This shiur is
dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th
May the world-wide
dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute
to a man whose
lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat
39: Psalm 80
difference between prayer and complaint (part I)
(1) To the
director of music, el-shoshanim. Edut.
A psalm of Asaf.
shepherd of Israel, listen,
You who tend Yosef like sheep.
You who sit upon the keruvim, shine forth.
Efrayim, and Binyamin, and Menashe
stir up your might
and come to save us.
(4) O God,
and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.
(5) O Lord,
God of hosts,
how long will You angrily reject the prayer
of Your people?
feed them bread of tears
and You give them to drink a cup mixed with tears.
have made us a strife to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock them.
(8) O God
of hosts, restore us
and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.
brought a vine out of Egypt.
You drove out nations and planted it.
(10) You cleared room
and it took deep root and filled the land.
(11)The hills were covered with its shadow,
and the lofty cedars with its boughs.
(12)It sent out its boughs to the sea,
and its branches to the river.
(13) Why have You
breached its fences,
and all who pass by the way pluck its fruit?
(14) The boar from the
wood ravages it
and the wild bird devours it.
(15a)O God of hosts, please return.
(15b)Look down from heaven and see,
and be mindful of this vine.
(16) And the sapling
that Your right hand planted,
and the branch that You attached strongly
(17) It is burned with
fire, it is cut down.
Let them perish at the rebuke of Your face.
(18) Let your hand be
upon the man of Your right hand,
upon the man whom You have attached strongly
(19) He has not turned
back from You.
Let us live, for we call upon Your name.
(20) O Lord, God of
hosts, restore us.
Cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PSALM
The element that determines the structure of our psalm, the likes of
which we have not yet encountered in our previous studies, is the refrain. A
refrain is a phrase or clause that is repeated at the end of each section of the
psalm, thereby dividing it into its constituent parts in the clearest possible
manner. On rare occasions, a refrain repeats itself in identical fashion every
time it appears in the psalm,
but usually it undergoes changes along the way, and this is the case in our
psalm as well. Let us examine the four appearances of the refrain in our psalm:
God, restore us,
cause Your face to shine, and we will be
God of hosts, restore us,
cause Your face to shine, and we will be
God of hosts, please return.
Lord, God of hosts, restore us.
Your face to shine, and we will be
In the first, second, and fourth appearances of the refrain, the
beginning of the refrain expands with respect to the manner in which the
psalmist addresses God: O God; O God of hosts; O Lord, God of hosts. In its
third appearance, the refrain is significantly shortened: its second half, "and
cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved," is entirely missing, and in its
first half, the term "restore us" (hashiveinu) is replaced by the term
"please return" (shuv na). Owing to these changes, as well as the fact
that the second half of verse 15 is part of the body of the psalm and not its
refrain, many commentators failed to identify the refrain that closes stanza III
in the first half of the verse; they rather viewed it as part of the prayer that
begins in this verse and continues until the end of the psalm. This led to a
blurring of the structure of the psalm, a structure that will be further
described below. Of course, one who claims that the first half of verse 15 is a
refrain that closes what was stated prior to it must account for the various
changes found in it.
The refrain divides our psalm into four sections, which we will refer to
1: verses 2-4
2: verses 5-8
3: verses 9-15a
4: verses 15b-20
It is evident that the stanzas are not equal in length. The first two
stanzas are much shorter than the last two. Nevertheless, the first two stanzas
are almost exactly the same length; there are 24 words in stanza 1 and 26 words
in stanza 2. Similarly, the last two stanzas are equal in length; there are 42
words in stanza 3 and 43 words in stanza 4.
These findings allude to what is discernible already upon an initial
examination of the contents of the psalm - our psalm is divided into two main
parts of unequal size. The shorter, first part is comprised of stanzas 1-2. What
stands in the background seems to be a military conflict between the tribes of
Israel and their Gentile neighbors. The longer, second part revolves entirely
around Israel's being likened to a grapevine. The analogy of the grapevine
continues from stanza 3 to stanza 4, and at the end of stanza 4, explicit
mention is made of what is being likened to the grapevine, even though its
identity was clear to the reader from the very beginning of the analogy's use in
As usual, we ask: How does the schematic structure presented here give
expression to the psalm's idea, and what is that idea? What is the relationship
between the two halves of the psalm, the differences between which are so
blatant? And what is the relationship between each of the two stanzas in each
part of the psalm?
