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 the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Psalm 80:1 -7; 17 - 19 (NRSV)
What now? What do you do when all the options are exhausted, every resource has failed and you’re about to be toast? In that film clip Alex Rider was the young man, a teenage spy. He was certainly out of options; he was between the proverbial “rock and hard place” – literally!
Alex could have written this Psalm. It’s a prayer; it’s an anguished cry of desperation! It is the prayer of people who were once used to having God’s presence and God’s power – that power being long absent and sorely missed. It is the prayer of one who is out of touch with God.
And this is the case, indeed. This Psalm was written during one of those terrible periods in Israel’s history when they’d lost touch with God by ignoring the relationship which made them God’s special people. It’s a prayer of “lament”. One writer has it:
…the people are still on the soil of their fatherland; but in their present feebleness they are no longer like themselves, they stand in need of divine intervention in order again to attain a condition that is in harmony with the promises, in order to become themselves again.
Did you ever get so low, so “unlike yourself” that you know something’s got to change? Did you ever cry out to God – “Where are you now?”
I tried to think of as many words as I could to put myself in the place of someone who has lost hope. It’s quite a list!
Stranded, Gone, Funeral, Resigned, Empty, Alone, Failed, Betrayed, Spent, Quit,Dead, Rejected, Cold, Weak…did I say “We need to talk”?
I’m not against praying in a crisis; my first participation in public prayer was when I was six; I had a crisis. I was misbehaving, making a lot of noise in church, so my father hoisted me over his shoulder to take me out for a woodshed experience; I addressed the congregation as I disappeared through the sanctuary doors, “Y’all pray for me now.”
Anyone who has ever prayed like that knows that the desire to be relieved of the pain is what that kind of prayer is all about. A “foxhole prayer” isn’t about genuine repentance, coming to God to ask Him to restore the relationship and service of one who has sinned.
That’s how God’s people should have been praying. But the sad truth is, God’s people have always promised much, and then forgotten to follow through. Promises were made, broken and forgotten all throughout the history of Israel.
And when God’s people (in Bible times or now) forget their promises and ignore God, it leaves them empty, alone, stranded, cold….well, you can read the list. Instead of answers our prayers just of dry-up on the vine; somehow God doesn’t quite seem real anymore.
So…what do you do when you’re that dry? Asaph prayed:
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. Psalm 80:1-3
The Psalmist is praying to God, and he mentions Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. According to the description of the tribes wandering in the desert after being led out of Egypt’s captivity, these were the first three tribes following behind the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with His people.
So, asking God to let your face shine, points to that Ark. It was the mercy seat, God’s seat, the place where God’s glory rested. “Come to save us” is a cry for redemption – a cry for the gift of life.
The most amazing fact about God coming to save us is that it happens even in the worst, darkest times of “no hope”.
· No matter how many promises you’ve made and broken…
· No matter how bad you know yourself to be inside…
· No matter how dark the place without hope is…
Look once again at verse 18 – give us life and we will call on your name. That’s what Jesus does…he gives life. He helps us turn in repentance and ask for true revival. And when we turn from our own personal wickedness…ADVENT…Jesus comes, the Father smiles, and His face shines on us! That’s what He desires…He said so:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, 24 The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Numbers 6:22-27 (NRSV)
Just this week in Papua, New Guinea a new orchid was discovered. They call it Bulbophyllum nocturnum…a flower that blooms in the dead of darkness. At first the researchers tried to pamper it in a greenhouse….all the buds died. They finally figured out it opens at night and closes back up when the sun comes up. Beauty in the midst of cold, dark, alone, stranded…did I mention we need to talk?
The next time your hope gauge shows you’re running on empty, remember the bulbophyllum nocturnum, and picture the hope orchid budding in the midst of all your trouble. If God can do it for a flower locked away in a cave, He knows your address too!