PSALM 79 TALK: THE GLORY OF THE FORGIVING GOD

PSALM 79 TALK: THE GLORY OF THE FORGIVING GOD

 (A Psalm that explores the horrors of God’s judgment on his peoples many sins and looks to God’s glory as the only hope for forgiveness and restoration)

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 INTRODUCTION

 I remembered recently a story I used a lot in my children and youth ministry days that explains the Gospel message so well. It tells the story of a young man who is living a life that is simply out of control. This young man comes from a loving family yet he continually disobeys his parents and does many selfish and foolish things. One night the young man decides to steal an expensive new car and as he drives the car madly that night he smashes up the car and ends up locked up by the local police.

The next morning the young man is taken before a magistrate who turns out to be his very own father. The young man admits his guilt to his father and his father passes sentence on his son and gives him the maximum penalty of the payment for the smashed car plus a $20,000 fine or he will spend the next 2 years locked up in juvenile prison.

The magistrate then takes off his court robes and goes down to the bailiff and pulls out his bank card and pays for the car and the $20,000 fine he imposed on his son setting his son free from all charges.

This what God has done for us and many of the New Testament writers call Jesus paying for our sins on the cross as the greatest expression of God’s glory as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:9.

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

 Paul makes it clear in a number of places that we are only saved from God’s wrath because of the glorious deeds of Christ on the cross, Romans 5: 9,

“Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him”.

 Psalm 79 makes an appeal to God’s glory as the grounds for his people’s forgiveness and deliverance,

“Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name deliver us and forgive our sins for your name sake”.

 This Psalm was definitely written a long time after the previous Psalm 78 as it deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians in 587BC while Psalm 78 concludes with the instillation of the Kingship of David and the setting up of the Tabernacle / eventually Temple in Jerusalem.

Yet both Psalms are said to have been written by a person named Asaph. I spoke of this problem in my introduction to Psalm 74 which I believe was written around the same time by a man named Asaph and this is what I said about the authorship of that Psalm,

“The historical bible character called Asaph lived during the reigns of David and Solomon not during the invasion of the Babylonians.

 However we read in a number of places that at the time of the return from exile around 539BC descendants of Asaph emerged taking prominent places in the worship of these returning Jews. Ezra 3: 10

 “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord as prescribed by David king of Israel”.

 One of these “Sons of Asaph” or one of their fathers probably wrote this Psalm a few years before the return from exile. This Asaph, the writer of the Psalm would have been part of a very small remnant of true believers left behind in Israel as we read in 2 Kings 25: 11 – 12,

 “Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. 12 But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields”.

The writer of this Psalm, Psalm 79 is probably the same person who wrote Psalm 74 and would then be a descendant of the original historical figure of Asaph. We cannot know this for sure but it is a plausible explanation of who this Asaph was.

The Psalm starts with a very awful description of what God did in judgment to Judah and Jerusalem in 587BC through the invasion of the Babylonians and then moves into a prayer for restoration and forgiveness for the people of Judah. The Psalm is a classic corporate lament which simply means complaint which like most Laments Psalm ends in some form of praise to God as we see in verse 13 a promise of future praise if God answers the writers request for deliverance and forgiveness.

I hope you will learn from this Psalm first the seriousness of sin in the face of God’s certain judgment. Then I hope you will see the wonderful glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins on the cross so that God’s penalty for our sins could be totally paid for and we can then be forgiven of all our sins like the young man in the story had his penalty paid by his very own father who had just given his son the maximum penalty for his crimes.

My breakdown for this Psalm is:

  1. 1 – 4 GOD’S TERRIBLE JUDGMENT OF SIN
  1. 1 – 3 The horror of God’s judgment
  2. 4       The disgrace of God’s judgment
  1. 5 – 8   A PRAYER FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS
  1. 5 – 7 A plea for God to turn away from his judgment
  2. 8       A plea for God’s forgiveness
  1. 9 – 13 FORGIVENESS AND THE GLORY OF GOD
  1. 9 – 11   Forgiveness and God’s glory
  2. 12 – 13 Judgment and praise
  1. 1 – 4 GOD’S TERRIBLE JUDGMENT OF SIN

This Psalm opens with a graphic picture of what God did to Judah and particularly its capitol Jerusalem when he chose to finally to judge his people for their many sins. We saw in Psalm 78 how Israel in the north had turned away from God and chose to worship the manmade Canaanite God’s. This involved worship prostitution and child sacrifice and in the time of King Manasseh only a couple of kings before the Babylonian invasion we read this terrible description of how bad things got in Judah, 2 Kings 21: 2 – 6,

“ He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger”.

So the full expression of the anger or wrath of God against his peoples many sins is now described in verses 1 to 4 and I have broken this first section of the Psalm into 2 parts:

  1. 1 – 3 The horror of God’s judgment
  2. 4       The disgrace of God’s judgment
  1. 1 – 3 The horror of God’s judgment

The Psalm starts with a simple but devastating description of what God’s judgment looked like in Asaph time, verse 1,

“O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble”.

So, the Nations which of course is Babylon who enlisted soldiers from the many nations they conquered to fight for them invaded Judah which the opening verse calls, your inheritance, and this is a link with the last Psalm in verse 71, which says,

“To be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance”.

God chose the tiny nation of Israel to be his special people who would be a kingdom of priests to the world, Exodus 19: 6,

“You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.

This invasion of Israel by the Babylonians then focuses on what happened in this judgment of the Nation in Jerusalem.

The other day I saw a short documentary on a recent archeological dig on part of Jerusalem that revealed the devastation the Babylonians did to Jerusalem at that time. They found badly burnt building materials and many arrowheads indicating a great battle had taken place and stated that the evidence fits perfectly what the bible describes happened to Jerusalem at that time.

Part of that biblical description goes like this, 2 Kings 25: 8 – 12,

“On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. 10 The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. 12 But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields”.

