Turn Us Again, O God–The Message of Psalm 80:3

A small child with her hands clasped and eyes closed in a gesture of prayer in an African church
Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. (Psalm 80:3 KJV)

In this post, we will discuss the meaning and message of Psalm 80:3. We will discover why God’s face is turned our way and why that matters.

But first, allow me to tell you a story.

God’s Face Is Turned Our Way

In his book The Presence, Shawn Boonstra tells a story of a father and his young daughter who were caught in the crossfires of World War II.

One night during the conflict, the German air force heavily bombed the Coalition forces-held territory.

The bombardment was so intense in one of the cities that people sought refuge in designated bomb shelters.

A father and his eight-year-old daughter were among those who sought refuge in bomb shelters.

The young girl was startled by the thunderous sound of bombs detonating while they were in the bomb shelter. She couldn’t sleep because she was so anxious.

The darkness of the bomb shelter didn’t help either. Fearful, the young girl called out to her father, who was in the same bunker a meter away.

“Dad, are you here with me?” The young girl asked.

“I’m right here with you, my daughter.” Her father reassured her.

After a while, she called out to her father again, asking, “Dad, are you still there?”

“My daughter, I am still here with you.” Her father reassured her once more.

A few minutes later, the young girl called her father a third time, asking, “Dad, is your face turned towards me?”

The father smiled and turned in his sleeping mart to face her in the darkness.

“Yes, my face is now turned towards you,” he confirmed.

“Don’t worry, I’m right here with you,” he added. “Sleep now.”

The little girl was fast asleep a few minutes later. She was confident that she was safe because her father’s face was turned her way.

Our World Is a War Zone 

The Bible reveals our world is not only a battleground for physical battles, but also for another spiritual battle of cosmic proportion. We’re up against evil forces, and we can’t stand up to our arch enemy on our own.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV)
“… Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Revelation 12:12b KJV)

And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:17 KJV)

And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. (Revelation 13:7 KJV) 

The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that suffering, persecution, and oppression are inevitable for believers. However, Paul also reminds them that God will not let the devil “destroy” His people.

“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” 2 Corinthians 4:8–9, KJV).

The Lord will not allow Satan to “crush,” demoralize, or destroy us.

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJV)

God will not forsake us because His face is still turned our way.

A Breakdown of Psalm 80:3 

Our key verse for today’s study is Psalm 80:3. This psalm is a personal prayer that the psalmist offers to God on behalf of Israel, his homeland. It is a lament psalm for restoration and healing.

The time and circumstances of Psalm 80 are unclear, but the language suggests that it was written during a period of great national crisis (Psalm 80:6, 18). 

It was one of the darkest periods in the history of God’s people.

The language of the entire chapter appears to imply a withdrawal of God’s presence from the nation’s life.

The author makes us believe that God’s apparent withdrawal of His presence from His people was disastrous to the nation’s very existence. 

According to the psalmist, the only hope for the nation was God’s intervention.

As a result, the writer of this psalm begs God to “turn” the nation “again,” to make His “face shine” on them, and to “save” them.

The psalmist begins the psalm by recounting and attesting to God’s past mighty deeds. He describes how God led Joseph to Egypt to save His people from an impending famine (Psalm 80:1). 

The psalmist hopes to strengthen his faith in God by recounting God’s mighty deeds in the past.

Turn Us Again to Yourself, O God 

The Hebrew word for “turn” is rשׁוב (shoobh) which means “to restore.” The phrase “turn us again” can also be rendered as “turn us” or “turn to us.” This word is translated as “bring us back,” “cause us to return,” and “restore us” in many English Bibles.

The phrase “turn us again to yourself” appears three times in Psalm 80: 3, 7, and 19.

  • “O God,” that is Elohim in Hebrew (Psalm 80:3)
  • “O God of host,” that is Sabbaoth in Hebrew (Psalm 80:7)
  • “O Lord God of host,” that is Yahweh in Hebrew (Psalm 80:19)

The three phrases above use a repeat and expansion format. In each instance of repetition, the writer adds new information about God’s attributes.  

The variations in God’s attributes indicate the intensity of the psalmist’s plea at each stage. This means the petitioner’s plea to God grew stronger as he prayed more.

Notice also, that the first two repetitions introduce new psalm sections.

