This psalm, if penned with any particular event in view, is with
most probability made to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple,
and the woeful havoc made of the Jewish nation by the Chaldeans under
Nebuchadnezzar. It is set to the same tune, as I may say, with the Lamentations
of Jeremiah, and that weeping prophet borrows two verses out of it (v. 6, 7) and
makes use of them in his prayer, Jer. 10:25. Some think it was penned long
before by the spirit of prophecy, prepared for the use of the church in that
cloudy and dark day. Others think that it was penned then by the spirit of
prayer, either by a prophet named Asaph or by some other prophet for the sons of
Asaph. Whatever the particular occasion was, we have here, I. A representation
of the very deplorable condition that the people of God were in at this time (v.
1-5). II. A petition to God for succour and relief, that their enemies might be
reckoned with (v. 6, 7, 10, 12), that their sins might be pardoned (v. 8, 9),
and that they might be delivered (v. 11). III. A plea taken from the readiness
of his people to praise him (v. 13). In times of the church's peace and
prosperity this psalm may, in the singing of it, give us occasion to bless God
that we are not thus trampled on and insulted. But it is especially seasonable
in a day of treading down and perplexity, for the exciting of our desires
towards God and the encouragement of our faith in him as the church's patron.
A psalm of Asaph.
We have here a sad complaint exhibited in the court of heaven.
The world is full of complaints, and so is the church too, for it suffers, not
only with it, but from it, as a lily among thorns. God is complained to;
whither should children go with their grievances, but to their father, to such a
father as is able and willing to help? The heathen are complained of, who, being
themselves aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, were sworn enemies to it.
Though they knew not God, nor owned him, yet, God having them in chain, the
church very fitly appeals to him against them; for he is King of nations, to
overrule them, to judge among the heathen, and King of saints, to favour and
I. They complain here of the anger of their enemies and the
outrageous fury of the oppressor, exerted,
1. Against places, v. 1. They did all the mischief they could,
(1.) To the holy land; they invaded that, and made inroads into it: "The
heathen have come into thy inheritance, to plunder that, and lay it waste."
Canaan was dearer to the pious Israelites as it was God's inheritance than as
it was their own, as it was the land in which God was known and his name was
great rather than as it was the land in which they were bred and born and which
they and their ancestors had been long in possession of. note, Injuries done to
religion should grieve us more than even those done to common right, nay, to our
own right. We should better bear to see our own inheritance wasted than God's
inheritance. This psalmist had mentioned it in the foregoing psalm as an
instance of God's great favour to Israel that he had cast out the heathen
before them, Ps. 78:55. But see what a change sin made; now the heathen are
suffered to pour in upon them. (2.) To the holy city: They have laid
Jerusalem on heaps, heaps of rubbish, such heaps as are raised over graves,
so some. The inhabitants were buried in the ruins of their own houses, and their
dwelling places became their sepulchres, their long homes. (3.) To the holy
house. That sanctuary which God had built like high palaces, and which was
thought to be established as the earth, was now laid level with the ground: They
holy temple have they defiled, by entering into it and laying it waste. God's
own people had defiled it by their sins, and therefore God suffered their
enemies to defile it by their insolence.
2. Against persons, against the bodies of God's people; and
further their malice could not reach. (1.) They were prodigal of their blood,
and killed them without mercy; their eye did not spare, nor did they give any
quarter (v. 3): Their blood have they shed like water, wherever they met
with them, round about Jerusalem, in all the avenues to the city; whoever
went out or came in was waited for of the sword. Abundance of
human blood was shed, so that the channels of water ran with blood. And they
shed it with no more reluctancy or regret than if they had spilt so much water,
little thinking that every drop of it will be reckoned for in the day when God
shall make inquisition for blood. (2.) They were abusive to their dead
bodies. When they had killed them they would let none bury them. Nay, those that
were buried, even the dead bodies of God's servants, the flesh of his
saints, whose names and memories they had a particular spite at, they dug up
again, and gave them to be meat to the fowls of the heaven and to the beasts
of the earth; or, at least, they left those so exposed whom they slew; they
hung them in chains, which was in a particular manner grievous to the Jews to
see, because God had given them an express law against this, as a barbarous
thing, Deu. 21:23. This inhuman usage of Christ's witnesses is foretold (Rev.
11:9), and thus even the dead bodies were witnesses against their persecutors.
