“Restore Us, O God” (Psalms 80, 85, 126)
We’ve just heard three psalms that are appointed for this Advent season, Psalms 80, 85, and 126. Did you happen to catch what they have in common? There was a connecting theme running through all three of these psalms. And here it is. It is the prayer, in one form or another, that goes something like this: “Restore Us, O God.”
In Psalm 126, we heard of a previous restoration: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” And then the psalmist prays that the Lord would do this again: “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!” In Psalm 85, likewise, the same pattern, the recalling of a previous restoration, followed by a plea that the Lord would do this again: “LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.” Then, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation!” And in Psalm 80, did you notice the refrain running through the psalm? Verse 3: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” Verse 7: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” And verse 19: “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
Dear friends, this plea of the psalmists is our prayer as well: “Restore us, O God!” Now let’s explore what that means.
These three psalms were all written in the wake of a historical devastation that befell the people of God. There was the devastation, which led to the plea for restoration. What were these calamities that came upon the people of God? A brief review of Israel’s history is in order.
After King David and King Solomon, the united kingdom of Israel split in two. The northern kingdom was called Israel, the southern kingdom was called Judah. The rightful king, the descendant of David, remained in the southern kingdom, in Jerusalem, which is where the temple of God was, too. After a couple hundred years, the northern kingdom fell to the invading Assyrian army, and those northern tribes were dispersed and scattered. But then, over a hundred years later, the southern kingdom, Judah, likewise fell to an invading army, this time, the Babylonians. Jerusalem was conquered, the king taken off into exile, the temple destroyed, the people taken captive to Babylon. After decades in captivity, when the people of Judah finally were able to come back to their homeland, then they faced the daunting task of rebuilding the city, rebuilding the temple–rebuilding their lives, essentially. And so in each of these situations, you can certainly understand the plea running through these psalms, “Restore us, O God.”
That was then, this is now. Can we identify with these psalms? Yes, I think we can. Have we faced, do we face, devastation and daunting tasks in our lives? In our personal life, in our family life, in our life together as church? Oh, yes, I think we can identify most closely! What has hit you, to knock you back and throw you for a loop? Is it financial crisis? Medical issues? Relationships in tatters? What about for us as a church? Could we use the Lord to restore us again? Most certainly. And so I think these psalms are ones we definitely can resonate with. “Restore us, O God.” That was the plea of the psalmists. That is our prayer as well.
But now we need to come to grips with the root of the problem, as the psalmists did. And at the root of all our sorrows, of all human devastation, is our sin. The general sinful, fallen condition of this world, which causes us grief as it is. And then there are our own sins and straying from God’s path, by which we bring sorrow and regret on ourselves. The psalmists recognize this. The Lord was disciplining and chastising his people for their sins, letting those devastations hit them. But his purpose in all of this was that they would turn and repent, turn from their folly, turn to him for forgiveness, turn to him for help.
Listen again to their cries for mercy. From Psalm 80: “Stir up your might and come to save us!” “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.” “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see.” “Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!” And in Psalm 85: “Put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we may not understand why the Lord lets griefs and sorrows hit us. But we do know this: The Lord is always there to hear our prayers, to forgive our sins, to hear our cries for mercy, and to give us the help we need. The psalmists knew this. This is why they prayed the prayers in these psalms. They knew the Lord would hear and help. And we have the same assurance from God, the same promises we can rely on–and more.
“Restore us, O God.” What is the basis for the confidence that the Lord will hear our prayer? It’s based on how he has acted in the past, what he has already done for his people, and the promises he has made. That’s how the psalm writers pray: “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.” Here the writer is recalling the Exodus out of Egypt and how the Lord had brought his people into the Promised Land. God’s historical action in the past gives confidence for him acting kindly and mightily in the future.
But we have those promises made even more sure! How? Well, how has God acted since then? Listen again to this passage from Psalm 80: “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. . . . Let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!”
Dear friends, who is this talking about? Who is this “man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong”? This is a reference to the Messiah, the Davidic king whom the Lord would send to bring the deliverance from devastation, to bring the salvation and the promised restoration. Dear friends, this is a prophecy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
You see, God has already restored us in our Lord Jesus Christ! It came about when God sent his Son into the world to be our Savior. God stirred up his might and saved us through the birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of his only Son sent from heaven. This might was hidden in weakness, though, when Jesus was nailed to the cross. But this was God exercising his saving might in a most mysterious way: God’s own Son, dying in the place of sinners, shedding his holy blood for people like you and me.
Yes, the Lord has been favorable to us, far more than we deserve. In Christ, we can say: “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” We have peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Christ, it can be truly said: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” Christ is our righteousness, Christ is our peace! “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and he will do them again! God has restored us already, and he will restore us again! Just as the people of Judah were restored when they returned from captivity, so they needed to be restored again when they faced what was ahead of them. So it is for us. We have been redeemed, restored, forgiven, restored back to God through the cross of Christ. But we still live in this vale of tears, with sorrow all around us and death staring us in the face. “Restore us again, O God!” And he will! Jesus is coming back to complete the restoration, to bring it to fulfillment.
Psalm 126: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” And the day is coming, dear friends, the day is coming, when Christ will come again, and wipe every tear from our eyes! No more sorrows. No more grief. No more death. No more sin. The restoration of our bodies, in perfect wholeness. The restoration of this earth and this creation, restored even better than the paradise of Eden. Yes, that is the day of restoration we are looking forward to, and it is based on the restoration already accomplished in Christ. So it is sure. It is certain.
“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” That’s what it will be like, my friends, that’s what it will be like. And knowing that, we can start the laughter and the joy even now.