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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 79

Verses 1-13

Psalms 79:1-13

O God, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance.

The inhumanity of man and the mixture of good and evil

Here is a fact revealing the inhumanity of man and the permissive government of God.

1. What inhumanity is here! (Psalms 79:1-3).

(1) It is opposed to our a priori ideas of God, as a Being of infinite love.

(2) It is repugnant to that moral sense that is implanted in every man.

2. What Divine permission is hotel Why does the Almighty allow such enormities to occur?

(1) Perhaps because of the respect He has for that liberty of action with which He has endowed mankind.

(2) Because of the existence of that state of retribution which He has appointed to succeed the present life.

Here is a prayer revealing the mixture of good and evil in human piety.

1. Mark the good that is in this prayer (verses 8, 9, 11). In these sentences there is--

(1) A prayer to be delivered from the iniquities of froward men, that is, the bad influence of their sinful lives.

(2) A prayer that Heaven would vouchsafe His compassion to us. “Let Thy tender mercies speedily prevent us;” which means, “hasten to meet us with Thy mercy.”

(3) A prayer for these of our fellow-men who are in distress. “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee.” All these aspirations command our admiration and are worthy of our imitation.

2. Mark the evil that is in this prayer (verses 6, 10, 12). In all these clauses there is the hot flame of revenge, and this certainly is an evil. (Homilist.)

Good men God’s inheritance

Good men are here, as in many other places in the Bible, spoken of as the inheritance of God. They are His property, His portion.

He has no property to which He has a stronger right. Whilst good men are His, as all things are His in the universe, by creation, they are His also--

1. By special restoration. They were lost as slaves, aye, as prisoners condemned to death are lost; but He redeemed them by a stupendous sacrifice. “Ye are not your own,” etc.

2. By voluntary consecration. They have given themselves up to Him, body, soul, and spirit, which they felt to be their “reasonable service.” This is the one constant act of religion.

He has no property that is more valuable.

1. A soul is more valuable in itself than the material universe. A soul can think upon its Creator and love Him, can alter its course, can change its orbit, but matter cannot.

2. A soul is more serviceable to its Owner than the material universe.

(1) It gives Him a higher revelation. There is more of God seen in one soul than in all the orbs of immensity.

(2) It renders Him a higher homage--of free-thought, conscience, heart, life. (Homilist.)

Verse 8

Psalms 79:8

O remember not against us former iniquities.

The hereditary principle in God’s moral government of mankind

The proper translation of this would be, “Remember not to us the iniquities of former men.” The text recognizes the fact that men suffer for the iniquities of their fathers and their forefathers. This is an undoubted fact. We may just state five practical purposes which this principle of the Divine government serves to answer.

It serves to show the right which every philanthropist has to protest against the sins of individuals. If evil is handed down from sire to son, the sinner has no right to say, How does my sin concern you? To such we may say, You have no right to do that which injures your brethren; and, in the name of humanity, every man has a right to protest against your sine and to endeavour to restrain you by all moral means from their commission.

It serves to show the solemn responsibility of the parental character. As our dispositions will be reproduced, and our deeds re-transacted, our actions will vibrate on the hearts of unborn men and women. Man lives, thinks, and throbs in the life of posterity.

It serves to show that the best way to elevate the race is to train the young. As one generation so forms another, the best way to serve the whole race is to make a generation, physically, intellectually, and morally, what it ought to be. But there is no chance of thus forming a generation, except in the first stages of its life. Concentrate your efforts on the young.

It serves to throw some light upon what is called “original sin.”

It serves to indicate the philosophy of Christ’s incarnation. “To destroy sin in the flesh.” To do this, not merely in theories, books, or speech, but in actual human life, is the grand condition of the world’s salvation. But inasmuch as sin, by this hereditary principle, is transmitted through physical relationship and social influences, it seems necessary that He who would destroy it, should become a link in the’ great chain of humanity, identify Himself with the race, and originate the counteracting influences of truth and righteousness. Hence the world’s great Deliverer became the Son of Man. (Homilist.)

Verse 9

Psalms 79:9

Help us, O God of our salvation.

The highest Divine title, and the highest human privilege

The highest Divine title. “God of our salvation.” God in creation appears transcendently great; but in salvation we see--

1. A higher kind of power: moral power; the power to manage, master, and mould free rebellious intelligences.

2. A higher love. The love of compassion, forbearance, forgiveness.

The highest human privilege. To be saved involves the restoration oral.

1. A lost moral life.

2. Lost harmony.

3. Lost usefulness. (Homilist.)

A nation’s prayer in time of distress

The petition itself.

1. It is very fit for nations under heavy pressures and calamities to confess their sins to God publicly.

2. It is very proper for such an afflicted nation to pray earnestly to God for help and deliverance.

The motive or argument used.

1. By the Name of God, in Scripture, is frequently to be understood God Himself in all His excellences, attributes and perfections; and the glory of His name is the rendering those perfections conspicuous and observable; so that to move God for His name’s sake, or the glory of His name, is to move Him, that the effects of His Divine attributes may be made visible and illustrious in the sight of men, so that they may be had in just esteem and veneration.

