By James Boice
Theme: When Trouble Comes
In this week’s lessons we learn that when hard times come, we are to wait upon and praise the Lord with expectant hope.
Scripture: Psalm 79:1-13
We have already commented on Asaph’s distress over the destruction of Jerusalem when we were discussing Psalm 74. In that psalm Asaph took God by the hand, as it were, and walked him through the ruins of the desolate and abandoned city. “Look, that is where they broke in,” he seemed to be saying. “They set up their military standards over there. That is where they attacked the carved paneling. After that they burnt the temple. Look at those ashes. That is all that is left. Then, as if the damage to the temple were not bad enough, they went through the whole land to destroy every place where you were worshipped. And they have done it!”
Both psalms ask how long this terrible state is to continue: Is it to go on forever? Both ask God to rise up and destroy those who have destroyed Judah. Both look forward to a day when the people of God will be able to praise him for his mighty acts of deliverance once again.
But there are differences, too. In the earlier psalm Asaph seemed to be troubled about the temple: chiefly, that the Babylonians had destroyed the sanctuary where God used to meet with his worshippers. A description of the ruins fills the second stanza. In Psalm 79 Asaph is chiefly concerned for the people—for those who have been killed, whose bodies lie in the street with none to bury them, those who were taken prisoner, and those who have been left desolate after the terrible destruction and slaughter.
The fact that there would be so many killed and so few survivors that there would be no one to bury the dead, as the psalm says in the first four verses, had been prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 7:33). It was regarded as a terrible calamity and disgrace not to be able to bury the dead, but it had happened.
None of us has been witness to a disaster of this magnitude. Bad things happen to us sometimes. We get sick or someone close to us dies, or a fire destroys our home or we lose a job. But here everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Everything that could possibly be destroyed has been destroyed. The destruction was political, because the nation no longer existed. There was no king, no counselors, no people in authority, no army. The destruction was economic, because the land was devastated. No one could earn a living, and there was no one to buy anything that might be produced. The destruction was social, because entire families were wiped out and there was no one who had not lost a husband, son, father, mother, wife or child in the conflict. Worst of all, the destruction was religious, for there was no temple and the worship of God had ceased.
As I say, neither you nor I have ever experienced anything as sweeping as that. But most of us have experienced losses of some sort or another, and the question we ask is, how do we cope with them? This psalm does not set out to find an answer to that question as Psalms 73 or 77 do, for example. Rather it is itself the answer! The answer is, by hanging on to God, by trusting him.1 That is exactly what it does from the beginning. We cannot overlook the fact that even when relating details of the disaster that had overtaken them, the psalmist speaks of their enemies as having “invaded your [that is, God’s] inheritance…defiled your holy temple…given the bodies of your servants as food to the birds of the air, and the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth” (vv. 1, 2).
In other words, even though the people have suffered a great calamity, they are nevertheless the people of God and can continue to appeal to him, which is what Asaph does. Do you have that confidence? Do you do it? There is nothing like it to get you through life’s most difficult times.
1Tate says, “This psalm deals with one of the basic issues in religious thought: how do the people of God cope with disaster in the face of God’s seeming absence? The answer is: by hanging on to hope in him” (Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, p. 301).
- List some similarities found in Psalms 74 and 79. Name some of the chief differences between the two psalms.
- What question does Asaph ask of God? What has gone wrong in Jerusalem?
Reflection: Reflect on tragedies you have seen and compare them with those in this psalm. How do you cope with dark times in your life? What does the psalm say to do?
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