voice the singer’s pleas to God in a series of commands:
v. 2: “give ear”; “appear”
v. 3: “bestir Your might and go forward”
v. 4: “Bring us back”; “make Your countenance shine”
The plea in verse 4 becomes a refrain, occuring again in v. 8 and v. 20. With each repetition, the singer adds another metaphor for God:
v. 4 calls to “Elohim”
v. 8 to “Elohim Sevaot” [God of hosts or legions]
v. 20 to “Adonai Elohim”
As the singer’s pleas intensify in both passion and desperation, so too his form of addressing God itself intensifies.
The people Israel are, in turn, also given 3 names, each also a metaphor: as the Rabbi pointed out in Sunday’s discussion group, “Shoshana” of v. 1, derives from the flower, the rose, and is one of the Biblical images that describes the people Israel; and the “hosts” (or “legions”), who are under God’s command, is another; the third image, central to verses 9 to 17, is the metaphor of the grapevine.

The image of the vine is one of the key metaphors in the song: verses 9 to 12 describe the fruitfulness of the grapevine (the people Israel) and the tender care the vine received from its gardener, God, so that it spread upwards, from the land to the cedar trees to the mountains. Its roots plunged deep into the soil and its branches extended even to the rivers and seas. But this image of fertility, of growth and plentitude, turns to one of ravage and waste in verses 12 to 17. Echoing the image in verse 6, of the people being fed and watered by only their own tears, by the God who should, could, might have offered them deliverance, so too does the grapevine cease to thrive. God who cultivated the vine now becomes its agent of its destruction. The supports of fence or wall, which gave strength to the vine, are shattered; its fruit is plucked by passerbys who took no part in tending it and are, accordingly, undeserving of its sustenance. Human pillagers are succeeded by beasts — field animals feed on the vine and the forest boars uproot it. The natural world, that had sustained the vine and its grapes, now turns upon it. That the force behind the destruction is God’s, verse 12 makes clear, as the singer calls upon God to “have regard for this vine” — that is, both to see and to care for it.

That the metaphor of the uprooted vine has a definite historical basis –that the metaphor is, in fact, describing actual events– is given validity in verse 3 in its listing of “Ephraim, Benjamin, and Menasseh”: Benjamin, son of Rachel and Jacob; Ephraim and Menasseh, two of Rachel and Jacob’s grandsons from their other, older son, Joseph. Because of Joseph, the Israelites came to Egypt. As Asaph sings his song of anguish, the people, who had been led by Moses out of Egypt, are now vanquished, their city destroyed; the descendants of Rachel and Jacob, in exile.
The metaphors in the song combine and connect. Verse 2 calls upon the “Shepherd of Israel” who “lead[s] Joseph like a flock”. It was Joseph’s father, Jacob, who had first called God his “Shepherd” (Genesis 48: 14-15). Now the flock of Jacob and Joseph is in dissarray; the shepherd who had protected them is no longer shielding them from the predators of the forest or the field (v. 13); their guardian, their commander — God of hosts– has not shielded them from their enemies; nor has the gardener protected the vine.
Just like a song whose melodies play upon each other, so Asaph’s song of words intermingles the metaphors of the vine and the gardener, the shepherd and his flock, and the commander and his legion. The verbs of motion running through the song — “go forward”, “come back”, “bring back”, “turn back” — compose a pattern that threads throughout the song and that connects the metaphors one to the other, beginning with v. 3  –“go forward to our deliverance”–  into v. 4 — “Bring us back, O God”; continuing as a refrain in verses 6 and 20 — and echoing in v. 15, as the singer pleads, “O God of hosts, come back, look down from heaven and see….” These verbs of motion are appropriate for a people –be they imaged as a flock, a vine, or a legion– who are in exile and whose own ultimate direction is uncertain.
The metaphors, combining with and connecting to one another, all rise out of the singer’s despair. For behind his grief at the oppression of his people, is his terrifying perception that their suffering has actually been deliberately provoked by God:
You have fed them tears as bread, gave
                  them for drink a threefold measure of
                “You set us at conflict with our neighbours;
                  our enemies pour forth scorn.” (Verses 6 and 7)
Indeed, the very light of God that he, Asaph, is pleading for, has an aspect as destructive as it is beneficent. Repeatedly the refrain asks God, “make Your countenance shine that we may be delivered”. Yet it is this same countence that “fume[s] at the prayer of Your people” (v. 5), as though God’s anger were a kind of smoke from an intense fire, a smoke that obscures the people’s sufferings from God’s sight. And just as the beneficial aspect of God’s countenance is revealed when God plants the vine in “cleared space” (v. 10) — the land, ready for seeding, reflects the creativity of the light shining from God — so too that same light can scorch and burn. Verse 17 is shocking, horrifying:
It [the grapevine] is burned by fire like refuse, from the
                  blast of Your countenance they perish.”The song’s close voices the singer’s response to his dual vision. Verses 18 to 20 not only form the structural resolution to the song, but they also declare the singer’s resolve: he will proclaim and affirm the Covenant the people Israel have vowed to and with God, the people “You have taken as Your own” (v. 18). Thus he reminds God of the obligation God has incurred, and he repledges Israel’s:
“Thus we will not turn away from You, let
us live, that we may invoke Your name.”
He pleads not for Israel’s triumph but that the people survive in order to praise their Deliverer. The refrain that ends the song now calls upon Adonai Elohim — upon the unknowable God to Whom the people Israel is eternally pledged.