Psalm 79 – How Long, Oh Lord?

Psalm 79 is a lament like so many of the psalms in Book 3. The lament is balanced in the second half by repentence and a cry for rescue. Do you need rescue? Then join with this psalmist as he calls out to God.


Psalm 79 divides into two distinct halves of 65 words each in the original Hebrew.

The first half is a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. The meaningful center of this section is found in verse 4 where the psalmist cries out,

We have become a taunt to our neighbors (Psalm 79:4a)

The second half is a plea for forgiveness and rescue. The meaningful center of this section is found at the end of verse 10.

Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes! (Psalm 79:10c,d)

Psalm 79 also has a 7 part structure on the strophe level in a menorah pattern (7 ideas mirroring themselves from the center out).

Look what they have done! (verses 1-3)
How long will they taunt us? (verses 4-5)
Punish them! (verses 6-7)
Forgive us (verses 8-9)
Avenge us (verse 10)
Return their taunts back on them (verses 11-12)
We praise You for what You have done (verse 13)

When seen through this seven part structure the theme of forgiveness becomes central.

Look What They Have Done!

Psalm 79:1-3

The defining element of the beginning of this psalm is the list of what the nations have done to Israel and specifically to Jerusalem. In the most translation you see a repeating pattern of "they have ..."

  • They have defiled the temple.
  • They have made a ruin of Jerusalem.
  • They have slaughtered your people - so much so that there are not enough people left to bury them.
  • They have poured out blood.

What should we do when life crumbles around us? The psalmist, Asaph, begins by laying his troubles before God. This is always the right place to start. When troubles come we should quickly turn to God.


How Long Will They Taunt?

Psalm 79:4-5

The next two verses focus on the taunts of the enemy and the angonizing question, "How long?" Just like Jesus, we are sometimes allowed to suffer the mocking of others. When you are mocked for doing good, remember that Jesus suffered shame for us.

Notice the change from "they have" to "we have" which is used to highlight the meaningful center of this half of the psalm.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors (Psalm 79:4a)

The question, "How long?" is a common question in the psalms. A quick search on Bible Gateway, using the ESV as the translation, came up with 15 examples of the psalmists asking God, "How long?"

When you turn to God for help, don't be afraid to speak honestly with Him and ask, "How long?"

Punish Them!

Psalm 79:6-7

The psalmist ends his lament with a cry for justice. The enemy has "poured out" the blood of God's people like water (Psalm 79:3). So he calls out for God to "pour out" His anger on the enemy.

The psalms are a constant reminder that it is OK to be angry at injustice and sin. It is right to desire God's justice on people who continually pursue evil. We should love everyone, but that does not mean we should be OK with sin going unpunished. As God's people we should desire justice.

Forgive Us

Psalm 79:8-9

With verse eight we begin the second half of the psalm but we are also at the center of the menorah pattern.

This section is a plea for God to forgive and restore. Asaph gives God two reasons to deliver them from their enemies:

  1. because they are brought very low, and
  2. for the honor of God's name.

God's mercy is great and throughout scripture we see him responding favorably to those who seek forgiveness. When you are struggling don't forget to make sure you are right before God. Seek His forgiveness.

Avenge Us

Psalm 79:10

From this point onward, each section is a mirror of an earlier section. Verse 10 is a response to verses 6-7.

Verse 7 tells us that the nations have devoured Israel and the beginning of verse 10 continues this thought by telling us that the nations are moking Israel by asking "Where is their God?" Notice that this is also a continuation of the plea, in verse 9, for God to defend the glory of His name.

The end of verse 10 is the meaningful center of the second half of the psalm and also a direct response to verse 6.

Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes! Psalm 79:10b,c

The psalmist is asking God to "pour out" His anger (Psalm 79:6) because of the "outpoured" blood of His servants.

Return Their Taunts Back on Them

Psalm 79:11-12

This section is a mirror of vs 4-5 and continues the cry for justice and rescue. We have become a taunt (Psalm 79:4), so return it back to them 7 times. Throughout this psalm we see Asaph pleading with God to carry out His justice on the enemy.


We Praise You for What You Have Done

Psalm 79:13

The psalm begins by listing all the damage the nations have done to Israel. The psalm ends by praising God for all that He has done.

As is so often true in the psalms, even though it may begin with lament, it ends with praise. Victory is found in praise!

Do you want to see victory in your life? Praise God, even during the struggle.


When life crashes around you, you can turn to God and pour out your heart to Him.

If you life is messed up because of your own sin, then remember that God forgives. The central section of this psalm is a cry for forgiveness.

If your problems are caused by the evil actions of others, then remember that God is a God of justice. Someday they will answer for their evil actions.

And never forget to praise God. No matter how bad life may seem, God is still worthy of our praise.

Jerry Wyrick

This post is part of a series on the Psalms.

by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory

Posted in General Worship, Personal Worship, Psalms and tagged , .