The northern tribes of Israel had set themselves in rebellion against God from the days of Jeroboam. The introduction of the golden calves in Dan and Bethel had paved the way for full-fledged idolatry. Thus, the introduction of Baal to Israel by Ahab, and ultimately participation in the rituals of Molech, doomed the northern kingdom to the destruction God accomplished through the hand of Assyria. This divinely appointed desolation against the capital of Samaria in Ephraim and all the people throughout the kingdom led those in the southern kingdom of Judah to feel pity for their brethren, despite their long-held division. Therefore, as the psalmists in the family of Asaph reflected on this sadness, they penned a heartfelt expression of their grief in a cry to God as the Shepherd of Israel to return in His glory and power to aid His people (Psa. 80:1-2).
Three times in this psalm they employed the wording of the Aaronic call for blessing requesting restoration, fellowship, and salvation. In the first they pled, “Restore us, O God; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved” (Psa. 80:3). In the devastation of the northern tribes’ captivity they found themselves pondering why God would not listen and restore them as before (Psa. 80:4-6). They assumed this surely could not be permanent. In the second instance, they cried out the same plea but appealed to the “God of hosts” (Psa. 80:7). This reference to God’s headship of a great army implies their desire to see Him use yet another nation to reverse what Assyria had done. Using the imagery of a vine, they appealed to their beginning in Egypt and the Lord’s care in establishing them in Canaan (Psa. 80:8). They looked back through their history to note how long God had blessed them, cared for them, and protected them (Psa. 80:9-11). Thus, with this background of extensive interest, they could not fathom why God would invite a heathen nation in to trample the vineyard He Himself had planted (Psa. 80:12-13), calling for Him to defend His own once more, reverse course, and withdraw His hand of rebuke (Psa. 80:14-16). Therefore, in leading up to the final cry, they requested that He strengthen them again with the promise that they would not leave Him again (Psa. 80:17-18). Ending with the final plea, “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!” (Psa. 80:19), they added one final element to their petition: the covenant name of Yahweh. In this they were asking Him to remember His covenant, because they finally did too. But it was too late for Israel, and Judah had to face up to that fact.
So many people seem to believe that they will always get one more chance to repent, one more chance to get things right, one more chance to obey their Lord. Like Israel, they assume that the longsuffering of the Lord knows no bounds, and sadly, they will only learn better when it is too late. They mistakenly look back to better times, assuming that they deserved them then and deserve the same now, misunderstanding the goodness and grace of God as if it is an eternal pool of blessings for them to dip into as they wish. Then, when they become desperate, they finally realize the importance of the covenant. Unfortunately, they often think of it in terms of God’s promises but not their own responsibilities. How sad that so many people have the opportunity of salvation and yet cast it aside until they need God to pull them out of the consequences of their own failures. They assume He always will. They are wrong (Rom. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:9-11). Salvation and blessings are not a right; they are a privilege, and should be treated accordingly.