What a strange anomaly: a happy, joyfully worshiping congregation and a neglected and offended God. Strange? Yes, but all too characteristic of religious people. Isaiah wrote, in words quoted approvingly by Jesus, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13; see Matt. 15:8).

Without God, Israel itself could do nothing. At least it could do nothing but sin, which it did abundantly, eventually falling away into the Lord's terrible national judgment. To survive, to prosper, even to live—the people of the old covenant had to abide in God. No less do we! Without Jesus Christ and his power, we cannot come to faith, trusting him as our Savior. Without Jesus Christ and his power, we cannot live a righteous life, turning our backs upon sin and cleaving to our master. Without Jesus Christ and his power, we cannot achieve any spiritual victory or produce any spiritual fruit.

The second great metaphor of this psalm is of God as the planter and keeper of a great vineyard and of Israel as his choice and abundant vine. I have identified this image as filling the third stanza of the psalm (vv. 8-18), but in the New International Version the section is itself divided into three stanzas: verses 8-11, 12-15 and 16-18. These deal with the past, the present and the future of the vineyard.

The first time the recurring chorus appears is in verse 3, after the appeal to the great might of Israel's divine shepherd. It is an obvious prayer based on what has been said. What is unusual about it is that the second line seems to be a reference to the Aaronic blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” The psalmist must have heard this blessing a thousand times. So he prays here, "Make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

A second striking feature of this psalm is its effective employment of two great images for God: God as Israel's shepherd, developed briefly in the first stanza (vv. 1, 2) and God as the planter and caretaker of a vineyard, which stands for Israel, developed in stanza three (vv. 8-18). The first of these two images, God as Israel's shepherd, is one of the ways the Bible has of describing God to people who, for the most part, lived pastoral lives.