Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The occasion of this Psalm has already been discussed in the Introduction to Psalms 74. It consists of three stanzas.
i. The Psalmist tells God of the invasion of His land, the desecration of His Temple, the destruction of His city, the slaughter of His servants, the reproach of His people (Psalm 79:1-4).
ii. He entreats God to show mercy to Israel, and not to punish them any more for the sins of their forefathers, but to chastise their wanton oppressors (Psalm 79:5-8).
iii. Once more he pleads for help and pardon, urging that the honour of God’s name is at stake, and that the outrages of the heathen should not go unpunished; and he concludes with a vow of perpetual praise from the restored nation (Psalm 79:9-13).
This Psalm, together with Psalms 137, is prescribed in the Talmudic treatise Sopherim (Psalm 18:3) for use on the 9th day of the month Ab, the day on which the destruction of both the first and the second Temple was commemorated. Cp. Zechariah 7:3.
A Psalm of Asaph. O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.1. Cp. Jeremiah 51:51; Lamentations 1:10; and for the desecration of the Temple cp. Psalm 74:7; Ezekiel 7:21-22.
the heathen] Lit. as in Psalm 79:6; Psalm 79:10, the nations: but where, as here, the nations are in antagonism to God and His people, the rendering heathen may be retained. thine inheritance] Here of the holy land (cp. Exodus 15:17): more commonly of the people (Psalm 74:2; Psalm 78:62; Psalm 78:71).
on heaps] I.e. in ruins: perhaps an allusion to the prophecy of Micah (Micah 3:12; cp. Jeremiah 26:18). For the archaic use of ‘on,’ Wright (Bible Word-Book, p. 436) quotes Shakespeare, Henry V, v. 2. 39;
And all her husbandry doth lie on heaps.
1–4. The Psalmist tells his grief to God: His land is overrun by heathen, His temple is desecrated, His city is in ruins, His people are slaughtered, the survivors are the scorn of their neighbours.
The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.2. The horrors of a remorseless slaughter were aggravated by the disgrace of the corpses being left unburied, in accordance with the threats of the law (Deuteronomy 28:26) and prophets (Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 9:22; Jeremiah 15:3; Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 19:7).
thy servants … thy saints] These titles are not meant to plead Israel’s merits, but Israel’s relationship to God in virtue of His covenant with them (Psalm 74:20; Psalm 50:5).
Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them.3. like water] Freely, and as though it were of little worth. Contrast Psalm 116:15.
none to bury them] Cp. Jeremiah 14:16. This passage is quoted freely in 1Ma 7:17 with reference to the murder of certain Assideans by the high priest Alcimus, “He took of them threescore men and slew them in one day, according to the words which one wrote, The flesh of thy saints and their blood did they shed round about Jerusalem, and they had none to bury them.” Clearly the meaning cannot be that the Psalm was written with reference to that event, for by that time (b.c. 162) the situation of affairs was wholly different from that described in the Psalm. Judas had won many victories, and the Temple had been re-dedicated. Moreover the Psalm implies a much more extensive slaughter of Israelites, and that by heathen, not by a treacherous Israelite. There is probably another reminiscence of Psalm 79:3 in 1Ma 1:37, “They shed innocent blood on every side of the sanctuary, and defiled it.”
We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.4. A repetition of Psalm 44:13, with the change of ‘thou makest us’ to ‘we are become.’ Cp. Psalm 80:6; Ezekiel 22:4; Ezekiel 25:6 ff. Daniel 9:16 combines this verse with Psalm 79:8 a.
How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?5. How long, Jehovah, wilt thou be angry for ever?
(How long) shall thy jealousy burn like fire?
As in Psalm 13:1, faith combines two questions into a self-contradictory expression. How long and for ever are characteristic words of Psalms 74 (Psalm 74:1; Psalm 74:10; Psalm 74:19). Cp. Psalm 80:4; Psalm 89:46.
