Psalm 80

On July 20, 1775, Jacob Duché presented his sermon entitled The American Vine to the Continental Congress.  A biblical passage from the Old Testament, Psalm 80, served as the foundation of his sermon. The image of a nation as a vine planted by God came from this psalm, and the symbol of the vine is woven throughout Duché’s sermon.  King David is believed by historians and theologians to be the author of the Book of Psalms. He was the second king of Judah and reigned around 1000 B.C. He is usually depicted in the Bible as a man of upright character and wisdom. He was an acclaimed warrior, musician, and poet. Although Duché chose only to include verses one and eight through fourteen in the actual text of The American Vine, it is important to analyze the other verses of the psalm for context.

Psalm 80 begins by asking God, the one who led Joseph, to hear the people of Israel and to save them from their plight: “1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth”. Verse two asks God to “stir up his strength” before Ephraim, the second son of Joseph, Benjamin, the last-born of Joseph’s twelve sons, and Manasseh, a king of Judah. Verses three and four continue to ask God to save his chosen people: “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?” The idea of divine providence is extremely present in these lines; in the scripture and in the minds of many Christians during the American Revolution, only God could prevent calamities and save His people from conflict.

Verses five through seven continue the psalm: “5 Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. 6 Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved”. The idea of eating and drinking tears signifies sadness and hardship that the Israelites had to face during the time Psalm 80 was written. Again, the concept of divine providence arises: people feel that their conflicts with others and their own personal suffering is due to God not listening to their prayers; reasons for this could include less than virtuous behavior or actions of the community of believers that do not coincide with God’s laws.

The next portion of the psalm is utilized most heavily by Duché: “8 Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. 9 Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. 10 The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly [2] cedars. 11 She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.12 Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her?” The symbol of the vine as a nation “planted” or established by the will of God appears for the first time here; Duché creates a parallel between the Israelites and the American colonists by continuing to refer to the colonies as the “American Vine” planted by God. Just like the Israelites, the American colonists were experiencing hardships and suffering, though at the hands of the British and what they felt was oppressive taxation.  Verses thirteen through nineteen of the psalm ask God to “look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;” (13). The writer continues to implore God to help his people, for they believe God is the only one who can save them.

Overall, there are several parallels between Psalm 80 and Duché’s The American Vine. In Psalm 80, the vine is Israel after their enslavement in Egypt, while in The American Vine, the vine symbolizes the colonies. Both the Israelites and colonists believed that their “vine” was divinely planted, meaning that God had placed both groups intentionally and carefully in the places they were supposed to be. Due to this belief, both call on God to answer the prayers of His divinely planted people to end their suffering and hardship. Additionally, both the writer of Psalm 80 and Jacob Duché blame these hardships on the immoral acts and intentions of the people, calling for them to repent so that God will turn His attention back to the vine that He so carefully planted. The American Vine is a sermon deeply rooted in the Bible, but most strongly in the text of Psalm 80.