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Deeper Commentary


Psa 79:1

A Psalm by Asaph-
This "Asaph" could be the Asaph of Hezekiah's time (Is. 36:3) who used the Psalms in the context of the events of the Assyrian invasion. The Asaph Psalms all have parts in them relevant to that context (Ps. 50, 73-83). Or the "Asaph" may have been the singers who were relatives of Asaph, prominent at the restoration (Neh. 7:44; 11:17,22). It could mean that the psalms were a part of a collection from the Asaphites, and the name "Asaph" was therefore simply used to identify the temple singers. And again, parts of the Asaph psalms also have relevance to the restoration. The fact the Asaph Psalms speak of elohim rather than Yahweh would support the idea that they were used in the exilic / restoration period. But Asaph was the "chief" of the Levites to whom David assigned the ministry of praise before the ark (1 Chron. 16:4,5). It seems he did compose his own Psalms, which were used by Hezekiah at his time (2 Chron. 29:30). So I would again suggest that most of the Asaph Psalms were composed originally by David "for" [not necessarily "by"] Asaph, but were rewritten and edited for later occasions. However, Ps. 79 is clearly relevant to the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and may well have been written especially concerning that. If it was written originally by David, it would have been very heavily rewritten. Parts of it are very similar to Jeremiah's words (see on :7) and there are allusions to his Lamentations, so it could be that Jeremiah either wrote it or appropriated it, although it was performed by the clan of Asaph.

God, the nations have come into Your inheritance, they have defiled Your holy temple, they have laid Jerusalem in heaps-
The "inheritance" may refer specifically to the land of Judah. But the argument of the psalmist seems to disregard the fact that the prophets had clearly stated that God had sent the nations into the land; and the temple was defiled by them in response to the way that Judah had themselves defiled the temple. Micah had used the very same word in saying that Jerusalem would become heaps (Mic. 3:12; Jer. 26:18). Yet there seems shocked outrage when it actually happened. See on :13.

Psa 79:2

They have given the dead bodies of Your servants to be food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the land-
"The beast" in the Bible refers to the neighbouring nations of Judah (:12) who come to judge her. The "saints" refers not so much to the righteous, but to God's people Israel who are His set apart people. The symbology of this verse is used in this sense in Revelation; these things are to be fulfilled on a far worse scale in the latter day desolation of Jerusalem.

Psa 79:3

Their blood they have shed like water around Jerusalem, there was no one to bury them-
Again the lament seems to forget that this was what the prophets had predicted would happen because of all the blood shed in Jerusalem and around it by the apostate people of Judah, especially in their offerings of their own children to their gods.

Psa 79:4

We have become a reproach to our neighbours, a scoffing and derision to those who are around us-
This again was exactly as God so repeatedly warned would happen. But instead of acceptance of this fulfilment of prophecy and repentance, there is simply a sustained appeal for God to remove the promised consequence of their sin. And this is how we can all tend to be; wanting the problems and consequences removed, whilst in denial of the fact that they have come about as a result of sin, and have a far wider context than we care to see.

Psa 79:5

How long, Yahweh? Will You be angry forever?-
Instead of accepting that His anger had a reason and purpose, the psalmist simply wants the consequence of sin removed; as noted on :4, there is no hint at repentance. The prophetic answer to the question "How long?" was clearly 'When you repent'.

Will Your jealousy burn like fire?-
The Hebrew word translated "zeal" in the context of God's zeal for us (Is. 9:7) really means the jealousy which flares up in a man for a woman (the same word is in Num. 5:14,15; Prov. 6:34; Song 8:6 etc.). That jealousy burning like fire (Ps. 79:5) is His passion for us His people; even if as here, it is reflected in His anger with His cruelly unfaithful people. He is a jealous God in His zeal for us; and therefore any other relationships with the things of this world cannot be contemplated by us. That zeal of God will be poured out upon us at the second coming, resulting in a consummation with Him as the wife of His covenant (Is. 42:13,14; 64:1).

Psa 79:6

Pour out Your wrath on the nations that don’t know You, on the kingdoms that don’t call on Your name-
The continual desire for "vengeance" (:10,12) is out of step with the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33:11), but wishes all to come to repentance. But repentance is not given any great stress in these psalms. Vengeance and immediate removal of the consequences of sin are in central place.