Shall thy jealousy burn like fire] “Jehovah thy God is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). He cannot endure a divided allegiance, and must punish Israel for its sin. Cp. Deuteronomy 29:20; Zephaniah 1:18.
5–8. Prayer that God will cease to be angry with His own people and will punish their destroyers.
Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.6. upon the heathen &c.] Not upon the nations as such, but upon the nations which refuse to acknowledge Jehovah, and make havoc of His people. Render with R.V., that know thee not … that call not upon thy name.
For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place.7. his dwelling place] R.V. his habitation, marg. pasture: a different word however from pasture in Psalm 79:13.
Psalm 79:6-7 recur in Jeremiah 10:25. At first sight it would appear that the prophecy must be earlier than the Fall of Jerusalem, and that the Psalmist must be quoting from the prophet. But ch. 10 in its present form can hardly be from the pen of Jeremiah himself: Jeremiah 10:1-10 at any rate can hardly be his: and Jeremiah 10:23-25 appear to be a composite passage. The insertion of ‘yea, they have devoured him and consumed him’ after ‘Jacob,’ looks like the transformation of poetry into prose, and it is possible that the Psalm is the original.
O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.8. Remember not against us the iniquities of our forefathers (R.V.). For these sins Israel in the Exile knew that it was suffering (Lamentations 5:7), in accordance with the warnings of the law (Exodus 20:5). For the phrase cp. Jeremiah 11:10. But the next verse shews that the Psalmist does not claim that his own generation is innocent. Cp. Leviticus 26:39-40.
prevent us] Come to meet us. See on Psalm 59:10. It is an appeal to the fundamental revelation of God as a merciful God (Exodus 34:6).
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake.9. for the glory of thy name] Lit. for the sake of the glory of thy name (Psalm 29:2; Psalm 66:2). If Thou art not moved by the sight of our sufferings, at least be jealous for Thine own honour, lest the heathen should think that Israel’s God is powerless to help His people.
purge away] Or, make atonement for. See note on Psalm 65:3.
9–12. Repeated prayers for deliverance for the honour of God’s Name.
Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed.10. Wherefore &c.] The same plea in Psalm 115:2 (cp. also Psalm 115:1 with Psalm 79:9); Joel 2:17. Cp. Exodus 32:12; Psalm 42:3; Micah 7:10.
let him be known] Better:
Let vengeance for thy servants’ blood that is shed
Be made known among the heathen in our sight.
Defer not vengeance to some future generation: let us see with our own eyes the fitting punishment of the enemies of Israel. This verse and Psalm 79:9 are based upon Deuteronomy 32:43. Note how the thought of vengeance goes side by side with that of deliverance in Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 47:3; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 63:4; and in Jeremiah 50:15; Jeremiah 50:28; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:36, chapters which also probably date from the Exile.
Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;11. The same phrases recur in Psalm 102:20.
thy power] Lit. thine arm, a word which recalls the memories of a glorious past (Exodus 15:16; Psalm 44:3).
those that are appointed to die] Lit., the sons of death. It is not necessary to understand these expressions literally of prisoners sentenced to execution: more probably they denote the prison and the living death of exile (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:9; Isaiah 61:1).
And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.12. our neighbours] Cp. Psalm 79:4 : the nations around, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites, which instead of sympathising rejoiced at Israel’s calamity. Cp. Ezekiel 25.
sevenfold] Cp. Genesis 4:15; and contrast Christ’s law of forgiveness, Matthew 18:22.
into their bosom] A metaphor from the practice of carrying articles in the folds of the dress. It further suggests the idea of full and intimate recompence. Cp. Isaiah 65:6; Jeremiah 32:18; Luke 6:38.
So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.13. Concluding vow of thanksgiving. Israel will then be able to render its tribute of unceasing praise to its Lord and Shepherd.
sheep of thy pasture] Cp. Psalm 74:1, note; Psalm 80:1.
thy praise] Cp. Psalm 74:21; Psalm 78:4. To set forth Jehovah’s praise was Israel’s mission, Isaiah 43:21.