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How to Read Psalm 80

Contributed by a Westminster Member

When we read the Psalms, we need to remember that we are reading poetry. The psalms contain true doctrine but they are not intended to be repositories for doctrinal exposition. Rather they appeal to our emotions through the use of strongly charged imagery and beautiful structure.

  • Identify the main theme and mood of the Psalm
  • Understand the structure
  • Be aware of the literary techniques of Hebrew poetry (synonymous parallelism, antithetic paralellism, synthetic parallelism)
  • See how the psalm relates to the surrounding psalms
  • Look for allusions to Old Testament experiences and imagery
  • Look at the way New Testament writers understood the Psalms
  • Look for Christ

How should we read Psalm 80?

What is the main theme and mood?

Plea for salvation. The community of believers is being oppressed by their enemies and therefore they are crying out to God. Lament is the common term used for this type of psalm.

Throughout the psalm, the sovereignty of God is evident. All good and all evil that happened to Israel is because the Lord did it ("you drove out the nations", "you cleared the ground for it", "you have fed them with the bread of tears", "you make us an object of contention"). And how will Israel come back to the Lord? Only if God will act. Only if He will turn toward Israel and turn Israel toward Himself.

What is the structure?

ESV translates vs. 3,7, and 19 as Restore us but provides a footnote that they can also be translated as Turn us again. The latter translation fits in better with the flow of the psalm. It also makes it easier for us to see that the psalm is divided into four pleas for salvation (vs. 1-3, vs 4-7, vs. 8-16, vs.17-19).

Literary techniques

The psalm is full of synonymous parallels. It is worth mentioning that verse 17 is a case of synthetic parallelism. The second line gives us a greated understanding of who the man on God's right hand may be and what it means for God's hand to be on him.

Relation to Surrounding Psalms

Psalm 79 asks for deliverance through judgment on the enemies. Psalms 80 asks for deliverance by turning the hearts of God's people back to God. In Psalm 81 we find God's response.

It will be beneficial for the reader to consider how this psalm fits into the larger group of Asaph psalms (73-83).

Old Testament experiences and imagery

  • The tribes of Israel mentioned - Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh - are the tribes from the north. We should recall the judgment that fell on the northern tribes of Israel.
  • "Cause thy face to shine" is an allusion to the benediction in Numbers 6:24-26.
  • Given the proximity to Psalm 78, the whole story of exodus should be still be in our minds as we read this psalm.
  • Against the backdrop of judgment of Israel by God, the title "Shepherd of Israel" ought to bring to mind the prophecy of Ezekiel 34.


It should be impossible to read God being referred to as the Shepherd of Israel without us immediately remembering Christ calling himself the good shepherd (John 10:14). When we read that God brought "vine out of Egypt", once again we should think of Christ. Not merely because Christ calls himself the true vine but because throughout the Scripture, Christ is the true Israel, that is He fulfills the purpose of God's son (Hosea 11:1 - Matthew 2:15). And finally, who is the son of man? Christ frequently uses this term to refer to himself in the Gospels. And this psalm concludes by pointing us to the son of man who will turn us again to our God.

As we read the Psalms, it is important to remember that they are not just poetry. They are songs of worship. And as such, they should move us to worship our God.

Resources Used

This is by no means the comprehensive way to read a psalm but merely a few suggestions. For more enouragement from the book of Psalms, consider the following: