Psalm 79

Psalm 79
A psalm of Asaph.

(1)O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
(2)They have left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.
(3)They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead.
(4)We are objects of contempt to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us.

(5)How long, LORD? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
(6)Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name;
(7)for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his homeland.

(8)Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.
(9)Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name's sake.
(10)Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"

Before our eyes, make known among the nations that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.
(11)May the groans of the prisoners come before you; with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.
(12)Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.
(13)Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.

Psalm 79 is titled: How Long, O LORD? (ESV); A Dirge and a Prayer for Israel, Destroyed by Enemies (NKJV); Faith amid Confusion (HCSB); Grieving over the Destruction of Jerusalem, and Prayer for Help (NASB2020).

A Psalm of Asaph: Asaph was the director of worship during David and Solomon’s time. He was a singer, a leader, a poet, and a prophet. Scholars believe that because of the historical context this Asaph was actually a “son of” or “in the line of” the original Asaph. Although there are still some who believe that this was written as prophecy by the original Asaph, “the seer.”

Bible scholars believe the setting of great devastation to Jerusalem is the Babylonian exile and destruction of the city by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean army in 586 BC, although the conflicts began in 598 BC. Sometimes the people are referred to as Babylonians, sometimes Chaldeans. The word “Chaldean” refers to the ancient tribe of people; the word “Babylonian” calls the same people by the place they ruled. The ancient Chaldeans took Babylonia from the Assyrians in 620 BC and ruled that portion of Mesopotamia until 538 BC when the Persians conquered the ancient world. King Cyrus (or Cyrus the Great) of the Persians was the one to end the Babylonian Exile of the Israelites and begin restoration of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

Psalm 79 is titled A Psalm of Asaph, though it was clearly written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies. This event was so traumatic and important in the scope of Jewish history that it is described four times in the Hebrew Scriptures: 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36:11-21, Jeremiah 39:1-14, and Jeremiah 52. Since the Asaph most prominent in the Old Testament lived and served during the reigns of King David and King Solomon, this is likely a later Asaph.

David Guzik, pastor,
O God, pagan nations have conquered your land, your special possession. They have defiled your holy Temple and made Jerusalem a heap of ruins. They have left the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of heaven. The flesh of your godly ones has become food for the wild animals. Blood has flowed like water all around Jerusalem; no one is left to bury the dead. We are mocked by our neighbors, an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
Psalm 79:1-4 NLT

Asaph opens his song by painting a picture of brutal destruction and loss of life and home. Jerusalem was God’s Holy Land. The Promised Land of His people. The people of Israel were His beloved people; the people of His inheritance; His children. Not only had things been destroyed, sacred things, but God’s beloved children were left to die in the streets like animals.

These verses are part of why scholars believe this song was written during the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem. If people were left to die and bodies were in the street, then it is because everyone else was dragged away as prisoners or hiding in desperate fear for their lives.

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.

Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892

Asaph calls upon God the defender of His people. Does He not care that His children did not receive proper burial? Does He not care that unbelievers have defiled His temple? Will He do nothing to help, even neighboring countries are laughing at them… “See, where is your God now?” “Can your God not defend you, Jerusalem?”

O LORD, how long will you be angry with us? Forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you--on kingdoms that do not call upon your name. For they have devoured your people Israel, making the land a desolate wilderness. Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors! Let your compassion quickly meet our needs, for we are on the brink of despair.

Help us, O God of our salvation! Help us for the glory of your name. Save us and forgive our sins for the honor of your name. Why should pagan nations be allowed to scoff, asking, "Where is their God?" Show us your vengeance against the nations, for they have spilled the blood of your servants. Listen to the moaning of the prisoners. Demonstrate your great power by saving those condemned to die.

O Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times for the scorn they have hurled at you.
Psalm 79:5-12 NLT

Sometimes trials and suffering make believers question God’s existence. Asaph did not question God’s sovereignty. He believes and He knows that God will act. His questions is: how long?

How long, LORD: In the midst of the catastrophe of the conquest of Judah and Jerusalem, Asaph asked the question that many sufferers among God’s people ask. How long does not question the why of suffering, but in faith asks the when of suffering, and if it will last forever.

David Guzik, pastor,

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived during this time. God told him that this would happen, and He even told Jeremiah how long. God loves His children even during times of discipline. This had to happen, but God, the loving Father that He is, wouldn’t allow His children to suffer without some understanding.

Unfortunately, the people did not heed his warning. The book of Lamentations holds songs written during this time. Jewish tradition tells us that this is also Jeremiah’s book (along with the books of Jeremiah and the Kings).

As you summon to a feast day, so you summoned against me terrors on every side. In the day of the LORD's anger no one escaped or survived; those I cared for and reared, my enemy has destroyed.
Lamentations 2:22 NIV

Then these refreshing words from Jeremiah written during these terrible, hopeless times. You may recognize them…

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Lamentations 3:21-26 NIV

Even during suffering, God is good. Do you see God in your suffering? Do you find God in your grief?

Asaph speaks on behalf of all of God’s children in this psalm. He prays humbly and admits sin and failure. He prays for God’s mercy. He pleads for forgiveness.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins, for Your name's sake!
Psalm 79:9 NKJV

Pastor David Guzik in his blog ( points out that the temple is destroyed; i.e. the avenue for the Jewish people to provide the sin sacrifice is gone. They could not do it. They did not have the ability to just call out to God for forgiveness because of Jesus’s sacrifice like we can. Instead, Asaph calls upon God to “provide atonement for our sins.” God had done that before…He would do it again in a mighty way:

And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together. 
Then they came to the place of which God told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 
But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" 
So he said, "Here I am."
And He said, "Do not lay your on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a ticket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
Genesis 22:8-14 NKJV

The-LORD-Will-Provide. In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John 1:29 NKJV

The Word of God is one long beautifully connected story, and the more we study it, the more God will reveal little nuggets of His plan and His Truth like this one. God provided for Abraham, the Israelites knew this and spoke of it often. In this psalm, Asaph reminded God of this promise, to help them provide the appropriate offering for their sins and therefore be free of the punishment afflicted upon them. Nearly six centuries later, the Lord would provide another sacrifice–His son.

So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations. 
Psalm 79:13 NKJV

After praying for rescue, protection, and vengeance, Asaph ended this psalm with grateful dependence upon God. He properly recognized God’s place as shepherd over His people and sheep.

David Guzik, pastor,

We have a history which shall survive all other records, and it is bright in every line with the glory of the Lord. From the direst calamities God’s glory springs, and the darkest days of his people become the prelude to unusual displays of the Lord’s love and power.

Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892

Everything that the nation of Israel had was broken and lost; their beloved city and temple, their nationality, their communities, their traditions and worship of the Lord. They were exiled, abandoned, alone.

But the story doesn’t end, does it. Thankfully not. The books of Daniel and Esther are beautiful stories of believers–God’s children–living in dedication to the Lord despite their captivity. They were never abandoned. He was with them in captivity. He is still with us, even in our darkest days.

Father in heaven, thank you that you walk with us during difficult times and during good times. Thank you for your Word and that you reveal nuggets of truth and wisdom whenever we read it and study it. Thank you that you did not abandon your children in Babylon, that the story did not end there. Thank you for sending Jesus as the atonement for our sins. Thank you for His sacrifice. Thank you for your great love and forgiveness. Give us strength and peace and hope today.


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