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it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
The Desolated Vine.
8 Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. 9 Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. 10 The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. 11 She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. 12 Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? 13 The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. 14 Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; 15 And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. 16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. 17 Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. 18 So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. 19 Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
The psalmist is here presenting his suit for the Israel of God, and pressing it home at the throne of grace, pleading with God for mercy and grace for them. The church is here represented as a vine (v. 8, 14) and a vineyard, v. 15. The root of this vine is Christ, Rom. xi. 18. The branches are believers, John xv. 5. The church is like a vine, weak and needing support, unsightly and having an unpromising outside, but spreading and fruitful, and its fruit most excellent. The church is a choice and noble vine; we have reason to acknowledge the goodness of God that he has planted such a vine in the wilderness of this world, and preserved it to this day. Now observe here,
I. How the vine of the Old-Testament church was planted at first. It was brought out of Egypt with a high hand; the heathen were cast out of Canaan to make room for it, seven nations to make room for that one. Thou didst sweep before it (so some read v. 9), to make clear work; the nations were swept away as dirt with the besom of destruction. God, having made room for it, and planted it, cause it to take deep root by a happy establishment of their government both in church and state, which was so firm that, though their neighbours about them often attempted it, they could not prevail to pluck it up.
II. How it spread and flourished. 1. The land of Canaan itself was fully peopled. At first they were not so numerous as to replenish it, Exod. xxiii. 29. But in Solomon's time Judah and Israel were many as the sand of the sea; the land was filled with them, and yet such a fruitful land that it was not over-stocked, v. 10. The hills of Canaan were covered with their shadow, and the branches, though they extended themselves far, like those of the vine, yet were not weak like them, but as strong as those of the goodly cedars. Israel not only had abundance of men, but those mighty men of valour. 2. They extended their conquests and dominion to the neighbouring countries (v. 11): She sent out her boughs to the sea, the great sea westward, and her branches to the river, to the river of Egypt southward, the river of Damascus northward, or rather the river Euphrates eastward, Gen. xv. 18. Nebuchadnezzar's greatness is represented by a flourishing tree, Dan. iv. 20, 21. But it is observable here concerning this vine that it is praised for its shadow, its boughs, and its branches, but not a word of its fruit, for Israel was an empty vine, Hos. x. 1. God came looking for grapes, but, behold, wild grapes, Isa. v. 2. And, if a vine do not bring forth fruit, no tree so useless, so worthless, Ezek. xv. 2, 6.
III. How it was wasted and ruined: "Lord, thou hast done great things for this vine, and why shall it be all undone again? If it were a plant not of God's planting, it were not strange to see it rooted up; but will God desert and abandon that which he himself gave being to?" v. 12. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges? There was a good reason for this change in God's way towards them. This noble vine had become the degenerate plant of a strange vine (Jer. ii. 21), to the reproach of its great owner, and then no marvel if he took away its hedge (Isa. v. 5); yet God's former favours to this vine are urged as pleas in prayer to God, and improved as encouragements to faith, that, notwithstanding all this, God would not wholly cast them off. Observe, 1. The malice and enmity of the Gentile nations against Israel. As soon as ever God broke down their hedges and left them exposed troops of enemies presently broke in upon them, that waited for an opportunity to destroy them. Those that passed by the way plucked at them; the board out of the wood and the wild beast of the field were ready to ravage it, v. 13. But, 2. See also the restraint which these cruel enemies were under; for till God had broken down their hedges they could not pluck a leaf of this vine. The devil could not hurt Job so long as God continued the hedge round about him, Job i. 10. See how much it is the interest of any people to keep themselves in the favour of God and then they need not fear any wild beast of the field, Job v. 23. If we provoke God to withdraw, our defence has departed from us, and we are undone. The deplorable state of Israel is described (v. 16): It is burnt with fire; it is cut down; the people are treated like thorns and briers, that are nigh unto cursing and whose end is to be burned, and no longer like vines that are protected and cherished. They perish not through the rage of the wild beast and the boar, but at the rebuke of thy countenance; that was it which they dreaded and to which they attributed all their calamities. It is well or ill with us according as we are under God's smiles or frowns.
