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Superscription.—“A Psalm of Asaph. “See Introduction to Psalms 74:0. Occasion.—This Psalm is closely related to the 74th, and both most probably refer to the devastation and desecration wrought by the Chaldeans.
A SORROWFUL COMPLAINT, AN EARNEST PRAYER, AND A DEVOUT RESOLUTION
I. A sorrowful complaint. The Psalmist complains—
1. Of the devastation of Jerusalem, and especially of the desecration of the temple. “O God, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance; Thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.” The reference is to the havoc wrought by Nebuchadnezzar and his army. The strongholds of the city were cast down; the palace of Solomon, the temple of God, with all its courts, its roofs of cedar and of gold, were levelled to the earth, or committed to the flames; the sacred vessels, the ark of the covenant itself, with the cherubim, were pillaged by profane hands. (See 2 Chronicles 36:18-19.) Great, indeed, must have been the distress of those Jews who were religious and patriotic. Their distress must have been the more keen by reason of their knowledge that the heathen could never have laid Jerusalem in ruins and desecrated the temple of God, had not the chosen people themselves first desecrated that holy place. (See 2 Chronicles 36:14-21.) Their continued pursuit of evil, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of God by His prophets, led Him to abandon them for a time to their foes.
2. Of the cruelties inflicted upon the people of God. “The dead bodies of Thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of Thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them.” Here is a picture of wide-spread slaughter and misery. The words of the poet are a graphic commentary on the brief statement of the inspired chronicler. (See 2 Chronicles 36:17.) The bloodshed was great and terrible. Men were slain without compunction, and their conquerors hastened away with their captives, leaving the dead bodies to be devoured by wild beasts and birds of prey.
3. Of the reproaches cast upon the people of God. “We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.” They were treated by surrounding peoples as unworthy of respect, and were derided by them as a people vanquished by their foes and forsaken by their God. They were conquered, were made captives, and in their subjection were despised and reproached. They had great reason for sorrowful complaint. Their sorest grief must have sprung from their knowledge of the fact that their own sins caused their sufferings. The intense sorrow of the pious and patriotic amongst them may be known by considering the plaintive mournings of the prophet Jeremiah. “Never did city suffer a more miserable fate, never was ruined city lamented in language so exquisitely pathetic.” Vide The Lamentations.
II. An earnest prayer. The Psalmist in his prayer—
1. Manifests a consciousness of the sins of the people. The inquiries, “Wilt Thou be angry for ever? Shall Thy jealousy burn like fire?” imply on the part of the inquirer the consciousness that there had been human provocations, that there had been a cause for God’s anger and jealousy. In the Scriptures, idolatry, of which they had been greatly guilty, is represented as spiritual adultery. God was not jealous without reason. And their manifold sins had aroused His anger against them. The Psalmist is right, God was angry with them on account of their sins, and their conquered and captive and suffering state was a sign of His anger.
2. Petitions God for various favours for His people. Here is a prayer for pardon. “O remember not against us the iniquities of them that were before us: and purge away our sins.” The effects of sin frequently descend from one generation to another. God declared Himself a “jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate” Him. As a matter of fact men do suffer in many ways from the sins of their ancestors. Prayer is here offered that God would remove from them the judgment of the sins of them that had gone before them; that they might not suffer by reason of them any more. Prayer is offered for the forgiveness of their own sins. “Purge away our sins.” Cleanse us from our transgressions, and from all impurity of soul. It is well when the soul in trouble cries out not for the removal of the suffering alone, but for the removal of the sin also. To those who sincerely seek Him, God is ever ready to grant pardon and purity. Here is a prayer for speedy help and deliverance. “Let Thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Thy name; and deliver us for Thy name’s sake.” As sinners their hope is in the mercy of God. There is great beauty and force in the phrase, “tender mercies”. It comes from the religious heart, and appeals to the heart. To the tender mercy of the Lord His unworthy and afflicted people look for help. The captive Jews were beyond the aid of human resources. In man they could find no adequate assistance. So they directed their prayer to Him who is equal to the utmost need of His people, and who if He pleased could help them, and deliver them from their enemies. They prayed God to come quickly to their aid; that His “tender mercies” might “speedily prevent” them. Prevent does not signify hinder, but anticipate. “God’s mercy must anticipate, ‘come to meet,’ man’s