Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
A Psalm of Asaph
1 O GOD, the heathen are come into thine inheritance;
Thy holy temple have they defiled;
They have laid Jerusalem on heaps.
2 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.
3 Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem;
And there was none to bury them.
4 We are become a reproach to our neighbours,
A scorn and derision to them that are round about us.
5 How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry forever?
Shall thy jealousy burn like fire?
6 Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee,
And upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob,
And laid waste his dwelling-place.
8 O remember not against us former iniquities:
Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us;
For we are brought very low.
9 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.
10 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.
11 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee;
According to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;
12 And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom
Their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.
13 So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture
Will give thee thanks forever:
We will show forth thy praise to all generations.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
CONTENTS AND COMPOSITION.—The Psalm begins by a complaint addressed to God, that Jerusalem has been destroyed amidst the profanation of the Temple, and the pouring out of the blood of His servants (Psalm 79:1–4). Upon this there follows, based upon the question as to how long God’s anger was to continue, a prayer that this wrath might be turned against the heathen (5–7). This prayer then takes the form of a supplication for God’s favor and aid (8, 9), that He would avenge upon the heathen the dishonor which they had inflicted upon His name and His servants (10–12), and passes over into a vow that the Church shall offer up to Him thanksgiving to the praise of His glory (13). The points of resemblance to Ps. 74, and to Jeremiah, are so numerous that they have always been the subject of remark. This Psalm is, however, usually (Delitzsch in his last edition also), connected with the devastations in the times of the Seleucidæ, regarded either as a prophecy (many of the old commentators) or as recording actual events (most of the moderns since Rudinger). But against this there is especially the circumstance that in the first book of Maccabees already translated from the Hebrew, the massacre described in chap. 7 Psalm 79:17, is regarded as a fulfilment of a passage of Scripture, and that Psalm 79:2 and 3 of our Psalm are cited as the passage in question. For the objections to the force of this circumstance, see Ehrt, Abfassungszeit und Abschluss des Psalters, 1869, pp. 13 ff. The desecration mentioned is not indeed to be directly taken as a process of destruction (Hengstenberg, Hupfeld) and yet Ezek. 25:3 does not exclude the latter. But just as in Ps. 74:7 the emphasis is laid upon the profanation on account of the religious feelings of the Israelites. The circumstance, however, that Psalm 79:6 and 7 stand in manifest dependence upon Jer. 10:25 must be admitted not to be against a composition in the Chaldean period. [English commentators usually favor the earlier composition. Perowne is as undecided in this case as he is with regard to Ps. 74. Yet he says: “It has not, I believe, been noticed, and yet it appears to me almost certain that the prayer of Daniel (9:16), contains allusions to the language of this Psalm.”—J. F. M.] The Jews read Pss. 79 and 137 on the 9th of Abib, the day on which they call to remembrance the Chaldean and Roman destructions of Jerusalem.
Psalm 79:1. Inheritance usually means the holy people,Pss. 74:2; 78:64, 71, but here as in Ex. 15:17 it means the Holy Land, including the City and Temple. The circumstance that the corpses were not buried, is not merely mentioned on account of their great numbers, but also on account of the disgrace connected with such an indignity, in accordance with Deut. 28:26. This was still further heightened by the circumstance that it was the heathen who were pouring out the blood of God’s servants like water (Deut. 15:23), as though it were worthless and unworthy of regard, and that they were blaspheming the name of God, whom they did not know, by deriding Him as impotent, since they had laid in ruins the city which was known as His dwelling-place (Micah 3:12; Jer. 26:18).
Psalm 79:7 f. Instead of the scarcely tolerable singular אָכַל between unmistakable plurals, 16 codices of Kennicott, and 9 of De Rossi, have the plural אָֽכְלוּ, which is also found in Jer. 10:25. Is the singular a mutilation? Or are the enemy thus intentionally made prominent as a collective? However this may be, nothing decisive as to the priority of the passages can be inferred from this difference. This difference consists in these points: (1) in Jer. 10:25, the עַל which alone agrees with the construction, is here replaced by אֶל. (2). The prayer for vengeance in Jeremiah is more clearly united to the context, and in a connection of thought which is found also in Jer. 30:11; 46:28. In Psalm 79:7b it is not the sanctuary (Targ.) that is referred to, nor the place generally (Sept., Vulg.) nor the pasture specially (J. H. Michaelis and others), but the resting-places of the Shepherd with an allusion to the name “flock” of God applied to Israel in Psalm 79:13. In Psalm 79:8 mention is not made of former sins (the ancient translators, Luther, Geier), nor the sins of former days (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, as an alternative) but of the sins of the forefathers (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, J H. Michaelis, and the recent expositors), Jer. 11:10; Ex. 20:5; Lev. 26:39. It is a genitive of possession. The masculine adjective termination could not agree with the feminine noun. Their own sins are not thereby denied, for in Psalm 79:9 they are, expressly mentioned. But the weakening mentioned in Psalm 79:8c is not moral deterioration consequent upon guilt (Aben Ezra) but want of physical ability to rise from their defeat. The preventing mercy, Psalm 79:8b, was implored for the help of those who confessed that their punishment was deserved.
Psalm 79:10 ff. The first stich of Psalm 79:10 is taken literally from Joel 2:17, after Ex. 32:12; Numb. 14:13 f.; Deut. 9:28. The wish expressed in the following verse is based upon Deut. 32:43; the seven-fold retribution upon Gen. 4:15, 24 as the “exhaustion of judicial punishment, seven being the number of the completed process” (Delitzsch). Instead of the expression, “children of death,” 1 Sam. 20:31; 26:16, there are used here the words: children of slaughter (Hitzig); not: children of one who dies=the dying (Hengstenberg).2—[E. V., Those who are appointed to die].