2. What particular reasons the Jewish nation had to petition God, to glorify those His attributes on their behalf.

(1) As they were a nation selected from the rest of the world, and made the peculiar people of God.

(2) As the people of the Jews were politically united to God, their Sovereign in a national bond, or covenant, so He expressed Himself frequently to have a particular kindness for them, giving them many repeated promises of establishing their government and the succession of their kings in the royal line of David to perpetual generations.

3. Inquire what general encouragement there is for other nations to address to God upon the same motive. And the encouragement is sufficient, in that God has upon occasions declared by His holy prophets that He is not a little concerned for His own honour, He would have His name known and published in all the world, He would have that honour given to Him, which is due unto His name, to all His names; for He is styled in Scripture by many names, not only with respect to His essence, and existence, but also to His supereminent attributes and properties.

4. Inquire, as far as it is fit for us, upon what occasions, and at what seasons it may be proper for a nation to use this motive in their addresses to God.

(1) When the existence and providence of God is called in question, denied by some, and exposed and profaned by others.

(2) When they themselves or others, whom common humanity and Christian charity oblige to commiserate, lie under great oppressions; in this case men may confidently apply themselves to God, for the sake of His honour and for His holy name.


1. If Almighty God have such a respect to the honour of His name, as to accept the addresses that are made to Him upon that motive, it is a great encouragement to us to make use of it upon all occasions; especially upon occasion of using some extraordinary offices of devotion.

2. Let us be careful that we do not as publicly dishonour Him by our sins as we pretend publicly to honour Him by our devotions. (Bp. Gardiner.)

Deliver us, and purge away our sins.

Sins forgiven for Jesu’s sake

There is an old book in Paris called the “Chancellerie Book.” It is like our own “Doomsday Book,” in which all the records are inscribed--all the records of William the Conqueror’s division of the land of England. The Chancellerie Book does likewise for France. It has the record of the cities, towns, and villages, with the amount of taxes to be paid by each. As you turn over the old pages of that book, you come to “Domremy,” and, behold! there are no taxes to be paid by Domremy. Across the page there is written in bold writing, “Free, for the maid’s sake.” No taxes for the sake of Joan of Arc, the heroine who flung the English out. Ah, me! when those books are opened when the Lord takes His place on the great white throne, and He comes to my life on earth, behold! across the otherwise condemning page there is written, with letters of His own atoning blood, “Sins forgiven for His name’s sake.”

Man’s need of cleansing from sin met in Christ

A rough parable of Luther, grafted on an older legend, runs somewhat in this fashion:--A man’s heart is like a foul stable. Wheelbarrows and shovels are of little use, except to remove some of the surface filth, and to litter all the passages in the process. What is to be done with it? “Turn the Elbe into it,” says he. The flood will sweep away all the pollution. Not my own efforts, but the influx of that pardoning, cleansing grace which is in Christ will wash away the accumulation of years, and the ingrained evil which has stained every part of my being. We cannot cleanse ourselves.

Verse 10

Psalms 79:10

Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God?

A bad spirit and a theological error

A bad spirit. “Where is their God?”

1. There is a tendency in wicked men to deal in it. This spirit always indicates--

(1) A mean nature.

(2) A malignant nature.

(3) A haughty nature.

2. There is a susceptibility even in good men to be pained by it. This is no sign of strength and greatness, but the reverse; the really great and strong man will feel no more the most cutting gibes of scorners than granite the drops of morning dew.

A theological error. The question implies that the true God would not allow His people to suffer oppression and death at the hands of others.

1. The creatures whom God has created with an inner sovereignty, He allows to act freely both for good and evil.

2. All the evil that comes into the universe in this’ way He overrules for good. (Homilist.)

Verse 11

Psalms 79:11

Let the sighing of the prisoner come before Thee.

The prisoner’s sigh

How difficult is it in earthly courts for the poor and sick to get access to the monarch’s earl There is a fearful contrast between the king thus surrounded with magnificence and pomp, and the prisoner alone in his sad dungeon, the prey of hunger, of nakedness, and cold--the music of the monarch’s court, the silence of the captive’s cell, the monarch’s prospects of power and glory for to-morrow, and the prisoner’s that the morrow will be even as wretched as to-day. But what we cannot contemplate in things temporal is oftentimes plainly shown in things spiritual. The court of the Most High is unlike all others, for there the poor, the wretched, and the sad have entrance when they will.

The prisoner.

1. There is the prisoner under forced bondage to sin, who is held in degrading thraldom against his will, perhaps by some peculiar effort of the devil, perhaps by some evil habit which he has allowed to become ascendant in his heart. Be encouraged, we say to such an one, with all your sins you are not shut out from life and hope, your state is dangerous but it is not desperate, provided that you make God’s throne the destination of these sighs.