necessity.” They felt that if God did not speedily interpose for them their utter ruin must be the result. Their salvation depended upon Him, and upon His prompt interposition on their behalf. Here is a prayer on behalf of the captive and the dying. “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before Thee; according to the greatness of Thy power preserve Thou those that are appointed to die.” Whether the whole of the people are thus spoken of, or the terms “prisoner” and “appointed to die” are to be taken literally, cannot, we think, be determined. In either case there is an appeal made to the Divine compassion; that God would graciously regard “the sighing of those that are bound.” And to the Divine strength; that He would by the greatness of His energy save from death those who were appointed thereunto. Here is a prayer for judgment. “Pour out Thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known Thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon Thy name. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? Let Him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of Thy servants which is shed. And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom, wherewith They have reproached Thee, O Lord.” We are by no means sure that the spirit expressed in these petitions is a commendable one. The verses certainly require a great deal of explanation when viewed in the light of the teachings, life, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps, however, it is illogical and unfair to view them in that light. If the petitions in the text are simply a prayer for justice, then are they right, and such as may fitly be presented at the throne of grace. If the strong desire was that God would assert His own presence and power and glory before the heathen who said, “Where is their God?” then the desire is commendable. The time came when He did interpose in judgment. “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom.”
3. Urges his petition with powerful pleas. On two grounds the Psalmist urges his prayer. He pleads the greatness and urgency of the people’s need. “We are brought very low.” Their affliction and helplessness was an appeal to His pity. Their numbers were diminished, their condition was deplorable; if He did not quickly come to their aid they would be utterly undone. He pleads the glory of the Divine name. “For the glory of Thy name; … for Thy name’s sake.” The idea is, that as they were His redeemed people, His professed people, His honour was involved in the question of their salvation or their destruction. There is no plea so mighty with God as that of His own honour, when it is sincerely urged. If He left them to perish, the heathen would say that He could not or would not save them. If He delivered them, the mockers would be silenced, and His name would be feared. In ancient time God had proclaimed His name to Moses, and there is in this plea, probably, an allusion to that proclamation. If so, there is an appeal to His faithfulness, that He would maintain that name.
III. A devout resolution. “So we Thy people and sheep of Thy pasture will give Thee thanks for ever: we will show forth Thy praise to all generations.” This is the language of—
1. Confidence. With assured faith they looked forward to the salvation of God. They anticipated deliverance and blessing.
2. Gratitude. With thankful hearts they would ascribe unto Him the praise and glory of their redemption. And they would transmit the story of His wondrous doings on their behalf to coming generations, that they also might praise Him.
3. Service. It is implied here that they would no more turn aside to idols or decline from His ways, but would serve Him with glad and grateful hearts.
1. Blessed are they who, having tasted that He is gracious, have not by sin exiled themselves from God’s favour and fellowship. Brethren, prize your blessedness. “Walk in the light, as He is in the light,” so shall your path be cheered by His presence and conduct you to His throne.
2. Let those who have departed from God return unto Him with earnest prayer and devout resolution. Your hope is in the tender mercy of the Lord. (See Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:22.)
PROFANE INTRUDERS IN SACRED PLACES
“The holy land, the holy house, and the holy city were all polluted by the uncircumcised.” We have in this an illustration of what is taking place in this day—
I. In Christian churches. The Church is God’s “inheritance.” “The Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” The Church is the abode of God, His “temple.” He dwells in it by His Spirit. Desecrating intruders have entered into it.
1. Ritualism. Forms, ceremonies, genuflexions, pictures, symbols, instead of the worship of God “in spirit and in truth.” Superstition instead of faith. Sacraments instead of the living, personal Saviour.
2. Rationalism. Human philosophies instead of the Gospel of Christ. Theories of self-culture instead of the regenerating and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Selfish religionism. The church is desecrated by men who are religious that they might escape a coarse, materialistic hell, and gain an inglorious and vulgar heaven. Their spiritual state is the very opposite of that expressed in Xavier’s beautiful hymn—
“My God, I love Thee, not because
I hope for heaven thereby;” &c.