This is mentioned (says Austin, De Civitate Dei, lib. 1 cap. 12)
not as an instance of the misery of the persecuted (for the bodies of the saints
shall rise in glory, however they became meat to the birds and the fowls), but
of the malice of the persecutors.
3. Against their names (v. 4): "We that survive have
become a reproach to our neighbours; they all study to abuse us and load us
with contempt, and represent us as ridiculous, or odious, or both, upbraiding us
with our sins and with our sufferings, or giving the lie to our relation to God
and expectations from him; so that we have become a scorn and derision to
those that are round about us." 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 offscouring of all
II. They wonder more at God's anger, v. 5. This they discern
in the anger of their neighbours, and this they complain most of: How long,
Lord, wilt thou be angry? Shall it be for ever? This intimates that
they desired no more than that God would be reconciled to them, that his anger
might be turned away, and then the remainder of men's wrath would be
restrained. Note, Those who desire God's favour as better than life cannot but
dread and deprecate his wrath as worse than death.
The petitions here put up to God are very suitable to the
present distresses of the church, and they have pleas to enforce them,
interwoven with them, taken mostly from God's honour.
I. They pray that God would so turn away his anger from them as
to turn it upon those that persecuted and abused them (v. 6): "Pour out
thy wrath, the full vials of it, upon the heathen; let them wring out
the dregs of it, and drink them." This prayer is in effect a prophecy, in
which the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and
unrighteousness of men. Observe here, 1. The character of those he prays
against; they are such as have not known God, nor called upon his name. The
reason why men do not call upon God is because they do not know him, how able
and willing he is to help them. Those that persist in ignorance of God, and
neglect of prayer, are the ungodly, who live without God in the world.
There are kingdoms that know not God and obey not the gospel, but neither their
multitude nor their force united will secure them from his just judgments. 2.
Their crime: They have devoured Jacob, v. 7. That is crime enough in the
account of him who reckons that those who touch his people touch the apple of
his eye. They have not only disturbed, but devoured, Jacob, not only encroached
upon his dwelling place, the land of Canaan, but laid it waste by plundering and
depopulating it. (3.) Their condemnation: "Pour out thy wrath upon
them; do not only restrain them from doing further mischief, but reckon with
them for the mischief they have done."
II. They pray for the pardon of sin, which they own to be the
procuring cause of all their calamities. How unrighteous soever men were, God
was righteous in permitting them to do what they did. They pray, 1. That God
would not remember against them their former iniquities (v. 8), either
their own former iniquities, that now, when they were old, they might not be
made to possess the iniquities of their youth, or the former iniquities of their
people, the sins of their ancestors. In the captivity of Babylon former
iniquities were brought to account; but God promises not again to do so (Jer.
31:29, 30), and so they pray, "Remember not against us our first sins,"
which some make to look as far back as the golden calf, because God said, In
the day when I visit I will visit for this sin of theirs upon them,
Ex. 32:34. If the children by repentance and reformation cut off the entail of
the parents' sin, they may in faith pray that God will not remember them
against them. When God pardons sin he blots it out and remembers it no more.
2. That he would purge away the sins they had been lately guilty of, by the
guilt of which their minds and consciences had been defiled: Deliver us, and
purge away our sins, v. 9. Then deliverances from trouble are granted in
love, and are mercies indeed, when they are grounded upon the pardon of sin and
flow from that; we should therefore be more earnest with God in prayer for the
removal of our sins than for the removal of our afflictions, and the pardon of
them is the foundation and sweetness of our deliverances.
III. They pray that God would work deliverance for them, and
bring their troubles to a good end and that speedily: Let thy tender mercies
speedily prevent us, v. 8. They had no hopes but from God's mercies, his
tender mercies; their case was so deplorable that they looked upon themselves as
the proper objects of divine compassion, and so near to desperate that, unless
divine mercy did speedily interpose to prevent their ruin, they were undone.
This whets their importunity: "Lord, help us; Lord, deliver us; help
us under our troubles, that we may bear them well; help us out of our troubles,
that the spirit may not fail. Deliver us from sin, from sinking." Three
things they plead:-1. The great distress they were reduced to: "We are
brought very low, and, being low, shall be lost if thou help us not."
The lower we are brought the more need we have of help from heaven and the more
will divine power be magnified in raising us up. 2. Their dependence upon him:
"Thou art the God of our salvation, who alone canst help. Salvation
belongs to the Lord, from whom we expect help; for in the Lord alone is
the salvation of his people." Those who make God the God of their
salvation shall find him so. 3. The interest of his own honour in their case.
