The Word Made Fresh
(A psalm of Asaph.)
1God, foreign nations have entered the land of your inheritance,
polluted your sacred temple and reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
2They have thrown out the bodies of your servants as food for the birds.
The flesh of your faithful ones have been fed to the wild animals.
3Their blood has been poured like water in the streets of Jerusalem,
for there was no one to bury them.
4Now our neighbors taunt us.
They ridicule us and make fun of us.
5How long will you be angry with us, LORD? Forever?
Will your hostility toward us continue to burn?
6Be angry instead with the nations that don’t know you,
and the kingdoms that never call on your name.
7Foreigners have destroyed Jacob.
They have laid waste to our homeland.
8Don’t blame us for the sins of our ancestors.
Have compassion for us, and hurry to our side to help us
because we have been thrown down and are helpless.
9O God, you are our only salvation. Help us!
For your name’s sake, come to our rescue.
10Why allow the other nations to ask, “Where is their God?”
Avenge the blood of your people
so that we can see with our own eyes their punishment.
11Let the cries of those who were taken as prisoners reach you,
and by your power rescue those who are condemned to die.
12Punish our neighbors who are our foes seven times
for the way they have made fun of and taunted you, LORD!
13Then we your people, the flock of your own pasture,
will be grateful to you forever,
and will praise you from generation to generation.
Superscription: the 8th “psalm of Asaph.”
1-4: The background of the psalm seems again to be the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. even though Asaph was a priest in the time of David, hundreds of years before. The idea that Israel – the people and the land – are God’s “inheritance” is expressed in Psalm 78:71 and here in verse 1. We will see it again in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah (see, for example, Jeremiah 16:18). These verses give us a graphic description of the awful treatment the people suffered.
5-7: The destruction of Jerusalem is still fresh enough in the memory of the psalmist that he seeks revenge on “the nations that do not know” God.
8-10: In this time of national crisis, it is acknowledged that there is sin to blame. The psalmist asks that their sins be forgiven, and that the sins of their ancestors not be counted against them.
11-13: God is often pictured as a God who hears the cries of the oppressed, beginning with the story of God hearing the blood of Abel crying out from the ground (Genesis 4:10). The psalmist appeals to that part of God’s nature, begging God to listen to the groans of the prisoners being led to the slaughter. The psalm ends with the familiar promise that God will be praised forever.
One lesson from these psalms that describe terrible situations for the people of Jerusalem is that we should never shrink from calling on God to rescue us in times of trouble. God grant that we never have to suffer the kind of destruction and death that war brings, described here and in other psalms, but all of us have faced or will face situations in life that leave us feeling helpless. For people of faith, that simply means we can lean on God to bring help for us.