So the Temple, which represented the centre of God’s revelation to his people and through them, the world was destroyed or as Asaph put it was defiled. Allan Harmon points out that,

“The Tabernacle / Temple was intended to be a revelation of God’s holiness”.

But once the temple of the God of the bible is mixed up with false God’s worship and anti bible practices then it ceases to be a holy place that points to the God of the bible. This is part of the great sin of Israel and now Judah not only in worship practices but also in ways of living they became an anti witness to the God of the bible.

Once the Christian church moves away from the bible and its message and directives it to ceases to be a true witness to the world. Even a casual look at church history will tell you Christ church has given up the bible on many occasions and like Israel / Judah ceased to be a true witness to the God of the bible and has also suffered God’s certain judgment.

Like the church in Pergamum in the first century of the church who are spoken of in the Book of Revelation who tolerate false teaching, worship idols and who practice sins of sexual immorality and who are warned by God that if they don’t change he will come to them in judgment, Revelation 2: 14 – 16,

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth”.

In verses 2 we have an even more horrific picture of the scene in Jerusalem after the Babylonians had devastated it,

“They have given the dead bodies of your servant as food to the birds of the air, the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth”.

Way back in the book of Deuteronomy God warns his people about what would happen if they turned from his covenant and did not keep his laws and Deut. 28: 26 says this,

“Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away”.

Even the prophets like Jeremiah warned of this in Jeremiah 7: 33,

“Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away”.

But the people did not listen and even laughed off the warning of the prophets and in Jeremiah 26: 7 – 9, we read of how the people not only rejected Jeremiah’s message but sought to kill him because he dared speak it,

“The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord”.

Note also that even though the picture Asaph paints of the devastation in Jerusalem of dead bodies of the many people there, they are still called “God’s servants and even saints meaning they are still God’s people but sadly God’s people who are now suffering God’s judgment for their many sins.

The final awful picture Asaph paints in verse 3 is that of not being even able to be buried,

“They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead”.

The Babylonians would not allow what inhabitants are left in Jerusalem to bury the dead. This meant that they were left to rot in the streets a fate even worse than animals. Spurgeon simply says,

“What woe is here”.

So what does this picture of God’s devastating horror of God’s Judgment have to say to us today?

I have picked out three things:

  1. God takes sin serious
  2. Sin’s punishment is death
  3. Even Christians must take the fact of God’s judgment seriously

Lets have a quick look at what the New Testament says about each of these three things.

  1. God takes sin serious

By this I mean that God hates sin and cannot tolerate it. This is because of what God is like, he is holy as Isaiah learnt when he is brought into God’s presence in Isaiah 6: 3,

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty the whole earth is full of his glory”.

Gotquestion?org says this about the holiness of God,

“God’s holiness totally saturates his being. His holiness epitomizes his moral perfection and his absolute freedom from blemish of any kind.

Psalm 92: 15 declares,

“Proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright, he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in him”

Therefore because we all sin (Romans 3: 23) we are all separated from God as Isaiah 59: 2, says,

“But your iniquities (sins) have separated you from your God, your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear”.

This means that God must deal with sin and he does this, apart from Christ and what he has done for us, through judgment as the bible declares in a number of places like Isaiah 26: 21,

“See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood- shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer”.

 So when we read of God’s terrible day of judgment upon his peoples many sins when the Babylonians invaded Judah in 587BC we should be reminded of how serious the consequences of sin is in the eyes of the Holy God of the bible.

  1. Sin’s punishment is death

The terrible picture these opening verses of Psalm 79 present is a picture of great death and destruction. It is a picture of God’s people of that time lying around the streets of Jerusalem dead and the birds and wild animal feeding on their bodies.

Death only entered mankind’s world because of sin and rebellion to the rule of God as Genesis 3: 19b says,

“Until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return”.

 Even modern often-atheistic science says that we are made up of the basic elements of the universe, the dust of the earth as the bible puts it.

From Genesis 3 onwards we see the continuing cycle of sin and death in our world and Paul makes it clear why this is in Romans 6: 23a,

“The wages of sin is death”.

 Our sin brings only death and on a wider scale in our world the sins of the whole world bring to it death and destruction.

So when we read these opening verses of Psalm 79 we should not be surprised that Judah’s many sins brought them death and destruction.

  1. Even Christians must take the fact of God’s judgment seriously

As I have already pointed out the people of Judah and Jerusalem in the opening verses of Psalm 79 are called there,

“Your servants” or “God’s servants” (vs. 2a)

 And,

“Your Saints” or “God’s saints” (vs. 2b)

 Saints here probably means the people set aside to serve God but these people who are God’s special people as the opening verse also indicates as “God’s inheritance” are suffering God’s great judgment.

They had been given the law of God, the unique revelation of God and had been chosen to be his priests or mediators of God’s message to the world as Exodus 19: 5 – 6 says,

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Note how this reference says, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant”

Then you will have this great privileged position and job to do. However we know that for a number of generations leading up to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem the people of God did not obey him or keep his covenant. So God brought down on them his terrible judgment in the form of the successful Babylonian invasion.

We must keep this in mind as Christians as we through Christ are now God’s chosen people and a royal priesthood as Peter says in 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

Yes because of the mercy of God in Christ we should not fear the final judgment to come but Paul indicates that after we escape that final judgment there will be a judgment of kinds for Christian believers, Paul speak of this in 2 Corinthians 5: 10,

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”.

So when we read these opening verses of Psalm 79 we should remind ourselves that we have a high calling as the people of God and God will hold us to account for that high calling on the day of judgment.

  1. 4       The disgrace of God’s judgment

In verse 4 Asaph speaks of the disgrace this terrible judgment brought upon the people of that time as God used Israel in the past to judge the sinful nations around them but now they were being judged most terribly by their own God. Verse 4 says,

“We are objects of reproach to our neighbors, or scorn and derision to those around us”.

