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This psalm, also, purports to be a psalm of Asaph; that is, it was either composed by him or for him; or it was the composition of one of his descendants who presided over the music in the sanctuary, and to whom was given the general family name, Asaph. The psalm pertains to the same general subject as Psalms 74:0, and was composed evidently in view of the same calamities. Rudinger, DeWette, and some others, suppose that the reference in the psalm is to the persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes. To this opinion, also, Rosenmuller inclines. The most common, and the most probable supposition, however, is that it refers to the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
I. A statement of the calamity which had come upon the nation. The pagan had come into the heritage of God; they had defiled the sanctuary; they had made Jerusalem desolate; they had murdered the inhabitants; and the nation had become a reproach before the world, Psalms 79:1-4.
II. A prayer for the divine interposition, Psalms 79:5-6.
III. Reasons for that prayer, or reasons why God should interpose in the case, Psalms 79:7-13. These reasons are,
(a) that they had devoured Jacob, Psalms 79:7;
(b) that the people, on account of their sins, had been brought very low, Psalms 79:8;
(c) that the divine glory was at stake, Psalms 79:9-10;
(d) that they were in a suffering and pitiable condition, many being held as captives, and many ready to die, Psalms 79:11 :
(e) that justice demanded this, Psalms 79:12; and
(f) that this interposition would lay the foundation for praise to God, Psalms 79:13.
O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance - The nations; a foreign people. See Psalms 2:1, note; Psalms 2:8; note; Psalms 78:55, note. The term is one that would be applicable to the Chaldeans, or Babylonians, and the probable allusion here is to their invasion of the holy land under Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Chronicles 36:17-21.
Thy holy temple have they defiled - They have polluted it. By entering it; by removing the sacred furniture; by cutting down the carved work; by making it desolate. See 2 Chronicles 36:17-18. Compare the notes at Psalms 74:5-7.
They have laid Jerusalem on heaps - See 2 Chronicles 36:19 : “And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof.”
The dead bodies of thy servants ... - They have slain them, and left them unburied. See 2 Chronicles 36:17. This is a description of widespread carnage and slaughter, such as we know occurred at the time when Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans. At such a time, it is not probable that the Chaldeans would pause to bury the slain, nor is it probable that they would give opportunity to the captive Hebrews to remain to bury them. That would occur, therefore, which often occurs in war, that the slain would be left on the field to be devoured by wild animals and by the fowls of heaven.
Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem - They have poured it out in such quantities that it seems to flow like water - not an uncommon occurrence in war. There was no event in the history of the Hebrews to which this description would be more applicable than to the Babylonian invasion. The language might indeed be applicable to the desolation of the city by Antiochus Epiphanes, and also to its destruction by the Romans; but, of course, it cannot refer to the latter, and there is no necessity for supposing that it refers to the former. All the conditions of a proper interpretation are fulfilled by supposing that it refers to the time of the Chaldean invasion.
And there was none to bury them - The Chaldeans would not do it, and they would not suffer the Hebrew people to do it.
We are become a reproach to our neighbours - See the language in this verse explained in the notes at Psalms 44:13. The words in the Hebrew are the same, and the one seems to have been copied from the other.
How long, Lord? - See Psalms 74:1, note; Psalms 74:10, note; and Psalms 77:7-9, notes. This is the language, not of impatience, but of anxiety; not of complaining, but of wonder. It is language such as the people of God are often constrained to employ under heavy trials - trials which continue so long that it seems as if they would never end.
Shall thy jealousy, burn like fire? - That is, Shall it continue to burn like fire? Shall it utterly consume us? On the word jealousy, see the notes at Psalms 78:58.
Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen - Punish, as they deserve, the nations that have risen up against thy people, and that have brought; desolation upon the land. The word rendered here pour out is used with reference to a cup or vial, as containing a mixture for the people to drink - of intoxication, or of poison. See the notes at Revelation 16:1; notes at Psalms 11:6; notes at Isaiah 51:17; compare Jeremiah 25:15, Jeremiah 25:17; Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42.
That have not known thee - Who are strangers to thee; who are thy enemies. The prayer that the wrath of God might be poured upon them was not because they were ignorant of him, but on account of their wicked conduct toward the people of God. The phrase “that have not known thee” is used merely to designate them, or to describe their character. The prayer is not necessarily a prayer for vengeance, or in the spirit of revenge; it is simply a prayer that justice might be done to them, and is such a prayer as any man may offer who is anxious that justice may be done in the world. See remarks on the imprecations in the Psalms. General Introduction Section 6. It is not proper, however, to use this as a proof-text that God will punish the “pagan,” or will consign them to destruction. The passage obviously has no reference to such a doctrine, whether that doctrine be true or false.
And upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name - The people that do not worship thee; referring here particularly to those who had invaded the land, and made it desolate.
For they have devoured Jacob - literally, “They have eaten.” That is, they have eaten up what the land produced.
And laid waste his dwelling-place - His home; his habitation; the residence of Jacob, or of the people of Israel.
