238 - The Sting of Consequences and the Song of Confidence (Psalms 79–81)
The believer’s relationship with God is multifaceted. Psalms 79, 80, and 81 emphasize several important actions that should characterize that relationship, including a proper response to sin and its consequences, humble prayer and intercession, and exclusive and pure worship.
The Sting of Consequences and the Song of Confidence
Now as we open Psalm 79, we are told this is a psalm written by Asaph. This particular Asaph would have been a descendant of the great composer, Asaph, who had served alongside David many years earlier.
This man has lived to see the devastation of Israel by the Babylonians. The Babylonians were the ones who deported leading citizens such as young Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And it was the Babylonian army that completely destroyed the glorious temple of Solomon.
And that is the clue here to the timing of this rather sad song of Israel. Verse 1 says:
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
The unthinkable has happened. The enemy came into the sanctuary. They ripped down the veil, stole the remaining articles of worship and then put it all to the torch.
This took place in 586 BC, when the long-prophesied judgment fell on the nation as a consequence of decades of sin and defiance. Maybe you are dealing right now with the consequences of your sin in some manner. Well, the good news is that Asaph’s song is not all sadness; it actually gives us an inspired guide back into fellowship with God.
First, I want to point out that Asaph owns these consequences. Already he has told God that Jerusalem is in ruins. He says in verse 1 that these enemy warriors “have defiled your holy temple.”
This was not God’s fault; this was the Israelites’ fault. Asaph is owning these consequences here.
One of my favorite commentators, born in Wales before the onset of World War II, was deeply troubled by the bombing of London. As parts of London were ablaze everyone feared, not only for their own lives, but also for the survival of their city and the historic buildings, like Westminster Abbey with its soaring columns, and stained-glass windows. As a young boy, John asked his father one day, “Do you think God would allow this beautiful abbey to be destroyed?” His father replied, “Why not? He allowed the temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed.” And so He had.
By the time Asaph writes this psalm, the shekinah glory of God’s presence had long since departed. The temple was just a beautiful building with religious traditions and nothing more. This is like so much of religion today, which possesses beautiful buildings and ornate symbols and robed choirs and high-sounding traditions, but the glory of God is absent, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is missing.
Part of the consequences of Israel’s defiance is the collapse of its sacrificial system. In fact, to this very day, there are no sacrifices on the temple mount in Israel. The temple is gone.
Asaph names these consequences. And this is important because owning the consequences of your sin begins to set your heart and mind toward true repentance. It isn’t God’s fault, and it isn’t somebody else’s fault that you sinned—it’s yours alone.
Having owned the consequences, Asaph then moves on to present his concerns. The next few verses imply that God’s people have repented and now Asaph wants to know how long the consequence are going to last. He asks here in verse 5, “How long, O Lord?”
This is like asking your parents “How long am I on restriction?” “How long do I have to be in time-out?” “How long, O Lord?”
Here is Asaph’s plea in verse 8: “Let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.” To be “brought very low” means to be humbled.
This kind of humility is where God begins leading you back into fellowship with Him. Consequences are designed to humble you and transport you back into fellowship with God.
So, Asaph is now singing, “We your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever” (verse 13). Notice,their circumstances have not changed, but their hearts have been changed; they are once again sheep, following their Shepherd.
Now Psalm 80 gives us a little different perspective on responding to the consequences of sin. This psalm also is attributed to Asaph, and the melody here is called, “According to Lilies. A testimony,” or simply “Lilies of testimony.”We don’t know what this tune sounded like and probably won’t, until perhaps the millennial kingdom when many Old Testament traditions are reenacted in honor of Jesus, the Messiah who will be seated on the throne of David. So, we will just have to wait until that coming kingdom.
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, adds a time stamp here in the heading of this psalm that says, “concerning Assyria.” This dates Psalm 80 around the time when Samaria fell to the enemy forces of Assyria, as recorded in 2 Kings 17.
When the kingdom of Israel split after the reign of Solomon, Jerusalem became the capital city of the southern kingdom, which included the tribe of Benjamin; Samaria became the capital city of the northern kingdom, where the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were the most influential.
You don’t have to remember any of this for the quiz, but I say it because Asaph says to the Lord here, “Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us!” (verse 2).
In effect, he is asking the Lord to reunite the northern tribes, represented by Ephraim and Manasseh, with the southern tribes, represented by Benjamin. Asaph wants the nation restored and the divided tribes reunited.
Let me tell you, if you are really going to pray for people who are on the other side of an argument—to pray for the division to end—you are going to have to care more about your brothers and sisters than yourself. You are not just praying about them; you are praying about us.
Asaph prays throughout this psalm: “Save us,” “restore us,” “let your face shine, that we may be saved.” In other words, Asaph is praying for everybody. Listen, no matter what side you are on, we are all in need of the grace of God.
Did you know it is impossible to genuinely pray for people and hate them at the same time? It is impossible to pray for people and gossip about them at the same time. When you intercede for others, like Asaph here, you are reminded that you need God’s grace as much as they do.
Now Psalm 81 opens with a call to the people to “shout for joy to the God of Jacob!” Verse 2 says, “Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.” And verse 3 calls for the blowing of the trumpet—the shophar, or ram’s horn—which was typically the role of the priest.
This psalm is a call to praise the Lord for His deliverance. Particularly in view here in verses 6 to 10 is the Lord’s rescue of Israel from Egypt. But this psalm is also an invitation to walk faithfully with God. He says in the middle of verse 9, “There shall be no strange god among you.”
This warning is true to this day. God is not just one of many religious options you can tuck away somewhere and then pull out when needed. No, He is your only option, He is your only guide, He is your only Savior and the only Lord of your life.
When He is the center of your life, you can join with the people of God, heeding Asaph’s call at the beginning of this psalm to “sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.”
This sounds very much like Isaac Watts, who wrote three centuries ago this hymn for the believer to sing:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come;
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
Look back over your shoulder; He has been faithful. And today? He will be dependable. And into eternity? He will keep every promise He has ever made to you and me.
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