Psalm 79:10-13

10. Why should the heathen say, where is their God? Let the avenging of the blood of thy servants, which has been shed, be made known among the heathen in our sight. 11. Let the sighing [or groaning] of the prisoner1 come before thee, [or into thy presence:] and, according to the greatness of thy arm, reserve the children of death:2 12. And recompense our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom3 their reproach with which they have reproached thee, O Jehovah! 13. And we thy people, and the sheep of thy pasture, will confess to thee4 for ever; declaring thy praise from generation to generation.


10. Why should the heathen say, Where is their God? Here the people of God, in urging his name as a plea at the throne of grace: do so in a different sense from that in which they had urged it before. He extends his compassion towards us for his own name's sake; for, as he is merciful, and will have our mouths stopped, that he alone may be accounted righteous, he freely pardons our sins. But here, the faithful beseech him that he would not allow his sacred name to be exposed to the blasphemies and insults of the wicked. From this we are taught that we do not pray in a right manner, unless a concern about our own salvation, and zeal for the glory of God, are inseparably joined together in our exercise. From the second clause of the verse, the same question may be raised which we have just now answered. Although God declares that he will execute vengeance upon our enemies, we are not warranted to thirst for revenge when we are injured. Let us remember that this form of prayer was not dictated for all men indiscriminately, that they might make use of it whenever impelled by their own passions, but that, under the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit, they might plead the cause of the whole Church, in common, against the wicked. If we would, therefore, offer up to God a prayer like this in a right manner, in the first place, our minds must be illuminated by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit; and, secondly, our zeal, which is often corrupted by the turbid affections of the flesh, must be pure and well-regulated; and then, with such a pure and well-tempered zeal, we may lawfully beseech God to show us, by evident examples, how precious, in his sight, is the life of his servants whose blood he avenges. The faithful are not to be understood as expressing any desire to be glutted with the sight of the shedding of human blood,5 as if they longed greedily after it: they only desire that God would grant them some confirmation of their faith, in the exercise of his fatherly love which is manifested when he avenges the wrongs done to his own people.6 It is farther to be noticed, that the appellation, the servants of God, is given to those who, nevertheless, were justly punished on account of their sins; for although he may chastise us, yet he does not forthwith cast us off, but, on the contrary, testifies thereby that our salvation is the object of his care. Again, we know that when the anger of God is extended over the whole body of the Church, as the good and the bad are mingled together in her, the former are punished in common with the latter, even as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others, were carried into captivity. They were not, it is true, altogether faultless; but it is certain that so great a calamity was not brought upon the Jews on their account. In their person, there was rather set forth a spectacle to the ungodly, that they might be the more deeply affected.

11. Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee. The people of God, I have no doubt, were in captivity when the Holy Spirit endited this prayer; and, therefore, the name of prisoners is applied to them all in general, because they were so shut up within the bounds of Assyria and Chaldea, that had they stirred one foot thence, they would have incurred the penalty of death. They are called the children of death; by which is meant, that they were appointed or condemned to death in respect of their captivity. This sentence, however, may not improperly be restricted to a small number who were shut up in prison under closer restraint. By this expression, it is intimated that those proud spirits who had before vaunted themselves against God, were now broken and effectually humbled. The greatness of God's arm, that is to say, the greatness of his power,7 is implored; for without a signal and extraordinary interposition on his part, no hope could be entertained of the restoration of the Church.

12. And render to our neighbors sevenfold. We have already said enough on the subject of vengeance; and here the faithful show still more clearly, that they are not so much moved by the injuries done to themselves personally, as inflamed with a holy zeal when they see the sacred name of God blasphemed, and, as it were, torn in pieces by the wicked. If this affection reign in our hearts, it will easily moderate the ungovernableness of our flesh, and if the wisdom of the Spirit is added to it, our prayers will be in strict accordance with the just judgment of God.

In the last verse, the pious Jews declare that the fruit of their deliverance will be, that the name of God will be celebrated; and we ought not to desire our preservation or welfare for any other end. When he freely bestows upon us all things, the design for which he does this is, that his goodness may be made known and exalted. Now, these sufferers engage to make a grateful acknowledgement of their deliverance, and declare that this will not be done merely for a short time, but that the remembrance of it will be transmitted to their posterity, and pass, in continued succession, from age to age to the end of the world. The particular designation here given to them is also worthy of notice: We are thy people, and the sheep of thy pasture. As the posterity of Abraham were chosen to celebrate the name of God, and that his praises might resound in Zion, what would have been the consequence had that people been destroyed, but that the memory of the name of God would have perished? This passage, there is no doubt, corresponds with that prophecy of Isaiah,

"This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise." (Isaiah 43:21)

1 Horsley, who guesses that this psalm was composed during the distresses of Manasseh's reign, supposes "the prisoner" to mean Manasseh.

2 "C'est, les condamnez a mort." -- Fr. marg. "That is, those who are condemned to death." "Sons of death, either those who were condemned to death because of their crimes, or condemned to be destroyed by their oppressors. Both these senses apply to the Israelites: they were sons of death, i.e., worthy of death because of their sins against God. They were condemned to death, or utter destruction, by their Babylonish enemies." -- Dr Adam Clarke.

3 "Sevenfold, i.e., in excessively great measure, -- (comp. Genesis 4:15, 24; 1 Samuel 2:5,) -- into their bosom. This is an allusion to the custom of folding the loose garment worn by the natives of Eastern countries, so as to make it a recipient of gifts. Comp. Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 65:6; Jeremiah 32:18; Luke 6:38." -- Cresswell.

4 "C'est, te rendrons graces." -- Fr. marg. "That is, will give thee thanks."

5 "Car ce n'est pas que les fideles se veuillent yci souler a veoir espandre le sang humain." -- Fr.

6 "Laquelle apparoist quand il fait la vengence des outrages qu'on a faits aux siens." -- Fr.

7 "C'est a dire, de la puissance de Dieu." -- Fr.