PRAYER FOR RENEWAL Psalms 79–84
“Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:4).The anguish felt in Captivity and even after the return is expressed in psalms begging for renewal. They capture the emotions of oppressed believers throughout the ages who yearn for renewed evidence of God’s favor.
Definition of Key Terms
In the Old Testament “nations” most often indicates pagan peoples. In the Psalms and Prophets “the nations” commonly represent peoples who are hostile to and who unjustly oppress God’s chosen people.
Poems expressing captive Judah’s anguish call for judgment on oppressors (Ps. 79), picture Judah as an uprooted vine (Ps. 80), and trace the national disaster to Israel’s stubborn hearts (Ps. 81) and injustice (Ps. 82). Asaph begged God to judge pagan nations (Ps. 83), but Korah celebrated the blessing believers have even now through trust in God (Ps. 84).
Understanding the Text
Against the Nations. Asaph reminded God of the violence done to Jerusalem by pagan nations and called on Him to pay them back. “The nations have invaded” Ps. 79:1–4. The description of the ruin of Jerusalem best fits conditions of the Babylonian invasion. “Pour out Your wrath” Ps. 79:5–8. Asaph begged God to judge the nations “that do not acknowledge You” and save his own desperate people. Asaph agreed that the disaster came because of the “sins of the fathers.” But a new generation had arisen now, that appealed for mercy. “For the glory of Your name” Ps. 79:9–11. Asaph argued that God should forgive His people and restore the nation for His own glory. Ancient peoples measured the greatness of a deity by the power of the people who worshiped him. Judah’s state held God up to ridicule. “The reproach they have hurled at You” Ps. 79:12–13. Asaph called on God to pay back the nations, for in crushing Judah they had insulted the Lord. This brief psalm has greater depth than at first appears. God should judge the nations because the land they invaded was His, the people destroyed were His, the glory tarnished by Judah’s defeat was His, and the reproach was His. By punishing the nations God could display His forgiving grace and His mercy, reestablish His glory, mete out just punishment, and win the everlasting praise of His people. Far more is involved in our own sin and discipline than we imagine. In a very real sense the loss involved is God’s, not just our own! Yet this means that we can seek restoration confidently, knowing that God forgives and blesses not simply for love of us, but also for His own glory. Psalm 80. The Uprooted Vine. Asaph developed a common Old Testament image. Israel was a vine God had planted in Canaan, that now stood in desperate need of His care. Three powerful images and three repeated appeals for restoration shape this psalm. “O Shepherd of Israel” Ps. 80:1–3. God is able to save the people who are His sheep. Thus the psalmist appealed to God, “Make Your face shine upon us [i.e., look on us with favor], that we may be saved.” “O Lord God Almighty” Ps. 80:4–7. The Hebrew title means “God of Armies,” and pictures a Sovereign Lord. God used His power to judge Israel; now the psalmist appealed to Him to use that same power to “restore us, O God Almighty; make Your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” “O God Almighty!” Ps. 80:8–19 The Lord exercised His power in bringing His people out of Egypt and planting them in the soil of Canaan. He used it to break down the walls protecting His vineyard and expose it to destructive beasts. Asaph appealed to God to once again use His power to watch over His vine: to “restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make Your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 81: Stubborn Hearts. History reveals both God’s grace and Israel’s stubborn, unresponsive heart. Asaph had cried out to God for restoration. Yet in this psalm he explicitly recognized the fact that God is always willing to deliver and to bless. It was Israel’s own failure to listen to the Lord and submit to Him that led to disaster. God, speaking through the psalmist, said, “If My people would but listen to Me, if Israel would follow My ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes” (vv. 13–14). We too can cry out to God when we are in distress. But we need to examine our lives, and see if our own unwillingness to obey is keeping God from giving us the blessing we so desperately desire. Psalm 82: Rise Up, O God. Asaph expressed his confidence that God would surely rise up and judge the nations. The key to understanding this psalm lies in the meaning of the word “gods” in verses 1 and 6. The best interpretation views them as Israel’s leaders, called “gods” because the Lord has delegated to them the responsibility of judging (cf. Ex. 21:6; 22:8, 28). These “sons of the Most High” were appointed to this high position to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless”; and “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed” (Ps. 82:3). Privilege carries responsibility. The higher the privilege, the greater the responsibility. While God has given us great privileges, His is the ultimate responsibility. Thus Asaph was sure that God who holds men responsible will “rise up” and “judge the earth.” Psalm 83: May They Perish. The psalm is an impassioned appeal to God to crush the nations that conspired against and attacked Israel. Asaph felt justified in calling on God to punish the peoples who had wickedly attacked Isarel. The last verses pick up the emotion found in all the imprecatory psalms, and express one of the theological bases on which such appeals rest. “May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that You, whose name is the Lord—that You alone are the Most High over all the earth” (vv. 17–18).
Hidden Blessings(Ps. 84)
Imagine yourself walking across a burning desert. You struggle through the soft sand, barely able to lift your feet on the shifting surface. The sun beats down on your head, burns through your shirt, drains your body of moisture so that your mouth feels like cotton and your tongue swells. In a way, Psalms 78–83 describe Asaph’s journey through a desert. God’s people were weak and struggling. They were victims of enemies that had drained them and their land of every resource, and left them destitute and dying. It’s no wonder that Asaph cried out again and again, appealing to God to restore the blessings once enjoyed by his people. Now, suddenly, with Psalm 84, another psalmist reminds us that no matter how desperate our situation, any desert God’s people may find themselves in has an oasis. In Old Testament times, God’s people directed their feet upward. Approaching Jerusalem, buoyed up by the thought that they would soon appear before God in Zion, His people went “from strength to strength.” For you and me, the oasis is even more available. We need only to close our eyes to find ourselves in the very presence of the Lord. When our soul yearns for God, we can simply turn our thoughts to Him, and we are there, with Him. Our days may be filled with troubles, and our hearts may ache, yet we can know the blessedness of those “whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” As pressures mount we can visit the Lord in our hearts, and be reminded that “no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” The peace, the quiet confidence, the strength we need, are all there, available in our desert places. As we draw on them we cry with the psalmist, “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in You.”
The more difficult our days, the more we need to draw strength from God, and experience the blessing that is ours now through trust.