Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Supplicatory Prayer in a Time of Devastation, of Bloodshed, and of Derision
This Psalm is in every respect the pendant of Ps 74. The points of contact are not merely matters of style (cf. Psa 79:5, how long for ever? with Psa 74:1, Psa 74:10; Psa 79:10, יוּדע, with Psa 74:5; Psa 79:2, the giving over to the wild beasts, with Psa 74:19, Psa 74:14; Psa 79:13, the conception of Israel as of a flock, in which respect Psa 79:1-13 is judiciously appended to Psa 78:70-72, with Psa 74:1, and also with Psa 74:19). But the mutual relationships lie still deeper. Both Psalms have the same Asaphic stamp, both stand in the same relation to Jeremiah, and both send forth their complaint out of the same circumstances of the time, concerning a destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, such as only the age of the Seleucidae (1 Macc. 1:31; 3:45, 2 Macc. 8:3) together with the Chaldaean period
(Note: According to Sofrim xviii. 3, Psa 79:1-13 and Psa 137:1-9 are the Psalms for the Knoth-day, i.e., the 9th day of Ab, the day commemorative of the Chaldaean and Roman destruction of Jerusalem.)
can exhibit, and in conjunction with a defiling of the Temple and a massacre of the servants of God, of the Chasdm (1 Macc. 7:13, 2 Macc. 14:6), such as the age of the Seleucidae exclusively can exhibit. The work of the destruction of the Temple which was in progress in Ps 74, appears in Psa 79:1-13 as completed, and here, as in the former Psalm, one receives the impression of the outrages, not of some war, but of some persecution: it is straightway the religion of Israel for the sake of which the sanctuaries are destroyed and the faithful are massacred.
Apart from other striking accords, Psa 79:6-7 are repeated verbatim in Jer 10:25. It is in itself far more probable that Jeremiah here takes up the earlier language of the Psalm than that the reverse is the true relation; and, as Hengstenberg has correctly observed, this is also favoured by the fact that the words immediately before viz., Jer 10:24, originate out of Psa 6:2, and that the connection in the Psalm is a far closer one. But since there is no era of pre-Maccabaean history corresponding to the complaints of the Psalm,
(Note: Cassiodorus and Bruno observe: deplorat Antiochi persecutionem tempore Machabeorum factam, tunc futuram. And Notker adds: To those who have read the First Book of the Maccabees it (viz., the destruction bewailed in the Psalm) is familiar.)
Jeremiah is to be regarded in this instance as the example of the psalmist; and in point of fact the borrower is betrayed in Psa 79:6-7 of the Psalm by the fact that the correct על of Jeremiah is changed into אל, the more elegant משׁפחות into ממלכות, and the plural אכלוּ into אכל, and the soaring exuberance of Jeremiah's expression is impaired by the omission of some of the words.
The Psalm begins with a plaintive description, and in fact one that makes complaint to God. Its opening sounds like Lam 1:10. The defiling does not exclude the reducing to ashes, it is rather spontaneously suggested in Psa 74:7 in company with wilful incendiarism. The complaint in Psa 79:1 reminds one of the prophecy of Micah, Mic 3:12, which in its time excited so much vexation (Jer 26:18); and Psa 79:2, Deu 28:26. עבדיך confers upon those who were massacred the honour of martyrdom. The lxx renders לעיים by εἰς ὀπωροφυλάκιον, a flourish taken from Isa 1:8. Concerning the quotation from memory in 1 Macc. 7:16f., vid., the introduction to Ps 74. The translator of the originally Hebrew First Book of the Maccabees even in other instances betrays an acquaintance with the Greek Psalter (cf. 1 Macc. 1:37, καὶ ἐξέχεαν αἷμα ἀθῷον κύκλῳ τοῦ ἁγιάσματος). "As water," i.e., (cf. Deu 15:23) without setting any value upon it and without any scruple about it. Psa 44:14 is repeated in Psa 79:4. At the time of the Chaldaean catastrophe this applied more particularly to the Edomites.
Out of the plaintive question how long? and whether endlessly God would be angry and cause His jealousy to continue to burn like a fire (Deu 32:22), grows up the prayer (Psa 79:6) that He would turn His anger against the heathen who are estranged from the hostile towards Him, and of whom He is now making use as a rod of anger against His people. The taking over of Psa 79:6-7 from Jer 10:25 is not betrayed by the looseness of the connection of thought; but in themselves these four lines sound much more original in Jeremiah, and the style is exactly that of this prophet, cf. Jer 6:11; Jer 2:3, and frequently, Psa 49:20. The אל, instead of על, which follows שׁפך is incorrect; the singular אכל gathers all up as in one mass, as in Isa 5:26; Isa 17:13. The fact that such power over Israel is given to the heathen world has its ground in the sins of Israel. From Psa 79:8 it may be inferred that the apostasy which raged earlier is now checked. ראשׁנים is not an adjective (Job 31:28; Isa 59:2), which would have been expressed by עונותינו חראשׁנים, but a genitive: the iniquities of the forefathers (Lev 26:14, cf. Psa 39:1-13). On Psa 79:8 of Jdg 6:6. As is evident from Psa 79:9, the poet does not mean that the present generation, itself guiltless, has to expiate the guilt of the fathers (on the contrary, Deu 24:16; Kg2 14:6; Eze 18:20); he prays as one of those who have turned away from the sins of the fathers, and who can now no longer consider themselves as placed under wrath, but under sin-pardoning and redeeming grace.
The victory of the world is indeed not God's aim; therefore His own honour does not suffer that the world of which He has made use in order to chasten His people should for ever haughtily triumph. שׁמך is repeated with emphasis at the end of the petition in Psa 79:9, according to the figure epanaphora. על־דּבר = למען, as in Psa 45:5, cf. Psa 7:1, is a usage even of the language of the Pentateuch. Also the motive, "wherefore shall they say?" occurs even in the Tפra (Exo 32:12, cf. Num 14:13-17; Deu 9:28). Here (cf. Psa 115:2) it originates out of Joe 2:17. The wish expressed in Psa 79:10 is based upon Deu 32:43. The poet wishes in company with his contemporaries, as eye-witnesses, to experience what God has promised in the early times, viz., that He will avenge the blood of His servants. The petition in Deu 32:11 runs like Psa 102:21, cf. Psa 18:7. אסיר individualizingly is those who are carried away captive and incarcerated; בּני תמוּתה are those who, if God does not preserve them by virtue of the greatness (גדל, cf. גּדל Exo 15:16) of His arm, i.e., of His far-reaching omnipotence, succumb to the power of death as to a patria potestas.
(Note: The Arabic has just this notion in an active application, viz., benı̂ el-môt = the heroes (destroyers) in the battle.)
That the petition in Psa 79:12 recurs to the neighbouring peoples is explained by the fact, that these, who might most readily come to the knowledge of the God of Israel as the one living and true God, have the greatest degree of guilt on account of their reviling of God. The bosom is mentioned as that in which one takes up and holds that which is handed to him (Luk 6:38); חיק- (על) אל (שׁלּם) השׁיב, as in Isa 65:7, Isa 65:6; Jer 32:18. A sevenfold requital (cf. Gen 4:15, Gen 4:24) is a requital that is fully carried out as a criminal sentence, for seven is the number of a completed process.
If we have thus far correctly hit upon the parts of which the Psalm is composed (9. 9. 9), then the lamentation closes with this tristichic vow of thanksgiving.