A psalm of Asaph.
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple,
they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
They have left the dead bodies of your servants
as food for the birds of the sky,
the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.
They have poured out blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there is no one to bury the dead.
We are objects of contempt to our neighbours,
of scorn and derision to those around us.
How long, Lord? Will you be angry for ever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
Pour out your wrath on the nations
that do not acknowledge you,
on the kingdoms
that do not call on your name;
for they have devoured Jacob
and devastated his homeland.
Do not hold against us the sins of past generations;
may your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate need.
Help us, God our Saviour,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins
for your name’s sake.
Why should the nations say,
‘Where is their God?’
Before our eyes, make known among the nations(Ps. 79:1-13 NIV)
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.
May the groans of the prisoners come before you;
with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.
Pay back into the laps of our neighbours seven times
the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will praise you for ever;
from generation to generation
we will proclaim your praise.
The Psalmist puts his lament before the Lord in v1-4. The nations have invaded and have shown no respect for God’s inheritance or the temple. The land and the people of God are the Lord’s inheritance. The concern expressed here is not that the Lord has acted in judgement upon the people but rather the means used by the Lord. The Psalmist expresses his concern for what the nations have done to the Lord. They have invaded the Lord’s inheritance, have defiled the Lord’s temple, and they have reduced the holy city to rubble. He describes the people as the Lord’s servants and the Lord’s saints. The nations have shown no respect for the dead but left the bodies to the wild animals and birds of prey. Blood has been poured out in great quantity, likened to the pouring out of water. There are not enough survivors to bury the dead. The survivors were spared death, but they bore the reproach, scorn and derision of their neighbours.
The Psalmist does not question the Lord’s judgement on the people, he asks how long God will be angry and His jealousy burn like fire. The commandments were quite clear about what would happen if the people worshipped false gods.
‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love(Exod. 20:4-6 NIV)
The Psalmist lifts a heart-rending cry to God, ‘How long, O LORD?’ (The book of Lamentations describes the extent of the suffering.) The Psalmist addresses the covenant Lord. It was the covenant that stipulated what would happen if they broke the terms of the covenant. Yet still the Psalmist pleads the covenant because God is a merciful God. The question in v5 serves as a transition from the lament to prayer.
The Psalmist calls upon God to deal with the nations and kingdoms that neither acknowledge God or call on His name. This is exactly the sin that the people of God had been guilty of. They had not acknowledged God. What a state the church was in. The only hope that the remnant church can have is in the mercy of God. The sins of the fathers were many but the Psalmist also admits their own sins and asks for the forgiveness of sins. Their need is desperate, he asks for God to come quickly. Hope brings the people to God.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.’
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,(Lam. 3:22-26 NIV)
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
A remnant of God’s people was spared and carried into exile. They cry out to the Lord and they have hope because God is their Saviour. Hope remains because God will never abandon His plan of redemption. Deliverance will come, but ‘how long O LORD?’ The Lord’s mercy and grace does not depend on the people’s righteousness or piety, but rather is meted out for the sake of the Lord’s name.
This brings the Psalmist to a further question, ‘Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”’ The nations are mocking God and the people of God. The Psalmist wants to witness with his own eyes the righteous judgement on the nations. The outpoured blood of God’s servants cries out from the ground for justice. Those imprisoned in exile groan, and these groans also rise up to heaven. Many have been condemned to die. The prayer calls for God by the strength of His mighty arm to preserve their lives. At the time of the Exodus, God had heard the cry of His people. A return from exile is needed. The Psalmist calls for a seven times restitution. The judgement must match the mocking of God’s name. The people of God have no strength, they are strangers in a foreign land, their only hope is to turn to the Lord. The people of God are still the sheep of His pasture. They look forward in hope to praising God forever, from generation to generation they will sing God’s praise. The Lord has brought judgement upon the people. They deserved the judgement. They humbly confess their sins and look to the Lord to lead them as a shepherd back to the Lord’s pasture.
Great is thy faithfulness:
Lord God, You are our only hope in life and death. We acknowledge that we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to You our God and to our Saviour Jesus Christ. Our hope is in You alone. Lord forgive our many sins, take away our transgressions and cleanse us from our iniquity as we pray in the name of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.