A Diet of Tears
(H) For the director of the choir, according to “Lilies,” a testimony of Asaph, a psalm. (1) Give ear, Shepherd of Israel, you who leads Joseph like a flock. You, who dwells (between) the cherubim, shine forth. (2) Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh stir up your strength and come to save us. (3) Restore us, God. Cause your face to shine (upon us) that we might be saved. (4) Yahweh, God of hosts, how long will you be angry with the prayers of your people? (5) You have fed them with the bread of tears and have made them drink tears in large measure. (6) You have made us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies mock (us) among themselves.
The first three verses of this psalm contain six successive imperatives: “give ear...shine forth...stir up...come...restore... cause.” These verbs express the psalmist’s earnest prayer to Yahweh. Two repetitions point to the message of the segment. The verb, “to save,” is used twice along with the synonym, “restore” (vss. 2 & 3). “Tears” occurs twice in close succession, both in metaphorical expressions (vs. 5). First, Israel is described as being “fed...with the bread of tears” and then having to “drink tears in large measure.” Both phrases vividly describe the afflictions which God used to chasten his people because of their waywardness.
Note also that the psalmist uses three names for God as he cries out for help: “Shepherd of Israel” (vs. 1), “God” (vs. 3), and “Yahweh, God of hosts” (vs. 4). He also appeals for help by using the names of Joseph and Benjamin, Jacob’s favored sons, as well as Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, representing all the tribes of Israel. In this way he reminds Yahweh not to forget the descendants of those whom he delivered so many years before.
I. Hear us, save us, restore us, God of our fathers. (1-3)
II. How long will you be angry with us? (4-6)
IDEA STATEMENT (Prayer to God)
Let the misery of our condition, chastened for our sins and mocked by our enemies, move you to hear our pleas and save us.
The psalmist uses two vivid metaphors to describe the nation’s plight: “You have fed them with the bread of tears and have made them drink tears in large measure” (vs. 5). Asaph is essentially saying, “Our sufferings have become such a normal part of our lives, it is as though we are living on a diet of tears, both food and drink.” The phrase, “vale (or valley) of tears,” became a frequently used poetic expression to describe life here on earth in generations past. The following couplet, penned by Bernard Barton in the 18th Century, serves as an example: “We journey through a vale of tears, by many a cloud o'ercast; / And worldly cares and worldly fears go with us to the last.”
Believers can find comfort in knowing that tears, representing our response to the afflictions and sufferings we endure, are never hidden from God. In another psalm we read, “You have kept count of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book” (Ps. 56:8)? While tears frequently accompany our trials here on earth, we know that once we reach the heavenly realms, “(God) will wipe every tear from (our) eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). For those who have endured great pain and suffering, the anticipation of an eternity without tears seems a wonderful hope indeed!