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求祢复兴我们 Restore us !

May 28, 2017, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Psalm 80:1-19) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: Asaph, Messianic

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Title: Restore us, O God
Date: 28th May 2017
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Psalm 80: Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
4 How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
8 You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 Its branches reached as far as the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.
12 Why have you broken down its walls
so that all who pass by pick its grapes?
13 Boars from the forest ravage it,
and insects from the fields feed on it.
14 Return to us, God Almighty!
Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
15 the root your right hand has planted,
the son you have raised up for yourself.
16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at your rebuke your people perish.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

What should you do when a relationship is dying or may be already dead? Of course, the assumption here is that you wish to rekindle the relationship, which is why you ask the question. Otherwise, it is just walking away. But if you want to restore the relationship, what should you do? Maybe there is something we can learn from this old couple in America, John and Vera Peterson.[1]Last year, they were in the news for something interesting. John and Vera may look like an ordinary old couple except that they both turned 100 years old in 2016. And they celebrated their 100th birthdays together with their 77th wedding anniversary. 77 years of marriage, feels like a long way to go, even though I’m already married for 15 years. A newspaper journalist asked them if they had any advice for relationships. “Our life has been mostly roses, but there are always thorns, but you have to reach past those thorns and come back to what the attraction was built on and stay with that,” Vera told the Journal-Standard. “It’s what holds you together.” Every relationship has its own unique challenges, and so it is sometimes unfair to make comparisons. But what Vera said resonated with me. To restore the relationship during the thorns, you have to look beyond the conflicts and return to the original love. If the love is worth it, then the relationship heals. I’ve heard another enduring couple saying something similar: We don’t always like each other, but we always love each other.

I think the same can be said about the relationship between God and the people of Israel. Judging by the records of the Old Testament, God and his people definitely had more thorns than roses. In the time of thorns, sometimes God reached out in love to his people. Sometimes, it was the people and the prophets who prayed to God for love. Thankfully, despite the difficulties, their relationship has survived the thorns for centuries. But this should never be assumed. The survival of a relationship should never be assumed. At the point in time of Psalm 80, it was near breaking point, if it were not already broken. God no longer listened to the people’s prayers. Many of the people had suffered and perished. What should you do when a relationship is dying or may be already dead? If you want to restore the relationship, what should you do?

For a relationship to be restored, it takes two hands to clap. But one side has to make the first move. Now, on one side, we know that the people wanted restoration, because the same verse is repeated 3 times in Psalm 80: Restore us; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. God was like a husband with a darkened face, and Israel was the unfaithful wife asking to be looked upon favourably again. That’s what asking for his face to shine means. And the indicator of the restoration of this relationship was salvation. That’s when the wife would know she was forgiven. In Israel’s case, salvation would mean liberation from foreign oppression. It is obvious from this Psalm that God was angry. It is also clear that the people knew that they were at fault in this broken relationship. What could the people do to restore this relationship? Continue to pray? How should they pray? Remember the advice from the 100-year-old couple? “Our life has been mostly roses, but there are always thorns, but you have to reach past those thorns and come back to what the attraction was built on and stay with that. It’s what holds you together.”

So, how did the people go back to the original love? Or rather, how did they ask God to go back to his original love? I believe the answer is found in the same 3 repeated verses. Even though the verses look almost identical, you would notice that the names of God were expanded with each reiteration.[2] The secret lies in the names. Names have meanings. In a tender moment, it is “my dear”. During normal times, it is “Hwee”. When slightly annoyed, it becomes “Oi”. But when in anger, it is “Wong Siow Hwee”. When I hear my name called out in full, I’m on high alert to stay alive. Because I know, as we all know, names have meanings. In the case of Psalm 80, in the first plea in verse 4, the people called God “Elohim”. In the second plea in verse 7, the people called God “Elohim of hosts”. In the last plea in verse 19, the people called God “YHWH Elohim of hosts”. I think there is a special meaning in each of the slight variation in the names. They each served to remind God of his original love, yet more and more intensely. Let me explain.

3 Restore us, Elohim;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
When the people called God “Elohim”, it was a generic term for God. However, just because it is generic, it doesn’t mean that it is not personal. It depends on who is calling whom. When I call my daughter “girl”, or I call my father “father”, it carries meaning because I am the father to my girl and a son to my father. So when the people called God “Elohim”, it was a confession that he was their God. He was the one divinely in charge of them. He was their Shepherd who was responsible for their welfare. He was also the one “who sit enthroned between the cherubim”, which was a reminder of his throne on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies within the Temple. He was their heavenly king. In short, calling God as God was a reminder of the foundation of their relationship. You are our God, and nobody else. We are your people, and your responsibility.

Is this love? I think it is. Love is a sense of belonging. There was a scene in Big Bang Theory (season 6 episode 16).[3] In case you don’t know the show, the main character is called Sheldon, who is a socially awkward geek. It was Valentine’s Day and he didn’t know what gift to buy for his girlfriend Amy. Eventually, Amy told Sheldon to take back whatever he got her since she knew how much pressure gift giving put on him. Sheldon then showed Amy that she was down as his emergency contact at the university, which brought Amy to tears. Why? In making her responsible for him, it showed that he belonged to her. It was an act of love. In the same way, Israel was telling God: You are responsible for us, because we belong to you. You are our God. Remember our love.