It may further be asked: How are we to classify this psalm? Is it a psalm
of supplication, composed in a time of trouble and petitioning God to save His
people, as would appear from the refrain and other parts of the psalm? Or is
this psalm, perhaps, a psalm of complaint about God's treatment of His people,
as would appear from the questions that are characteristic of complaint in the
book of Tehillim - "how long" (v. 5) and "why" (v.
In order to answer these questions in a manner that will allow us to
understand the psalm's full intention and the way it realizes this intention by
way of the organization of its four stanzas, we will first explain each stanza
STANZA I - FOLLOWING Y.M. GRINTZ'S ARTICLE ON OUR PSALM
stanza 1 in a most general way, we can say that in this stanza the psalmist
turns to God with a request that He reveal ("shine forth") Himself in His might
and save His people. It would seem that the psalmist turns to God before a war,
and that the participants in the war are the tree tribes mentioned by name,
"Efrayim, and Binyamin, and Menashe."
it possible to determine the historical time of our psalm and during which
period it was composed? If we can determine this, we might also be able to
determine the event that took place during that period upon which our psalm is
general, questions of this sort are not that important. There is no reason to
limit the psalm and hang it on a particular event when the psalm is written in
general terms, thus allowing it to be recited in situations similar to the event
with respect to which it had been composed.
the other hand, some psalms contain signs regarding the general period and the
specific event during which they were composed, and identifying these two things
can help us understand various details in the psalm, as well as the psalm's
first stanza in our psalm seems to set before the reader several historical
allusions of this sort, and their decipherment will be of great exegetical
most striking hint is, of course, the mention of the three tribes, descendants
of Rachel - Efrayim, Binyamin and Menashe – as having fought together in the
same war. When was such an alliance possible?
second hint that should be noted is the way that the psalmist addresses God at
the beginning of the psalm with three different titles:
shepherd of Israel
who tend Yosef like sheep
who sit upon the keruvim
The first two titles parallel each other: shepherd/You who tend sheep;
Israel/Yosef. When, then, were Israel called by the name of
The third title, "You who sit upon the keruvim," also draws our
attention. When and under what circumstances was God called by this title in
According to the prevalent view among biblical scholars, our psalm is
connected to a military event involving the northern kingdom of Israel shortly
before its destruction. Thus, for example, writes Prof. Gershon Brin:
the northern character of chapter 80 is confirmed, then it must clearly precede
the exile of the northern kingdom at the hand of Ashur in the year 720 BCE, for
there in no atmosphere of exile in the chapter. On the contrary, the psalmist
expresses the hope that God will once again lead the warriors to battle on
behalf of His nation. A framework, therefore, exists that accords with an
independent kingdom sitting on its soil. The psalmist expresses the difficult
situation of his people during a critical hour of the northern kingdom, perhaps
close to the final years of its existence, before the exile of its inhabitants
at the hand of Ashur…
That is to say, we have before us a work that describes the years of the kingdom
of Hoshea the son of Ela, or one of the kings who preceded him.
We prefer the view of Prof. Y.M. Grintz, who dedicated an article to
psalm 80 that was posthumously included in his collection of articles,
In his article, Grintz argues that our psalm dates to the period of the
and we find the arguments that he raises to refute the previous view and to
support his own position persuasive. We will bring the gist of his arguments in
our own words.
SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL... YOU WHO SIT UPON THE KERUVIM"
the beginning of the third section of the book of Tehillim, we find a set
of eleven psalms, Tehillim 73-83, which are attributed in their headings
to Asaf; our psalm is one of them.
A striking phenomenon in these psalms is the reference made in some of them to
events that took place in various historical periods, and sometimes to events
that took place in very early periods, such as the exodus from Egypt and events
that took place during the period of the Shoftim.
This suggests that we compare the contents and style of these psalms and that we
make use of the findings to interpret them.
example, what does our psalm mean with its image of God as His people's shepherd
and as He who tends them like sheep?
This analogy is found in two other psalms of Asaf:
– You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moshe and
– And He led His people like sheep, and He guided them in the
wilderness like a flock.
We may conclude, then, that like in psalms 77-78, in psalm 80, the
analogy of "shepherd of Israel… You who tend Yosef like sheep" alludes to the
period of the exodus from Egypt, the time of Israel's wandering in the
wilderness, when God guided His people like a flock of sheep.
Similarly, the term "Yosef" as a reference to the entire people of Israel
is found in another two psalms of Asaf. In both of them, this designation is
used in the context of the exodus from Egypt:
– Sound a shofar on the new moon, on the day of covering for our feast
– For this is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of
– He ordained this in Yosef for a testimony,
He went out over the land of Egypt.