2. The prisoner under the bondage of conviction. Whilst you are sighing in your captivity, our message is to sustain you, not to do away with your convictions, or bid you cease to sigh, but to make your convictions lead you to the Cross, and to tell you that your sighs are surely heard.

3. The prisoner in the dungeon of despair. We approach such an one and say, “How earnest thou in hither? Who has denied the entrance of hope into thy cell, and fast bound thy soul in iron? Why shouldest thou at one time rage, and at another time be sullen? Hast thou ever petitioned for thy relief?” We tell this man of Christ, and of the free love of God, and of mercy shown to such sinners as David and myriads more, and exalting the power of the Cross; we show how “Jesus is able to save even to the very uttermost all that, come unto God by Him”; but what the immediate effect of this might be none can tell. At the sound of this Gospel’s trump, the walls of some men’s dungeons will immediately fall fiat, as Jericho’s fell prostrate at the sounding of the priests. Then the captive of despair, seeing that there is salvation in Christ, will be set free by the Son, and so be free indeed.

The prisoner’s application for relief.

1. A sigh is an unexpected declaration. Although we do not speak, still we can tell a long tale of sorrow with a sigh.

2. An unexpressed with for deliverance. A sigh indicates a condition of the mind: it tells us that there is sorrow there. Do you indeed feel this? If you do, is it possible that you can thus express your sadness without God’s being well acquainted with it all? Surely not; and if God knows this, is His heart hardened that He will not feel; is His hand shortened that it cannot save?

The source from which this prisoner looked for help. “According to the greatness of Thy power.” This preservation shall be vouchsafed to every one of you who sigh for it to God. He Will deliver you from the place where you are confined with a sentence of death upon you, and will altogether reverse the sentence itself. It were of no use to escape from the prison-house with our sentence still impending over us; we might be apprehended again, and lose our life at last. Deliverance, however, and remission, shall both be yours; and the greatness of the power you have invoked shall be seen in each. And who will come forth, and bring you from your captivity, but Jesus Christ Himself? (P. B. Power, M. A.)

The condemned prisoner

Our sad and gloomy condition as fallen creatures. There are many sorts of prisoners; some are so from debt, some by being taken captive in battle, some for criminal offences. The sinner is all these. He is, as the word may be rendered, a son of death; a criminal, respited, but not pardoned. He is as one waiting for execution. His doom is delayed, but not averted.

What are the obstacles to deliverance? In the King who can reprieve he sees the adversary whom he has wronged, and the Judge who has appointed him to die. Omnipotent power, injured dignity, and immutable justice are leagued against him. What can the prisoner do?

That there is a way of escape. In the face of every obstacle, deliverance is attainable. In proof of this we may notice--

1. The infinite knowledge of God. “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee.” From whatever depth of guilt and misery you breathe the prayer of a broken and contrite heart, that prayer is heard by a gracious God.

2. The Almighty power on which the plea is founded--“According to the greatness of Thy power.” This must be exercised. (Anon.)

Verse 12

Psalms 79:12

And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach.


This is the same spirit as is breathed out in Psalms 79:6. It is revenge. We have here two things.

A noble instinct. It is an instinct of justice, a cry against wrong. As an instinct, it is a spark from the Divine nature, a spark that reveals the justice which is at the head of the universe. Observe, the revenge here was not breathed for personal enemies, nor for bad men in the neighbourhood, the land, or the ago, but for bad men in a distant land and in a remote time. It was the breaking forth of that instinct of revenge which is in all our natures.

A noble instinct wrongly developed. It was a prayer that God would punish with “sevenfold” the sufferings which their enemies had inflicted on them.

1. It was a personal, not a public, development. We are commanded not to return evil for evil, etc.

2. It was an exaggerated development. It is not merely, treat, them as they are treating us, but with seven times the cruelty.

3. It was an impious development. It was asking the God of Infinite Love to act cruelly, it was to dictate to Infinite Justice the method of avenging the wrong. “ Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” “If,” says Sir T. Browne, “thou must needs have thy revenge of thine enemy, with a soft tongue break his bones, heap coals of fire on his head, forgive him, and enjoy it.” (Homilist.)

Verse 13

Psalms 79:13

We will show forth Thy praise to all generations.

God’s people should speak God’s praise

Dr. Parkhurst says he loves to think that every man is sent into the world with something to tell. “That is what makes of any man a prophet, being filled with a story too big for his own soul to house,” a story he cannot, dare not, keep to himself. This truth God has given you to utter makes you a witness. You may be a false witness, and no witness is more than he who says nothing; or you may be a true and faithful witness, testifying to the best you know by your face and hands, your smiles and deeds and words. That is a startling thought of Andrew Murray’s: “God does not ask us to hide Christ away in our impure hearts.” Christ gives Himself to us constantly, but in order that we may as constantly give Him to others. Truth is like the water pressed upon the foul garments, that cleanses them if it is forced out again, but rots them all the more if it is allowed to remain. So is the religion that we selfishly cherish unexpressed. Indeed, is there a worse form of selfishness than that? (Amos R. Wells.)


Psalms 80:1-19

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 79". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.