Read Psalm 80.
Teaching my children essential life skills is important to me, so I’ve committed to a season of training with my oldest son, Jonah. A few times a week, we’ll pull out the Nintendo, and I’ll show him how to rescue princesses, stick it to Donkey Kong, and save the planet from alien insect invaders. It’s all very practical, the real stuff of character formation.
More importantly, it’s just a fun way to spend some time with my boy while sharing a childhood memory . One memory we will now both have is trying to get used to all the buttons on the Nintendo controller. I realize that by today’s video game standards, the classic NES controller is sparse, but for a newbie, it’s a lot to think about. I can recall being frustrated the first time I played Super Mario Bros., and I can see the same frustration in Jonah’s eyes when he tries to run and jump at the same time.
He’s doing great, and every time we play he gets a little bit better. But every now and then, when he’s facing a particularly difficult scenario, he’ll hold out his controller to me and say, “Dad, can you do it?”
There’s wisdom in knowing when you need someone to step in and act on your behalf. Oftentimes, we choose to go it alone because of stubborn pride. Just consider Asaph’s request in Psalm 80. The Babylonians have already descended upon Judah, sacking Jerusalem, pulverizing the temple, and dragging God’s people into exile. Yet Asaph asks for a divine do-over:
Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.
Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. (vv. 14–18)
The vine he speaks of is the nation of Israel, and so is the son. These are images used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the people of God descended from Jacob (Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 5:1–7; Jeremiah 2:21). Asaph wants the vine replanted in the land, and he wants God to give his son, Israel, another chance.
But there aren’t enough second chances in this world. The problem of rebellious hearts cannot be solved by simply trying harder. Israel needs to hand the controller over to someone else—to fulfill righteousness in a way they cannot.
When Jesus came to earth, it was to do what the people of Israel could not do on their own. If you read the Gospels carefully, you may notice that Jesus’s life and ministry echo Old Testament history. Here are just a few examples:
In Exodus, a murderous Pharaoh tried to kill all the male children of Israel, but Moses was rescued. He later left Egypt with the nation. Together, they passed through the waters of the parted Red Sea and experienced forty years of testing in the wilderness. In the Gospels, Herod tried to kill all the male children in and around Bethlehem, but Jesus was rescued. He later left Egypt, passed through the waters of baptism, and was tested after forty days in the wilderness.
Just as Moses delivered the law from atop a mountain, so Jesus gave His most famous sermon from atop a mountain. Moses sent out twelve spies into the land; Jesus sent out the twelve disciples. The prophets warned the people and spoke about the end of the age. So did Jesus.
The list could go on and on, but the most important bit is that Jesus experienced an exile and return when He died and rose again. He lived out Israel’s history, but He did so perfectly, without rebellion or complaint, without turning to other gods or taking matters into His own hands. He did what Israel could not.
It’s no wonder Jesus said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). He is the Son seated at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10:12). And because Jesus did all that He did, you and I can receive the blessings He secured. Because He is the vine, we get to be the branches. Jesus promised, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
That’s what was missing from Asaph’s equation. The hope of Israel was never to be found in a simple do-over. It can only be found in Jesus Christ, the true vine and the true Son.