Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Today we look at Psalm 79, a wrenching lament for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. A hundred years earlier, when the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem, God protected the city and sent the invaders packing. So the people concluded that they lived in God’s special city with God’s special temple, and that God would provide special protection forever.
The Babylonians, however, ran their cruel army right through the heart of that theory. Listen to the poet’s prayer:
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple,
they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
They have left the dead bodies of your servants
as food for the birds of the sky,
the flesh of your people for the animals of the wild (v. 1-2).
The poet implicates God in the disaster, pointing out that God failed to look after his people and his property and his religion.
The poet also blames Israel for the disaster, saying to God,
Do not hold against us the sins of past generations;
may your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate need.
…deliver us and forgive our sins (v. 8, 9c).
The poet believes that sin in generation after generation contributed to Israel’s great disaster. He asks God to forgive the sins, and to stop the generational consequences. Tellingly, he includes himself among the sinners as he says, “Forgive our sins.”
The poet also blames Babylon, and pleads to God to take measureless vengeance on that nation. He says,
Before our eyes, make known among the nations
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.
Pay back into the laps of our neighbours seven times
the contempt they hurled at you (vv. 11-12).
Like the United States after 9/11, the poet had a deep feeling that the destruction should be avenged, quickly, purposefully, violently, completely. He did not suggest a moderate eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth justice–he wanted God to pay back the perpetrators seven times over.
Our father, as I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace during the Covid pandemic, I am amazed by his vivid descriptions of violent battles, destroyed cities, looting peasants and soldiers, wounded and dying civilians and military as Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. Like the destruction of Jerusalem in the poet’s time, the burning of Moscow left a stench in 1812, 9/11 left a stench in New York in 2001, and America left a stench in Afghanistan and Iraq. Will it never end, Lord? Do war and vengeance go on forever?
We ask you, we expect you, to protect our country and our religion, for they are yours. But we see in this psalm your willingness to let empires rise and fall, to permit the endless suffering of war, to let even your holy places fall into ruin and decay, and to let your people suffer in the sufferings of the world.
O father, bring us to the place the poet came to in this psalm. A place where instead of planning our own vengeance, we wait for your judgement. A place where we are content to be the sheep of your pasture, and to praise you forever.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.