Good morning! Today’s passage come from a little later in Israel’s history, when the suffering of God’s “chosen people” is a reality clamoring for explanation and response. These psalms (79-82) lament the suffering and plead for the return of God’s protection, then suggest two possible reasons (disloyalty and injustice) for the suffering of God’s people.
What strikes the reader of Psalm 79 most immediately is the anguish in Jerusalem after the city’s destruction. We read twice that those who died are good people, “your servants” and “your faithful”. So the calamity that befell them baffles those who have a conventional piety (righteousness equals blessing), and the psalmist wonders, “How long, O Lord?” How long will “the way things are” be so far from “the way things should be”? This is the plea of all who suffer unjustly, and who wonder if misery will ever come to an end. The writer suggests that suffering is a result of God’s anger, which perhaps leads to the possibility that if God can be appeased then blessings will return. In my opinion this misreads how God works, but it does give people a sense of control over the future.
The writer of Psalm 80 picks up there, proposing a covenant with God so that the future is better than the past. The extended metaphor of Israel as a vine taken from Egypt and planted with care shows up again in prophetic writings. The vine grew and prospered, until God inexplicably broke down the walls that protected it, leaving it exposed to every calamity. The covenant part comes in verses 17-18—pleading for God to guide the ruler of Israel, and “then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.” Such bargaining with God is only natural, and everyone who has been in such a position earnestly does believe that “this time will be different”. However, I suspect God knows by now the fair-weather nature of human hearts.
We get more of a sense of God’s perspective and priorities in Psalms 81 and 82. In the first, our psalmist reports God speaking from the experience of rescuing, covenanting with, yet then being betrayed by Israel. The people’s misbehavior is inexplicable because every good thing comes from God, who only seeks to share the finest blessings as a mother robin brings food to her open-mouthed children. God lays out a strong demand for justice in Psalm 82—human disloyalty to this requirement is what leads to all the heartbreak lamented earlier. The God of Israel reigns among other (so-called) gods, clamoring for justice on behalf of the weak, the orphan, the lowly and the destitute. Amidst all the other Ultimate Concerns that get the idolatrous attention of human beings, God declares that justice for those on the bottom of the social heap is the measure by which all the earth will be judged. Acting with justice will show greater faithfulness than either desolate lament or empty promises. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 83-87. Thanks for reading!