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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–5
Verses 1–5

We have here a sad complaint exhibited in the court of heaven. The world is full of complaints, and so is the church too, for it suffers, not only with it, but from it, as a lily among thorns. God is complained to; whither should children go with their grievances, but to their father, to such a father as is able and willing to help? The heathen are complained of, who, being themselves aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, were sworn enemies to it. Though they knew not God, nor owned him, yet, God having them in chain, the church very fitly appeals to him against them; for he is King of nations, to overrule them, to judge among the heathen, and King of saints, to favour and protect them.

I. They complain here of the anger of their enemies and the outrageous fury of the oppressor, exerted,

1. Against places, Ps. 79:1. They did all the mischief they could, (1.) To the holy land; they invaded that, and made inroads into it: “The heathen have come into thy inheritance, to plunder that, and lay it waste.” Canaan was dearer to the pious Israelites as it was God’s inheritance than as it was their own, as it was the land in which God was known and his name was great rather than as it was the land in which they were bred and born and which they and their ancestors had been long in possession of. Note, Injuries done to religion should grieve us more than even those done to common right, nay, to our own right. We should better bear to see our own inheritance wasted than God’s inheritance. This psalmist had mentioned it in the foregoing psalm as an instance of God’s great favour to Israel that he had cast out the heathen before them, Ps. 78:55. But see what a change sin made; now the heathen are suffered to pour in upon them. (2.) To the holy city: They have laid Jerusalem on heaps, heaps of rubbish, such heaps as are raised over graves, so some. The inhabitants were buried in the ruins of their own houses, and their dwelling places became their sepulchres, their long homes. (3.) To the holy house. That sanctuary which God had built like high palaces, and which was thought to be established as the earth, was now laid level with the ground: They holy temple have they defiled, by entering into it and laying it waste. God’s own people had defiled it by their sins, and therefore God suffered their enemies to defile it by their insolence.

2. Against persons, against the bodies of God’s people; and further their malice could not reach. (1.) They were prodigal of their blood, and killed them without mercy; their eye did not spare, nor did they give any quarter (Ps. 79:3): Their blood have they shed like water, wherever they met with them, round about Jerusalem, in all the avenues to the city; whoever went out or came in was waited for of the sword. Abundance of human blood was shed, so that the channels of water ran with blood. And they shed it with no more reluctancy or regret than if they had spilt so much water, little thinking that every drop of it will be reckoned for in the day when God shall make inquisition for blood. (2.) They were abusive to their dead bodies. When they had killed them they would let none bury them. Nay, those that were buried, even the dead bodies of God’s servants, the flesh of his saints, whose names and memories they had a particular spite at, they dug up again, and gave them to be meat to the fowls of the heaven and to the beasts of the earth; or, at least, they left those so exposed whom they slew; they hung them in chains, which was in a particular manner grievous to the Jews to see, because God had given them an express law against this, as a barbarous thing, Deut. 21:23. This inhuman usage of Christ’s witnesses is foretold (Rev. 11:9), and thus even the dead bodies were witnesses against their persecutors. This is mentioned (says Austin, Deut. Civitate Dei, lib. 1 cap. 12) not as an instance of the misery of the persecuted (for the bodies of the saints shall rise in glory, however they became meat to the birds and the fowls), but of the malice of the persecutors.

3. Against their names (Ps. 79:4): “We that survive have become a reproach to our neighbours; they all study to abuse us and load us with contempt, and represent us as ridiculous, or odious, or both, upbraiding us with our sins and with our sufferings, or giving the lie to our relation to God and expectations from him; so that we have become a scorn and derision to those that are round about us.” If God’s professing people degenerate from what themselves and their fathers were, they must expect to be told of it; and it is well if a just reproach will help to bring us to a true repentance. But it has been the lot of the gospel-Israel to be made unjustly a reproach and derision; the apostles themselves were counted as the offscouring of all things.

II. They wonder more at God’s anger, Ps. 79:5. This they discern in the anger of their neighbours, and this they complain most of: How long, Lord, wilt thou be angry? Shall it be for ever? This intimates that they desired no more than that God would be reconciled to them, that his anger might be turned away, and then the remainder of men’s wrath would be restrained. Note, Those who desire God’s favour as better than life cannot but dread and deprecate his wrath as worse than death.