I stepped out the front door today to a rolling, roaring sound. East Tennesseans, have you heard it? The Sandhill Cranes are wintering nearby, and hundreds of them flew in huge circles, sometimes crisscrossing each other as they dropped quickly before rising again. Such an aeronautical display requires perfect radar: How did they not fly into each other?!
I have learned sandhill cranes are usually in family groups and they are intensely focused on following the leader. It struck me how dangerous their apparent wandering from thousands of miles away would be without the guiding leader of the flock. Psalm 79 is similar. See if you think so, too.
The scene is likely the destruction of Jerusalem. The enemy has violently devastated Israel’s land and people in verse 1, “How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever?” Christians express to me a sense of helplessness and insecurity in these days of division, violence in words and acts of destruction. Do you sense it, too? Psalm 79 will help us.
The psalm is worth study just to pluck out its deep view of God. After the whining and travail is done, rescue comes in verses 8-13. First, there is serious introspection about personal sin (8a) and a pleading for mercy and help (8b-9a). At this turning point there is the center for all prayers and life: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!”
Christ followers are realists and express themselves honestly to God. BUT as the first line of one book startled us: “It’s not about you.” History, life, today, tomorrow and every little detail is about God. His glory and great and holy name are at stake (9b-11). We live to enlarge His reputation.
Applications abound for these uneasy times. God is the starting point—not others or us. We ask: What will point others to His distinctiveness and, consequently, our unique, countercultural life with Him? We will not correctly live a single day if our responses are based on a wrong or incomplete view of the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. While we pray for “justice,” it is His resolution and retribution, not ours.
Let us not miss the center of Psalm 79. Like the sandhill cranes that do not seem to have order or direction but do, all our history is about God’s glory, i.e., His “splendor, holiness and majesty,” is our urgent focus. The goal of everything is to enlarge His reputation.
P.S. As I watched the hundreds of cranes go back and forth for many minutes, I did not see even one of them collide with another. But the illustration breaks down (as all do): A leader-crane gets tired and passes off the lead spot to another. Not true of our God! As another Psalm sings, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth…Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:2,4).