Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The relation of this psalm to Psalms 74 is so close, notwithstanding some points of difference, that commentators are almost unanimous in assigning them to the same period, if not the same author. Psalm 79:1, indeed, by itself seems to point to a profanation of the Temple, such as that by Antiochus, and not a destruction like Nebuchadnezzar’s. To one of these events the psalm must refer. Great importance is attached to the similarity of Psalm 79:6-7, with Jeremiah 10:25, and it certainly looks as if the latter were an adaptation and expansion of the psalmist. Again, Psalm 79:3 (see Note) appears to be quoted in 1 Maccabees 7:17. On the other hand, every one allows that the best commentary on the psalm is the 1st chapter of 1 Maccabees. A Maccabæan editor may have taken a song of the Captivity period and slightly altered it to suit the events before his eyes. The psalter affords other instances of such adaptation. (See, e.g., Psalms 60) The verse flows smoothly, now in triplets, now in couplets.
Title.—See Title, Psalms 1.
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) Inheritance.—Probably intended to embrace both land and people. (Exodus 15:17; Psalm 74:2, &c.)
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) In addition to references in Margin see Deuteronomy 28:26.
Saints.—Heb., chasîdîm. (See Note, Psalm 16:10.) Here with definite allusion to the Assdœans of 1 Maccabees 7.
Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them.(3) Their blood.—In 1 Maccabees 7:17, we read “The flesh of thy saints and their blood have they shed round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them,” introduced by “according to the word which he wrote.” This is evidently a free quotation from this psalm, and seems to imply a reference to a contemporary.
We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.(4) This verse occurs Psalm 44:13. Also possibly a Maccabæan psalm. (See Introduction to that psalm.)
The scenes still witnessed by travellers at the Jews’ wailing-place offer a striking illustration of the foregoing verses, showing, as they do, how deep-seated is the love of an ancient place in the Oriental mind. (See a striking description in Porter’s Giant Cities of Bashan.)
How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?(5) How long, Lord?—The dominant cry of the Maccabæan age. (See Psalm 74:9.)
Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.(6-7) The poet prays in prophetical strain, that the fire of indignation may be turned from Israel and directed against the heathen oppressors, (For the relation to Jeremiah 10:25, see Introduction.)
For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place.(7) Dwelling place.—Literally, pasture, as in Jeremiah 23:3; Jeremiah 49:20; Jeremiah 1:19. The figure is a favourite one in the Asaphic group of psalms.
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) Purge away.—Rather, put a cover on. So Cicero speaks of political crimes being covered by the plea of friendship.
Our sins.—How is this to be taken in connection with Psalm 79:8? Does the psalmist admit guilt in his own generation, as well as in those of former times? Or is he thinking only of the inherited guilt and punishment? The general tone of post-exile psalms inclines towards the latter view.
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.—Taken from Joel 2:17.
Let him be known.—Better, Let it be known, i.e., where God is. Let the answer to the question be given in vengeance, and let us see it.
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) Appointed to die.—See margin. This expression, as well as the “sighing of the prisoners,” occurs, Psalm 102:20, of the sufferers in the Captivity.
And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.(12) Neighbours.—The sharpest pang of the suffering came from the taunts of “neighbours. (See Psalm 79:4.)
Sevenfold.—As in Genesis 4:15. We naturally contrast the law of Christian forgiveness.
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) “The last word of the psalm is Tehillah; the one crowning privilege of God’s people; the exulting and triumphant confidence in God, which only His chosen can entertain and express. It is here placed in splendid contrast with the reproach of the heathen, and of the malicious neighbours mentioned in the preceding verse. Let them curse so long as thou dost bless (Burgess, Notes on the Hebrew Psalms).