They plead no merit of theirs; they pretend to none; but, "Help us for
the glory of thy name; pardon us for thy name's sake." The best
encouragements in prayer are those that are taken from God only, and those
things whereby he has made himself known. Two things are insinuated in this
plea:(1.) That God's name and honour would be greatly injured if he did not
deliver them; for those that derided them blasphemed God, as if he were weak and
could not help them, or had withdrawn and would not; therefore they plead (v.
10), "Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? He has
forsaken them, and forgotten them; and this they get by worshipping a God whom
they cannot see." (Nil praeter nubes et coeli numen adorant. Juv.They
adore no other divinity than the clouds and the sky.) That which was their
praise (that they served a God that is every where) was now turned to their
reproach and his too, as if they served a God that is nowhere. "Lord,"
say they, "Make it to appear that thou art by making it to appear that thou
art with us and for us, that when we are asked, Where is your God? we may
be able to say, He is nigh unto us in all that which we call upon him for, and
you see he is so by what he does for us." (2.) That God's name and honour
would be greatly advanced if he did deliver them; his mercy would be glorified
in delivering those that were so miserable and helpless. By making bare his
everlasting arm on their behalf he would make unto himself an everlasting name;
and their deliverance would be a type and figure of the great salvation, which
in the fulness of time Messiah the Prince would work out, to the glory of God's
IV. They pray that God would avenge them on their adversaries,
1. For their cruelty and barbarity (v. 10): "Let the avenging of our blood"
(according to the ancient law, Gen. 9:6) "be known among the heathen; let
them be made sensible that what judgments are brought upon them are punishments
of the wrong they have done to us; let this be in our sight, and by this means let
God be known among the heathen as the God to whom vengeance belongs
(Ps. 94:1) and the God that espouses his people's cause." Those that have
intoxicated themselves with the blood of the saints shall have blood given
them to drink, for they are worthy. 2. For their insolence and scorn (v.
12): "Render to them their reproach. The indignities which by word
and deed they have done to the people of God himself and his name let them be
repaid to them with interest." The reproach wherewith men have reproached
us only we must leave it to God whether he will render to them or no, and must
pray that he would forgive them; but the reproach wherewith they have blasphemed
God himself we may in faith pray that God would render seven-fold into their
bosoms, so as to strike at their hearts, to humble them, and bring them to
repentance. This prayer is a prophecy, of the same import with that of Enoch,
that God will convince sinners of all their hard speeches which they have spoken
against him (Jude 15) and will return them into their own bosoms by everlasting
terrors at the remembrance of them.
V. They pray that God would find out a way for the rescue of his
poor prisoners, especially the condemned prisoners, v. 11. The case of their
brethren who had fallen into the hands of the enemy was very sad; they were kept
close prisoners, and, because they durst not be heard to bemoan themselves, they
vented their griefs in deep and silent sighs. All their breathing was sighing,
and so was their praying. They were appointed to die, as sheep for the
slaughter, and had received the sentence of death within themselves. This
deplorable case the psalmist recommends, 1. To the divine pity: "Let
their sighs come up before thee, and be thou pleased to take cognizance of
their moans." 2. To the divine power: "According to the greatness
of thy arm, which no creature can contest with, preserve thou those that
are appointed to die from the death to which they are appointed." Man's
extremity is God's opportunity to appear for his people. See 2 Co. 1:8-10.
Lastly, They promise the returns of praise for the answers
of prayer (v. 13): So we will give thee thanks for ever. Observe, 1. How
they please themselves with their relation to God. "Though we are oppressed
and brought low, yet we are the sheep of thy pasture, not disowned and cast off
by thee for all this: We are thine; save us." 2. How they promise
themselves an opportunity of praising God for their deliverance, which they therefore
desired, and would bid welcome, because it would furnish them with matter for
thanksgiving and put their hearts in tune for that excellent work, the work of
heaven. 3. How they oblige themselves not only to give God thanks at present,
but to show forth his praise unto all generations, that is, to do all
they could both to perpetuate the remembrance of God's favours to them and to
engage their posterity to keep up the work of praise. 4. How they plead this
with God: "Lord, appear for us against our enemies; for, if they get the
better, they will blaspheme thee (v. 12); but, if we be delivered, we
will praise thee. Lord, we are that people of thine which thou hast formed
for thyself, to show forth thy praise; if we be cut off, whence shall that
rent, that tribute, be raised?" Note, Those lives that are entirely devoted
to God's praise are assuredly taken under his protection.