Psalm 137 verse 7, speaks of how the Edomites derided the people of Judah at that time,

“Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”

The Babylonians were famous for enlisting soldiers from nations they had conquered to fight for them and maybe some of the Edomite soldiers in the Babylonian army were there on the day Jerusalem fell to the sword and were heard saying, “Tear it down, tear it down to its foundations”.

 However Edom would face a far more thorough and permanent judgment as the Book of Lamentations records, Lam. 4: 22,

 “Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion; he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom, and expose your wickedness.”

This scoffing and derision of Judah / Israel at this time goes even deeper than a national disgrace as it would have most certainly would have been an attack on the God of Judah/ Israel as well, as James Coffman points out in his commentary on this verse and verse 10 and the words in that verse,

“Where is their God”

“The object of the taunting neighbors was to claim a triumph over the God of Israel. Among all the nations of antiquity, any disaster that overcame a people always considered as proof that the God or gods worshipped by that people had no power to protect them”.

Even today when noted Christians fail to live up to the high calling they profess to have those who oppose the Christian faith use that as a way of saying how can they still say that God really exists when his so called followers do that kind of thing.

I think that many active atheists today are people who as a child have been victims of negative witness of supposed followers of God in some form or another.

Jesus warned his followers about the danger of false witness particularly when it effects children on a number of occasions and I refer here to just one instance of this in Matthew 18: 6,

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Israel in the north and now Judah in the south were both judged by God because they had failed to live up to their high calling as I mentioned earlier is stated in Exodus 19: 6,

“You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.

God had warned them right from the start how he would judge them harshly if they turned away fro him to other God’s and failed to keep his covenantal laws. In the end the message to the nations would be that the God of Israel or as I call him the God of the bible judges sin even the sins of his own special people.

Interestingly way back in the time of Moses what actually happened in the great judgment of the people of Judah and Jerusalem was spoken about, recorded in Deuteronomy 29: 24 – 28,

“All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

So the Christian church today must take this teaching of how God deals with not following God and his word seriously as we too could find ourselves being used as an example to non believers of how God hates disobedience and sin even in the lives of his own people like he did long ago to Israel and Judah.

  1. 5 – 8   A PRAYER FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS

Asaph Psalm 79 then changes from a description of God’s judgment on Judah particularly Judah in 587BC to a desperate prayer for forgiveness for the people of that time. I have broken the first part of this prayer into two parts as well:

  1. 5 – 7 A plea for God to turn away from his judgment
  2. 8       A plea for God’s forgiveness
  1. 5 – 7 A plea for God to turn away from his judgment

Tremper Longman 111 points out that this prayer of Asaph uses two words, “How Long” used in prayers in the Psalms some 10 times (Psalm 4: 2 – 3, 6: 3, 13: 1 – 2, 35: 17, 62: 2, 74: 10, 80: 4, 89: 46, 90: 3 and 119: 84). He goes on to say that this,

“Indicates that the sufferer has been long in his pain and sees no terminus in sight”

So lets look at the start of this prayer which I see is asking for God to turn away from his anger or judgment and judge those who are being used to judge them.

Verse 5 starts this prayer with the words,

“How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?”

So this is the opening words of Asaph prayer, which actually uses the words, “How long” twice. Is asking how long will this terrible judgment on Judah and Jerusalem last. He knows God will stop the judgment of his people but he wants to know when will it end and how long do he and the people left alive have to endure it.

This is a very real prayer I’m sure we all have prayed at one time or another. When we are suffering from some kind of illness we might pray how long will we have to endure this before we have good health again.

Or we might have to endure some kind of persecution from someone or from a group of people and we might pray during that time, How long will we have to endure this.

I can remember when I was a young man I worked for a large Australian Insurance Company and for nearly two years before I left that work to study in a Bible College I suffered continual persecution from many of my non-believing workmates. He suffering this persecution caused me seemed to go on for a long time but it was only a very short period of time in the scheme of my life since then.

We can take to heart and be encouraged by the words of Peter about suffering because of our faith in Christ in 1 Peter 3: 14 – 16,

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats]; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”.

But the people in Asaph time were not suffering because what is right or for what they were doing was right but they were suffering because of their many sins and the many sins of their recent ancestors.

So the answer to the question of how long was simple as the great prophet of this time, Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 29: 10,

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.

Asaph does not seem to be aware of Jeremiah’s prophecy as either Jeremiah had not yet made this prophecy when Asaph wrote Psalm 79 or because this prophecy was made in a letter by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon and Asaph was not aware of it because he was not with the exiles in Babylon but was left with the remnant of the poor people the Babylonians had left back in Israel.

In this opening verse of the prayer Asaph certainly acknowledges why God’s judgment had come upon him and his people because he speaks of what has happened as being a product of God’s jealous burning anger against them.

This is a direct reference to words in the book of Exodus and Deuteronomy warning against turning from God to other God’s like Exodus 34: 14,

“Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”.

And Deuteronomy 11: 16 – 17b,

Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you”.

Then in verses 6 and 7 Asaph prays that God’s anger will turn on Israel / Judah’s enemies,

“Poor out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; for they have devoured Jacob and destroyed his homeland”.

 These two verses seem to be a direct quote of Jeremiah 10: 25 and many commentators ask why?

My answer to this is simple, the quote from Jeremiah 10: 25 seems to come from the early days of Jeremiah’s long ministry as a prophet and no doubt Asaph was fully aware of Jeremiah’s ministry and even words. This means that Asaph could have easily borrowed Jeremiah’s words to use in his prayer in Psalm 79.

Much of Psalm 79 seems to echo many other parts of scripture and this could mean that Asaph was a student of God’s word both from the distant past and recent past by the words of the prophets of his time, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and even not to far back, Isaiah.

All of these prophets speak of the coming judgment on even Babylon who at the time of Asaph writing seemed an unstoppable power in the world of that time.

