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
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
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.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
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
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
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
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.
HINTS TO THE VILLAGE PREACHER
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?
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.
WORK UPON THE SEVENTY-NINTH PSALM
"Prodromus, or the Literal Destruction of Jerusalem as it
is described in the 79th Psalm...1613" (By JOHN DUNSTER.)