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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Psalms 79

Supplicatory Prayer in a Time of Devastation, of Bloodshed, and of Derision

This Psalm is in every respect the pendant of Ps 74. The points of contact are not merely matters of style (cf. Psalms 79:5, how long for ever? with Psalms 74:1, Psalms 74:10; Psalms 79:10, יוּדע , with Psalms 74:5; Psalms 79:2, the giving over to the wild beasts, with Psalms 74:19, Psalms 74:14; Psalms 79:13, the conception of Israel as of a flock, in which respect Psalms 79:1-13 is judiciously appended to Psalms 78:70-72, with Psalms 74:1, and also with Psalms 74:19). But the mutual relationships lie still deeper. Both Psalms have the same Asaphic stamp, both stand in the same relation to Jeremiah, and both send forth their complaint out of the same circumstances of the time, concerning a destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, such as only the age of the Seleucidae (1 Macc. 1:31; 3:45, 2 Macc. 8:3) together with the Chaldaean period

(Note: According to Sofrim xviii. §3, Psalms 79:1-13 and Psalms 137:1-9 are the Psalms for the Kînoth-day, i.e., the 9th day of Ab, the day commemorative of the Chaldaean and Roman destruction of Jerusalem.)

can exhibit, and in conjunction with a defiling of the Temple and a massacre of the servants of God, of the Chasîdîm (1 Macc. 7:13, 2 Macc. 14:6), such as the age of the Seleucidae exclusively can exhibit. The work of the destruction of the Temple which was in progress in Ps 74, appears in Psalms 79:1-13 as completed, and here, as in the former Psalm, one receives the impression of the outrages, not of some war, but of some persecution: it is straightway the religion of Israel for the sake of which the sanctuaries are destroyed and the faithful are massacred.

Apart from other striking accords, Psalms 79:6-7 are repeated verbatim in Jeremiah 10:25. It is in itself far more probable that Jeremiah here takes up the earlier language of the Psalm than that the reverse is the true relation; and, as Hengstenberg has correctly observed, this is also favoured by the fact that the words immediately before viz., Jeremiah 10:24, originate out of Psalms 6:2, and that the connection in the Psalm is a far closer one. But since there is no era of pre-Maccabaean history corresponding to the complaints of the Psalm,

(Note: Cassiodorus and Bruno observe: deplorat Antiochi persecutionem tempore Machabeorum factam, tunc futuram . And Notker adds: To those who have read the First Book of the Maccabees it (viz., the destruction bewailed in the Psalm) is familiar.)

Jeremiah is to be regarded in this instance as the example of the psalmist; and in point of fact the borrower is betrayed in Psalms 79:6-7 of the Psalm by the fact that the correct על of Jeremiah is changed into אל , the more elegant משׁפחות into ממלכות , and the plural אכלוּ into אכל , and the soaring exuberance of Jeremiah's expression is impaired by the omission of some of the words.

Verses 1-4

The Psalm begins with a plaintive description, and in fact one that makes complaint to God. Its opening sounds like Lamentations 1:10. The defiling does not exclude the reducing to ashes, it is rather spontaneously suggested in Psalms 74:7 in company with wilful incendiarism. The complaint in Psalms 79:1 reminds one of the prophecy of Micah, Micah 3:12, which in its time excited so much vexation (Jeremiah 26:18); and Psalms 79:2, Deuteronomy 28:26. עבדיך confers upon those who were massacred the honour of martyrdom. The lxx renders לעיים by εἰς ὀπωροφυλάκιον , a flourish taken from Isaiah 1:8. Concerning the quotation from memory in 1 Macc. 7:16f., vid., the introduction to Ps 74. The translator of the originally Hebrew First Book of the Maccabees even in other instances betrays an acquaintance with the Greek Psalter (cf. 1 Macc. 1:37, καὶ ἐξέχεαν αἷμα ἀθῷον κύκλῳ τοῦ ἁγιάσματος ). “As water,” i.e., (cf. Deuteronomy 15:23) without setting any value upon it and without any scruple about it. Psalms 44:14 is repeated in Psalms 79:4. At the time of the Chaldaean catastrophe this applied more particularly to the Edomites.