However God will judge Babylon through the Mede’s and Persians and this will come about according to the prophet Jeremiah after 70 years of captivity in Babylon as we read in Jeremiah 25: 12 – 14,

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever.

13 I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. 14 They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

Jeremiah also speaks of this judgment on Babylon as a judgement on their God’s in Jeremiah 50: 1 – 3,

This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians:

“Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back, but say, ‘Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror.’
A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away.

However Asaph can at best only look forward to this judgment on the Babylonians because it did not take place unto 70 years of exile in Babylon had passed.

So Asaph asks “How long” will it take, not knowing Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years and also he at the time of Babylon’s devastating attack on Judah and Jerusalem sought the lord in prayer for God’s judgment to come on this powerful enemy.

Interestingly Jeremiah predicts that in 70 years or so time the people of God will seek the Lord yet again for a way back to Jerusalem and the Promised land, Jeremiah 50: 4 – 5,

“In those days, at that time,” declares the Lord, “the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the Lord their God. They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten”.

So I can picture the Jews in exile in Babylon praying prayers like Asaph is praying in Psalm 79, asking God to end their suffering in Babylon because of their previous many sins and asking God to judge their great enemy Babylon so that they could return to their God given homeland.

Asaph speaks of what the Babylonians have just done in verse 7,

“For they have devoured Jacob and destroyed his homeland”.

 Here again is the other name for Israel, Jacob the man who became known as Israel once he stopped wrestling with God and sought to God’s way (Genesis 32: 22 – 30). This very human name for the nation and its homeland appeals I think to the mercy of God who saved and used an often-rebellious man like Jacob and used him to make the great nation of Israel.

These verses bring to light yet again the issue of whether we should pray for God’s judgment to come on our enemies known in theological terms as imprecatory prayers. I have spoken many times on these in previous Psalm talks where we have come across these types of prayers.

Rather than quote myself yet again on my own views on imprecatory prayers I would like to quote part of a helpful article I found on the internet by a man named William Ross who wrote his article after the beheading of 21 Christian men by ISIS and after the continued persecution of Christians in Syria prior to his writing this article in March 2015,

Ross makes these two excellent points in his article,

First, we must recognize God’s sovereignty in acting out his own justice on evil. To be sure, until that judgment, Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to pray for them, even to bless them (Luke 6:27-28; Rom. 12:20; 1 Pet. 3:9). Jesus spoke more about love than bearing the sword (Matt. 10:34-35; Luke 12:51-53). In similar fashion, Paul instructed Christians to “bless and do not curse” our persecutors (Rom. 12:14).

 But this instruction does not prohibit calling evil what it is, and desiring that God deal with it promptly and specifically. We see this most clearly in Revelation 6:9-10 where the heavenly martyrs call out for justice and vengeance. Theirs is an intensely personal concern: they ask God to avenge “our blood upon those who dwell on earth.” It is important to note that while the heavenly martyrs are issuing a personalized imprecation, it is nevertheless divinely mediated. Their imprecation is qualified by the sovereignty and agency of God himself to answer their prayer.

 Second, we must distinguish between cursing our personal enemies ourselves (Col. 3:8) and calling upon God to curse his enemies. This distinction is evident in Romans 12:14. While Paul instructs us not to curse others, he does not prohibit asking God to pour out his justice. The distinction is subtle but important. In the former we condemn men on our own terms and make ourselves gods; in the latter we beseech the King and recognize his holiness and our finitude.

 In that sense, when making specific imprecation, we must always balance “Father, save the lost!” with “Father, pour out your wrath upon evil!” The contingency that holds together these two ideas properly submits to God’s sovereignty—his justice and mercy—without assuming that only one of the two options will bring him glory. Paul does not shy away from personal imprecation as he puts this principle to use in 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, then let him be accursed!” (cf. Gal. 1:8-9). As Christians redeemed by Christ, we can simultaneously recognize the forgiveness of our own sin and the fact that sin itself grounds our appeal for God’s judgment.

  1. 8       A plea for God’s forgiveness

Now the Psalm and Asaph prayer makes a major shift from God’s anger and judgment to God’s forgiveness and this shift is set in the light of God’s judgment in that Asaph now seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness to stop God’s judgment continuing to be upon him and his people.

Verse 8, simply says,

“Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need”.

 So this verse looks at two important biblical issues:

  1. The sins of the fathers
  2. The mercy and forgiveness of the God of the bible

Both these issues seem to echo a very important declaration of God in Exodus 34 when he passed in front of Moses at the time of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. We read this in Exodus 34: 6 – 7,

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

So in the light of these words of God in Exodus 34: 6 -7 lets have a look at these two important issues:

  1. The sins of the fathers

The second half of Exodus 34: 7, says,

“Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

This part of the verse picks up the idea of God’s attitude to those who continue to disobey God and how God reacts to that. God chooses to not overlook or leave unchecked the sins of those who rebel against him and his law and unfortunately their sinful behavior has implications for their future generations.

Sadly life bears out this truth that if ones father is a selfish evil man the likelihood of his son following his example is very strong and often that son for some reason seeks to top his fathers level of selfish evil.

This principle of continuing godlessness can and is often broken once a person in one of the generations of a family breaks this cycle which usually comes about by the amazing grace of God entering into the life of the person who turns from his fathers wicked example and goes God’s way in his life.

Once a person turns to Christ away from the example of his non-believing parents then the first part of the Exodus 34: 7 comes into play,

“Maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”.

Asaph is asking then in verse 8 for God to break his usual way of dealing with the sins of the fathers as he knows that a number of generations up to his own had turned away from God and went after other God’s instead and in doing so they had broken many other laws that God had commanded them to do.

Asaph is asking God to deal mercifully with him and his nation. He knows that in no way do they deserve God’s mercy but as we will see in the next important point of verse 8, his God, the God of the bible is also a merciful God.

  1. The mercy and forgiveness of the God of the bible

So the second important point or truth of verse 8 is expressed in the words,

“May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need”.

This I think echo’s well the first part of God’s declaration of himself in Exodus 34: 6,

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”.

Asaph knew his bible; he knew what the God of the bible was uniquely like, yes he is a holy God who hates sin and must punish it but he is also a loving God who is slow to anger and is abounding in love and faithfulness. He is a God who over and over again by his actions revealed his loving nature to his people Israel.

Israel never deserved to be saved out of Egypt yet God in his mercy and love did it miraculously for them. Israel never deserved a Promised Land yet God in compassion and love gave it to them.

Israel never deserved to be the people God who he made himself known to giving them the law and the Tabernacle / Temple in Jerusalem yet God in his abounding love and faithfulness gave it to them.

On the basis of this kind of God Asaph asks for God’s mercy to stop the terrible judgment God had brought on them and to allow them to again be blessed by God in the Land he had given them.

We as Christians have a far better understanding of the God of the bible and his amazing love for us. We have the revelation of God’s son who came into the world to save us from our sins on the cross.

Asaph says he needs God’s mercy because they were in desperate need of it. Their desperate need was because they had lost the Promised Land to the evil invaders in the form of the Babylonians. He needed it because massive numbers had been slaughtered in the streets of Jerusalem. He needed God’s mercy because thousands of his countrymen had been dragged off to exile in Babylon and only a small number of very poor people were left in a dark desolate land.

We need God’s mercy or grace because without what Christ did for us on the cross we are powerless and trapped in our sins, Romans 8: 3,

“For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering”.

 So now we come to the end of the first part of Asaph prayer for his people trapped in the awful judgment of God because of his generation and former generations great sins. From this simple request to the loving God of the bible for mercy Asaph will then move to a final request for this God of love and salvation to help him and his people and this final plea for forgiveness and salvation will be asked for to bring glory to the name of God.

  1. 9 – 13 FORGIVENESS AND THE GLORY OF GOD

So we come to this final section, which I find contains some remarkable insights into the God of the bible, how we should ask for his love and forgiveness and why we can be confident that the God of the bible will hear us and save us from our sins.

I have broken this final section into two parts as well:

  1. 9 – 11   Forgiveness and God’s glory
  2. 12 – 13 Judgment and praise
  1. 9 – 11   Forgiveness and God’s glory

I would like to look at this part in actually two sections:

  1. Forgiveness and God’s glory stated and explained
  2. Forgiveness and God’s glory applied
  1. Forgiveness and God’s glory stated and explained

We come then to what I think is both the most remarkable and most instructive verse of this Psalm verse 9.

 I would like to comment on the three great ideas this verse presents to us:

  1. The God of the bible is a saving God
  2. The God of the bible saves to bring glory to his name
  3. The God of the bible is a glorious God by name
  1. The God of the bible is a saving God

It seems either odd or remarkable that Asaph should speak of his God in his prayer as a saving God when he is in the middle of this God’s judgment on his nation.

He has told us in verses 1 – 4 what had just happened to particularly Jerusalem where the Babylonians had just raised the city to the ground and it was now a pile of ruins. He has just told us that many dead Israelites lay scattered all over the place and no one could even find time to bury them.

So how can Asaph now start praying to God for salvation calling him a saving God?

Asaph can do this because his view of God did not rely on his experiences good or bad but on what he knew about God from his word.

We have seen that already his prayer so far has echoed many well -known statements of scripture and from these he drew the idea that his God, the God of the bible was a loving, merciful and now saving God.

He knew that Israel only existed because God made them a nation through Abraham, Isaac and as he alludes to in verse 7, Jacob. He also knew that Israel only existed because God had saved her out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt.

So he calls out to God in verse 9 with the words,

“Help us, O God our Savior”.

We like Israel don’t deserve God’s love, we like Israel deserve as Paul says in Romans 6: 23, the wages of sin which is death.

But we know from the bible what our God is like because we know what John says in John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

And as Paul says in the second half of Romans 6: 23,

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Our God, the God of the bible is a saving God and he is unlike any other presentation of God in any other religion.

Other faiths, like Islam present a God of vengeance and judgment but not a God of love and there only hope is that they can do enough acceptable religious practice laid down in their holy book that will convince there God of vengeance to accept them into paradise on the great Day of Judgment.

Buddhist present a life of suffering that will not lead to God because to them he does not exist and there only thought of salvation is if they live a good life giving up worldly things and helping others who are suffering they will have a better life in their next life in the endless cycles of life.

So all other faiths teach what we must do to get right with God or how we are saved. However the Christian faith based on the message of the bible proclaims what God has done for us rather than what we can do for God. This is because the bible clearly teaches we cannot do anything to save ourselves because of our sinful nature and therefore God had to send Jesus to save us.

Bible believing Christians believe that God is a saving God and all we have to do is turn back to him and accept what he has done for us in Christ Jesus to be saved.

This is a message that runs right through the bible and here in Psalm 79 it comes up in the words of verse 9 when it says,

“Help us, O God our Savior”

  1. The God of the bible saves to bring glory to his name

Asaph shows us again he knew his bible and the concept of the glory of God particularly seen in his acts of Salvation which seeps through the whole bible and no better example of this is found in the song Moses sang after he delivered Israel out of Egypt opening up the red sea and then closing it on their Egyptian enemies. It is Exodus 15 verse 11 – 13 that Moses speaks of the glory of God particularly in contrast to, may I say other ideas about God,

“Who among the gods is like you, Lord?

Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

 12 “You stretch out your right hand, and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling”.

Note how Moses attributes this great act of the saving God as,

“Awesome in glory, working wonders”.

Asaph knew that his people did not deserve to be saved because of anything they had to offer, as they were nothing more than unworthy sinners under the justifiable judgment of God. So he appeals to his God in verse 9 to save them from this judgment in these words,

“For the glory of your name”.

