I know, I’m jumping ahead in our reading through the Bible, but I will jump back to the Old Testament in a moment. In Matthew 2, we encounter this scene where Magi from the east come to Jerusalem to honor the king who had just been born (pointing to the birth of Jesus). King Herod, at the time, inquires of what the Magi know of this “new king.” He comes to find out that a child was to be born in Bethlehem, who would become king of the Jews. Herod, in his jealousy and insecurity and want to maintain power, decides right-away, to eliminate the threat of this newborn king. He does so by ordering the slaughter of every boy in Bethlehem, two years old and under.
Can you imagine the impact this act had. We immediately think of the immediate loss of life. But, think of the psychological and emotional toll that this act had on those families and the society of Bethlehem and of Israel. Those whose children were killed might have had serious mistrust of governing authorities from that point-on. Many might have went into a depression so deep, that they were never quite right again. Many might have took up matters of revenge in their own hands, and attacked the soldiers that carried out the death order — leaving them with more scars to deal with. Many might have fled the town of Bethlehem or Israel, leaving an economic impact in their absence. And, we could go on and on, about the ways in which this one act of sin might have had an impact on more than just Herod. Herod’s sin impacted many, and likely many generations following. It’s hard to imagine otherwise.
Yet, when we read or hear the words of Ps 79:8, “[Lord God] Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” — I think, for many of us, our first thought is, “Our sins don’t impact anyone else!” “My sin affects me and nobody else.” Or, “My ancestor’s sins are between them and God.” “They have nothing to do with me today.”
On one hand, I would agree. Our ancestor’s sins, in a guilt-related way, are just between them and God. But, the impact — the consequences — of their sins, do (and often) have something to do with us today. They may not get passed-down, as if we are guilty of their sin. But, the impact of their sins, likely still affect us today.
This is the downward spiral that happens when people turn away from God. The Apostle Paul essentially says likewise when he says in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” Sin accrues wealth overtime. And, the end result of that wealth is not life, but death. The end result is not the financing of a life-giving environment, but a death-ridden environment. And, that is exactly what we encounter when Herod sinned (ref. Matthew 2).
His sin may have just been one day’s worth of wages toward death, but those wages were spent on more than just Herod. They were also spent on all the families who lost the lives of their young sons. So also, this is the case with Israel, that the Psalmist in Psalm 79 is recounting.
Israel was in covenant with God to obey his commands. But, when they ignored God’s commands and did their own thing — which was sin (doing something other than what God wills or desires) — they began to accrue wages toward death — and spending those wages on financing a death-ridden environment and society. And, the Psalmist is essentially saying that Israel’s choices from years ago, are now having an impact on the current generation.
The wages of sin came upon Israel in the form of invading powers, who took over their lives, and killed many of them. And now, their children found themselves in a foreign land and in a foreign culture. Their children found themselves doubtful of God and who he is. They were in misery in a foreign country, hoping for God to deliver them, but that didn’t seem to be happening. And now, they are starting to wonder if this God their ancestors spoke of was legit (still worth following and worshipping).
Sin really does have an impact. And the Psalmist recognizes the impact that his ancestor’s sins was having on his generation. And, he cries out to God to have mercy on them and to deliver them from the impact of their ancestor’s sins.
Now, let’s think about our own day and time. How true might this reality be for our day? What sins might we see in our ancestor’s past that are having an impact on us today. I’m sure, in our ancestor’s day and age, their sinful choices may not have looked like they would have much of an impact at all. But, when I look around the society of the U.S. right now, I think I see some of those impacts: mistrust between the white and black and hispanic cultures; mistrust between governing authorities and citizens; mistrust between modern and post-modern generations, and there are many more I could think of.
Another thing to ponder is this. We may be feeling the affect of our ancestor’s sins. But, we are not exempt from this same reality. What sins of ours are we maybe entangled with ourselves, that will have just as much impact to the generations following us?
We, like the Psalmist are in desperate need for God’s mercy on us as sinners; and his delivering power from the guilt and effect of our sins and the sins of previous generations. My encouragement today is to keep the words of Psalm 79:8 in your heart over the coming months and years — that it would be a consistent prayer in your heart — that we (most specifically, Christ’s church) would encounter anew God’s mercy and his power to deliver us from our sins.