Even after the warnings, God’s people could hardly believe the great disaster that fell upon Jerusalem during the Babylonian Conquest in 597 BC.
In the aftermath of war, Psalm 79 expresses the people’s grief about what had been done and left undone in the form of a community lament.
How Long, O Lord? 1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy Temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. 2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth. 3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. (Psalm 79:1-3 ESV)
The city was left in ruins. The Temple was ransacked and destroyed. By the end of the siege, bodies lay in the streets with no one to bury them. The people’s inheritance, the promised land, was covered in their blood.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us. 5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire? 6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! (Psalm 79:4-6 ESV)
Shame filled their hearts as God’s people begged for mercy and began asking Him to turn His wrath onto those who denied God’s existence. They questioned how He could protect His reputation with their neighbors without rescuing and restoring them. Does God need such a reminder? Does He need to carefully guard His reputation with those who don’t even acknowledge Him?
7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. 8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:7-8 ESV)
How often have we failed to take a complete inventory of my sins? Do we regularly take time for confession, or do we wish to jump ahead to God’s compassionate response? Do we demand His quickest mercy so we can get to the forgiveness part more efficiently?
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake! 10 Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes! 11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! (Psalm 79:9-11 ESV)
God’s people begged for compassion, forgiveness, and help. Desperation drove the urgency of their pleading. Finally, however, they acknowledged their sins needed atonement, and since the Temple was in ruins, they couldn’t go and make sacrifices. Only God can provide for these prisoners.
They were once again quick to remind God to protect His reputation. Does God need such reminders? How often have we been so quick to point out how unfair we consider something to be? Does the God of the universe grow weary of our limited view and hasty judgments?
12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord! (Psalm 79:12 ESV)
God’s people also demanded vengeance (seven-fold) on their neighbors who taunted God. Does God need us to point out when others disrespect Him? Did He miss it by any chance? It seems unlikely. His endless patience with our need to keep score is yet another grace.
13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation, we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13 ESV)
Finally, in Verse 13, God’s people gain a proper perspective. They acknowledge their need for their one true Shepherd and pledge their thanksgiving for now and forever to the next generation.
As God’s people, we desperately need to spend time with our Good Shepherd. Expressing lament to God draws us closer to Him and brings healing to our souls. Most of us have not had our homeland destroyed, but smaller losses pile upon significant losses and chip away at our souls, leaving us desperate and depleted.
Lament is a necessary step in healing from the inside out. The healing balm of God’s presence brings about an abundant crop of gratitude. After all, we are charged with an essential responsibility to help our children and grandchildren to inherit a thankful and praise-filled attitude from us. Can I afford to take a few minutes to practice lament today?