Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 79

Love your Neighbour

“O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps … We are become a reproach to our neighbours … How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee … 

… O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily come to meet us: for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the Word the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake …

… Wherefore should the heathen say, Where istheir God? … And render unto our neighbourssevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.”

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The Psalmist is in a really desperate place. Enemies have come in and destroyed his home, but what is unique about this Psalm is the emphasis also on the neighbours. Those who ought to have shown more care, compounded the problem for him, and sadly that is sometimes our experience.

I have to say my own neighbours in the Croft are all wonderful, and I’m so thankful to God for the neighbours I have.

However, I must though look at myself and ask: ‘Am I a good neighbour? How do I treat my neighbours?’

Centuries before Jesus came (‘the Word’ referred to in the middle section – more of that in a moment) it was appropriate for the Psalmist to respond to his nasty neighbours with an imprecatory prayer, asking God to ‘render unto our neighbours sevenfold’ retribution, but not now!

Jesus’ teaching on neighbours can be read in Luke 10:25-37, the parable commonly referred to as the Good Samaritan. In this parable, the Lord teaches us to love and care for anyone in need, even our enemy. 

This is a high standard, but it reflects God’s own heart of love towards us, a love that the Psalmist himself knows and call upon in his time of need, when he says ‘let thy tender mercies come to meet us’. 

Tender mercies’ is a deeply affectionate word used also for ‘the womb’, and can refer to either to brotherly love or motherly love (Matt 23:37). A love that has brought ‘the Word’ low, to where we are, in order to save (John 1).

Eagle eyed readers will note I seem to have added ‘the Word’ to the phrase ‘for the glory of thy name’. However, it is there in the Hebrew, though left out in English as it makes little sense grammatically to say ‘for the Word the glory …’.

This is a shame, as there is an accuracy to it prophetically. For indeed, it was when ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14) that salvation came. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God is now able to ‘deliver us and purge away our sins’, for the glory of His name.

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