Psalm 79: A Psalm for Help

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 79.

Much like Psalm 74, this is a psalm that speaks of the Babylonian conquest (you can find my blog on Psalm 74 here) and the feelings of the psalmist as they look around at their beloved destroyed city. And as we read and see, this psalm is broken up into two distinct sections: a reflection on what they see and a petition upon God to act (with the latter taking up most of the writings).

If you were to think about all the things you hold dear and imagine that they were no more – how would you feel? You’d probably feel the same way the psalmist does and find yourself asking God to move, act, and seek vengeance on the very people that did this. Your sacred place of worship is demolished, your pastors and priests – the very people who help you in your worship – have been killed and everyone you know has been put to shame. To a culture and nation that valued and thrived upon name, prestige, strength, might, and simply striking fear in others – this was an absolute blow (all cultures and nations and people around this time valued namesake). In short, what life is worth living when you are under the rule of others and nobody fears you? What life is there to live when you can’t even worship your God?

The complaints laid out by the psalmist are quite simple: we’ve been invaded and your temple and city (your home) have been sacked, dead bodies of your servants are scattered all around and have become food for the animals, and there simply is nobody left to bury the dead. We can’t worship God, we can’t give proper burial, and we simply cannot live like this! Everyone around us mocks us and we bow our heads in shame. How long Lord?

What’s difficult for these people is that everything they hold dear is gone and God simply isn’t acting? How can that be? “There must have been something we did – so God, please relent in your anger with us and simply pay back these people who destroy all that is yours and profane your name!

When I read this text I can’t help but get this feeling that the psalmist is trying to incite God to move…all the while trying to pull on his heart-strings and yet remind him of his covenantal promises to them. They are his people, his HOLY people. This is his holy sacred temple and place of worship. There are no others that worship him, that have this relationship with him, so God must act. Right? Shouldn’t he?

Yes, God has a covenant with his people and he will not break it – no matter what. That is the grace of the work of God. That no matter what we do or have done there is nothing that will un-break the bond and promise he created and gave. And so maybe the people did do something (which is true), and maybe they profaned his name one too many times (any time is too many), and maybe God did allow them to be sacked and run over (which was/is the case) – but to a people who simply want answers to things inciting God to move or act is an interesting way to go about it. I certainly would never do this!

Or would I?

And yet who are we to say this is wrong? This is the way of Job, this is the way of numerous Israelites throughout the ages, and this is a consistent way of communication that we find in the psalms time and time again. The people depended on God, the people knew that without God they couldn’t do anything, and so when in need: ask. Ask in a way that you understood, ask in a way that made sense, ask in a way that you were taught and saw God’s response in history, ask in your own way.

I cannot imagine praying to God the way these Israelites consistently did (at least what we see in scripture) and yet in my own way I do do this very type of prayer. When I’m hurting and angry there is a feeling of being left and tossed aside and so I play the guilt-card in hopes of God saying, “Yes Kelly, I love you and have not abandoned you…no you ARE important to me…no I have NOT caused this pain in you because you angered me…Kelly…I just said, ‘No I am not angry with you’ – so why are you asking again? Do you not trust me?’” Is this prayer wrong? Maybe – maybe not. Does it reflect a love and hope of God to restore and fix the solution? Does it declare that I simply cannot do anything and depend fully on him? Absolutely.

Relationships with God look very different for different people in different phases and times. We all communicate with God differently – and yet all relationships with God understand one basic-hopeful truth: God is the only restorer. The psalmist understood it, their Israelite brothers and sisters understood it, and you and I understand it too. And the beauty of the psalms is that they allow this truthful and honest relationship with God to happen and that may or may not speak to you right now – but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It simply means the relationship is real and authentic. Maybe we too often find ourselves trying to tell people HOW they should feel about God and the way they pray to him, and need to spend more time encouraging others to simply let it all out and upon his shoulders – in whatever way that helps them to understand that God has not abandoned them and will work all things out.

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