It’s not a happy song. Not gonna set your toe to tapping. It’s a sad song. A lament.
I’m guessing it was written after the Babylonian invasion. Also referred to as the Chaldeans, these nation conquerors had added Israel to their list. They had encroached for years. Took their time as they laid siege to God’s great city. Even taking over the throne in advance of taking over the land with their puppet kings. But eventually, they had “come into” God’s inheritance, had defiled His holy temple, and had laid Jerusalem in ruins. All the while they had poured out blood and taken life, feeding the bodies of God’s people to the birds and their flesh to the beasts. So many dead that there was no one to bury them (Ps. 79:1-3). And to add insult to injury, insult was added to injury:
We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.
(Psalm 79:4 ESV)
It had been hard, really hard. And it had been going on for a long time, a really long time. And there was no apparent end in sight. So, the songwriter pens a song — a “how long O Lord song.”
How long, O LORD? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire?
(Psalm 79:5 ESV)
It’s not the first “how long O Lord” song in the Psalter. David had penned a couple:
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(Psalm 13:1 ESV)
How long, O Lord, will You look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!
(Psalm 35:17 ESV)
And a guy by the name of Ethan the Ezrahite would write another:
How long, O LORD? Will You hide yourself forever? How long will Your wrath burn like fire?
(Psalm 89:46 ESV)
And as I chew on it, I’m guessing we’ve all sung a “how long O Lord” song at one point or another. Finding ourselves in a trial that just keeps on trying us. Enduring hard stuff that never seems to get easier. Waiting on God to step in. And yet, heaven seems disinterested. No apparent resolution in sight. Not quite sure what to do, but also not quite sure how long we can keep going the way we’re going. How long O Lord?
Sometimes, as in this song, there’s a direct correlation between our sin and our suffering. Asaph & Co. had been warned repeatedly by a myriad of prophets that Israel’s spiritual infidelity would not be left unjudged if they refused to repent and return to their first love. But they refused . . . and continued to rebel . . . and the walls came tumbling down, literally.
But other times there doesn’t appear to be a cause and effect connection. Nothing that clearly says you’re here because you did that. Instead, life sometimes is just hard. Sometimes God’s permits stuff in our world for purposes that only He understands. And though we may not know why we’re in the fire, nor have any indication of when things will cool down, something I remember from Hebrews reminds me of what good can come of it.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.
(Hebrews 12:7, 10 ESV)
God disciplines, or trains, those He loves. It’s in the “how long O Lord” seasons of life that, if nothing else, we learn to lean into Him, His power, and His promise. It’s then that we realize how powerless our self-sufficient strength really is and, in our weakness, know experientially the almost tangible power of His sustaining grace.
If nothing else, it’s when we learn to trust to the next level–internalizing what it means to lean not to our own understanding, to acknowledge Him in all our ways, and to somehow rest, with a supernatural rest, that He will, in fact, direct our paths (Prov. 3:5-6).
Nobody likes to sing a “how long O Lord” song. But everybody’s sung it . . . or will some day.
Father, use the song in Your people to draw them to Yourself. To trust in Your steadfast love, and to, even in the storm, rejoice in Your salvation (Ps. 13:5).
By Your grace. For Your glory.