In verses 5-6, there are three parallel clauses: "statute – ordinance –
testimony" which God gave to "Israel – Yaakov – Yosef" when He (God!) went out
over the land of Egypt.
– You have redeemed Your people with Your arm,
sons of Yaakov and Yosef.
From this Grintz concludes:
have here, then, three psalms that are attributed to Asaf, all of which deal
with the early period of the nation, and all of which call the nation “Yosef.”
Clearly this could not have been said at a time that a king from Yehuda (in the
days of David and Shlomo) ruled over all of Israel, and all the more so in
Yehuda after the split of the monarchy, and not even in the northern
kingdom is indeed officially called the kingdom of Israel, and during the period
of the "later prophets" we find that the term "Yosef" is occasionally used to
designate this kingdom… [here verses are cited to illustrate this point]. There
is, however, a difference between these verses [cited in the section that we
skipped] and the psalms that we brought: In these verses [the words of the later
prophets] the term "Yosef" does not appear in a story from the beginning of
history embracing in parallel to "Israel" the entire people. Rather, "Yosef" is
used in contrast to "Yehuda," and it designates the northern kingdom… Whereas in
the aforementioned psalms, and especially in our psalm, the term embraces the
our psalm,] we are dealing with a time and period during which the tribes still
go out to war ("before Efrayim, and Binyamin, and Menashe…"), there being no
king over them, and Binyamin is still appended to Yosef and counted, as in the
song of Devora, immediately after Efrayim and before Menashe (Shoftim
5:14): "From Efrayim came they, but rooted in Amalek; beyond you,
Binyamin with your tribes; from Makhir came down
this means is that our psalm was composed prior to the monarchy, and in the
broad sense, in the period of the Shoftim.
WHO SIT UPON THE KERUVIM, SHINE FORTH"
brings another proof in support of his dating of our psalm to the period of the
Shoftim from the wording of verse 3: "You who sit upon the
keruvim, shine forth." The designation "You who sit upon the
keruvim" appears in four other contexts in
I Shmuel 4:4 at the battle of Even ha-Ezer:
the people sent to Shilo that they might bring from there the ark of the
covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits upon the
II Shmuel 6:2 (and in the parallel passage in I Divrei Ha-yamim
13:6) in the account of the ark's transfer to Jerusalem:
David arose and went with all the people that were with him from Ba'alei-Yehuda
to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the
Lord of hosts who dwells upon the keruvim.
II Melakhim 19:15 (and in the parallel verse in Yeshayahu 37:16)
in Chizkiyahu's prayer in the house of God:
Chizkiyahu prayed before the Lord and said, “O Lord God of Israel who sits
upon the keruvim…”
Lord is king, let the peoples tremble.
sits upon the keruvim,
let the earth move.
There is a difference between the keruvim that were on the cover
of the ark before the Temple was built and the keruvim in Shlomo's
Temple, which stood on the floor of the devir and covered the ark
with their wings.
The keruvim on the cover of the ark were moved together with the ark
whenever it was removed from its place (during the period of Israel's wanderings
in the wilderness and in certain cases before the days of David), whereas the
keruvim in the Temple were fixed in their place and could not be removed.
Therefore, before the building of the Temple, the Divine designation, "Who sits
upon the keruvim," could be used to refer to God when He "went out"
before His people – when the ark was taken out. After the Temple was built, this
designation refers perforce to God who rests His glory in the Temple between the
wings of the keruvim, which are attached to the floor of the
To which keruvim do the aforementioned verses
The first two verses, which describe events that took place before the
Temple was built, obviously refer to the keruvim on the cover of the ark,
and the context of these verses is the removal of the ark from its place. During
the war against the Pelishtim it was removed from its place in Shilo to the
battleground at Even-ha-Ezer, and when it was brought up to Jerusalem by David,
it was removed from its place of safekeeping in
The third verse, containing the words of Chizkiyahu, king of Yehuda,
refers to the fixed keruvim in the Temple. Chizkiyahu offers his prayer
in the house of God (II Melakhim 19:14), and what he means by way of his
actions and prayer is that God who dwells in this place should prevent the
desecration of His name by saving His people, His city, and His Temple from
falling into the hands of Sancheriv.
The fourth verse in Tehillim 99:1 seems also to relate to the
keruvim in the Temple, for in verse 2 it says: "The Lord is great in
Zion, and He is high above all the peoples." If so, we are dealing in this
psalm with God's kingship over the peoples, which will be evident to them from
Jerusalem and the Temple.
