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Psalm 79

Plea for Mercy for Jerusalem

A Psalm of Asaph.


O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;

they have defiled your holy temple;

they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.


They have given the bodies of your servants

to the birds of the air for food,

the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.


They have poured out their blood like water

all around Jerusalem,

and there was no one to bury them.


We have become a taunt to our neighbors,

mocked and derided by those around us.



How long, O L ord? Will you be angry forever?

Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?


Pour out your anger on the nations

that do not know you,

and on the kingdoms

that do not call on your name.


For they have devoured Jacob

and laid waste his habitation.



Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;

let your compassion come speedily to meet us,

for we are brought very low.


Help us, O God of our salvation,

for the glory of your name;

deliver us, and forgive our sins,

for your name’s sake.


Why should the nations say,

“Where is their God?”

Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants

be known among the nations before our eyes.



Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;

according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.


Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors

the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!


Then we your people, the flock of your pasture,

will give thanks to you forever;

from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

8 Remember not against us the iniquities of former times. The godly Jews here confirm the sentiment which they had before briefly and obscurely touched upon, namely, that they had justly deserved the chastisements which had been inflicted upon them. And they present this prayer, because they could only get relief from their calamities by obtaining reconciliation with God. This is the sovereign remedy for every kind of adversity; for so long as he is angry with even our prosperity turns out to be unproductive of advantage and happiness. By the iniquities of former times, some understand the sins committed by the fathers. Others think that the sins which the suppliants themselves committed in their childhood and youth are intended. But the expression, I presume, has a more extensive signification, containing a confession not only of one offense or two, and these only recently committed, but an acknowledgement that they had for a long time been involved, along with their fathers, in manifold and old transgressions. Thus they acknowledge a long continued stubbornness, in which they had hardened themselves against God. This acknowledgement corresponds with the rebukes which the prophets administered to them; for sacred history bears testimony that the punishment of the captivity was suspended until God had proved from experience that their perversity was incurable. Nor should it excite our surprise to find the children praying that God would not impute to them the iniquity of their fathers, when we consider that the law declares that God casts the sins of the fathers into the bosom of their children, and takes vengeance upon their iniquities unto the third and fourth generation, (Exodus 20:5.) The contrast between the expressions, make haste, and the iniquities of former times, is worthy of notice. Had God called the Israelites to a strict account for all the sins which they had committed during three or four hundred years before, the time of their deliverance would have been long delayed. The faithful, therefore, beseech him to forget their former offenses, and to make haste to succor them. As their sins proved the great obstacle and cause of delay, we may see the propriety with which they farther implore that the compassions of God might speedily meet them.

9 Help O God of our salvation! They again repeat in this verse, that whatever afflictions they endured were to be traced to the anger of God, and that they could have no comfort under them unless He were reconciled to them. Being deeply sensible that they had committed many transgressions, to strengthen their hope of obtaining pardon, they employ a variety of expressions. In the first place, as an argument to induce God to show them favor, they address him as the God of their salvation. In the second place, they testify that they bring nothing of their own to influence him to have mercy upon them; and that the only plea which they present before him is his own glory. From this we learn, that sinners are not reconciled to God by satisfactions or by the merit of good works, but by a free and an unmerited forgiveness. The observation which I have made a little before, and which I have explained more at length on the sixth psalm, is here to be kept in mind, — That when God visits us with the rod, instead of being merely desirous to be relieved from external chastisements, our chief concern ought to be to have God pacified towards us: nor should we follow the example of foolish sick persons, who are anxious to have merely the symptoms of their disease removed, and make no account of being delivered from the source and cause of it. With respect to the word כפר, chapper, 376376     “כפר, chapper, be propitiated, or receive an atonement (על הטאתינו, al chatoteinu) on account of our sins.” — Dr Adam Clarke which expositors translate, Be merciful, or propitious, I have had an opportunity of speaking in another place. It properly signifies to cleanse, or expiate, and is applied to sacrifices. Whenever, therefore, we desire to obtain the favor of God, let us call to remembrance the death of Christ; for “without shedding of blood is no remissions” (Hebrews 9:22.)

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, 381381     “Car ce n’est pas que les fideles se veuillent yci souler a veoir espandre le sang humain.” — Fr. 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. 382382     “Laquelle apparoist quand il fait la vengence des outrages qu’on a faits aux siens.” — Fr. 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, 383383     “C’est a dire, de la puissance de Dieu.” — Fr. is implored; for without a signal and extraordinary interposition on his part, no hope could be entertained of the restoration of the Church.

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