What was called out in verse 3 was then repeated in verse 7:
7 Restore us, Elohim of Hosts;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
Hosts basically means armies. Calling God the God of Hosts put emphasis on his military might. But at this juncture, God was not fighting for them but fighting against them. God had manipulated foreign armies as judgment against their unfaithfulness. Why were the people pleading to God by using a name that reminded him of his anger? It might seem counter-intuitive to us. The advice was to reach past those thorns and come back to what the attraction was built on and stay with that. How was talking about God’s anger going to remind him of his love? But when I think further, it makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes, to reach past the thorns, you first have to directly address the thorns. If you know you are truly at fault, then ignoring the anger only makes the angry person even angrier. You have to acknowledge the anger. Yes, God, you are the Lord of Hosts. You are the one that caused this shame and suffering. But then, the people asked God, “How long?” Do you think they were really asking for the duration? No, it was merely rhetorical. They knew God was quick to forgive, as he had often revealed himself in the past.[4] So this was not really a question, but a reminder based on God himself. You have already dealt the punishment. Can we now be forgiven?

Is this love? I think it is. Love is a sense of mutual acceptance. Although forgiveness cannot be demanded, it can be requested. You are angry. I acknowledge it. The judgment is fair but painful. But at the same time, you as the Lord of hosts have the control. You alone have to decide to forgive so that the relationship can move on. You have fought against us. Now that we are completely broken, maybe it is time to fight for us again. Remember our love.

What was called out in verse 3 and verse 7 is finally repeated in verse 19:
19 Restore us, YHWH Elohim of hosts;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
The name YHWH is perhaps the most intimate and meaningful name mentioned in the entire psalm. It was the name revealed to Moses to identify God before his people (in Ex 3:14). The name literally means I am who I am. It was the God with this name that brought them out of Egypt. The God with this name that planted them in the Promised Land. The God with this name that grew them into a kingdom. But in the end, the God with this name that allowed them to be destroyed. When the people called out to God in this name, it was definitely a reach out for love. This name symbolized all that they had been through. This name represented all the time that they had known one another. A plant doesn’t survive on its own without daily care. That’s something all laboring farmers know. And Israel was a vine lovingly given life by God, and sustained by God. Is this love? Of course it is. Love is a sense of togetherness. After all that we’ve been through, there is always a place in your heart. So the people asked for YHWH to turn around and give them one look. Because in the one look, all the memories would come flooding back. This might be a time of thorns. But there is something even more enduring than a moment of thorns. We don’t always like each other, but we always love each other. In the beginning I asked: What should you do when a relationship is dying or may be already dead? If you want to restore the relationship, what should you do? I believe the answer is to talk about love. In using the 3 names of God, 3 times the people cried out to God for love. Despite all that has happened, if there is love, then perhaps the relationship can carry on.

At this point, you must be wondering, Pastor, your sermon drama is reaching the final episode, does it have a happy ending? Like I mentioned before, the indicator of the restoration of this relationship was salvation. And in Israel’s case, salvation would mean liberation from foreign oppression. So the people asked, 17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. The sign of restoration was the favor of God resting upon this man. This verse has 2 meanings, depending on how you interpret the identity of this man. This man could mean Israel as the son of God. And when the fortunes of this fallen kingdom turn for the better, you know God has forgiven them. This man could also mean a king just like David. So when a king anointed by God comes to save the people, you can also know that God has forgiven them. And you know who eventually came? Jesus, the true Son of God, the true Davidic king came. And he declared: 10 I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Mark 2:10) Jesus came to bring forgiveness. Jesus came as a physical proof, that God’s love is real, it is still there. And because there is love, the relationship lives on. Brothers and sisters, today we can reach out to God for love with confidence. We know he loves us. Simply because Jesus came. Let’s pray.

[1]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/couple-married-76-years-will-ring-in-100th-birthdays-together_us_57c08c4fe4b04193420f0990
[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God_in_Judaism#Seven_Names_of_God
[3] http://bigbangtheory.wikia.com/wiki/The_Tangible_Affection_Proof
[4]https://www.esv.org/Nehemiah+9:31;Exodus+34:6;Numbers+14:18;Psalm+86:5;Psalm+86:15;Joel+2:13/

Psalm 80 (Listen)

To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Testimony. Of Asaph, a Psalm.

80:1   Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock.
  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
    Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
  stir up your might
    and come to save us!
  Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved!
  O LORD God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
  You have fed them with the bread of tears
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
  You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
    and our enemies laugh among themselves.
  Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved!
  You brought a vine out of Egypt;
    you drove out the nations and planted it.
  You cleared the ground for it;
    it took deep root and filled the land.
10   The mountains were covered with its shade,
    the mighty cedars with its branches.
11   It sent out its branches to the sea
    and its shoots to the River.
12   Why then have you broken down its walls,
    so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13   The boar from the forest ravages it,
    and all that move in the field feed on it.
14   Turn again, O God of hosts!
    Look down from heaven, and see;
  have regard for this vine,
15     the stock that your right hand planted,
    and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
16   They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
    may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
17   But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
    the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
18   Then we shall not turn back from you;
    give us life, and we will call upon your name!
19   Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
    Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

(ESV)