O remember not against us forrmer iniquities - Margin, The iniquities of them that were before us. The Hebrew may mean either former times, or former generations. The allusion, however, is substantially the same. It is not their own iniquities which are particularly referred to, but the iniquity of the nation as committed in former times; and the prayer is, that God would not visit them with the results of the sins of former generations, though their own ancestors. The language is derived from the idea so constantly affirmed in the Scripture, and so often illustrated in fact, that the effects of sin pass over from one generation to the next, and involve it in calamity. See Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Leviticus 20:5; Leviticus 26:39-40; Numbers 14:18, Numbers 14:33; compare the notes at Romans 5:12, et seg.
Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us - literally, “Hasten; let thy tender mercies anticipate us.” The word prevent here, as elsewhere in the Scriptures, does not mean to hinder, as with us, but to go before; to anticipate. See Job 3:12, note; Psalms 17:13, note; Psalms 21:3, note; Isaiah 21:14, note; Matthew 17:25, note; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, note. The prayer here is, that God, in his tender mercy or compassion, would anticipate their ruin; would interpose before matters had gone so far as to make their destruction inevitable.
For we are brought very low - The idea in the original word is that of being pendulous, or hanging down - as vines do, or as anything does that is wilted, or withered, or as the hands do when one is weak, faint, or sick. Then it refers to a failure or exhaustion of strength; and the idea here is that their strength as a nation was exhausted.
Help us, O God of our salvation - On whom our salvation depends; who alone can save us.
For the glory of thy name - That thy name may be honored. We are thy professed people; we have been redeemed by thee; and thine honor will be affected by the question whether we are saved or destroyed, It is the highest and purest ground for prayer, that the glory or honor of God may be promoted. See the notes at Matthew 6:9, notes at Matthew 6:13; notes at John 12:28; notes at Daniel 9:19.
And deliver us - From our enemies.
And purge away our sins - Forgive our sins, or cleanse us from them. The original word is that which is commonly used to denote an atonement. Compare in the Hebrew, Daniel 9:24,; Ezekiel 45:20; Exodus 30:15; Exodus 32:30; Leviticus 4:20; 5:26; Leviticus 16:6, Leviticus 16:11, Leviticus 16:24.
For thy name’s sake - See the notes at Daniel 9:19.
Wherefore should the heathen say Where is their God? - The nations. Why should such a course of forbearance toward them be pursued as to lead them to ask the question whether God is able to punish them, or to come to the conclusion that he is not the God of those who profess to worship him. See Psalms 42:3, note; Psalms 42:10, note.
Let him be known among the heathen - Let him so manifest himself among them that they cannot but see that he is God; that he is a just God; that he is the Friend and Protector of his people.
In our sight - So that we may see it; or, so that it may be seen that he is our Friend and Protector.
By the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed - Margin, vengeance. The true idea is, “Let the avenging of the blood of thy servants - the blood poured out, or shed, be known among the nations in our sight.” The prayer is that God would so interpose that there could be no doubt that it was on account of the blood of his people which had been shed by their enemies. It is a prayer that just punishment might be executed - a prayer which may be offered at anytime.
Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee - The sighing of him who is bound. The allusion here is, doubtless, to those among the Hebrews who had been taken captives, and who “sighed” not only on account of the sufferings which they endured in their bondage, but because they had been taken from their country and home. The meaning is, “Hear those sighs, and come for the deliverance of those who are thus held in captivity.”
According to the greatness of thy power - Margin, as in Hebrew, thine arm. The arm is the symbol of power. It is implied here that great power was needful to deliver those who were held in captivity, power such as God only could exert - power which could be wielded only by an Omnipotent Being. It was the power of God only which could rescue them, as it is only by the power of God that sinners can be saved.
Preserve thou those that are appointed to die - Margin, Reserve the children of death. The literal meaning is, “Let remain the sons of death;” that is, Preserve those who are in such circumstances that death is impending, and who may be called the sons of death. This might apply to those who were condemned to death; or, to those who were sick and in danger of death; or to those who were prisoners and captives, and who were, by their sufferings, exposed to death. The prayer is that such might be suffered to remain on the earth; that is, that they might be kept alive.
And render unto our neighbors - That is, the neighbors who had reproached them; the surrounding people who had seen these calamities come upon them, and who had regarded these calamities as proof that their God was unable to protect them, or that they were suffering under his displeasure. See the notes at Psalms 79:4. “Sevenfold.” Seven times the amount of reproach which they have heaped upon us. The word seven is often used to denote many, as seven was one of the perfect numbers. The idea is that of complete or full vengeance. Compare Genesis 4:15, Genesis 4:24; Proverbs 6:31; Isaiah 30:26; Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:4.
Into their bosom ... - Perhaps the allusion here is to the custom of carrying things in the bosom of the flowing dress as it was girded around the loins. “Let them be made to carry with them seven times the amount of reproach which they have endeavored to heap on us.”
So we thy people, and sheep of thy pasture - See the notes at Psalms 74:1.
Will give thee thanks for ever - Will praise thee always; will acknowledge thee as our God, and will evermore render thee thanksgiving.
We will shew forth thy praise to all generations - Margin, as in Hebrew, to generation and generation. That is, We will make arrangements that the memory of these gracious acts shall be transmitted to future times; to distant generations. This was done by the permanent record, made in the Scriptures, of these gracious interpositions of God, and by their being carefully preserved by each generation to whom they came. No work has been more faithfully done than that by which the records of God’s ancient dealings with his people have been preserved from age to age - that by which the sacred Scriptures have been guarded against error, and handed down from one generation to another.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 79". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30