For the director of music. To the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’. A psalm of Asaph. A song.
We praise you, God,
we praise you, for your Name is near;
people tell of your wonderful deeds.
You say, ‘I choose the appointed time;
it is I who judge with equity.
When the earth and all its people quake,
it is I who hold its pillars firm.
To the arrogant I say, “Boast no more,”
and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horns.
Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.”’
No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
he brings one down, he exalts another.
In the hand of the Lord is a cup
full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth
drink it down to its very dregs.
As for me, I will declare this for ever;(Ps. 75:1-10 NIV)
I will sing praise to the God of Jacob,
who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.’
This Psalm is a response to Psalm 74. The people had been exiled and there was no word from the Lord. The name of the Lord is openly mocked by the captors. The captors believed that their triumph over the people of Yahweh was proof that their gods were greater. The lack of a divine response led to the lament of Psalm 74. Psalm 75 finds a response from God. God will respond but it will be according to His time. It truly was a mystery to the people that they were suffering, the Lord’s name was mocked, sacrificial worships was impossible because the temple had been destroyed. How can these realities be reconciled?
The opening lines respond to the feeling expressed in Psalm 74, that God was far away. The people praise God. His name is near. The Psalmist is celebrating the nearness of God. The people speak of the wonderful deeds that the Lord has done. God had chosen to place His name at the temple.
You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.
You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name – there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. And there rejoice before the Lord your God – you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no land allotted to them or any inheritance of their own. Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.(Deut. 12:4-14 NIV)
Then he said:
‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David. For he said, “Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.”
‘My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, “You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood – he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.”
‘The Lord has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt.’(1 Ki. 8:15-21 NIV)
It is significant that the Psalmist celebrates the nearness of God’s name. They had boasted in the temple and felt, because they had the temple, that they were virtually immune from attack and defeat. Now they are learning that the importance of the temple was that the presence of the Lord was there, not the temple itself. Now they take courage in God. God is near to the people even when there is no house or temple. The temple may be gone but that cannot separate the presence of God from His people. This is particularly poignant for us during lockdown. Though we are separated from the house of God, yet God is near to His people.
The Lord then speaks in v2-5. The Lord says that He chooses the time. Quite often in our prayers we border on suggesting that we know what God should do and when God should do it. God is Sovereign; when He is silent, and we do not see a response, God expects us to trust Him. The Lord will judge with equity in His own time. While the havoc, destruction and mocking has been rampant, as if everything is falling apart, and the earth and the people quake, God reminds them that ‘it is I who hold its pillars firm.’ Though thousands upon thousands of people are dying in our country, though unemployment rises out of control, though the politicians bicker and many lose heart, the Lord says, ‘It is I who hold the pillars firm.’ It is never out of control, always out of our control, but God stands firm to accomplish His work in His timing.
God speaks directly to the arrogant v4. He commands the arrogant to stop their boasting. This is not going to end well for them. They enjoy their moment, only because God has allowed that moment, but in His timing, God will deal with them. The arrogant may feel they are fine, because they don’t believe in God therefore God can’t touch them. Their problem is that God created them, and God’s control extends over all things even rebellious humanity. God says to the wicked not to lift up their horns towards Him, towards heaven. To raise up your horns is a display of your own strength. We might say it in a different way today such as, ‘don’t you raise your fist to me.’ While this was a warning to the enemies of the Lord’s people, it was also a warning to the Lord’s people. They must learn to submit to the Lord. If they had acknowledged the Lord then this exile wouldn’t have taken place.
No group of people from East or West or the desert can decide to exalt a people. It is the Lord who judges. The Lord raises one ruler and He brings another down. Many changes are taking place in our world today, in Russia, China and USA, major nations, with charismatic characters strutting the corridors of power. It is well for us all to remember that the Lord holds the pillars firmly in His grip. World leaders should not raise their fist against heaven. If any group is in the ascendancy, it is only because God has so ordained it. Their term of office will end when God decides.
In Psalm 74 the Psalmist asked God to take His right hand from the folds of His garment. The image in this Psalm is that God’s hand is holding the pillars of this earth firmly in His hand. Then in v8, far from the hand of the Lord being folded in His garment, He holds in His hand a cup of wrath that He will pour out upon the earth, and they drink it down to the very bottom of the cup. The people of God felt fearful because they thought the Lord’s hand was withheld. Now the wicked should be fearful because the Sovereign hand holds everything in His hand and He holds a cup of wrath which He will pour out in His time.
The Psalmist now resolves to sing a new song in response to the Lord’s answer to Psalm 74. As for the Psalmist he will declare this message forever so that all may know, and he will praise God, because God judges in equity, cutting down the power of the wicked and exalting the God given power of the righteous. There is an additional meaning here. A plural word refers to the wicked, but a singular refers to the righteous, the righteous One. In the time of exile there is a growing messianic expectation growing. This messianic expectation can be found in other places.
Lord God, it is a great comfort to us all that You hold the pillars of this earth and every society firmly in Your hands. Forgive us for the feelings of despair that we have felt when it seemed that matters were out of control. It is only ever out of our control, never out of Your control. Lord we are an impatient people, we want things accomplished according to our timing, as if somehow we have a deep insight into the timing of events. We thank You that we can see in this Psalm that Your hand, while it seems withheld, really is held ready to execute Your plan in Your time. As our brothers and sisters in exile saw the only hope as the coming of the Messiah, so we today feel that the only hope is the coming of the Kingdom of God into people’s lives, and ultimately the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord as we wait for our Saviour’s coming, help us to be occupied in His service and to be strengthened in our faith. Lord be pleased to hear our prayer in Jesus name. Amen.