Psalm 79 Bible Commentary

Charles H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David

(Read all of Psalm 79)
Exposition - Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher - Works Upon This Psalm

TITLE AND SUBJECT. A Psalm of Asaph. A Psalm of complaint such as Jeremiah might have written amid the ruins of the beloved city. It evidently treats of times of invasion, oppression, and national overthrow. Asaph was a patriotic poet, and was never more at home than when he rehearsed the history of his nation. Would to God that we had national poets whose song should be of the Lord.

DIVISION. From Ps 79:1-4 the complaint is poured out, from Ps 79:5-12 prayer is presented, and, in the closing verse, praise is promised.


Verse 1. O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance. It is the cry of amazement at sacrilegious intrusion; as if the poet were struck with horror. The stranger pollutes thine hallowed courts with his tread. All Canaan is thy land, but thy foes have ravaged it. Thy holy temple have they defiled. Into the inmost sanctuary they have profanely forced their way, and there behaved themselves arrogantly. Thus, the holy land, the holy house, and the holy city, were all polluted by the uncircumcised. It is an awful thing when wicked men are found in the church and numbered with her ministry. Then are the tares sown with the wheat, and the poisoned gourds cast into the pot. They have laid Jerusalem on heaps. After devouring and defiling, they have come to destroying, and have done their work with a cruel completeness. Jerusalem, the beloved city, the joy of the nation, the abode of her God, was totally wrecked. Alas! alas! for Israel! It is sad to see the foe in our own house, but worse to meet him in the house of God; they strike hardest who smite at our religion. The psalmist piles up the agony; he was a suppliant, and he knew how to bring out the strong points of his case. We ought to order our case before the Lord with as much care as if our success depended on our pleading. Men in earthly courts use all their powers to obtain their ends, and so also should we state our case with earnestness, and bring forth our strong arguments.

Verse 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." The enemy cared not to bury the dead, and there was not a sufficient number of Israel left alive to perform the funeral rites; therefore, the precious relics of the departed were left to be devoured of vultures and torn by wolves. Beasts on which man could not feed fed on him. The flesh of creation's Lord became meat for carrion crows and hungry dogs. Dire are the calamities of war, yet have they happened to God's saints and servants. This might well move the heart of the poet, and he did well to appeal to the heart of God by reciting the grievous evil. Such might have been the lamentation of an early Christian as he thought of the amphitheatre and all its deeds of blood. Note in the two verses how the plea is made to turn upon God's property in the temple and the people: --we read "thine inheritance, ""thy temple, ""thy servants, "and "thy saints." Surely the Lord will defend his own, and will not suffer rampant adversaries to despoil them.

Verse 3. "Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem." The invaders slew men as if their blood was of no more value than so much water; they poured it forth as lavishly as when the floods deluge the plains. The city of holy peace became a field of blood. "And there was none to bury them." The few who survived were afraid to engage in the task. This was a serious trial and grievous horror to the Jews, who evinced much care concerning their burials. Has it come to this, that there are none to bury the dead of thy family, O Lord? Can none be found to grant a shovelful of earth with which to cover up the poor bodies of thy murdered saints? What woe is here! How glad should we be that we live in so quiet an age, when the blast of the trumpet is no more heard in our streets.

Verse 4. "We are become a reproach to our neighbours." Those who have escaped the common foe make a mockery of us, they fling our disasters into our face, and ask us, "Where is your God?" Pity should be shown to the afflicted, but in too many cases it is not so, for a hard logic argues that those who suffer more than ordinary calamities must have been extraordinary sinners. Neighbours especially are often the reverse of neighbourly; the nearer they dwell the less they sympathize. It is most pitiable it should be so. "A scorn and a derision to them that are round about us." To find mirth in others' miseries, and to exult over the ills of others, is worthy only of the devil and of those whose father he is. Thus the case is stated before the Lord, and it is a very deplorable one. Asaph was an excellent advocate, for he gave a telling description of calamities which were under his own eyes, and in which he sympathized, but we have a mightier Intercessor above, who never ceases to urge our suit before the eternal throne.

