Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 79
on the Whole Bible
This psalm, if penned with any particular event in view, is with most
probability made to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the
temple, and the woeful havoc made of the Jewish nation by the Chaldeans
under Nebuchadnezzar. It is set to the same tune, as I may say, with
the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and that weeping prophet borrows two
verses out of it
and makes use of them in his prayer,
Some think it was penned long before by the spirit of prophecy,
prepared for the use of the church in that cloudy and dark day. Others
think that it was penned then by the spirit of prayer, either by a
prophet named Asaph or by some other prophet for the sons of Asaph.
Whatever the particular occasion was, we have here,
I. A representation of the very deplorable condition that the people of
God were in at this time,
II. A petition to God for succour and relief, that their enemies might
be reckoned with
that their sins might be pardoned
and that they might be delivered,
III. A plea taken from the readiness of his people to praise him,
In times of the church's peace and prosperity this psalm may, in the
singing of it, give us occasion to bless God that we are not thus
trampled on and insulted. But it is especially seasonable in a day of
treading down and perplexity, for the exciting of our desires towards
God and the encouragement of our faith in him as the church's
A psalm of Asaph.
1 O God, the heathen are come into thine
inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid
Jerusalem on heaps.
2 The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat
unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the
beasts of the earth.
3 Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem;
and there was none to bury them.
4 We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and
derision to them that are round about us.
5 How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy
jealousy burn like fire?
We have here a sad complaint exhibited in the court of heaven. The
world is full of complaints, and so is the church too, for it suffers,
not only with it, but from it, as a lily among thorns. God is
complained to; whither should children go with their grievances, but to
their father, to such a father as is able and willing to help? The
heathen are complained of, who, being themselves aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel, were sworn enemies to it. Though they knew not
God, nor owned him, yet, God having them in chain, the church very
fitly appeals to him against them; for he is King of nations, to
overrule them, to judge among the heathen, and King of saints, to
favour and protect them.
I. They complain here of the anger of their enemies and the outrageous
fury of the oppressor, exerted,
1. Against places,
They did all the mischief they could,
(1.) To the holy land; they invaded that, and made inroads into it:
"The heathen have come into thy inheritance, to plunder that,
and lay it waste." Canaan was dearer to the pious Israelites as it was
God's inheritance than as it was their own, as it was the land in which
God was known and his name was great rather than as it was the land in
which they were bred and born and which they and their ancestors had
been long in possession of. Note, Injuries done to religion should
grieve us more than even those done to common right, nay, to our own
right. We should better bear to see our own inheritance wasted than
God's inheritance. This psalmist had mentioned it in the foregoing
psalm as an instance of God's great favour to Israel that he had
cast out the heathen before them,
But see what a change sin made; now the heathen are suffered to pour in
(2.) To the holy city: They have laid Jerusalem on heaps, heaps
of rubbish, such heaps as are raised over graves, so some. The
inhabitants were buried in the ruins of their own houses, and their
dwelling places became their sepulchres, their long homes.
(3.) To the holy house. That sanctuary which God had built like high
palaces, and which was thought to be established as the earth, was now
laid level with the ground: They holy temple have they defiled,
by entering into it and laying it waste. God's own people had defiled
it by their sins, and therefore God suffered their enemies to defile it
by their insolence.
2. Against persons, against the bodies of God's people; and further
their malice could not reach.
(1.) They were prodigal of their blood, and killed them without mercy;
their eye did not spare, nor did they give any quarter
Their blood have they shed like water, wherever they met with
them, round about Jerusalem, in all the avenues to the city;
whoever went out or came in was waited for of the sword.
Abundance of human blood was shed, so that the channels of water ran
with blood. And they shed it with no more reluctancy or regret than if
they had spilt so much water, little thinking that every drop of it
will be reckoned for in the day when God shall make inquisition for
(2.) They were abusive to their dead bodies. When they had killed them
they would let none bury them. Nay, those that were buried, even the
dead bodies of God's servants, the flesh of his saints, whose
names and memories they had a particular spite at, they dug up again,
and gave them to be meat to the fowls of the heaven and to the
beasts of the earth; or, at least, they left those so exposed whom
they slew; they hung them in chains, which was in a particular manner
grievous to the Jews to see, because God had given them an express law
against this, as a barbarous thing,
This inhuman usage of Christ's witnesses is foretold
and thus even the dead bodies were witnesses against their persecutors.
This is mentioned (says Austin, De Civitate Dei, lib. 1
cap. 12) not as an instance of the misery of the persecuted (for
the bodies of the saints shall rise in glory, however they became meat
to the birds and the fowls), but of the malice of the persecutors.
