1. O God! the heathen [or the nations] have come into thy inheritance; they have defiled the temple of thy holiness; they have laid Jerusalem in heaps. 2. They have given the dead bodies of thy servants for food to the fowls of the heaven; the flesh of thy meek ones to the beasts of the earth. 3. They have shed their blood like water, around Jerusalem: and there was none to bury them. 4. We have been a reproach to our neighbors; a scorn and a derision to them that are around us.
1. O God! the heathen have come into thy inheritance. Here the prophet, in the person of the faithful, complains that the temple was defiled, and the city destroyed. In the second and third verses, he complains that the saints were murdered indiscriminately, and that their dead bodies were cast forth upon the face of the earth, and deprived of the honor of burial. Almost every word expresses the cruelty of these enemies of the Church. When it is considered that God had chosen the land of Judea to be a possession to his own people, it seemed inconsistent with this choice to abandon it to the heathen nations, that they might ignominiously trample it under foot, and lay it waste at their pleasure. The prophet, therefore, complains that when the heathen came into the heritage of God, the order of nature was, as it were, inverted. The destruction of the temple, of which he speaks in the second clause, was still less to be endured; for thus the service of God on earth was extinguished, and religion destroyed. He adds, that Jerusalem, which was the royal seat of God, was reduced to heaps. By these words is denoted a hideous overthrow. The profanation of the temple, and the destruction of the holy city, involving, as they did, heaven-daring impiety, which ought justly to have provoked the wrath of God against these enemies -- the prophet begins with them, and then comes to speak of the slaughter of the saints. The atrocious cruelty of these persecutions is pointed out from the circumstance that they not only put to death the servants of God, but also exposed their dead bodies to the beasts of the field, and to birds of prey, to be devoured, instead of burying them. Men have always had such a sacred regard to the burial of the dead, as to shrink from depriving even their enemies of the honor of sepulture.1 Whence it follows, that those who take a barbarous delight in seeing the bodies of the dead torn to pieces and devoured by beasts, more resemble these savage and cruel animals than human beings. It is also shown that these persecutors acted more atrociously than enemies ordinarily do, inasmuch as they made no more account of shedding human blood than of pouring forth water. From this we learn their insatiable thirst for slaughter. When it is added, there was none to bury them, this is to be understood as applying to the brethren and relatives of the slain. The inhabitants of the city were stricken with such terror by the indiscriminate butchery perpetrated by these ruthless assassins upon all who came in their way, that no one dared to go forth. God having intended that, in the burial of men, there should be some testimony to the resurrection at the last day, it was a double indignity for the saints to be despoiled of this right after their death. But it may be asked, Since God often threatens the reprobate with this kind of punishment, why did he suffer his own people to be devoured of beasts? We must remember, what we have stated elsewhere, that the elect, as well as the reprobate, are subjected to the temporal punishments which pertain only to the flesh. The difference between the two cases lies solely in the issue; for God converts that which in itself is a token of his wrath into the means of the salvation of his own children. The same explanation, then, is to be given of their want of burial which is given of their death. The most eminent of the servants of God may be put to a cruel and ignominious death -- a punishment which we know is often executed upon murderers, and other despisers of God; but still the death of the saints does not cease to be precious in his sight: and when he has suffered them to be unrighteously persecuted in the flesh, he shows, by taking vengeance on their enemies, how dear they were to him. In like manner, God, to stamp the marks of his wrath on the reprobate, even after their death, deprives them of burial; and, therefore, he threatens a wicked king, "He shall be buried with the burial of all ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem," (Jeremiah 22:19; see also Jeremiah 36:30.)2 When he exposes his own children to the like indignity, he may seem for a time to have forsaken them; but he afterwards converts it into the means of furthering their salvation; for their faith, being subjected to this trial, acquires a fresh triumph. When in ancient times the bodies of the dead were anointed, that ceremony was performed for the sake of the living whom they left behind them, to teach them, when they saw the bodies of the dead carefully preserved, to cherish in their hearts the hope of a better life. The faithful, then, by being deprived of burial, suffer no loss, when they rise by faith above these inferior helps, that they may advance with speedy steps to a blessed immortality.
4. We have been a reproach to our neighbors. Here another complaint is uttered, to excite the mercy of God. The more proudly the ungodly mock and triumph over us, the more confidently may we expect that our deliverance is near; for God will not bear with their insolence when it breaks forth so audaciously; especially when it redounds to the reproach of his holy name: even as it is said in Isaiah,
"This is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning him, The virgin, the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed; and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 37:22, 23)
And assuredly their neighbors,3 who were partly apostates, or the degenerate children of Abraham, and partly the avowed enemies of religion, when they molested and reproached this miserable people, did not refrain from blaspheming God. Let us, therefore, remember that the faithful do not here complain of the derision with which they were treated as individuals, but of that which they saw to be indirectly levelled against God and his law. We shall again meet with a similar complaint in the concluding part of the psalm.
1 If this psalm was written on the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, or during the Babylonish captivity, it would appear, from this verse, that when the Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem, they left the bodies of the slain unburied, to be devoured by beasts and birds of prey.
3 Street, instead of "our neighbors," reads, "those that dwell among us;" and has the following note: -- "Those foreigners who sojourn among us;