Verse 5. "How long, Lord?" Will there be no end to these chastisements? They are most sharp and overwhelming; wilt thou much longer continue them? "Wilt thou be angry for ever?" Is thy mercy gone so that thou wilt for ever smite? "Shall thy jealousy burn like fire?" There was great cause for the Lord to be jealous, since idols had been set up, and Israel had gone aside from his worship, but the psalmist begs the Lord not to consume his people utterly as with fire, but to abate their woes.

Verse 6. "Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee." If thou must smite look further afield; spare thy children and strike thy foes. There are lands where thou art in no measure acknowledged; be pleased to visit these first with thy judgments, and let thine erring Israel have a respite. "And upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name." Hear us the prayerful, and avenge thyself upon the prayerless. Sometimes providence appears to deal much more severely with the righteous than with the wicked, and this verse is a bold appeal founded upon such an appearance. It in effect says--Lord, if thou must empty out the vials of thy wrath, begin with those who have no measure of regard for thee, but are openly up in arms against thee; and be pleased to spare thy people, who are thine notwithstanding all their sins.

Verse 7. "For they have devoured Jacob." The oppressor would quite eat up the saints if he could. If these lions do not swallow us, it is because the Lord has sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths. "And laid waste his dwelling place, "or his pasture. The invader left no food for man or beast, but devoured all as the locust. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.


Whole Psalm. This Psalm is, in every respect, the pendant of Psalm 74. The points of contact are not merely matters of style (Ps 79:5, "how long for ever?" with Ps 74:1,10 79:10, edwy, with Ps 74:5 79:2, the giving over to the wild beasts, with Ps 74:19,14 79:13, the conception of Israel as of a flock, in which respect Psalm 79 is judiciously appended to Ps 78:70-72, with Ps 74:1 and also with Ps 74:19.) But the mutual relationships lie still deeper. Both Psalms have the same Asaphic stamp, both stand in the same relation to Jeremiah, and both send forth their complaints out of the same circumstances of the time, concerning a destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, such as only the age of the Seleucidae (1 Maccabees 1:31 3:45 2 Maccabees 8:3), together with the Chaldean period can exhibit, and in conjunction with a defiling of the Temple and a massacre of the servants of God, of the Chasidim (1 Maccabees 7:13 14:6), such as the age of the Seleucidae exclusively can exhibit. The work of the destruction of the Temple which was in progress in Ps 74:1-23, appears in Ps 79:1-13 as completed, and here, as in the former Psalm, one receives the impression of the outrages, not of some war, but of some persecution: it is straightway the religion of Israel for the sake of which the sanctuaries are destroyed and the faithful are massacred. Franz Delitzsch.

Verse 1. Thy holy temple have they defiled. This was not only the highest degree of the enemy's inhumanity and barbarity, ...but also a calamity to the people of God never to be sufficiently deplored. For by the overthrow of the temple the true worship of God, which had been instituted at that temple alone, appeared to be extinguished, and the knowledge of God to vanish from among mankind. No pious heart could ponder this without the greatest grief. Mollerus.

Verse 1. They have laid Jerusalem on heaps. They have made Jerusalem to be nothing but graves. Such multitudes were cruelly slain and murdered, that Jerusalem was, as it were, but one grave. Joseph Caryl.

Verses 1-4. In the time of the Maccabees, Demetrius, the son of Seleuces, sent Bacchides to Jerusalem; who slew the scribes, who came to require justice, and the Assideans, the first of the children of Israel who sought peace of them. Bacchides "took of them threescore men, and slew them in one day, according to the words which he wrote, the flesh of thy saints have they cast out, and their blood have they shed round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them." And in that last and most fearful destruction, when the eagles of Rome were gathered round the doomed city, and the temple of which God had said, "Let us depart hence; "when one stone was not to be left upon another, when the fire was to consume the sanctuary, and the foundations of Sion were to be ploughed up; when Jerusalem was to be filled with slain, and the sons of Judah were to be crucified round her walls in such thick multitudes that no more room was left for death; when insult, and shame, and scorn was the lot of the child of Israel, as he wandered an outcast, a fugitive in all lands; when all these bitter and deadly things came upon Jerusalem, it was as a punishment for many and long repeated crimes; it was the accomplishment of a warning which had been often sent in vain. Yea, fiercely did thy foes assault thee, O Jerusalem, but thy sins more fiercely still! "Plain Commentary."

