27. Chastised?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.27

Psa 80:12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?

In the psalms especially we find some amazing truths about spiritual life. The psalms are full of human experience and experience that touches on God. We take it for granted but the psalms are all cries to God, prayers if you like. Some of them appear more like straight declarations and others like pleas from the heart, but they all speak of the human experience with God. Some of them are powerful praise while others seem almost whimpers of the down trodden. Perhaps because they get referred to so much or read so much in church services, we take them for granted but they each say something significant about the human condition and the human experience of God.

As we come to the end of this short series, it is something to observe, this matter of prayer that arises in the human heart in the face of conflict. Especially, in the light of this particular series of meditations, it is important to note that these prayers are not merely declarations of love, but many of them are cries from the heart that involve questions. The Hebrew psalmists are not afraid to ask questions of God. Perhaps it is a measure of the depth of their anguish that they are past caring, or perhaps it is a case that they have come into such a depth of relationship with the Lord that they know they can ask things of him. It would be many centuries later that a church leader by the name of James would write,If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5), but that is what the psalmists are so often doing.

What seems even more incredible is that the psalmists are not afraid to ask these questions of God, even in the face of God’s apparent anger and judgment. We’ve recently been looking at psalms written during the Exile where many thought God had given Israel up. In this psalm today there is a sense that God has acted powerfully against His people. You might think that the psalmist would be too scared to speak to God on such issues, that he might think he would become a focus of God’s anger, a target for his judgment, but there is no such reticence apparent in these psalms.

In this psalm the psalmist acknowledges that God’s anger burns against his people (v.4) and the Lord has made them a source of mockery for their enemies (v.6). He speaks of Israel as a vine (v.8) that God brought out of Egypt and planted in this land. It grew and spread (v.11) and indeed, by what follows, Israel is pictured not merely as a vine but a walled vineyard, well established. Walls speak of protection, stability and security. But then we find,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it.” (v.12,13). The question here for God is, why have you taken away our protection, our stability and our security so that we have become prey of all and sundry? But it is worse than that; it isn’t merely the removal of security and protection, it is the destruction that has been wrought as a result: Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.” (v.16)

Three times in this psalm the psalmist cries,Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (v.3,7,19) and yet no acknowledgement of sin or reason for God’s judgment is given. The nearest thing to a clue why this has happened is found in verse 18 when, after the Lord’s restoring work is done, he adds, Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” with the implication that they had turned away from God and needed reviving. Perhaps the fact of the psalm is evidence of contrition but otherwise there are no such signs in this psalm. It is simply a plea to God to come and restore the fortunes of Israel. It is an acknowledgement that only the Lord can do this, otherwise they would have done it themselves and this psalm would have not been needed. They are in a state where they acknowledge God’s anger (v.4) and acknowledge that He has brought them to tears (v.5) and made them a mockery (v.6). He has broken down their security (v.12) and brought great destruction to them (v.16).

Yet the Lord is still the “Shepherd of Israel” (v.1) and therefore the plea is to bring a redeemer: Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.” (v.17). This is a somewhat enigmatic verse, unclear as to whom he refers. Is it the Lord’s anointed on the earth, the king in the line of David, or is it the one who sits at the Lord’s right hand, the one who will one day come to earth to be the Saviour of the world? Whoever it is, there is an acknowledgement of need for one to come and save them. In this respect this is a psalm of pure reliance upon the Lord.

The question here,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes, seems almost rhetorical. It seems it is not so much asking for a deep answer, as simply part of a plea for God to come and restore. Sometimes it seems it is better not to worry about answers to questions but instead look and call for the presence of God to come and do the transforming work that only He can do. Sometimes we just have to trust that part of the restoring will involve putting right whatever caused the downfall. Sometimes the childlike call to God is just that, childlike! Children aren’t so much concerned with the details as the need to be restored to daddy. Knowing Him and knowing a closeness to Him is surely the greatest thing we can ask for. Let’s not be afraid to ask Him for wisdom about the questions that arise in our minds in the face of difficulties, but let’s ensure our greatest desire is not self-centred comfort, but to know Him and to be able, with His help, to do His will at all times.