We must now ask: To which keruvim does verse 2 in our psalm
relate? Grintz answers as follows:
term "hofi'a," "shine forth," generally denotes the appearance of God for
action and judgment.
When, however, it comes in the way it comes here, together with the expression,
"You who sit upon the keruvim," and in the continuation (verse 3) we are
dealing with God's coming to save the people who had called out to Him, it is
perforce connected to a Divine revelation over the ark that goes out to
psalm, which deals with the nation and the tribes going out to war and calls
upon "He who sits upon the keruvim" can only be compared to the story or
the period of I Shmuel 4:4 (the battle of Even-ha-Ezer), when the
keruvim were still attached to the cover of the ark and the ark was still
taken out to war… For this reason as well our psalm must be dated to the period
of the Shoftim.
the destruction of Shilo, the ark no longer stood in Efrayim (but rather in
Kiryat-Ye'arim in Yehuda and afterwards in Jerusalem). From the time of
Yerov'am the son of Nevat… there was no ark with keruvim in all of the
kingdom of Efrayim, and it would have been impossible to turn to God as "He who
dwells in the keruvim"… And finally, from the time of David and Shlomo,
Binyamin was connected to Yehuda, and not to Efrayim.
EFRAYIM, AND BINYAMIN, AND MENASHE, STIR UP YOUR MIGHT"
Grintz explains the order of the tribes mentioned in verse 3: "Efrayim, and
Binymain, and Menashe":
tribes going out to war are all descendants of Rachel, but the order in which
they appear in our psalm is not the order in which they were born (for Binyamin
was born before Efrayim and Menashe, and if Efrayim and Menashe stand in place
of Yosef, they should have been listed first), and not their geographical order
in Eretz Yisrael, (for Binyamin was located south of Efrayim and should
have been first).
order in our psalm is the same as the order in the song of Devora; there, the
tribes are mentioned in geographical order from south to north, with the
exception of Efrayim, who was removed from the rest and put first. The order in
both places is in accordance with seniority, and during the period of the
Shoftim seniority was enjoyed by Yosef and, of Yosef's two sons, by
seniority is ancient… During the generation of the wilderness, Reuven was still
put first (Bamidbar 1:26), but in practice, already then Reuven did not
enjoy seniority… It is more difficult to mark the point at which Efrayim
overcame the firstborn Menashe. Yaakov's blessing of Yosef's sons (Bereishit
48) is still a blessing for the future, but this also made its appearance at
a very early period in the blessing of Moshe: "And they are the ten thousands
of Efrayim, and they are the thousands of Menashe" (Devarim
33:17) and in the appointment of Yehoshua from the tribe of Efrayim as Moshe's
successor… Already during the period of the wilderness, the standard of the
children of Rachel was called "the standard of the camp of Efrayim" (Bamidbar
testimony [to the seniority of Efrayim] is of course the establishment of the
Mishkan in the city of Shilo in the tribal territory of Efrayim
(Yehoshua 11) – a city that had no ancient heritage (as opposed to
OF THE EVENT UPON WHICH OUR PSALM IS BASED
Grintz attempts to further narrow the time of our psalm and to match it to a
particular event in that period:
have said that the psalm is perforce from the period of the Shoftim; from
the days when there was still no king in Israel and tribes went out to battle on
their own; when Binyamin was still appended to Yosef; and when the ark was still
taken out to battle. It seems, however, to be possible to pinpoint the time of
the battle more precisely….
is difficult to assume that it took place in the heart of the period of the
Shoftim, that is, in the period discussed in the book of Shoftim.
None of the stories in the book of Shoftim mention that the ark was taken
out to battle. There is also no allusion to any situation matching the event
related here (the three tribes, descendants of Rachel, going out to
seems, therefore, that there is only one situation that accords well with what
is related or alluded to in our psalm: Israel's last battle in the days of Eli
against the Pelishtim. It has already been noted that taking the ark out during
this battle involved a great novelty. The Pelishtim said: "Woe to us for there
has not been such a thing before now" (I Shmuel 4:7); Israel's earlier
defeat was also unusual. They said (v. 3): "Why has the Lord smitten us today
before the Pelishtim?" This war was fought from the tribal territory of Efrayim,
and it was in Efrayim, in Shilo, that the ark stood. But it was also a "man of
Binyamin" who arrived to inform Eli about the bitter end of the battle (I
Shmuel 4:12). It is easy to assume that at this time of great danger to
two tribes of Rachel, Menashe also participated in the
should be paid to the fact that the Divine name bestowed upon the ark in Shilo,
"The Lord of hosts who sits upon the keruvim" (I Shmuel 4:4; II
Shmuel 6:2), is the very name appearing in our psalm: in verses 5, 8, 15,
20, and 21: "[Lord], God of hosts"; and in verse 2: "He who sits upon the
COMMENTS ON THE WORDS OF THE GRINTZ
arguments are generally convincing, but they give rise to two problems that must
sent out its boughs to the sea,
its branches to the river. (v. 12)
The "sea" is the sea situated to the west of Eretz Yisrael,
and the "river" is the Euphrates River that is designated in several places in
Scripture as the northeastern border of the Promised Land. Does this description
of the spread of the grapevine accord with the period of the
Grintz answers this question (on p. 120):
wording is liable to be regarded as a poetic exaggeration before David's time.
