Psalm #79

God's Motherly Compassion


The pages of Scripture are soaked with the tears of human pain and suffering, just like our own lives.  In 587 B.C.E. the Babylonians invaded and sacked the holy city and destroyed – stone by stone – the Temple.

The scene is disturbing, not unlike many of the scenes we see on our nightly news.  Everyone spits on Jerusalem’s name and uses it as a swear          word.         The images are graphic:


        Laid in ruins

        Bodies for animal food

        Poured out blood like water

        Taunted, mocked, derided

We’ve become a joke to our neighbors,
    nothing but objects of ridicule
    and disapproval to those around us.   

The original occasion may have been the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple  but it is a paradigm for other invasions and oppressions.  This psalm has long served as a resource for the people of God:

        Quoted by early Christians in Rev. 16.6.

        Cited by Jerome in response to the invasion of Rome by the Visigoths.

        Frequently on the lips of religious martyrs of 16-17th century Europe. 

        Still read by worshipping Jews in the ninth of Ab which commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem.

        For Palestinian Christians it serves as scripture to reflect on in light of the events of 1948 and 1967.

In all these ways the psalm continues to voice the prayer of those who raise the question, ‘Why should the nations say, ‘Where is your God?’

Two issues arise from this opening:

ONE – it is important to voice what has happened whether it is the Holocaust, Rwanda, or Syria.  Voices must be allowed to speak their experience. 

TWO – more than a building was destroyed.  The core, meaning, and structure of Israel’s life was undone.  Trauma destroys our core assumptions about ourselves and the way life should be.  The mood of such a psalm-prayer is indeed, ‘disorientation.’

79.5-12        Rage and Revenge

How long will you rage, Lord? Forever?
    How long will your anger burn like fire?
Pour out your wrath on the nations
        who don’t know you,
    on the kingdoms
        that haven’t called on your name.

Two issues arise in these vs:

ONE – a plea for revenge, for Divine anger to be turned against the perpetrators.  Shame, or the loss of honour, create the need for revenge (5-7,10,12).  It is an issue of justice; injury should not go unanswered.  The argument is that the defilement of the Temple shamed God (Deut. 32.43; Jer.50.28; 51.36).  For God to act will restore balance.    

We too have feelings of revenge.  After 9/11 some Americans advocated bombing Afghanistan ‘back to the Stone Age.’        The question is, what do we do with these feelings?  Can we respond to pain without inflicting further pain?  Is ‘eye for an eye’ the only option?  The psalm does not give an answer beyond ‘taking it to the Lord in prayer.’  The request is made to God; it is now up to God to act.  How God will act is unknown.  

TWO – a plea for deliverance and forgiveness for the victims (v,.8-11). 

Don’t remember the iniquities of past generations;
    let your compassion hurry to meet us
    because we’ve been brought so low.

‘Forgive us our sins’ finds an echo in the Lord’s Prayer.  The Hebrew means to ‘cover over.’  The essence of the petition is that God reclaim the distressed and failed people by covering it over and restoring its original condition.    The people do not claim to be innocent, but having been ‘brought so low’ they appeal to God’s mercy or ‘motherly compassion’ for the lowly (vs. 9).  We remember that compassion’ – rahamim = literally, God’s motherly compassion for the word is related to the Hebrew word for ‘womb.’                                 


79.13        ‘WE WILL GIVE THANKS’

13 We are, after all, your people
    and the sheep of your very own pasture.
We will give you thanks forever;
    we will proclaim your praises
    from one generation to the next.  


The people affirm that they will always be grateful for God’s compassion and that they will witness to God’s praiseworthy deeds.  A remarkable promise!  But biblical faith is remarkable.  It is about a God who will not tolerate unfaithfulness but whose deep compassion will not let go of unfaithful people.  It is about a people who suffer miserably often due to their own foolishness and unfaithfulness, but who continue to pray to live and live to praise.   – Let nothing trouble you