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. It is, as it were, “an inversion of the order of nature” (Calvin) when God’s inheritance falls into the power of the heathen, and when men who know not God, nor honor His name, tread under foot the sanctuary devoted to His worship and profane it, make the city of God a heap of stones (Sept. wrongly: “a lodge of the garden-watcher,” comp. Isa. 1:8), and give over to dishonor and death its inhabitants, who have been called to life and to a participation in the Divine glory.
2. In such appalling calamities we are to recognize the avenging wrath of God, in which the sins of the fathers are punished together with the sins of the children. For the sins of the forefathers are visited (2 Kings 23:26; Lam. 5:7) not upon their innocent descendants (Deut. 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6) but upon those who are guilty like themselves (Ex. 20:5). The destruction which ever keeps increasing by united transgressions, breaks forth at last, and makes it manifest that only a heaping up of wrath for the day of judgment is to be expected by those who will not be led to repentance by God’s patience, long-suffering, and goodness.
3. Yet in this there is included also the possibility of a change of destiny. For God does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he should turn and live. The infliction of His judgment upon His people has for its ultimate aim not their destruction, but their purification, that they may be saved. His punishments are to be a chastisement for them for righteousness. If they were regarded and received as such by the Church, then they would lead to confession of common and personal guilt and sinfulness; and likewise to a search after and apprehension of the mercy which comes forth to meet them. But those whose part is to aid in the execution of God’s judgment, and yet have neither known Him nor honored His name, nor spared His people, will be condemned to taste, in its unrestrained intensity and fulness, that wrath, whose blind instruments they had chosen to become (Jer. 10:24; 30:11; 46:28).
[HENGSTENBERG: The people of God have, in every time of need, the joyful privilege of discerning in former deliverances the pledges of those yet to come, and thus possess a sure ground of confidence. The world, when it prays, prays only tentatively, and is dissevered entirely from the lessons of history.—J. F. M.]
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
God does not desire the destruction, but the return and deliverance of His people, when He visits them with the punishment of His wrath.—No one need presume to feel secure on account of mercy before received: yet none need doubt its reality on account of his sin.—The punishment which attends sin, and the mercy that comes forth to meet the repenting.—If the judgment upon the house of God is already so awful, how will it be with the unconverted world?—It makes a great difference whether we desire to avenge ourselves and our sufferings, or whether we are concerned for God’s honor and the sanctifying of His name.—When our own sins and those of others conspire together, then there comes a deep and awful fall.—The sins of our forefathers may indeed increase our misfortunes, but they cannot lessen our own guilt.—It is true that God is the Shepherd of His people, but it is for this very reason that He needs not only the staff of comfort, but that of pain.—God will not be contemned, either by friend or foe.
STARKE: The primary source of all wars is God’s anger.—The heavier the thunder and the greater the storm, the sooner are they over.—The pious deplore the sins of their fathers, as well as of their cotemporaries.—It is no good sign when God allows the number of the pious and upright to decrease. Over such a place His judgments are surely impending.—It would be a foolish thing to expect mercy and help from God and yet not to become converted; but it would be presumptuous to make boast of a conversion by one’s own strength, without the preventing mercy of God.
ARNDT: The corruption and adulteration of the true service of God is the great calamity of the country, and the beginning of all misfortune.—FRISCH: Supplication against the cruel persecutors of God’s Church: (1) Lamentation over the woes inflicted by the cruelty of her enemies: (2) earnest prayer to God for mercy and the turning away of the punishment, that He may hear, and help, and take vengeance upon those enemies; (3) promise of the gratitude that is due.—RENSCHEL: The Church of God, though it has been already sorely troubled, yet remains His people, His servant, His flock, and his inheritance.—RIEGER: The distressing circumstances of our Church proclaim to ourselves, that nothing but judgment is before us, and that in no other way can room be made for what is good. Let us therefore continue ever to know God’s name, and to exercise the joyful privilege of keeping it before Him.—VAIHINGER: Sins are a dam which obstruct the flow of God’s river of mercy, and only when that is cleared away can His help and blessing be made to appear.—GUENTHER: The prayers of the righteous can turn away God’s anger from them like a stream of water, and cause it to pour forth upon the ungodly. But understand it well; it is the prayers of the humble and peaceable, not the imprecations of the revengeful and presumptuous.—DIEDRICH: Let this be our consolation, that after our enemies have done with us they have still to do with God.—TAUBE: The cry for help is natural for us in distress, but not the shriek for mercy; this is the reason why so many acts of God in behalf of the sinner are received without a blessing.—The Lord, who is the God of our salvation, has given, in the honor of His name, the strongest weapon into the very hands of His people.
[Both of these explanations of תְּמוּתָה appear to me to be wrong, and the common rendering “death” to be correct. The former meaning is entirely without a parallel in similar cases in the formation of nouns. That given by Hengst. supposes that the word is formed from the 3d sing. fem. pl. This arbitrary method of assuming a distinct principle of formation for each special case is not to be recommended. It may be taken as a rule that words of this form are abstracts, and this will, I believe, be found to be true of all the cases when their primary significations are considered. Alexander here compares מוּת and תּמוּתָה to mors and mortalitas, agreeing with E. V. see Green, Heb. Gr., § 192, 2, Ewald, Heb. Gr., § 161 a.—J. F. M.]
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.