Psalm 80 begins with this plea:
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.
In the book The Treasury of David, by Charles H. Spurgeon, the following prayer attributed to the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) is quoted in connection with this verse:
Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock art considered by the unbelieving to have no thought for our affairs; therefore stretch forth thine hand for our assistance, that the mouth of them that speak iniquities may be shut. We seek not gold and riches, or the dignities of this world, but we long for thy light, we desire more ardently to know thee, therefore, "shine forth."
I understand the reference to "Joseph" in the psalm to be a metonym and synecdoche for the Israelites, as the patriarch Joseph was the father of two of the largest tribes of ancient Israel: Ephraim and Manasseh, I believe that when Savonarola referred to "Joseph", he did so in a spiritual sense, following the lead of the apostle Paul, who n Romans 4 and Galatians 3 and 4 explains that a Gentile who shares the faith of the patriarch Abraham is, in a spiritual sense, a child of Abraham. Thus, by "Joseph", the friar is referring to all those who are Israelites in a spiritual sense, as distinct from a fleshly sense: or, as the apostle might say, "according to the flesh" or "after the flesh" (Romans 1:3 and 9:3, I Corinthians 10:18, Galatians 3:23 and 29).
The "Shepherd of Israel", the one who "leadest Joseph like a flock", is, of course, the LORD: the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. This is not the only verse of the Old Testament which refers to Him as a shepherd: others include Psalm 23:1, Psalm 100:3 (by implication), and Ezekiel 34:11-19. In the New Testament we read that the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the "Good Shepherd" (John 10:1-18) and the "chief Shepherd" (I Peter 5:4) of His people.
The expression "shine forth" is related to Deuteronomy 33:2, which says:
And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.
Thus the psalmist, and by extension Savonarola, are asking for God to "shine forth" as He did during the Exodus, when He gave the Israelites the Law through Moses. The same Hebrew word translated as "shine forth" is used in the following verses:
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.
O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself [shine forth].
Reading further in Psalm 80, one sees that the psalmist asks God to "shine forth" because Israel was suffering, because she had strife with her neighbors, and because her enemies were laughing at her (verses 5 and 6, and more).
It sounds as if when Savonarola wrote his prayer, there were people around him who did not believe that God cared about the affairs of His people, and expressed their unbelief in an iniquitous manner, e,g, by scorn, mockery, and blasphemy. He asks God for His assistance not only because His people need it, but to shut the mouths of the unbelievers.
He also tells God that His people "long for" His light, and "more ardently desire" to know Him. He contrasts their longing and desire with their not seeking for "gold and riches" and "the dignities of this world". To fulfill their longing and desire, he asks God to "shine forth".
It should be noted that Savonarola is best known not for his prayers or his commentary on the Scriptures, but for his preaching of repentance to the populace of Florence during the Italian Renaissance, which had an extraordinary effect.
Therefore, we should understand that his prayer came from an attitude of contrition and repentance. It would have been foolish and presumptuous of him if it did not.
Questions for consideration:
1. Do you consider God to be the Shepherd of His people? Why or why not?
2. Can you relate to the situation of God's people which is implied by Savonarola in his prayer: one in which they were seen by others who did not believe that God cares about their affairs? Why or why not?
3. Would you like God to stretch forth His hand for the assistance of His flock to show those who do not believe that He cares about their affairs that in fact He does? Why or why not?
4. What is your attitude toward "gold and riches"? Do you seek them? Why or why not?
5. What is your attitude toward "the dignities of this world"? Do you seek them? Why or why not?
6. Do you long for God's light? Why or why not?
7. Do you ardently desire to know God (more)? Why or why not?
8. Would you like God to "shine forth" to fulfill a longing for His light and an ardent desire to know Him? Why or why not?
9. Do you pray to God from an attitude of contrition and repentance? Why or why not?
10. Would you like to pray part, parts, or all of this prayer attributed to Savonarola? Why or why not?