The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 79 (78)

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 25, 2011

The numbering of the Psalms differs between those translations based upon the the Hebrew (Masoretic) text and those based on the Greek Septuagint (LXX) text. See here for more. Father Boylan follows the numbering of the Septuagint and I have placed the Hebrew number in parentheses. Text in red are my additions.

THE thought of this psalm is closely connected with that of Ps 73 (74); and most modern, and many ancient, commentators regard both psalms as referring to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (see 2 Maccabees 6:1-11). Actually, most modern commentators understand it in reference to the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians (see 2 Chron 36:15-21 and the opening footnote to the Psalm in the NAB). Today the Psalm is recited at the Western ( or Wailing) wall in Jerusalem on the eve of the Sabbath (i.e., Friday afternoons). It is also recited on the fast day Tisha B”Av to commenorate the Temple’s destruction by both the Babylonians and the Romans (see here).

The psalm begins on a note of passion. The sacred dwelling of Yahweh has been foully profaned by heathens; the servants of the Lord have been slain in great numbers, and their corpses have been left unburied. The honour of Yahweh and of His people has been violated. Surely the Lord cannot let the crime of the heathens pass unpunished! (vss. 1-5).

If Yahweh is unwilling to help, it must be because of the sins of the fathers (vs 8. The verse can be-and usually is-taken as a reference to the sins of the people themselves, not their fathers. This fits better if one takes the Psalm as referring to the time of the Babylonian’s destruction of the temple). If He will be angry, let Him show His wrath against the strangers who despise Him (vss 6-7). The people of Jerusalem have not themselves deserved their sufferings, for they are loyal servants of the Lord (vs 8. See my previous notation on this verse). If, indeed, they have sinned, let the Lord be merciful; let Him, above all, be gracious towards those who are in bondage, and in prison (vs 11). If He does not hear the sighs of the afflicted they must soon die (ibid).

Yahweh ought to act, at least, for the sake of His name. Let not the heathens ask mockingly: “Where is the God of Israel?” (vs 10).  Let the Lord be mindful of His own glory, and requite the heathen for their scorn and mockery (vs 12). Vengeance on the foes of the Temple, and vengeance sevenfold, would the psalmist with his own eyes behold (vs 10). The last verse is a vow that the people of the Lord will be constant in His praise, and from the vow it can be seen that the psalmist confidently looks for the fulfilment of his prayer for help and vengeance. With the spirit of this psalm should be compared the words of
Apocalypse (Revelation) 6:10: “How long, O Master, the Holy and True, dost Thou not judge, and dost Thou not avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

3 Responses to “Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 79 (78)”

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