When a natural disaster like a tornado or hurricane strikes, government officials tour the areas hit hardest. One of the reasons for this is to show that they recognize the situation and intend to do something about it. Another reason is to highlight the devastation in order to arouse people’s compassion so they will give to and participate in relief efforts.
In today’s reading, the Psalmist takes God on a tour of their devastation. This was not a natural disaster, but a resounding military defeat. The Psalmist reminds God, “They have left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds...They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead” (vv. 2 3). The Psalmist appeals to God’s compassion so He will bring relief.
At the same time, the Psalmist recognizes that their defeat and the destruction of the Temple were well deserved. He recognizes the “sins of past generations” and prays that God will forgive them (vv. 8–9). The Psalmist longs for God’s deliverance not just for his own sake, but for God’s sake. The foreign powers who dominated Israel viewed their victory as a sign that Israel’s God was weak and powerless. The Psalmist pleads, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (v. 10). He looks to God as a good shepherd and prays that He will intervene to protect them. When that deliverance comes, “[t]hen we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever” (v. 13). The Jewish people have continued to pray this psalm on the Ninth of Ab, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple.
>> Throughout history, Christians have used this lament when suffering persecution. The longings for forgiveness and justice in the Old Testament came to their fulfillment in Jesus. Forgiveness of sin is possible because of what He has done, and the hope of His Second Coming gives us the strength to persevere in trials.
“Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Ps. 79:9–10).