But the spirit which should animate our churches is not that “of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The Christian spirit is not self-seeking, but self-sacrificing.
II. In human spirits. The human spirit is the “inheritance” of God, which He has redeemed. “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price.” The human spirit is also the “temple” of God. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?” What intruders have defiled and desecrated this temple? Worldliness, carnality, selfishness, hatred, impurity, have defiled God’s holy temple. The human soul has too often resembled a “whited sepulchre” or “a cage of every unclean and hateful bird” rather than the dwelling place of God. Even amongst religious men there are some in whose soul a human formula or creed has usurped the place of God; they are theologians, not Christians. There are others in whose soul some ecclesiastical system has usurped the place of God; they are more devoted to “the church,” or to “our denomination,” or to “our body,” than to the Lord of all.
These desecrating intruders must be expelled from the Church, or they will lay it in ruins. These unholy spirits that have entered the human soul must be cast out, or that “temple of God” will become a “synagogue of Satan.”
On the contrast exhibited in this verse and Psalms 78:55 of the preceding Psalm a useful discourse might be made. Subject,—What God does for man, and what man does for God. I. God casts out the heathen for His people, His people by their sins admit the heathen to destroy His city. II. God gave to His people an inheritance, His people suffer His inheritance to be invaded by foes. III. God provided dwelling-places for His people, His people defiled His dwelling-place, and allowed others to defile it also, &c. Or the contrast might be exhibited thus,—
I. God’s faithfulness, man’s unfaithfulness.
II. God’s goodness, man’s ingratitude.
III. God’s conquering power, man’s cowardly weakness, &c.
A MODEL PRAYER
I. The Person addressed. “O God of our salvation.” “Our God, even when He is most severely angry, is not the God of destruction, but of salvation.”
1. God was their only Saviour. They were brought so very low as to be beyond the help of all others.
2. God was their sufficient Saviour. He who delivered their fathers from the Egyptians could deliver them from the Chaldeans.
II. The Prayer offered. Three requests they make to God.
1. For Pardon. “Purge away our sins.”
2. For Deliverance. “Deliver us” from our afflictions, from our enemies.
3. For Assistance. “Help us” to bear our troubles, to serve Thee in our lives.
III. The plea urged. “For the glory of Thy name, … for Thy name’s sake.” The honour of His name would be affected by His treatment of their prayer. If He did not deliver them, the heathen would say that He could not or would not help them. If He delivered them, the display of His mercy would excite admiration, the exhibition of His power would beget awe. His name would be feared. “The choicest mercies God’s people have are for His name’s sake: they have pardon of sin for His name’s sake” (Psalms 25:11; 1 John 2:12); “purging of sin for His name’s sake; leading in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalms 23:3); “quickening of their dead and dull hearts for His name’s sake” (Psalms 143:11). “Though His people offend Him, yet He forsakes them not, for His great name’s sake.”
Let us ask for spiritual blessings of God, urging in faith this plea, and we shall receive, and our joy will be full.
THE AFFLICTIONS OF MAN AND THE HELP OF GOD
The prisoners are those of the Hebrews who were in bondage and suffering. “Those that are appointed to die 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.”
I. The afflictions of man. “The prisoner, … those that are appointed to die.” To be a prisoner is to be deprived of light, of liberty, &c. How many and varied are the afflictions of man. The sighs and cries of the suffering are ever arising from our world.
“Each new morn
New widows howl; new orphans cry; new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
Like syllable of dolour.”—Shakespeare.
II. The help of God. It is His “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” As a helper He is—
1. Quick to hear. The sigh of a prisoner in the dungeon reaches His ear in an instant.
2. Strong to save. “The greatness of Thy power.” His energy is more than equal to the extremest human need. And His tenderness is as great as His strength.
III. The connecting link between the two. Prayer is the means whereby suffering man obtains the help of God. Prayer implies in the suppliant felt need and faith in God. To the ear of God a sigh may be a devout and earnest prayer.
Let distressed and dying men direct their sighs to God and obtain relief.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 79". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18