Prayer for Restoration
1 A psalm of Asaph.[b]
[c]O God, the nations have invaded your heritage;
they have profaned your holy temple
and turned Jerusalem into a heap of ruins.
2 They have given the corpses of your servants
as food to the birds of the air,
the flesh of your saints
to the beasts of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and no one is left to bury them.[d]
4 We have become the scorn of our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.[e]
5 [f]How long, O Lord?[g] Will you be angry forever?
How long will your rage continue to blaze like a fire?
6 [h]Pour out your wrath on the nations
that refuse to acknowledge you,
on the kingdoms
that fail to call on your name.[i]
7 For they have devoured Jacob
and ravaged his homeland.
8 Do not hold against us the sins of our ancestors;
let your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate straits.[j]
9 [k]Help us, O God, our Savior,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us and wipe away our sins
for your name’s sake.[l]
10 Why should the nations ask,
“Where is their God?”
Before our eyes make it clearly known among those nations
that you avenge[m] the blood of your servants.
11 Let the groans of the captives come before you;
through your great power
save those who have been sentenced to death.[n]
12 Repay our neighbors sevenfold[o] in their breasts, O Lord,
for the insults with which they taunted you.
13 Then we, your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will offer thanks to you[p] forever;
from generation to generation
we will proclaim your praise.
- Psalm 79:1 In this poem the psalmist is speaking of the darkest days of Israel’s history: in 587 B.C., the Chaldeans captured and sacked Jerusalem; the neighboring Moabites and Edomites then attacked them as they were in their death-throes. Israel is aware now that it deserved to be punished for its infidelities, and it appeals to God’s mercy. In this lamentation, the distress of the oppressed calls upon the Lord for redress. The pagans dishonor the divine name; this is tantamount to a defeat for the Lord. In avenging his own, God must first save his honor in the eyes of the world, and his people will be grateful to him. Such is the theme of this national lamentation.
Must vengeance be paid back seven times (i.e., in full measure) upon one’s neighbors? Christ has told us to pardon seventy times seven (Mt 18:22)—so we cannot take this psalm literally. Still it remains a poignant appeal to God’s mercy, an act of faith in the Lord when everything seems to be collapsing around us. We do not demand the total destruction of our enemies but a salutary punishment, in keeping with the divine justice, which brings evildoers low in order to pardon and save them.
- Psalm 79:1 Asaph: see notes on Pss 73–89.
- Psalm 79:1 God’s city and temple have been desecrated and so have his worshipers, whose dead bodies have been left unburied. Saints: see note on Ps 16:3.
- Psalm 79:3 They have given . . . the flesh . . . to bury them: these verses are cited freely in 1 Mac 7:17 in application to the massacre of sixty pious Jews in Jerusalem during the Maccabean wars.
- Psalm 79:4 A secular hostility opposed Israel to its neighbors, as is shown by the oracles of the Prophets against the nations (see Lam 3:45; Zep 2:8).
- Psalm 79:5 The divine justice cannot remain inactive in the case of such wickedness, which calls out for retribution.
- Psalm 79:5 How long . . . ?: see note on Ps 6:4. Rage: i.e., a jealous rage (see Ps 119:139; Nah 1:2). Blaze like a fire: see Deut 4:24; 6:15; Zep 1:18; 3:8.
- Psalm 79:6 Cited in Jer 10:25. Concerning the call for redress, see note on Ps 5:11.
- Psalm 79:6 See notes on Pss 5:11; 35.
- Psalm 79:8 The exiles beg God to show mercy on them and not hold the sins of their ancestors against them (see 2 Ki 17:7-23; 23:26f; 24:3f; Dan 9:4-14).
- Psalm 79:9 The psalmist beseeches God to pardon Israel for his name’s sake so that the Most High may no longer be dishonored and blasphemed by the nations. Then the People of God will praise him from generation to generation.
- Psalm 79:9 The divine pardon is always gratuitous; it is the effect of his mercy and love (see Ps 78:38; Ezek 20:44; 36:22; see also note on Ps 65:4).
- Psalm 79:10 You avenge: God is the avenger of blood in Israel (see Pss 18:48; 19:15; 58:11f; 94:1; 149:7; Deut 32:43).
- Psalm 79:11 Captives . . . those who have been sentenced to death: literally, “the sons of death,” i.e., the exiles in Babylonia (see Ps 102:21) who are under threat of death if they seek to escape.
- Psalm 79:12 Sevenfold: a symbolic phrase meaning fullness or superabundance (see Ps 12:7; Gen 4:24; Lev 26:21).
- Psalm 79:13 Offer thanks to you: see note on Ps 7:18.