2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79
ON THE FACE OF IT, PSALM 79 depicts the outrage bound up with the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Before we reflect on a few of its themes, we should pause to ask how both Psalm 78 and Psalm 79 can purport to come from Asaph. Psalm 78 was clearly written at the beginning of the Davidic dynasty; Psalm 79 was apparently written four-and-a-half centuries later, at the destruction of Jerusalem. So how can they both be psalms of Asaph? The Asaph we know was a contemporary of David.
The best guess is that the dozen psalms attributed to Asaph were variously written either by him or by the choir he founded. Just as some psalms are attributed to “the sons of Korah” (presumably another musical foundation), so also in this case.
Here Asaph does not question the justice of God’s burning “jealousy” (Ps. 79:5), but (as in Ps. 74; see meditation for September 23) its duration: “How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever?” (Ps. 79:5). Note how some of Asaph’s themes mesh with what we find in the prophets.
(1) “Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name” (Ps. 79:6). But the major prophets insist, as we have repeatedly seen, that the pagan nations will also be held accountable by God. They are not given a free pass. Meanwhile believers should always recall God’s words to his people through Amos (Amos 3:2): “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins” (italics added). In a world under the curse, Christians too must grasp that punishment that steers us back toward repentance can only be a good thing (cf. Heb. 12:4-13).
(2) “Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers” (Ps. 79:8): review Ezekiel 18 (see meditation for September 15).
(3) “[M]ay your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (Ps. 79:8). Such a plea simultaneously asks for the only help that can save us, and reflects the attitude of dependence and trust so utterly lacking in the defiant rebellion and self-reliance that brought down the judgment in the first place.
(4) “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake” (Ps. 79:9). Once again there is no attempt to whitewash the sins. The appeal is to God’s glory, so that pagan nations will not conclude that God is too weak or fickle to save his people (Ps. 79:10). How much of the driving force behind contemporary evangelical praying is motivated by a passion for the glory of God?