But the poet himself speaks only about "boughs" and "branches," that is to say
about isolated soft branches. And in this sense, even if there is no proof [that
there was any Israelite settlement in these areas], there is a hint to it in the
spreading out of the tribes of Asher
in Otniel ben Kenaz's wars against Kushan Rish'atayim, king of Aram Naharayim
(Shoftim 3:8-10); and the like.
A central element in Grintz's argument is God's designation as "He who sits on
the keruvim" in verse 2. According to him, this designation is
appropriate for a battle in the course of which the ark is taken out, and this
was the case in the battle of Even-ha-Ezer at the end of the period of the
Shoftim. Our psalm describes the results of this war as a serious
national disaster, and indeed this is true about the battle at Even-ha-Ezer: in
the course of this battle, Shilo was destroyed together with the Mishkan
that stood in its midst, there were a great number of Israelite casualties, and
in its wake began the subjugation of all the tribes of Israel to the
This battle is described in I Shmuel chap. 4 and in Tehilim
78:60-64. One of the most serious consequences of this war, as it is described
in these two places, was the fall of the ark of God into Pelishti captivity.
But there is no hint to this whatsoever in our psalm!
In order to answer this question, we must distinguish between two types
of psalms of complaint that are found in the book of Tehillim. The first
type includes complaints that God, through the acts that He performed against
His people and His Temple, brought about a profanation of His name in the world.
It is not only Israel's human interests that are hurt by God's actions, but
primarily the interests of God Himself. Such is the complaint voiced in psalm
74, which describes the destruction that God's enemies brought to His Temple:
"How long, O God, will the adversary insult, will the enemy blaspheme Your name
forever" (v. 10). That psalm of complaint concludes with the prayer: "Arise, O
God, plead Your case. Remember how the base ones have insulted You
all the day" (v. 22). Similarly, psalm 79, whose topic is similar to that of
psalm 74: "Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’" (v. 10). This
psalm also concludes with the prayer: "And repay our neighbors sevenfold into
their bosom their insult, with which they have insulted You, O Lord" (v.
The second type of psalm of complaint focuses on the unjustified offense
committed against the people of Israel. In psalms of this type, the complainant
does not raise the issue of the profanation of God's name resulting from His
actions against Israel (even though this indeed exists), but only complains
about the severe suffering of Israel. The complaining people, hurt by God's
relationship with them and suffering from their calamity, are wholly focused on
their own incomprehensible and unjustified pain. In this situation, it would be
inappropriate to raise the issue of the profanation of God's name, for the
complainant is not considering what happened to him from a broad, universal
perspective, but from, and only from, his own suffering and
Such is psalm 44, with which we dealt in one of our previous studies, and
such is also psalm 89, which complains about the breaching of the covenant
between God and David through the calamity that befell one of the Davidic
To which class of complaints does the complaint raised in our psalm
belong? There is no doubt about the matter: the complaint sounded in psalm 80 is
wholly focused on the bitter fate of the people of Israel, on the calamity that
God brought upon them by way of the nations. Our psalm contains not a hint of
the argument of the profanation of God's name.
Owing to the nature of the complaint in our psalm, there is no room for a
discussion regarding the ark of the Lord that had fallen into Pelishti
captivity. With all of its severity, this event damages God's name among the
nations, but does not relate to Israel's calamity and suffering. Therefore, the
only allusion that connects our psalm to the presence of the ark at that event
in reference to which the psalm was composed is found in the prayer sounded
prior to the war: "You who sit upon the keruvim, shine
by David Strauss)
did not go to war heading three tribes specifically from the descendants of
Rachel. Moreover, it should not be assumed that in the days of Shaul the ark was
taken out to battle, for the ark stood during that entire period in
Kiryat-Ye'arim until David brought it to Mount Zion. And it certainly does not
accord with the battles of Ish-Boshet, who lived on the other side of the