Verses 5-8

Out of the plaintive question how long? and whether endlessly God would be angry and cause His jealousy to continue to burn like a fire ( Deuteronomy 32:22), grows up the prayer (Psalms 79:6) that He would turn His anger against the heathen who are estranged from the hostile towards Him, and of whom He is now making use as a rod of anger against His people. The taking over of Psalms 79:6-7 from Jeremiah 10:25 is not betrayed by the looseness of the connection of thought; but in themselves these four lines sound much more original in Jeremiah, and the style is exactly that of this prophet, cf. Jeremiah 6:11; Jeremiah 2:3, and frequently, Psalms 49:20. The אל , instead of על , which follows שׁפך is incorrect; the singular אכל gathers all up as in one mass, as in Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 17:13. The fact that such power over Israel is given to the heathen world has its ground in the sins of Israel. From Psalms 79:8 it may be inferred that the apostasy which raged earlier is now checked. ראשׁנים is not an adjective (Job 31:28; Isaiah 59:2), which would have been expressed by עונותינו חראשׁנים , but a genitive: the iniquities of the forefathers (Leviticus 26:14, cf. Psalms 39:1-13). On Psalms 79:8 of Judges 6:6. As is evident from Psalms 79:9, the poet does not mean that the present generation, itself guiltless, has to expiate the guilt of the fathers (on the contrary, Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezekiel 18:20); he prays as one of those who have turned away from the sins of the fathers, and who can now no longer consider themselves as placed under wrath, but under sin-pardoning and redeeming grace.

Verses 9-12

The victory of the world is indeed not God's aim; therefore His own honour does not suffer that the world of which He has made use in order to chasten His people should for ever haughtily triumph. שׁמך is repeated with emphasis at the end of the petition in Psalms 79:9, according to the figure epanaphora. &#על־דּבר למען , as in Psalms 45:5, cf. Psalms 7:1, is a usage even of the language of the Pentateuch. Also the motive, “wherefore shall they say?” occurs even in the Tôra (Exodus 32:12, cf. Numbers 14:13-17; Deuteronomy 9:28). Here (cf. Psalms 115:2) it originates out of Joel 2:17. The wish expressed in Psalms 79:10 is based upon Deuteronomy 32:43. The poet wishes in company with his contemporaries, as eye-witnesses, to experience what God has promised in the early times, viz., that He will avenge the blood of His servants. The petition in Deuteronomy 32:11 runs like Psalms 102:21, cf. Psalms 18:7. אסיר individualizingly is those who are carried away captive and incarcerated; בּני תמוּתה are those who, if God does not preserve them by virtue of the greatness ( גדל , cf. גּדל Exodus 15:16) of His arm, i.e., of His far-reaching omnipotence, succumb to the power of death as to a patria potestas .

(Note: The Arabic has just this notion in an active application, viz., benı̂ el - môt = the heroes (destroyers) in the battle.)

That the petition in Psalms 79:12 recurs to the neighbouring peoples is explained by the fact, that these, who might most readily come to the knowledge of the God of Israel as the one living and true God, have the greatest degree of guilt on account of their reviling of God. The bosom is mentioned as that in which one takes up and holds that which is handed to him (Luke 6:38); חיק - ( עעל אל שׁלּם השׁיב , as in Isaiah 65:7, Isaiah 65:6; Jeremiah 32:18. A sevenfold requital (cf. Genesis 4:15, Genesis 4:24) is a requital that is fully carried out as a criminal sentence, for seven is the number of a completed process.

Verse 13

If we have thus far correctly hit upon the parts of which the Psalm is composed (9. 9. 9), then the lamentation closes with this tristichic vow of thanksgiving.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 79". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.