Verses 1, 4-5. Entering the inhabited part of the old city, and winding through some crooked, filthy lanes, I suddenly found myself on turning a sharp corner, in a spot of singular interest; the "Jews' place of Wailing." It is a small paved quadrangle; on one side are the backs of low modern houses, without door or window; on the other is the lofty wall of the Haram, of recent date above, but having below five courses of bevelled stones in a perfect state of preservation. Here the Jews are permitted to approach the sacred enclosure, and wail over the fallen temple, whose very dust is dear to them, and in whose stones they still take pleasure. Ps 102:14. It was Friday, and a crowd of miserable devotees had assembled--men and women of all ages and all nations dressed in the quaint costumes of every country of Europe and Asia. Old men were there, --pale, haggard, careworn men tottering on pilgrim staves; and little girls with white faces, and lustrous black eyes, gazing wistfully now at their parents, now at the old wall. Some were on their knees, chanting mournfully from a book of Hebrew prayers, swaying their bodies to and fro; some were prostrate on the ground, pressing forehead and lips to the earth; some were close to the wall, burying their faces in the rents and crannies of the old stones; some were kissing them, some had their arms spread out as if they would clasp them to their bosoms, some were bathing them with tears, and all the while sobbing as if their hearts would burst. It was a sad and touching spectacle. Eighteen centuries of exile and woe have not dulled their hearts' affections, or deadened their feelings of devotion. Here we see them assembled from the ends of the earth, poor, despised, down trodden outcasts, --amid the desolations of their fatherland, beside the dishonoured ruins of their ancient sanctuary, --chanting now in accents of deep pathos, and now of wild woe, the prophetic words of their own psalmist, --O God the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled...We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, Lord? wilt thou be angry for ever? J. L. Porter, in "The Giant Cities of Bashan." 1865.

Verse 2. "The dead bodies of thy servants, "etc. It is a true saying of S. Augustine, The care of our funeral, the manner of our burial, the exequial pomp, all these magis sunt vivorum solatia quam subsidia mortuorum, are rather comforts for the living than any way helps for the dead. To be interred profiteth not the party deceased; his body feels it not, his soul regards it not; and we know that many holy martyrs have been excluded from burial, who in a Christian scorn thereof bespoke their persecutors in words of those which were slain at Pharsalia: "You effect nothing by this anger; what matters it whether disease dissolve the body, or the funeral pile!" But yet there is an honesty (i.e. a right, a proper respect) which belongeth to the dead body of man. Jehu commanded Jezebel to be buried; David thanked the people of Jabesh Gilead for burying of Saul. Peter, who commanded Ananias and Sapphira, those false abdicators of their patrimony, to die, commanded to have them buried being dead. It is an axiom of charity, Mortuo non prohibeas gratiam, withhold not kindness from the dead. It shows our love and regard for men in our own flesh to see them buried; it manifests our faith and hope of the resurrection; and therefore when that body which is to rise again, and to be made glorious and immortal in heaven, shall be cast to the fowls of the air or beasts of the field, it argues in God great indignation against sin (Jer 22:19, of Jehoiakim, "He shall be buried as an ass is buried, and cast forth without the gates of Jerusalem"); in man inhuman and barbarous cruelty. John Dunster, in "Prodromus." 1613.

Verses 2-3. (The following extract is from the writings of a godly monk who applies the language of the Psalm to the persecutions of his time. He wrote at Rome during the period of the Reformation, and was evidently a favourer of the gospel.) At this day what river is there, what brook, in this our afflicted Europe, (if it is still ours) that we have not seen flowing with the blood of Christians? And that too shed by the swords and spears of Christians? Wherefore there is made a great wailing in Israel; and the princes and elders mourn; the young men and virgins are become weak, and the beauty of the women is changed. Why? The holy place itself is desolate as a wilderness. Hast thou ever seen so dire a spectacle? They have piled up in heaps the dead bodies of thy servants to be devoured by birds: the unburied remains of thy saints, I say, they have given to the beasts of the earth. What greater cruelty could ever be committed? So great was the effusion of human blood at that time, that the rivulets, yea, rather, the rivers round the entire circuit of the city, flowed with it. And thus truly is the form of our most beautiful city laid waste, and its loveliness; and so reduced is it, that not even the men who carry forth dead bodies for burial can be obtained, though pressed with the offer of large rewards; so full of fear and horror were their minds: and this was all the more bitter, because "We are become a reproach to those round about us, "and are spoken of in derision by the infidels abroad and by enemies at home. Who is so bold as to endure this and live? How long therefore shall this most bitter disquietude last? Giambattista Folengo. 1490-1559.