The phrase “turn us back to you” suggests that God’s people had deserted Him. They had severed their relationship with God as a result of their sins.

As a result, the psalmist prays for the restoration of Yahweh’s relationship with His people. The author prays for divine intervention because he understands that the nation cannot turn to God on its own. He makes a prayer, “Lord, help us return to you.”

Thus, it is clear from this psalm that redemption and restoration are entirely the work of God. God is the one who draws people back to Himself. It takes the power of God to restore and redeem a lost soul.

Do you want to experience the joy of salvation again? Invite God to restore you.

Make Your Face Shine Down Upon Us 

Many Bible passages depict God as living in unapproachable light or fire. For example, when referring to God’s judgment, the Bible portrays God as a consuming fire (Exodus 24:17, Leviticus 10:2, Hebrews 12:29, Revelation 19:12).

The Bible uses “fire” metaphors to describe God’s glory and presence, such as “burning fire” that never goes out (Exodus 3:2-3). God’s throne is also depicted as a fiery throne (Daniel 7:9).

In Psalm 80:3, however, the psalmist invokes God’s attributes of grace and favor because the nation was already under God’s judgment. He pleads for deliverance and mercy for his nation.

What is the meaning of the phrase “make Your face shine down upon us”? The phrase is a request and invitation to God to consider the well-being and plight of His people. It is a request that the nation be restored to a position of favor, approval, and right standing before God.

The phrase is a request and invitation to God to consider the well-being and plight of His people. It is a request that the nation be restored to a position of favor, approval, and right standing before God.


Thus, God’s face shining on His people represents divine approval, presence, protection, and restoration.

The author recognizes that only God can restore His people’s confidence to bask and walk in His light. It is His divine prerogative to reveal His face and shine His light on His undeserving and rebellious people. The only hope for the nation’s restoration was God revealing Himself.

Even in our day, God’s holy nature remains unchanged. God still resides in an unapproachable light. Christ is the only means by which we can approach and have access to God. This truth is confirmed by Paul’s words:

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Timothy 2:5 KJV)
In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12 NIV).

We can now approach God freely and confidently thanks to our Mediator, Christ Jesus.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)

Christ is the better Hope through whom we can approach God:

“... for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19 NKJV)

Isaiah exhorts us to seek God because He is close at hand.

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6 NIV)

God is near. He is accessible through Christ. Seek Him.

Only Then Will We Be Saved 

The phrase “only then will we be saved” is an acknowledgement that only God’s mercy and intervention could save the country. 

The psalmist in this part recognizes his nation’s inability to change or save itself. No amount of cunning could save the country apart from God.

Their only hope for restoration was by God “turning them back to Himself” and “shining His face upon them.”

In other words, the psalmist’s prayer to God was, “Look, we have no other hope but in You; we need You as a nation for salvation and restoration.”

The psalmist was confident in God’s ability to save his nation. He longed to be reunited with God, to bask in the warmth of His love and redemption.

We are powerless to change our sinful natures. We must put our hope in God if we want to be saved.

Only God can initiate the process of restoration in our lives. God is our assurance of salvation. Jeremiah was aware of this reality and he prayed:

Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved, For You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:14 KJV)

As Israel did, we must petition God for healing, salvation, favor, presence, restoration, and salvation.

Do you remember the story at the beginning of this article? We discovered that the young girl slept soundly because she knew her father was watching her. She believed he was watching her.

When you are afraid, remember that God’s presence and face are turned towards you. God reminds us in Isaiah 43:2 that He will be with us through the waters and fires of life:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. (Isaiah 43:2 NKJV)

The psalmist found comfort in remembering God’s goodness in the past (Psalm 80:1-2). Similarly, we will gain strength by recalling God’s previous leadings.

Moses also encouraged the children of Israel to recount and retell God’s blessings in these words:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. (Deuteronomy 32:7 KJV)

Winston Churchill, one of Britain’s most illustrious prime ministers, found solace in reflecting on his past accomplishments. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying:

“The further backwards we can look, the further forward we can see.”

Winston Churchill

When you are afraid of the present or the future, take a moment to reflect on how the Lord has led you in the past. This will give you the courage to press on, knowing that God is in control of everything that happens in your life.

Remember, God’s face is turned your way.

A Prayer Based on Psalm 80:3

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me to put my faith in You. Help me to overcome my fears, for Your face is turned my way. Amen.

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