Psa 79:7

for they have devoured Jacob, and destroyed his homeland-
The same words as in Jer. 10:25, supporting the suggestion made on :1 that Jeremiah may have written this Psalm. That their homeland would be "destroyed" was the clear agreement they had  made in accepting covenant with Yahweh; for the same word is used there of the consequence of breaking the covenant (Lev. 26:22,31,32 etc.). Judah had made their own land desolate / destroyed (s.w. Jer. 12:11). It was Yahweh who had desolated the land (s.w. Lam. 1:13; Ez. 20:26). Rather like David in his psalms of the Absalom period, there is a deep desire for the promised consequence of sin to be removed, without referencing repentance and guilt.

Psa 79:8

Don’t hold the iniquities of our forefathers against us; let Your tender mercies speedily meet us, for we are in desperate need-
Ezekiel repeatedly labours the point that the exiles are not suffering for the sins of their fathers, but for their own sins. And yet the psalmist apparently ignores this, and seems to use this idea as a preface for the general plea for "forgiveness" which follows in :9. But that plea is hardly repentance when "our sins" have just been defined as those of their fathers, which God apparently wrongly counts to them; according to the psalmist.

Psa 79:9

Help us, God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name. Deliver us and forgive our sins-
As noted on :8, this is not much of a plea of repentance, because "our sins" have been defined in :8 as not their sins, but those of their fathers- which the psalmist accuses God of wrongly holding against them. The LXX uses the word translated “propitiation” in the NT with reference to how God forgave / propitiated for Israel’s sins for His Name’s sake (Ex. 32:14; Ps. 79:9). God did not forgive only once the red blood of His Son was offered; He forgave anyway, as part of His Name, His essential personality, which is so deeply forgiving. He is no pagan deity who requires to see red blood of human sacrifice before forgiving. The Lord's death was therefore largely to persuade us of how serious God is in His project for our personal salvation. He commended His love toward us, in that whilst we were yet sinners, His Son died for the ungodly, the just for the unjust.

For Your name’s sake-
The Yahweh Name was linked with the Messiah: King of the Jews. The Name was declared in the Lord’s death, as He had foretold (Jn. 17:26). Forgiveness of sins is through baptism into the Name (Acts 2:38), as even in OT times forgiveness was for the sake of the Name (Ps. 79:9). And yet through the cross and blood of Christ is forgiveness made possible. His blood and death therefore was the supreme declaration of God’s Name; through His cross the grace and forgiveness, love, salvation and judgment implicit in the Name was all enabled and revealed in practice.

Psa 79:10

Why should the nations say, Where is their God? Let it be known among the nations, before our eyes, that vengeance for Your servants’ blood is being poured out-
The prophetic intention was that the restoration of Jerusalem and judgment of her abusers would lead the nations to know God, i.e. to come into relationship with Him. The Psalmist is arguing that the desolate state of Jerusalem is in fact an invitation to denial of Yahweh's existence, an encouragement to atheism. But whilst there is a mention of repentance in :9, the deep concern of the psalmist is for vengeance upon the Babylonians, even asking for them to be punished seven times more than what they had done to Judah (:12). This fails to factor in the fact that they were God's 'servants', sent by Him to do what they did. The pouring out of blood was in fact what they had done, in pouring out the blood of their children to Baals. The desire for "vengeance" is out of step with the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wishes all to come to repentance. But repentance is not given any great stress in these psalms. Vengeance and immediate removal of the consequences of sin are in central place.

Psa 79:11

Let the sighing of the prisoner come before You. According to the greatness of Your power, preserve those who are sentenced to death-
The restoration prophecies of Isaiah offer freedom for the prisoners, the exiles, and the lifting of their death sentence. But the reality was that the majority of the exiles chose to remain within their "prison" in exile. The book of Esther concludes with the Jews wealthy and prosperous there, not at all perceiving that Babylon / Persia was a prison cell, in spiritual terms.

Psa 79:12

Pay back to our neighbours seven times into their lap their reproach with which they have reproached You, Lord-
This perspective rather fails to appreciate the repeated prophetic teaching that Israel were to be judged and Jerusalem destroyed because of their sins; and all that was done to Jerusalem by the invaders had been done to it in spiritual terms by Judah themselves. God had judged His people less than their iniquities deserved (Ezra 9:13); if that had been perceived, then surely it would have militated against this request for the punishers to be punished seven times more than they punished Judah.

Psa 79:13

So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever. We will praise You forever, to all generations-
Israel's praise should surely have been of God's grace towards them in restoration, rather than for repaying their neighbours seven times more than what they had done to Israel (:12). This is not to say that the record of these Psalms is not inspired; but there is a difference between inspiration and revelation  [a "Thus says the Lord"] . All the Bible is inspired, but not all is direct revelation of truth; thus the mocking of Yahweh by Rabshakeh is recorded and that record is inspired, but that is hardly revelation of Divine truth.