Verse 2. "Dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls." With what unconcern are we accustomed to view, on all sides of us, multitudes, "dead in trespasses and sins, "torn in pieces, and devoured by wild passions, filthy lusts, and infernal spirits, those dogs and vultures of the moral world! Yet, to a discerning eye, and a thinking mind, the latter is by far the more melancholy sight of the two. George Horne.

Verse 2. "Thy servants." "Thy saints." No temporal wrath, no calamities whatsoever can separate the Lord's children from God's love and estimation of them, nor untie the relation between God and them: for here, albeit their carcases fall, and be devoured by the fowls of heaven and beasts of the earth, yet remain they the Lord's servants and saints under these sufferings. David Dickson.

Verse 4. "We are become a reproach." If God's professing people degenerate from what themselves and their fathers were, they must expect to be told of it; and it is well if a just reproach will help to bring us to a true repentance. But it has been the lot of the gospel Israel to be made unjustly a reproach and derision; the apostles themselves were "counted as the off scouring of all things." Matthew Henry.

Verse 4. "A scorn and derision to them that are round about us." This was more grievous to them than stripes or wounds, saith Chrysostom, because these being inflicted upon the body are divided after a sort betwixt soul and body, but scorns and reproaches do wound the soul only. Habet quendam aculeum contumelia, they leave a sting behind them, as Cicero observeth. John Trapp.

Verse 4. It is the height of reproach a father casts upon his child when he commands his slave to beat him. Of all outward judgments this is the sorest, to have strangers rule over us, as being made up of shame and cruelty. If once the heathen come into God's inheritance, no wonder the church complains that she is "become a reproach to her neighbours, a shame and derision to all round about her." Abraham Wright.

Verse 5. "How long, Lord? Wilt thou be angry for ever?" The voice of complaint says not, How long, Lord, shall this wickedness of our enemy endure? How long shall we see this desolation? But, How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry for ever? We are admonished, therefore, in this passage, that we should recognize the anger of God against us in all our afflictions, lest as the nations are accustomed, we only accuse the malice of our enemies, and never think of our sins and the divine punishment. It cannot be that he who acknowledges the anger of God that is upon him, should not at the same time acknowledge his fault also, unless he wishes to attribute the iniquity to God of being angry and inflicting stripes upon the undeserving. Musculus.

Verse 5. The word "jealousy" signifies not mere revenge but revenge mingled with love, for unless he loved, says Jerome, he would not be jealous, and after the manner of a husband avenge the sin of his wife. Lorinus.

Verse 6. Neglect of prayer by unbelievers is threatened with punishment. The prophet's imprecation is the same in effect with a threatening, see Jer 10:25, and same imprecation, Ps 79:6. The prophets would not have used such an imprecation against those that call not upon God, but that their neglect of calling on his name makes them liable to his wrath and fury; and no neglect makes men liable to the wrath of God but the neglect of duty. Prayer, then, is a duty even to the heathen, the neglect of which provokes him to pour out his fury on them. David Clarkson.

Verse 7. "They have devoured Jacob." Like wolves who cruelly tear and devour a flock of sheep. For the word which follows signifies not only a habitation in general, but also a sheepcote. Mollerus.


Verse 4. Saints the subject of derision to sinners. When justly so. When unjustly. What do they see to excite ridicule; what shall we do under the trial; how will it end?

Verse 5.

1. The cause of anger: jealousy.

2. The moderation of it. If it continued for ever, the people would perish, the promises be unfulfilled, the covenant fail, and the Lord's honour be impeached.

3. The staying of it. By prayer; by pleading his name, his glory, and the blood of Jesus.


"Prodromus, or the Literal Destruction of Jerusalem as it is described in the 79th Psalm...1613" (By JOHN DUNSTER.)