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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 79


A Psalm of Asaph.

The occasion of this psalm is identical with that of Psalms 74:0, which see. Psalms 79:1-4 are a rehearsal of the sufferings of the Israelites and of the ruin of their country. Psalms 79:5-12 are a mingled prayer for deliverance and imprecation of judgment on their enemies. The last verse is a sweet expression of confidence and praise, and speaks from the heart of the nation in its consciousness of covenant union with God.

Verse 1

1. O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance True to his Hebrew heart, the religious aspects of the desolation first meet his eye. The phrase, “The heathen are come into thine inheritance,” means, they have possessed themselves of what belonged to God, namely, the land and the people of the covenant. This unveiled at once the greatness of their calamity, the severest point of which was, they had defiled the temple of his holiness a desecration implying utter demolition. as in Psalms 74:7.

They have laid Jerusalem on heaps Instead of the idea of waste masses thrown together, the Septuagint reads, “They have made Jerusalem a storehouse of fruits;” and the Vulgate has followed, in pomorum custodian: as if the idea were, that of heaps of guarded commissary stores. But this, says Furst, is by an incorrect reading of the Hebrew.

Verse 2

2. Dead bodies The slaughter was so great that the bodies were left unburied, (Psalms 79:3,) to become food for birds and wild beasts. Even the flesh of the saints, or truly pious, was given… unto the beasts of the earth. In national or public calamities the righteous suffer with the wicked, and because of the wicked.

Verse 4

4. We are become a reproach… scorn… derision This is not the least ingredient in the punishment of sin, (see Psalms 44:12-16,) and is here urged to induce God to interfere in mercy, as the reproach was also on his name.

Verse 5

5. How long, Lord The “how long” and for ever would here seem to imply that the affliction had now been of long duration. Time dragged heavily under this trying dispensation of wrath.

Verse 6

6. Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen All such imprecations must be viewed from the standpoint of justice between nation and nation, and the rights of God in the land and people of his covenant as against the acts of hostile kings who invade them. The rights of peace and virtue in the earth cry to God against the perpetrators of crime and the authors of oppression. Humanly speaking, the invasion of Palestine by Nebuchadnezzar was without cause, and his treatment of the Jewish religion without parallel of impiety. Justice would seem to reverse this strange order of things. The kingdoms referred to in this verse were such as were subject to and assisted Nebuchadnezzar in his wars. Psalms 79:6-7 seem borrowed from Jeremiah 10:25

Verse 8

8. Remember not against us former iniquities Make us not answerable for the sins of our forefathers, or of “former” generations; a deprecation of the judgment threatened Exodus 20:5, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children,” etc. So Leviticus 26:39

Verse 9

9. Help us, O God of our salvation This divine title was the ground of their theocracy. They had forgotten it in their sins and idol worship, but recall it now in their affliction and reproach.

For the glory of thy name A fundamental reason governing all the acts of God, and which is now urged as cause of immediate action; (Exodus 9:16; Numbers 14:21;) for “wherefore should the heathen say among the people, Where is their God?” Psalms 79:10; Joel 2:17.

Purge away our sins A confession that there could be no political restoration without a spiritual cleansing of the nation.

Verse 11

11. Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee The psalmist had urged the honour and attributes of God, the covenant relation of his people, the equity of the case as between Israel and his enemies, and now carries his appeal directly to the divine pity and compassion: how can he fail here? If we accept the verbs in this and the former verse in the future, as they stand in the original, we have an expression of confidence as well as petition: “He [God] shall be known among the heathen.” “The sighing of the prisoner shall come before thee.”

Preserve thou those that are appointed to die Hebrew, the sons of death; those of the captives who are under death-sentence, or those who, by the hardships of the long march and exile, must soon succumb to death. The most literal sense, here, is the most probable. The captives, especially those of them who had distinguished themselves by resistance of the besieging army, were treated with great rigour.

Verse 12

12. And render unto our neighbours Comp, Psalms 79:6. These “neighbours” were the nations lying around Jerusalem, as the Tyrians, Syrians, Moabites, Edomites, who either helped the army of Nebuchadnezzar or exulted in the downfall of the Hebrew nation. See Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 26:2.

Sevenfold That is, a full and complete recompense: seven is the number of fulness.

Into their bosom The orientals were accustomed to place valuable articles in a fold in the “ bosom” of their long, loose garments, for convenient carriage. See Luke 6:38; Isaiah 40:11. The same custom prevails now. It is formed by or above the wide girdle which encircles the waist. Instead of these valuables should now be the recompense of justice.

Reproached thee This reproach of God’s covenant people was a reproach to the name of God. It was his cause, and he is importuned to see to it. The Chaldaeans hereby inferred the inferiority of Jehovah to their patron god, Bel, or Belus, and thus boasted, as later tests show. See Daniel 3:15; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:35; Daniel 4:37; Daniel 5:21; Daniel 5:23. Sweet is the closing breath of the faith and thanksgiving of this mournful psalm:

So we thy people and the sheep of thy pasture

Will give thanks unto thee for ever,

We will declare thy praise to generation and generation.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 79". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.