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Devotional

Psalm 79

Begging For Mercy

In Psalm 79, we see that Jesus’ death is proof that there will be a final day of vengeance against all those who harm, hurt, and oppress God’s people.

What's Happening?

Israel is guilty of great evil and faithlessness. As a consequence, God sent Babylon to destroy Israel's capital and temple (Psalm 79:1). But Babylon massacred Jerusalem’s inhabitants and left their bodies to be scavenged by wild animals (Psalms 79:2). There are not enough survivors left to bury the dead (Psalm 79:3). As the psalmist Asaph sees blood pooling in the streets, he realizes that his home has not only been destroyed, but humiliated. Jerusalem is a laughingstock and the world mocks Israel for ever trusting their God to protect them from harm (Psalm 79:4). 

Desperate for relief, Asaph asks God how long his anger towards Israel will burn (Psalm 79:5). After all, they are not the only guilty ones. The nations that have annihilated them have been merciless and cruel and deserve judgment for their atrocities too. But more importantly, Asaph reminds God that Israel is not just another nation but the descendants of Jacob (Psalm 79:6-7). God made an unbreakable promise to their forefather Jacob that he would be given a nation that would bless the world (Genesis 35:10-12). Asaph knows that even if Israel is guilty, God cannot always be angry with the same people he has promised to use for the world’s good.

So Asaph begs for mercy (Psalm 79:8). He begs God to save his people and to forgive them. And he begs that the nations that have celebrated their destruction would know that God has not abandoned his people (Psalm 79:9). Asaph wants God to avenge the blood Babylon has spilled. He wants God to shatter the bars that cage Israel’s prisoners-of-war and pay back seven times the hate God’s promised people have endured (Psalm 79:10-12). Asaph promises that if God proves he is their God by rescuing them, then God’s people will praise him forever (Psalm 79:13).

Where’s the Gospel?

When we think about vengeance positively we think about avenging the innocent and the powerless against the guilty and the powerful. But Asaph readily admits Israel is guilty. Their destruction was deserved. But he nevertheless asks God to avenge because of the unbreakable promise God made to bless the world through Jacob and his descendants (Psalm 79:6-7). This is the type of prayer we all need. If innocence is the only way to qualify for justice, we would never get it. We need songs like this one that admit guilt, ask for forgiveness, and demand justice at the same time. And ultimately, we need Jesus.

Jesus is Jacob’s final descendant and the one who can secure God’s unbreakable promise (Matthew 1:1-16). Through his death on the cross Jesus answered Asaph’s prayer to forgive Israel’s sins. Never again would God destroy his people because Jesus was destroyed in his guilty people’s place (Romans 3:25). Since Jesus has secured a way for all guilty people to be forgiven, that means even foreign armies guilty of atrocities can be forgiven (Romans 11:17). All people can be forgiven and blessed by Jesus’ death, which means God’s promise to Jacob has come true.

But this is only one of the ways Jesus avenges the blood spilt by the cruel and powerful. When Jesus died for his people he showed that while God’s mercy covers the earth, God does not pardon the guilty. He will avenge, even when it costs him greatly (Exodus 34:7). Jesus’ death is proof that there will be a final day of vengeance against all those who harm, hurt, and oppress God’s people. If God has willingly avenged the evil of others in himself, that means he will most certainly avenge those who continue to harm God’s own. So, like Asaph, pray for God’s forgiveness and wait in hope for God’s inevitable justice (Romans 12:19-21).

See for Yourself

I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to see the God who is both just and merciful. And may you see Jesus as the one who makes the justice of God and the mercy of God converge at the cross.

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