Where Is Your God?

Psalm 79

Charles Wesley hymn that begins “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon a little child.” A wonderful and heart-warming concept, that God of the universe would condescend to take on form of man, a little baby, becoming like us and adding dimension to how we can relate to God. But there’s danger inherent in making that the starting point for how we think about God. Can easily lead to unbalanced view of God’s nature and attributes – overemphasizing some attributes at expense of others.

God’s wrath “is a function of God’s holiness against sin. Where there is no sin, there is no wrath, . . . Where God in His holiness confronts His image-bearers in their rebellion, there must be wrath. Otherwise God is not the jealous God He claims to be, and His holiness is impugned. The price of diluting God’s wrath is diminishing God’s holiness.”—D. A. Carson, “God’s Love and God’s Wrath”, Bibliotheca Sacra 156/624 (Oct-Dec 1999): 388.

An anemic view of God’s wrath has similar effect on the Gospel. If God’s righteous anger does not burn against sin, then the sinner is safe at least for this life and just maybe there’s not a life after this one. The answer is not to downplay or avoid the subject of God’s wrath; it is to understand what God has done about God’s wrath on behalf of God’s people! For that we must look to Christ. Psalm begins with a protest over current conditions, then a plea for God’s attention, ending with a commitment to praise God for his deliverance.

a. historical context

title gives credit for authorship to Asaph, content of psalm universally ascribed to devastation of Jerusalem by Babylonians in 586 BC

different theories given to accommodate seeming discrepancy – Asaph a contemporary of King David (died 971 BC) – referring to family name, written by a descendant of first Asaph; different person with same name (happens a few times in Bible!)

best view: consider what Bible says in 2 Chron. 29:30

Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.

was actually written by Asaph of David’s time about actual events which would occur 400 years in future, perhaps foreshadowing final destruction in 70 AD – psalmist given prophetic foresight by all-knowing God

prophets warned of impending judgment on rebellious sinners – not only in preaching but in singing as well

A. protest v.1-4

protest made to Elohim – creator-God, one who owned it all but had chosen Zion as place of special dwelling

see what they’ve done

to your sanctuary (1)

cry of painful indignation, that place set apart for worship had been treated so shamefully

physical desecration in view here, but… think about Christian churches now performing arts centers, dance studios, Buddhist and Hindu temples, private homes

is that any worse than being desecrated by liberal or false teaching masquerading as truth?

not just the holy place, the holy city, too – primary target: God, against whom they were in rebellion; secondary targets – anything associated with God, that represented him and his presence

to your servants, your saints (2-3)

no hint of following Geneva Convention, what we would think of as civilized rules of engagement – picture one of indiscriminate killing anything that moved, what would class as war crimes of highest sort today

to us! (4)

can’t undo damage that’s been done, can’t turn back the clock; but what about the survivors? Looks like God is as much against them as Babylonians

B. plea v.5-12

how long LORD (God of the covenant) (5)

doesn’t matter how long it has been already, for God’s punishment to continue any longer too much to bear

addressing God by name Yahweh is reminder of the covenant – see Exodus 32:11-14 – don’t forget those large promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and through them to your people

bring order out of chaos (6-7)

put rebellious nations in their place – the ones who rebel against God, attack his people, cause others to be in state of fear and turmoil

by the language, a premonition of bowl judgments described in Revelation 16 (read v.9-11) – targets of God’s wrath those who persist in rebellion, refusal to worship true God, stubbornly would not repent

forgive us for our part in this disaster (8-9, 11)

take pity on us, don’t hold old sins against us – forgive, show mercy, we’re in serious trouble

no question, corrective discipline is deserved, but… this looks more like punishment; never wrong to ask forgiveness

deliver from harm for the sake of your reputation – if it doesn’t go well for God’s people, won’t reflect well on God

plea for help founded on God’s glory and reputation, not individual (or corporate) merit

prayer that God would be glorified will always be answered affirmatively, maybe not how we think, though

bring justice to world turned upside down – show them who is master (Adonai) (10, 12)

don’t, by appearing absent or inactive, give pagans opportunity to question God’s existence, interest in his people

let world know that evil won’t go unpunished, that there will be consequences for evil-doers

is a cry for justice, not revenge; that God, the one who is most offended when evil is done, would vindicate himself

v.12 Pay back our neighbors in full! NET – perfect payback for their flagrant disrespect of God: reproach, insults, taunts

C. praise v.13

hopeful anticipation of the future: since we are your people by your choice, we can expect help and deliverance

again, it’s based on the relationship and who the shepherd is, not anything found in the sheep

if God is the Shepherd, then sheep can expect a certain kind of treatment, warrants eternal praise that begins in this life with the next generation

psalm begins on low note, ends on high; begins in depths of discouragement, ends in hopeful anticipation; how?

by purposefully turning focus of attention from circumstances to God, seeking his glory, depending on his provision

Psalm 77 ended with God shepherding the people ‘like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron’ at the time of the exodus and desert wanderings. Psalm 78 ended with God shepherding his flock by the hands of David during the time of the monarchy. In Psalm 79 this has extended into the present and beyond, which is a way of saying that God will always be our good shepherd.” —James Montgomery Boice

will be our Good Shepherd in person of Lord Jesus – see John 10:11-14

psalmist looking forward expected shepherd/sheep relationship to be enduring, didn’t fully understand how

fuller revelation of NT makes it more explicit – all blessings God has in store for his people, including his providential care (shepherding) of them come to us by way of Christ, through our union with him

apart from Christ we have no hope whatever of anything good from God beyond simple care of Creator for creature

God is worthy of our praise at all times regardless of circumstances; don’t forget one lesson from Job: child of God doesn’t have circumstances/affliction on the one hand and God on the other hand

God is always present with his people in their circumstances and deserves their worship and praise

D. parallels

Israel’s rejection of God for idols -> destruction of Jerusalem and first temple

different replacements for God: Baal, Ashtoreth, Moloch as objects of religious worship; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon as protectors/deliverers

rejection of Son of God -> destruction of Jerusalem and later temple

not only a sympathetic high priest (Heb. 4:15), a sympathetic good shepherd – one who experienced the ultimate mistreatment at hand of God’s enemies

that’s why he could weep over Jerusalem, foreseeing the imminent consequences of their rebellion; see Matt. 23:37-39; Luke 13:31-35

let’s make it personal instead of national: rejection of God and his Son Jesus -> destruction, forever

each time disasters came from hand of God: Flood, Plagues, Conquest of Canaan, Exile in Babylon – clearly show God’s attitude toward evil and evildoers

serve as a preview in miniature of his final judgment on those who die in their sins

remember: severity of God’s judgment shows the awfulness of sin, not how mean or unfeeling God is

Just because God doesn’t move on our timetable doesn’t mean he is either powerless or nonexistent. He is longsuffering but will not be so indefinitely – see Ex. 34:5-7

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the LORD by name.The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

Notice what God is: compassionate, gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving. Notice, too, he is slow to anger (doesn’t say “never angry”) and will not leave the guilty unpunished. If God is holy, he has a burning anger directed toward sin that is unpunished. There’s another truth we need to understand: our perspective of what God is doing is not always correct. Was a day nearly 2000 years ago when looked like either God was nowhere to be seen or the fellow on the middle cross had really messed up. Truly did appear that his “cry of dereliction” was right, that God had abandoned him, even was punishing him. Good news is: that burning anger was directed against Christ because he carried the sins of his people to the cross. The only hope for escaping God’s burning anger is to hide in Christ; that is the one place of safety and it is a sure and certain safe haven, for eternity.


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