Summary: Let us pray for the whole state of the church of Christ.
THE TENDER MERCY OF A JEALOUS GOD
Despite what our first impression may have been, this is not a general lament about all the ills of the world but rather a particular lament about something afflicting the people of God. And even then, it is not just about ‘us’ but more so about Him: it is HIS inheritance that is under attack; HIS holy temple defiled; HIS Jerusalem laid on heaps (Psalm 79:1). So it is for the glory of HIS Name that we pray for His help, ask for deliverance, and plead for forgiveness (Psalm 79:9).
Nevertheless, it is inevitable that when God is under attack, so are His people. For we are, after all, His inheritance (Psalm 79:1-4). It is WE who become “a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us” (Psalm 79:4).
Thank God that we are able to cry out to Him. “How long, LORD?” (Psalm 79:5). This can be a personal plea (Psalm 13:1); a cry for the honour of God’s Name (Psalm 74:10); or a collective prayer (Psalm 89:46).
However the pendulum swings back to the LORD, who is now seen as “angry” and burning with “jealousy” (Psalm 79:5). No doubt this “anger” is deserved: God’s people can sometimes see their afflictions as the outworking of their own rebellion against Him. That is why we confess “former iniquities” (Psalm 79:8), and ask that He “purge away our sins,” for His Name’s sake (Psalm 79:9).
If God is going to be angry, argues the Psalmist, why doesn’t He pour out His wrath upon “the heathen who have not known you” (Psalm 79:6-7; cf. Jeremiah 10:25). It is a cry which is still resonating towards the end of the New Testament (cf. Revelation 6:10).
This is like, in Old Testament terms, Elijah testifying that it would not rain except at his word (1 Kings 17:1). This is simply Elijah praying (James 5:17) that the punishment God had threatened (Deuteronomy 11:16-17) should come to pass!
“Jealousy” (Psalm 79:5) is a covenant term in which the LORD demands our exclusive allegiance (Deuteronomy 4:23-24; Deuteronomy 5:9-10). Our failure to keep this covenant is sometimes the cause of our problems, but our repentance brings us to the final court of appeal: His “tender mercies”, covenant love, or compassion (Psalm 79:8).
People clapped their hands and hissed and wagged their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem and mocked her afflictions (Lamentations 2:15). Likewise the people who passed by Jesus upon the Cross reviled Him, wagging their heads (Matthew 27:39). We have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, so we can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:15-16).
We can express our perplexity, and cry “How long?” (Psalm 79:5) We can plead for help and repent of sins: for we know God as the God of our salvation (Psalm 79:9). And though we be brought very low (Psalm 79:8), we know that He will do all for the glory of His Name (Psalm 79:9).