IV. What their requests were to God hereupon. 1. That God would help the vine (v. 14, 15), that he would graciously take cognizance of its case and do for it as he thought fit: "Return, we beseech thee, O Lord of hosts! for thou hast seemed to go away from us. Look down from heaven, to which thou hast retired,—from heaven, that place of prospect, whence thou seest all the wrongs that are done us, that place of power, whence thou canst send effectual relief,—from heaven, where thou hast prepared thy throne of judgment, to which we appeal, and where thou hast prepared a better country for those that are Israelites indeed,—thence give a gracious look, thence make a gracious visit, to this vine. Take our woeful condition into thy compassionate consideration, and for the particular fruits of thy pity we refer ourselves to thee. Only behold the vineyard, or rather the root, which thy right hand hath planted, and which therefore we hope thy right hand will protect, that branch which thou madest strong for thyself, to show forth thy praise (Isa. xliii. 21), that with the fruit of it thou mightest be honoured. Lord, it is formed by thyself and for thyself, and therefore it may with a humble confidence be committed to thyself and to thy own care." As for God, his work is perfect. What we read the branch in the Hebrew is the son (Ben), whom in thy counsel thou hast made strong for thyself. That branch was to come out of the stock of Israel (my servant the branch, Zech. iii. 8), and therefore, till he should come, Israel in general, and the house of David in particular, must be preserved, and upheld, and kept in being. He is the true vine, John xv. 1; Isa. xi. 1. Destroy it not for that blessing is in it, Isa. lxv. 8. 2. That he would help the vine-dresser (v. 17, 18): "Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand," that king (whoever it was) of the house of David that was now to go in and out before them; "let they hand be upon him, not only to protect and cover him, but to own him, and strengthen him, and give him success." We have this phrase, Ezra vii. 28, And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me. Their king is called the man of God's right hand as he was the representative of their state, which was dear to God, as his Benjamin, the son of his right hand, as he was president in their affairs and an instrument in God's right hand of much good to them, defending them from themselves and from their enemies and directing them in the right way, and as he was under-shepherd under him who was the great shepherd of Israel. Princes, who have power, must remember that they are sons of men, of Adam (so the word is), that, if they are strong, it is God that has made them strong, and he has made them so for himself, for they are his ministers to serve the interests of his kingdom among men, and, if they do this in sincerity, his hand shall be upon them; and we should pray in faith that it may be so, adding this promise, that, if God will adhere to our governors, we will adhere to him: So will not we go back from thee; we will never desert a cause which we see that God espouses and is the patron of. Let God be our leader and we will follow him. Adding also this prayer, "Quicken us, put life into us, revive our dying interests, revive our drooping spirits, and then we will call upon thy name. We will continue to do so upon all occasions, having found it not in vain to do so." We cannot call upon God's name in a right manner unless he quicken us; but it is he that puts life into our souls, that puts liveliness into our prayers. But many interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, apply this to the Messiah, the Son of David, the protector and Saviour of the church and the keeper of the vineyard. (1.) He is the man of God's right hand, to whom he has sworn by his right hand (so the Chaldee), whom he has exalted to his right hand, and who is indeed his right hand, the arm of the Lord, for all power is given to him. (2.) He is that son of man whom he made strong for himself, for the glorifying of his name and the advancing of the interests of his kingdom among men. (3.) God's hand is upon him throughout his whole undertaking, to bear him out and carry him on, to protect and animate him, that the good pleasure of the Lord might prosper in his hand. (4.) The stability and constancy of believers are entirely owing to the grace and strength which are laid up for us in Jesus Christ, Ps. lxviii. 28. In him is our strength found, by which we are enabled to persevere to the end. Let thy hand be upon him; on him let our help be laid who is mighty; let him be made able to save to the uttermost and that will be our security; so will not we go back from thee.
Lastly, The psalm concludes with the same petition that had been put up twice before, and yet it is no vain repetition (v. 19): Turn us again. The title given to God rises, v. 3, O God! v. 7, O God of hosts! v. 19, O Lord (Jehovah) God of hosts! When we come to God for his grace, his good-will towards us and his good work in us, we should pray earnestly, continue instant in prayer, and pray more earnestly.