Remember, O LORD, what is come on us: consider, and behold our reproach.…
The prayer opens with a striking phrase — "Remember, O Lord," etc. It cannot be supposed that the elegist conceived of his God as Elijah mockingly described their silent, unresponsive divinity to the frantic priests of Baal, or that he imagined that Jehovah was really indifferent, after the manner of the denizens of the Epicurean Olympus. Nevertheless, neither philosophy nor even theology wholly determines the form of an earnest man's prayers. In practice it is impossible not to speak according to appearances. Though not to the reason, still to the feelings, it is as though God had indeed forgotten His children in their deep distress. Under such circumstances the first requisite is the assurance that God should remember the sufferers whom He appears to be neglecting. The poet is thinking of external actions. Evidently the aim of his prayer is to secure the attention of God as a sure preliminary to a Divine interposition. But even with this end in view the fact that God remembers is enough. In appealing for God's attention the elegist first makes mention of the reproach that has come upon Israel. This reference to humiliation rather than to suffering as the primary ground of complaint may be accounted for by the fact that the glory of God is frequently taken as a reason for the blessing of His people. That is done for His "name's sake." Then the ruin of the Jews is derogatory to the honour of their Divine Protector. The peculiar relation of Israel to God also underlies the complaint of the second verse, in which the land is described as "our inheritance," with an evident allusion to the idea that it was received as a donation from God, not acquired in any ordinary human fashion. A great wrong has been done, apparently in contravention of the ordinance of Heaven. The Divine inheritance has been turned over to strangers. From their property the poet passes on to the condition of the persons of the sufferers. The Jews are orphans; they have lost their fathers, and their mothers are widows. The series of illustrations of the degradation of Israel seems to be arranged somewhat in the order of time and in accordance with the movement of the people. Thus, after describing the state of the Jews in their own land, the poet next follows the fortunes of his people in exile. There is no mercy for them in their flight. The words in which the miseries of this time are referred to are somewhat obscure. The phrase in the Authorised Version, "Our necks are under persecution" (ver. 5), is rendered by the Revisers, "Our pursuers are upon our necks." It would seem to mean that the hunt is so close that fugitives are on the point of being captured; or perhaps that they are made to bow their heads in defeat as their captors seize them. But a proposed emendation substitutes the word "yoke" for "pursuers." The next line favours this idea, since it dwells on the utter weariness of the miserable fugitives. There is no rest for them. The yoke of shame and servitude is more crushing than any amount of physical labour. Finally, in their exile the Jews are not flee from molestation. In order to obtain bread they must abase themselves before the people of the land. The fugitives in the south must do homage to the Egyptians; the captives in the east to the Assyrians. Here, then, at the very last stage of the series of miseries, shame and humiliation are the principal grievances deplored. At every point there is a reproach, and to this feature of the whole situation God's attention is especially directed. Now the elegist turns aside to a reflection on the cause of all this evil. It is attributed to the sins of previous generations. The present sufferers are bearing the iniquities of their fathers. Here several points call for a brief notice. In the first place, the very form of the language is significant. What is meant by the phrase to "bear iniquity"? It is clear that the poet had no mystical ideas in mind. When he said that the children bore the sins of their fathers he simply meant that they reaped the consequences of those sins. But if the language is perfectly unambiguous the doctrine it implies is far from being easy to accept. On the face of it, it seems to be glaringly unjust. We are frequently confronted with evidences of the fact that the vices of parents inflict poverty, dishonour, and disease on their families. This is just what the elegist means when he writes of children hearing the iniquities of their fathers. The fact cannot be disputed. Often as the problem that here starts up afresh has been discussed, no really satisfactory solution of it has ever been forthcoming. We must admit that we are face to face with one of the most profound mysteries of providence. But we may detect some glints of light in the darkness. The law of heredity and the various influences that go to make up the evil results in the case before us work powerfully for good under other circumstances; and that the balance is certainly on the side of good, is proved by the fact that the world is moving forward, not backward, as would be the case if the balance of hereditary influence was on the side of evil. The great unit Man is far more than the sum of the little units men. We must endure the disadvantages of a system which is so essential to the good of man. But another consideration may shed a ray of light on the problem. The bearing of the sins of others is for the highest advantage of the sufferers. It is difficult to think of any more truly elevating sorrows. They resemble our Lord's passion; and of Him it was said that He was made perfect through suffering.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.