He has already indicated in verse 4 how other nations viewed them,

“We are objects of reproach to our neighbours, of scorn and derision to those around us”.

And in the next verse he asks,

“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

So Asaph does not want God’s great glorious name brought down because God had to judge his generation’s sins and the sins of the generations before it.

As I said God’s glory has been linked many times with his acts of a saving God of love in the Old Testament. Isaiah a couple of generations before this prophesied of the coming Messiah and in Isaiah 40: 3 – 5 he speaks of the work of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord in verses 3 and 4,

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord ;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain”

 Then in verse 5, Isaiah speaks of the coming of the Messiah this way,

“And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Jesus embodied the glory of the Lord as he was God’s word become flesh and he glorified God when he went willingly to the cross to pay for our sins and win eternal life or shall we say eternal homeland for those who put their faith in him.

Many New Testament passages could be quoted here but here are two of my favourites,

  1. John 17: 1 – 5,

“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began”.

Note how Jesus prayed this prayer the night before his crucifixion and so he saw the way of the cross as firstly the way he brought glory to God on earth and secondly the way he would regain eternal glory for himself and all his followers.

  1. Hebrews 2: 9 -10,

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

 10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered”.

Note how in this passage the writer speaks of how Jesus gave up the glory of heaven by becoming a man and then by suffering death, death on a cross so that he might be crowned with glory and give his son’s and daughters (of faith) glory with him in heaven.

  1. The God of the bible is a glorious God by name

Finally we have the last phrase of verse 9,

“Deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

 So we have learnt so far that God’s glory is linked to his nature of being a saving God and he actually brings glory to himself when he acts in love and salvation particularly when he acted in love and salvation in the person of his son on the cross. Now we come a full circle and learn that Asaph wants God’s deliverance and forgiveness for his people to be for God’s name- sake or to glorify God.

The bible presents the concept that there is only one God but he has many names and it is said there are over 900 names and titles for God in the Old and New Testament. A Web site called “All About” says this about the names of God,

 “The Names of God used in the Bible act as a roadmap for learning about the character of God. Since the Bible is God’s Word to us, the names He chooses in scripture are meant to reveal His true nature to us”.

 Here in Psalm 79 verse 9, Asaph is praying that the God of the bible might save his people by delivering them and forgiving their sins and that this might be done to glorify the name of God.

Jesus is called many names in the New Testament and many of these names are linked to both who he is and what he did for us in saving or delivering us from death to life by saving us from our sins.

When Mary was told of how she would give birth to a special child from God by the angel Gabriel she was told some of the names Jesus will be known by and all these relate to both who he is and what he would achieve, Luke 1: 29 – 33,

“ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

So Asaph wanted his peoples salvation from the judgment of God in the guise of the Babylonian invasion and exile to glorify God’s name or character and we have seen through Jesus how God has saved us from our sins and by doing that Jesus has glorified God.

In fact Jesus is both the glory of God and the means by which God is glorified as Hebrews 1: 3 says,

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”.

 So we can conclude that the God of the bible is a glorious God by name and through us Paul says we are to do everything to glory of God, 1 Corinthians 10: 31,

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”.

Taking our lead from our Lord and Savior who did everything to glorify his Father in heaven even going to the cross where he demonstrated once and for all the great and glorious name of the God of love.

  1. Forgiveness and God’s glory applied

In verse 10 and 11 Asaph applies his desire for glory to go to God. He knows God is a glorious God and is far greater and stronger than any other supposed God of the nations around his. So the terrible defeat of his nation in that time would have led the victors and other nations who heard of it to question the power and ability of the God they believed and trusted in. So Asaph prays in verse 10a,

“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

 Victories over nations in Old Testament times and right up to the Christians era would have been seen as victories of the God’s of the victorious nation over the God or God’s of the defeated nation.

So terrible was the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians Asaph suggests other nations might have even asked, “Where is their God?”

The answer of course is he was there in judgment opening up the way for the Babylonians to have that victory. As hard as this might be to accept it is true to scripture like, Jeremiah 33: 4 – 5,

“For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness”.

So the God of the bible is a great and glorious God but as we have learnt he is a Holy God and a jealous God so when his people over a number of generations turned away from him to pursue other God’s his holiness led to his anger and judgment.

This is the amazing point I want to make hear what we see on the cross is God’s anger and judgment of sin falling on his beloved son who became sin for us so that the anger and judgment of God can be removed from us. As Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5: 21,

 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

In my introduction of spoke of the story of the young man who stole a new expensive car and smashed it up then faced his very own father the next day in court. The father, a magistrate finds his son guilty and passes on his son the maximum penalty for his crimes and then pays the penalty for his son. That’s what God has done for us and we deserve to be treated like the Jews were in Jerusalem in 587BC but God in his love has provided a way for us and that way is through the death and resurrection of his son.

So far as people asking, “Where is their God”?

This is often said today when Christians face great problems and difficulties or when some form of natural disaster kills many. The answer I think that is the best we can give to that is I don’t think God is in different to suffering when he was willing to send his very own son to this world to die for our sins on the cross.

God works in human history to bring about his judgment on sinful people but he equally works in human history to bring about his salvation and hope for the fallen world we live in.

Asaph wants God to reveal his glory through the defeat of the Babylonian enemy as he prays in verse 10,

“Before our eyes, make known among the nations that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.”

 Asaph prayer is answered but it takes 40- 50 years or so before the Babylonians are overrun by the Persian’s in 539BC led by their king named Cyrus and a few years later Persians allow Jews to return to Judah and Jerusalem. From the start of the first taking of exiles to Babylon to their return from exile is around 70 years which we have seen was predicted by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 25: 12 – 14,

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever. 13 I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. 14 They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

So as the nations heard of the defeat and destruction of Judah and particularly Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587BC they would have heard of the destruction of the defeat of Babylon and their cities destruction in 593BC. So as Asaph prayed for the avenge of the outpoured blood of God’s servants so it came to pass through the hands of the conquering Persians.

