The Sins of our Ancestors

“O Lord, how long will You be angry with us? Forever?
How long will Your jealousy burn like fire? 
Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors! 
Let Your compassion quickly meet our needs, 
     for we are on the brink of despair.”
Psalms‬ ‭79:5, 8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is not a comfortable Psalm to read, with its references to blood shed and misery, death and destruction. The Psalmist equates the reason for the devastation to God’s extreme displeasure with the Jewish nation, accusing God of acting in anger and jealousy against His people. But in the middle of his lament, is an appeal to God, for His compassion to displace the judgement. Asaph, the Psalmist, obviously believes that God is acting now because of the misbehaviour, the rebellion, the unfaithfulness, of previous generations. And he perhaps questions the fairness of such action. But God was quite clear – in Exodus 34 God said through Moses, “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” Eventually God will act in judgement against guilty people, people who stack up their individual and national sins until He can stand it no more. But nevertheless, Asaph pleads with God to have mercy, to show compassion, on his people in a time of a national disaster, a time of despair. Perhaps the chink of light in this verse of warning is the reference to the guilty. Thankfully God is a God of compassion and love, as well as One of judgement, of anger and jealousy. And Asaph appeals to Him to show compassion, in the process forgiving the people for the sins of their ancestors. And to quickly come and mitigate their guilt and despair, to provide what they need.

So the inevitable question. How relevant is this Psalm in 21st Century societies? It’s a warning to us all. God is “slow to anger, quick to bless”, thankfully. Otherwise the rebellion and sins of our nations would have led to our destruction long ago. I probably wouldn’t even be here, writing this blog. And that is the key – God allows mankind to exist, even when acting sinfully, because of His grace and mercy. He gives everyone an opportunity for repentance, for embracing Him while there is still time, during our lives here on earth.