A maskil of Asaph.
O God, why have you rejected us for ever?
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 towards 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 worshipped 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 for ever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
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.
Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,(Ps. 74:1-23 NIV)
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 for ever.
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.
The community of the people of God from exile weep over the destruction of the Temple. The temple symbolised God’s presence and the protection of God. The Lord had permitted the enemy to lay waste the land and destroy the temple. These acts signified that God has abandoned His people. The people had long abandoned the Lord. They treated the temple like a good luck charm. Because they had the temple, they felt they were immune from attack.
The punishment of the exile was fully deserved. They felt they had been abandoned by God and they many searching questions that they want to ask. Why has God rejected them forever? Well he hadn’t rejected them forever, but it just feels like forever, because God’s anger smoulders against the sheep of His pasture. The book of Deuteronomy would answer these questions for them. Perhaps they believed that this could never happen to them. Their minds go back to when they were the sheep of His pasture, and cared for as a shepherd tends his sheep. They recall the great deliverance of the Exodus, the people of God’s inheritance whom He had redeemed out of Egypt. They were brought to the holy mountain where the most high God has His dwelling place. If the Lord has abandoned them, perhaps He is still marching away from them. They call on God to turn His steps towards the everlasting ruins of the Lord’s house. Come and see the destruction that the enemy has done to the Place where Your glory dwelled.
The Psalmist now turns to describe the destruction of the temple in detail. The enemy of God charged in roaring their heads off with impudence into the place where you used to meet with us. The voice that used to sound out from the sanctuary was the Aaronic benediction – instead they hear the mocking noises of the threatening enemy. In the place where the architecture and the furniture spoke of the presence of God, the pagan army set up their standards. The New English Bible translates this ‘they planted their standards there as tokens of their victory’. The enemy sought to demolish and desecrate the temple. Like men obsessed they hacked their way through the wooden panels. They leashed their destructive force like men wielding their axes to clear a thicket of trees. There was no finesse, no respect even for the high culture of the artwork. They burned the sanctuary to the ground. These people defiled the Lord’s sanctuary, the place of Your name. Their intention was complete destruction of the place where God was once worshipped. The very mention of the facts displays the incongruity of what has happened. There has been a sad decline in church attendance in the UK over a period of decades. It might well be that many who hovered on the fringes of churches before the corona virus lockdown might never return to church again. Of course, the opposite could happen – that many people might come to hear the Gospel as the pandemic has caused some people to reflect on some very deep questions. As well as our meeting places being restored to us, we need to have our hearts restored by the Lord.
The Psalmist feels isolated from the Lord because the Lord has been silent. God has given no signs, there are no prophets left, and it is totally unknown how long this silence is going to last. Instead of hearing a word from the Lord, they have to listen to the mocking voices of the enemy. How long is God going to allow the mocking of His name. They had shown little reverence for God’s name, but now that they hear irreverence openly expressed, it saddens them that there appears to be no end to the reviling of the name of God. They want God to take his right hand that has been held in the folds of His garment and to raise that hand to deal with the enemy.
The Psalmist turns from lament to a hymn of praise as he rehearses what God has done for His people in the past. God has been the great King from ancient times. God is the giver of salvation and He brought that salvation to the earth. From a previous exile in Egypt, the Lord had split open the sea by His great power.
These beings represent the untamed nature of the sea and God defeated the monsters, the Egyptians in the sea. God is the ruler over all the waters and the ruler over all the nations.
The Psalmist calls upon the Lord to remember, hear the voices of the enemy mocking and reviling Your name. The people were cherished like a dove by the Lord. Will the Lord now hand His people over to wild beasts? Remember the lives of Your people. The Psalmist comes now to plead the only case that he has, and that is to plead the promises of the covenant. God never forgot the covenant, He is at this time remembering the curses of the covenant, and the people who have broken covenant are now suffering that curse. The Promised Land is like a wasteland. The Psalmist pleads for mercy that they may not retreat in disgrace. May the moment come when the poor and needy people will yet again praise the name of the Lord. Again the plea goes up to heaven for God to arise and defend His cause, keeping before the Lord the remembrance of the fools who dared to mock the Lord all day long. The enemy are in uproar and the clamour of their mocking is the face of God’s people constantly.
Lord we are in a kind of exile at the moment in this country. Help us Lord as we go through the steps we need to take to ensure that we can meet in safety. Give us the wisdom we need, because we have been away from the house of the Lord for so long. Lord we thank You that You have redeemed a people for yourself. Enable us to bring to mind Your great work of salvation when You opened up a way for us to find Your presence. Lord build up the churches again in this land, may we come back stronger and more vibrant than before because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen