Scriptures

Psalm 74

Introduction

This psalm is a psalm of lament by Asaph. He appears to be lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in 586 B.C. Asaph, just as Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations, shows deep sorrow over the loss of the city and the fall of God’s people.

Heading

‘A maskil of Asaph.’

Asaph was the singer and musician during the reign of David and Solomon, 1 Chronicles 15:17-19 / 1 Chronicles 16:5-7 / 1 Chronicles 25:6. 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 tells us that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions.

No one really knows what the word maskil means, some believe it’s a musical term or a literary term. The word is used thirteen times throughout the Psalms, Psalm 32 / Psalm 42 / Psalm 44 / Psalm 45 / Psalm 52 / Psalm 53 / Psalm 54 / Psalm 55 / Psalm 74 / Psalm 78 / Psalm 88 / Psalm 89 / Psalm 142. The word is also used in Amos 5:13.

‘O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the nation you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—Mount Zion, where you dwelt. Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. They smashed all the carved panelling with their axes and hatchets. They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!’ Psalm 74:1-11

Because Jerusalem had been destroyed and Israel had fallen, Asaph begins by asking God, ‘why He has rejected His people forever?’ Psalm 44:9 / Psalm 13:1, that is, ‘why is God no longer with them’, Psalm 79:13 / Psalm 95:7.

He also asks God ‘why His anger smoulders against the sheep of His pasture?’ That is, ‘why is God now working against His people?’, Deuteronomy 29:20 / Deuteronomy 32:22 / Jeremiah 15:14.

He asks God to remember the nation He purchased long ago, the people of God’s inheritance, the people He redeemed, Isaiah 43:3, at Mount Zion, Exodus 12:3 / Exodus 16:1-2 / Exodus 16:9 / Leviticus 4:15 / Numbers 27:17.

He asks God to ‘turn His steps’, that is, to turn and help His people because the sanctuary had been destroyed. He asks God to defend His sanctuary because those who came were armed, they were like men yielding axes and hatchets, ready to destroy the sanctuary, Exodus 29:10 / Exodus 29:44 / Exodus 33:7 / Leviticus 3:8 / Leviticus 3:13 / Leviticus 10:7 / Leviticus 10:9.

The enemy had set up their standards, that is, their military signs.

Coffman, in his commentary says the following.

‘These verses describe the destruction of the holy temple itself. The conquering enemy soldiers assaulted the sanctuary just like a company of woodsmen chopping down a grove of trees. ‘The interior walls of Solomon’s Temple were panelled with cedar and decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees and flowers.’ It was more than the mere instinct of vandals however that motivated all that chopping. 1 Kings 6:21-29 reveals that all that carved work was overlaid with pure gold.’ Exodus 28:11 / Exodus 28:21 / Exodus 28:36 / Exodus 39:6 / Exodus 39:14 / Exodus 39:30 / Zechariah 3:9 / 2 Chronicles 2:14.’

The enemy burned the sanctuary to the ground and defiled God’s dwelling place. They were determined to crush God’s people completely. The total destruction of the temple happened in 586 B.C. at the end of the reign of Zedekiah, 2 Kings 25:9 / 2 Chronicles 36:19.

Some translations use the word ‘synagogue’, however, we know that the synagogue didn’t exists until Israel was taken into Babylonian captivity.

The enemy burned ‘every place where God was worshipped in the land’, this clearly tells us that Israel worshipped God in others places, not just the tabernacle. This probably means that there were places where they could hear God’s Word being read out and learn from them at the same time, Deuteronomy 17:9-12 / Deuteronomy 33:10 / Leviticus 10:8-11.

The damage caused by Israel’s enemies were more than just physical, the were also spiritual. Asaph says that they no longer sees signs and they no longer have any prophets. No wonder, he asks God how long they will be in this spiritual condition.

He asks God how long will Israel’s enemies mock God, revile His Name? He ask God how long will it be before He moves into action and destroys them?

Nebuchadnezzar and his army totally destroyed Jerusalem, and the temple and so, Israel had reaped the result of her apostasy, 2 Kings 25:9, and ended up being taken into captivity.

This is his brethren which has been taken into captivity, this was his city which had been destroyed, this was God’s dwelling place which had been destroyed. This is why Asaph calls upon God to take His right hand, the hand of power and authority, out of His garment and destroy their captors.