The book of Revelation has a reference to God avenging the spilt blood of Christian martyrs in Revelation 6: 5 – 11,

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Right up to this present time some Christians have been martyred for their faith in Christ like the 30 Christians beheaded in Libya by ISIS in April 2015. This will not go unnoticed by God and will be part of God’s great day of reckoning alluded to in this reference of Revelation 6.

Then we have one final verse in the application of forgiveness and God’s glory applied, verse 11,

“May the groans of the prisoners come before you; by the strength of your arm preserve those condemned to die”.

This is Asaph making a final plea for the forgiveness of God to come on his people who have been under the judgment of God for their many sins. He speaks of the groans of the prisoners, which is probably a reference to those of his countrymen dragged off in chains to exile in Babylon. These people were not locked up in Babylon but under the Babylonians they were not allowed to return to their homeland making them virtual prisoners in the land of the Babylonians.

Jesus was fully aware of his mission on earth and we see this for instance in his preaching in the Synagogue in Nazareth where he reads a small part of the prophet Isaiah and proclaims that he was full filling that prophecy today, the passage he refers to is Isaiah 61: 1 – 2 and it the Synagogue incident is recorded in Luke 4: 16 – 21,

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Note how the Isaiah passage speaks of,

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners”.

 This I believe is not speaking of letting criminals free from jail but rather as the whole passage is speaking of is a freedom from spiritual bondage, which is what the mission of Jesus, was all about.

Paul speaks of freedom from our spiritual bondage in Romans 7: 24 – 25,

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Finally Asaph asks,

“By the strength of your arm preserve those condemned to die”.

It seems at the time of writing Asaph knew of even more Israelites who the Babylonians had condemned to die and Asaph is pleading to God on their behalf. He wants God to spare these people by the mighty strong arm of the Lord. We know from the bibles historical texts like 2 Kings 25 many people lost their lives at the hands of the Babylonians and many others were forced into exile in Babylon and yet a smaller number of much poorer people were left in the now desolate land, 2 Kings 25: 11 – 12,

 “Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. 12 But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields”.

These left behind poorer people would have suffered a cruel often-deadly existence under the rule of the Babylonians left in Judah to control them. So Asaph plea for some of these people to escape death at the hands of their captives was not hard to understand.

Paul speaks of our freedom from God’s condemnation of our sin in Romans 8: 1 – 4,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because the flesh weakened it, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”.

  1. 12 – 13 Judgment and praise

I like the idea of putting these final two verses into the context of glorifying God and so verse 11 is about how the Babylonians must be punished for what they did to God’s people because they did what they did not for the glory of God but for their own glory and the glory of their false God’s.

Finally verse 13 is a promise to praise or glorify God for carrying out his judgment on Israel’s enemies. So lets look at each verse a little bit more under the headings of:

  1. God’s complete judgment on his enemies (vs. 12)
  2. God’s people promise of eternal praise (vs. 13)
  1. God’s complete judgment on his enemies (vs. 12)

I call this God’s complete judgment on his enemies because Asaph prays for God’s pay back on the Babylonians and all those who supported them to be sevenfold,

“Pay back into the laps our neighbors seven times the reproach they have hurled at you, O Lord”.

Leupold points out the significance of the number 7 mentioned here,

“Seven is the number from days of old to designate completeness of retaliation”.

He gives us the bible reference of Genesis 4: 15 to back this up,

“But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him”.

Interestingly this number seven comes up in the gospels in Matthew 18: 21 – 22, where Peter is reported to ask Jesus how many times should we forgive a brother,

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Jesus goes on to then tell Peter and those listening in the parable unmerciful servant which makes it clear that no matter how much wrong another does to us if we know the glorious forgiveness of God for all our sins then this should empower us to forgive our brothers and sisters in this life.

Psalm 79 verse 12 speaks of the power and the glory of God’s judgment on sin but Jesus speaks of a greater glory of God namely his great forgiveness of sin.

So what should characterise the New Testament believer in Christ?

The second part of verse 12 says simply,

“The reproach they have hurled at you, O Lord”.

As I have already stated the Babylonians did what they did to Judah and particularly Jerusalem not for the glory of God even though God was used them to judge his people’s many sins. No the Babylonians were working for their own glory and even worse the glory of their false Gods.

So Asaph wants God to judge this great reproach or terrible attack on his people that the Babylonians hurled at them.

Attacks on Christians today, particularly in the area of the world we call the middle east could rightfully cause us to pray the same thing to happen to those attackers who are working for the glory of their supposed God. However I don’t think this is what Jesus wants us to do or pray for.

As Jesus says clearly in Matthew 5: 43 – 44,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Jesus wants us to combat the evil our enemies hurl at us not with hate and fiery vengeance but with glorious love. He goes on to explain why we must love and pray for our enemies in verses 45 – 48,

 That you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect”.

If we meet hate and ignorant violence with hate and vengeance then we are no better than the people who attack us. Jesus wants us to know his glorious love in our lives and to show that to everyone including our enemies.

We must seek to conform to the love and glory of our great and glorious savoir Jesus Christ as Paul encourages us to do in 2 Corinthians 4: 4 – 6,

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ”.

So far as what God did concerning the prayer of judgment on the Babylonians we have Jeremiah 50: 1 -3,

“This is the word the LORD spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians: 2 “Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back, but say, ‘Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror.’ 3 A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away”.

This prophecy was for filled by the Medes and Persians, the next great super power of that time and note two things here:

Firstly the defeat and destruction of Babylon includes the supposed God’s of Babylon Bel and Marduk.

Secondly Babylon’s destruction was complete and no more would habitation be in that part of the world again.

The concept of Babylon is used in the book of Revelation as a picture of the judgment and destruction of all evil or on all those who seek to stand against and oppose God, Revelation 18: 1 – 3,

“After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendour. With a mighty voice he shouted:

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.

For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

So we as Christians need to show the world the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the love and forgiveness that flows from that and leave the judgment of God to God which we know will come in the return of Jesus Christ to this world.

  1. God’s people promise of eternal praise (vs. 13)

The final verse raps up this corporate lament as most lament Psalms do with a note of praise. This note of praise could be called giving God the glory he deserves, the verse reads like this,

“Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise”.

 The Asaph Psalms seem to feature the concept of Israel being like sheep and God being their shepherd as we have seen this concept in Psalms 78: 71 – 72, 77: 20, 74: 1 and even in the final Psalm of Asaph Psalm 83: 12. Why this is we will never know but these Psalm were written we believe by the original man known as Asaph and by some of his descendants the concept of the sheep farming of their day had much to say about how God led and protected his people.

Asaph in this Psalm sees Israel or what is left of her in Judah as the sheep of God’s pasture. God then is their shepherd and a shepherd of those days as in Jesus day cared intimately for their flocks, which were much smaller than modern flocks of sheep we have in countries like my own, Australia and our neighbours New Zealand.

Maybe Asaph and his descendants loved David’s great Psalm, Psalm 23 which expresses so well God’s special relationship with his people in the 4 verses,

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

The words in verse 4 would have held special significant application to what the people of Judah and Jerusalem went through recently before this Psalm was composed,

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

They faced truly what the Psalm calls “the darkest valley” or as other translations call it, “the valley of the shadow of death”. Just as many Christian funerals find comfort in the sad time of the death of a recent love one.

The New Testament does offer God’s comfort in any dark time of life to all true believers but note the promise of God’s protection and help is only offered to those who have come to Christ in faith as John 10: 27 – 30,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

However here in verse 13 of Psalm 79 Asaph wants God’s special people, “the sheep of your pasture” to “Praise you forever”.

 How could Asaph possibly think the people left after the devastating Babylonian invasion might praise God forever?

The answer I think to that is two fold:

  1. He wants them to praise God in the context of his judgment upon their enemies
  2. He wants them to praise God to give him the glory he deserves

Let me explain a bit further what I mean by these to reasons to praise God.

  1. He wants them to praise God in the context of his judgment upon their enemies

The key to this idea is the little word, “Then”, that starts this final verse of Psalm 79 for it links the praise Asaph wants to give God with the request to judge sevenfold the Babylonians and all those who supported them.

Sadly we see some of the Muslim extremist falling into the deadly trap of seeing themselves as agents of judgment of the God they believe in. Jesus makes this very clear in Matthew 7: 1 -2,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

Paul takes up this teaching of Jesus and makes some interesting application of it in Romans 12: 17 – 21,

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.

So the judgment business is God’s alone and anyone who seeks to take this sole right of God away from God will according to Jesus words in Matthew 7: 1,

“Will be judged”

Paul says the Christian way is to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. I have heard that many Muslims have been helped to come to Christ through Christians showing them love as this is what ultimately impresses all people the glorious love of God expressed in Christ and what he has done for us on the cross.

  1. He wants them to praise God to give him the glory he deserves

This I think is implied because of what Asaph said in verse 9,

“Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

 For Asaph and the people of his time the only hope of deliverance from the Babylonians was by the judgment of God to come upon them and then the people will have the opportunity to return to Judah and be build Jerusalem.

Which of course happened 30 or 40 years after this Psalm was written when the Persians invaded Babylon in 539BC. Then what Asaph wanted the people to do could be done, namely,

“Praise you forever”

 James Coffman points out that,

“For eighteen centuries, the Jews have recited this psalm upon the 9th day of the Jewish month Ab, commemorating the two destructions of Jerusalem (by Babylonians in 8587 B.C and by the Romans in A.D 70”).

 Hopefully they give God the glory or praise for the fall of both the Babylonian and Roman empires that made the return to the Promised Land of God possible.

I for one see greater significance in giving God the glory or praise for a far greater release from bondage, the freedom from the bondage of sin that Jesus won for us on the cross.

I offer one final New Testament reference that speaks of what Christ has done for us on the cross, why we must always look to him and why he alone deserves our endless praise and glory, Hebrews 2: 9 – 15,

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.12 He says,” I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”13 And again,” I will put my trust in him.” And again he says,” Here am I, and the children God has given me.”14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

 I close as usual with a poem and a prayer.

TO THE GLORY OF THE LORD

(Based on Psalm 79)

 

Chorus:

 

Live for the glory

The glory of the Lord

Tell the world the story

Of the glory of Lord.

 

How long must this world suffer

The anger of the Lord.

Please help your chosen people

To remain true to your word.

Forgive our many sins

And help us now to see

The glory of the Lord

In God’s mercy given free.

 

Chorus:

 

Don’t hold our sins against us

Have mercy on us Oh Lord.

Please help us Oh God our Savoir

For the glory of you O Lord

Deliver us and forgive us

Through your love

That came down through Jesus

From heaven above.

 

Chorus:

 

Why should people dare to say

Where is your God today?

Please help them to realise

That for there sins one day they’ll pay.

May our groans for peace be heard

Through your mighty arm

Lead your people on

And bring down this world’s strong.

 

Chorus:

 

May we praise your name Oh Lord

May we glorify your name above.

We are your sheep you shepherd us

As you lead us with your love.

So we praise you for your glory

Shown to us

Through the cross of Jesus

Who is the one we now trust.

 

Chorus:

 

Live for the glory

The glory of the Lord

Tell the world the story

Of the glory of Lord.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Dear father in heaven thank you for the wonderful message of your glory shown to us in the death of your dear son on the cross to save us from our sins. Help us to live to your glory as we take the message of your love to this dark and fallen world. Help us to always realise that you have promised to judge this world one day but through your great love you have provided a way for us to know your forgiveness through the giving of your son for us as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Help us now to live to the praise and glory of him forever more. In Jesus Name we pray Amen.

 

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