3. Against their names
"We that survive have become a reproach to our neighbours; they
all study to abuse us and load us with contempt, and represent us as
ridiculous, or odious, or both, upbraiding us with our sins and with
our sufferings, or giving the lie to our relation to God and
expectations from him; so that we have become a scorn and derision
to those that are round about us." If God's professing people
degenerate from what themselves and their fathers were, they must
expect to be told of it; and it is well if a just reproach will help to
bring us to a true repentance. But it has been the lot of the
gospel-Israel to be made unjustly a reproach and derision; the apostles
themselves were counted as the offscouring of all things.
II. They wonder more at God's anger,
This they discern in the anger of their neighbours, and this they
complain most of: How long, Lord, wilt thou be angry? Shall it
be for ever? This intimates that they desired no more than that
God would be reconciled to them, that his anger might be turned away,
and then the remainder of men's wrath would be restrained. Note, Those
who desire God's favour as better than life cannot but dread and
deprecate his wrath as worse than death.
|Petitions for Succor and Relief; Petitions for Deliverance.
6 Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee,
and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling
8 O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender
mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name:
and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake.
10 Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let
him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of
the blood of thy servants which is shed.
11 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according
to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are
appointed to die;
12 And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom
their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.
13 So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee
thanks for ever: we will show forth thy praise to all
The petitions here put up to God are very suitable to the present
distresses of the church, and they have pleas to enforce them,
interwoven with them, taken mostly from God's honour.
I. They pray that God would so turn away his anger from them as to turn
it upon those that persecuted and abused them
"Pour out thy wrath, the full vials of it, upon the
heathen; let them wring out the dregs of it, and drink them." This
prayer is in effect a prophecy, in which the wrath of God is
revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of
men. Observe here,
1. The character of those he prays against; they are such as have not
known God, nor called upon his name. The reason why men do not call
upon God is because they do not know him, how able and willing he is to
help them. Those that persist in ignorance of God, and neglect of
prayer, are the ungodly, who live without God in the world.
There are kingdoms that know not God and obey not the gospel, but
neither their multitude nor their force united will secure them from
his just judgments.
2. Their crime: They have devoured Jacob,
That is crime enough in the account of him who reckons that those who
touch his people touch the apple of his eye. They have not only
disturbed, but devoured, Jacob, not only encroached upon his dwelling
place, the land of Canaan, but laid it waste by plundering and
(3.) Their condemnation: "Pour out thy wrath upon them; do not
only restrain them from doing further mischief, but reckon with them
for the mischief they have done."
II. They pray for the pardon of sin, which they own to be the procuring
cause of all their calamities. How unrighteous soever men were, God was
righteous in permitting them to do what they did. They pray,
1. That God would not remember against them their former
either their own former iniquities, that now, when they were old, they
might not be made to possess the iniquities of their youth, or the
former iniquities of their people, the sins of their ancestors. In the
captivity of Babylon former iniquities were brought to account; but God
promises not again to do so
and so they pray, "Remember not against us our first sins," which some
make to look as far back as the golden calf, because God said, In
the day when I visit I will visit for this sin of theirs upon
If the children by repentance and reformation cut off the entail of the
parents' sin, they may in faith pray that God will not remember them
against them. When God pardons sin he blots it out and remembers it
2. That he would purge away the sins they had been lately guilty of, by
the guilt of which their minds and consciences had been defiled:
Deliver us, and purge away our sins,
Then deliverances from trouble are granted in love, and are mercies
indeed, when they are grounded upon the pardon of sin and flow from
that; we should therefore be more earnest with God in prayer for the
removal of our sins than for the removal of our afflictions, and the
pardon of them is the foundation and sweetness of our deliverances.
III. They pray that God would work deliverance for them, and bring
their troubles to a good end and that speedily: Let thy tender
mercies speedily prevent us,
They had no hopes but from God's mercies, his tender mercies; their
case was so deplorable that they looked upon themselves as the proper
objects of divine compassion, and so near to desperate that, unless
divine mercy did speedily interpose to prevent their ruin, they were
undone. This whets their importunity: "Lord, help us; Lord, deliver
us; help us under our troubles, that we may bear them well; help us
out of our troubles, that the spirit may not fail. Deliver us from sin,
from sinking." Three things they plead:--
1. The great distress they were reduced to: "We are brought very
low, and, being low, shall be lost if thou help us not." The lower
we are brought the more need we have of help from heaven and the more
will divine power be magnified in raising us up.
2. Their dependence upon him: "Thou art the God of our
salvation, who alone canst help. Salvation belongs to the
Lord, from whom we expect help; for in the Lord alone is the
salvation of his people." Those who make God the God of their
salvation shall find him so.
3. The interest of his own honour in their case. They plead no merit of
theirs; they pretend to none; but, "Help us for the glory of thy
name; pardon us for thy name's sake." The best encouragements in
prayer are those that are taken from God only, and those things whereby
he has made himself known. Two things are insinuated in this plea:--
(1.) That God's name and honour would be greatly injured if he did not
deliver them; for those that derided them blasphemed God, as if he were
weak and could not help them, or had withdrawn and would not; therefore
"Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? He has
forsaken them, and forgotten them; and this they get by worshipping a
God whom they cannot see." (Nil præter nubes et cœli
numen adorant. Juv.--They adore no other divinity than the
clouds and the sky.) That which was their praise (that they served
a God that is every where) was now turned to their reproach and his
too, as if they served a God that is nowhere. "Lord," say they, "Make
it to appear that thou art by making it to appear that thou art with us
and for us, that when we are asked, Where is your God? we may be
able to say, He is nigh unto us in all that which we call upon him for,
and you see he is so by what he does for us."
(2.) That God's name and honour would be greatly advanced if he did
deliver them; his mercy would be glorified in delivering those that
were so miserable and helpless. By making bare his everlasting arm on
their behalf he would make unto himself an everlasting name; and their
deliverance would be a type and figure of the great salvation, which in
the fulness of time Messiah the Prince would work out, to the glory of
IV. They pray that God would avenge them on their adversaries,
1. For their cruelty and barbarity
"Let the avenging of our blood" (according to the ancient law,
"be known among the heathen; let them be made sensible that what
judgments are brought upon them are punishments of the wrong they have
done to us; let this be in our sight, and by this means let God be
known among the heathen as the God to whom vengeance belongs
and the God that espouses his people's cause." Those that have
intoxicated themselves with the blood of the saints shall have blood
given them to drink, for they are worthy.
2. For their insolence and scorn
"Render to them their reproach. The indignities which by word
and deed they have done to the people of God himself and his name let
them be repaid to them with interest." The reproach wherewith men have
reproached us only we must leave it to God whether he will render to
them or no, and must pray that he would for give them; but the reproach
wherewith they have blasphemed God himself we may in faith pray that
God would render seven-fold into their bosoms, so as to strike at their
hearts, to humble them, and bring them to repentance. This prayer is a
prophecy, of the same import with that of Enoch, that God will convince
sinners of all their hard speeches which they have spoken against him
and will return them into their own bosoms by everlasting terrors at
the remembrance of them.
V. They pray that God would find out a way for the rescue of his poor
prisoners, especially the condemned prisoners,
The case of their brethren who had fallen into the hands of the enemy
was very sad; they were kept close prisoners, and, because they durst
not be heard to bemoan themselves, they vented their griefs in deep and
silent sighs. All their breathing was sighing, and so was their
praying. They were appointed to die, as sheep for the slaughter, and
had received the sentence of death within themselves. This deplorable
case the psalmist recommends,
1. To the divine pity: "Let their sighs come up before thee, and
be thou pleased to take cognizance of their moans."
2. To the divine power: "According to the greatness of thy arm,
which no creature can contest with, preserve thou those that are
appointed to die from the death to which they are appointed." Man's
extremity is God's opportunity to appear for his people. See
2 Corinthians 1:8-10.
Lastly, They promise the returns of praise for the answers of
So we will give thee thanks for ever. Observe,
1. How they please themselves with their relation to God. "Though we
are oppressed and brought low, yet we are the sheep of thy pasture, not
disowned and cast off by thee for all this: We are thine; save
2. How they promise themselves an opportunity of praising God for their
deliverance, which they therefore desired, and would bid
welcome, because it would furnish them with matter for thanksgiving and
put their hearts in tune for that excellent work, the work of heaven.
3. How they oblige themselves not only to give God thanks at present,
but to show forth his praise unto all generations, that is, to
do all they could both to perpetuate the remembrance of God's favours
to them and to engage their posterity to keep up the work of praise.
4. How they plead this with God: "Lord, appear for us against our
enemies; for, if they get the better, they will blaspheme thee
but, if we be delivered, we will praise thee. Lord, we are that people
of thine which thou hast formed for thyself, to show forth thy
praise; if we be cut off, whence shall that rent, that tribute, be
raised?" Note, Those lives that are entirely devoted to God's praise
are assuredly taken under his protection.