‘But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert. It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever-flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.’ Psalm 74:12-17

Asaph says that God is his King from long ago and then he thinks about the great wonders that God did in the past in order to gain strength that He would do the same for Israel in the future.

God divided the Red Sea, Exodus 14:21, He broke the heads of the monsters in the waters, Job 30:29 / Isaiah 13:22. He crushed the heads of the Leviathan, whose name means ‘twisting one’.

Most commentators see the Leviathan as a reference to Egypt, Psalm 89:8-10 / Psalm 104:26 / Job 26:12-13 / Isaiah 27:1 / Isaiah 51:9. He humbled the powers of Egypt, Job 41:1.

He opened springs and torrents of water, Deuteronomy 21:4 / Exodus 17:6 / Numbers 20:11 / 1 Kings 8:2 / Amos 5:24, He dried up the waters of the Jordan in order that Israel pass into the Promised Land, Joshua 3:15-16.

Asaph knows that that God is all powerful and if He is powerful enough to do all these things, then He is more than powerful enough to deliver Israel in their time of distress.

‘Remember how the enemy has mocked you, LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name. Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever. Have regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land. Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name. Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long. Do not ignore the clamour of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.’ Psalm 74:18-23

After speaking about the awesome power of God, Asaph now calls upon God to remember the ways of the ungodly, Isaiah 36:4-10 / Isaiah 36:13-20 / Isaiah 37:10-13 / Isaiah 37:23, and their blasphemy of His name, Psalm 14:1.

He called upon on God not to allow His defenceless nation to be consumed by those who had no respect for Him. He asks God to protect His people, that is, God’s ‘dove’, from the wild beast, He asks God not to forget His people. The dove is a name of endearment for one who is loved, Psalm 68:10.

Notice he also asks God to ‘regard His covenant’, Asaph should know it wasn’t God who needed to reminding of the covenant, it was Israel, they wouldn’t be in this mess if they hadn’t broke it with idolatry, Deuteronomy 4:13 / Deuteronomy 5:2 / Deuteronomy 26:18-19.

Nevertheless, Asaph asks God to regard His covenant, in order that God would deliver them from the trouble they are in now, Genesis 9:15 / Leviticus 26:42 / Ezekiel 16:60 / Luke 1:72.

He wants God to save them from the haunts of violence in the ‘dark places’, which could refer to the caves where some of the Israelites were hiding from the Babylonians.

Those who were oppressed, the poor and the needy were obviously victims of the Babylonian onslaught. Asaph didn’t want the righteous to go away with unanswered prayers. And so, the arrogance of those who had reproached God should stir God into action.

In the case of Israel’s deliverance from captivity, God did take action, He delivered His people from Babylonian captivity, Ezra 1:1-6.

Asaph now asks God to arise, because he is concerned about God’s glory, he wants God to rebuke the fools who mock God all day long, Psalm 3:7. He wants God to arise against his adversaries and enemies, those who were continually trying to destroy His people, Psalm 137:7.

Conclusion

Asaph poured his heart out to God because of what the Babylonians had done, not only to God’s people and God’s city, but also to God’s temple.

Jerusalem which once stood in all its splendour was now in ruins, God ‘lived’ there in the temple but this to also lay in ruins. Nebuchadnezzar had come in and totally destroyed it all, along with killing many Jews in the process. The young men were taken into captivity, the Babylonians raped the young Jewish women.

The prophet Jeremiah saw all of this, and he knew exactly what had happened, but he also recognised that God’s own people weren’t so innocent, they broke God’s laws time and time again, they became as evil, as the false gods they ended up worshipping and so God had to punish them, 2 Chronicles 36:14-17.

No wonder when we read his lamentations, we find a man who is heartbroken, but amongst all the heartbreak and sorrow there’s a glimmer of hope, he knew that God actually does care about His people and so he prays that one day, his people could return to their beloved city, Lamentations 3:21-26.

All too often, when we suffer we think that God doesn’t care for us anymore, however, if we learn anything from Asaph and Jeremiah, it’s simply this, God really does care. He hasn’t forgotten us, even though we may forget Him at times, Isaiah 49:15.

Go To Psalm 75

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Romans 12:2

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