Psalm 80: The Return of the Vine

In the middle of the land grew a vine, gently planted by the owner of the vineyard. He had taken great care to cultivate this plant, protecting it from the ravages of nature and the hands of those who sought its demise. Over the years this vine grew to immense size so that it covered the whole land, from sea to mountain and from north to south. This strong vine produced so much fruit that all the land’s inhabitants prospered from it, always producing more than could be consumed. The excess was consumed by strangers who had moved into the land to live within the fertile grasp of the vine, yet even so, the vine produced more than even they could consume. All was good for those who were good to the vine.

But there came a time when those living in the land heard of fruits grown in foreign lands and they slowly became discontented. Their discontent did not come because the fruit of the vine was insufficient, rather, it arose because their hearts were never satisfied, regardless of how rich the fare was that was placed before them. But, instead of leaving the land to seek out the strange new fruit, they imported the strange fruit trees into their land and planted them across the land. At first, not many people noticed, but slowly these new trees, all of them ugly and mostly barren with very little produce, began to overtake the land. They could be found in valleys and on mountains, in towns and villages, and all throughout the country-side. Eventually, the roots of these new fruit trees consumed the soil in which the fertile vine was once planted. The land became dry and barren and the vine became difficult to find.

It was not long before those who had imported the trees began inviting people into the land who had no interest in or memory of the vine. They were drawn to the land simply because of the new trees and small groves that popped up all across the land. It was not long before there were more people living in the land who had never heard of the vine than were people who had once depended on the vine for their own life. And in most places, because the vine had been forgotten, the people discarded the remnants of the vine into fires so as to clear the land for more new trees.

But these new occupants did not treat the land well, nor did they treat the original inhabitants of the land well. They overtook the cities, tossed out the old leadership, and banished most of the people away to other lands. What was once a beautiful land filled with more than enough food for all who would come and respect the vine, had been turned into a forest of gnarly trees producing barely enough fruit to feed the few remaining dwellers in the land.

There was once a people, taken from exile in Egypt and planted in the middle of a promised land. For years they lived under the shelter of God’s grace but, as history tells us, they eventually grew discontented with his hand of protection and love. They looked for comfort and fulfillment in the arms of foreign gods that they had invited into their hearts. They forgot the word of God and it was not long before they stopped taking care of the poor and the vagrant. They grew proud in their sin, eventually pushing the one true God out of his temple and into obscurity. It should be no surprise that with God’s hand of protection gone, the people of the land were taken captive and sent into exile. The land grew wild, the cities fell into disrepair, and the voice of God went silent.

In the midst of this silence, and at the time when the vine had been severed and thrown into the fire, Asaph’s cry rises to God…

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face to shine, that we may be saved!

Ironically enough, (though I suspect it was planned this way), this verse (Psalm 80:7) sits in the exact center of the book of Psalms. It is as though the editors, and most likely the one who inspired it as well, wanted us to know that in the midst of our pain and our suffering, even in the midst of exile due to circumstances entirely under our control, we must go to God and recognize that salvation comes from him and him alone. Furthermore, as if to emphasize the form in which this salvation will come, Asaph asks that the son of man who sits at God’s right hand be the one to bring salvation to we who are in exile awaiting God’s mercy.

The vine that was once the nation of Israel bringing God’s light and love to a people and the world, has been discarded. But a new vine has been planted, one that will not be crowded out. It is a vine bringing abundant life and eternal life and is alluded to in Ezekiel 15, Isaiah 5, and Acts 2. But it is John 15 that fully explains this new vine, and it is with those words that I will close…

I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser…
Abide in me, and I in you…
I am the vine; you are the branches…
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown into the fire and burned
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

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