Psalm 74 — Psalms of Asaph
Who wrote this psalm?
There are three possible answers to this question:
- Someone using the name of Asaph from the time of the Babylonian exile.
- Asaph prophesying the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.
- Asaph talking about the destruction of the home of the tabernacle at Shiloh
There are reasons for each of these views in the Bible:
- “Mount Zion where you dwelt.” in verse 2 of this psalm could point to the Temple having been there.
- The destruction of the temple if the people were not faithful was revealed to Solomon just after the building was dedicated. 2 Chronicles 7:19–22
- The destruction of Shiloh in the reign of Saul and the temple dedication under Solomon were in Asaph’s lifetime, plus the psalm does not mention the temple but the sanctuary, a term also used for the tabernacle.
Asaph had a long career. Appointed by David as one of the chief musicians in the Temple, and still serving under Solomon. Asaph’s role was prophetic, his job was to listen to the prayers concerns and laments of the people, and to give God’s relpy. The Psalms of Asaph, Psalms 50 and 73–83 are both communal laments and words of prophesy.
A maskil of Asaph.
1 O God, why have you rejected us for ever?
Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember the nation you purchased long ago,
the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed –
Mount Zion, where you dwelt.
3 Turn your steps towards these everlasting ruins,
all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
4 Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
5 They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
6 They smashed all the carved panelling
with their axes and hatchets.
7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling-place of your Name.
8 They said in their hearts, ‘We will crush them completely!’
They burned every place where God was worshipped in the land.
9 We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
10 How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name for ever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
12 But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.
13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
16 The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
17 It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,Psalm 74 NIV UK
how foolish people have reviled your name.
19 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people for ever.
20 Have regard for your covenant,
because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
21 Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
remember how fools mock you all day long.
23 Do not ignore the clamour of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.
Of the three possible meanings, I prefer the third. Asaph was thinking of the destruction of the Shiloh Tabernacle and wrote this for the anniversary of that event,
What is a maskil?
This psalm is descrimed in the introduction as a maskil. It would help in understanding the psalm if we knew what a maskil is. Sadly we don’t, there are a lot of different opinions out there ranging from a very complexly arranged piece with interweaving rhythms and counterpoint, through to an indication that the psalm os to be understood as wisdom literature.That last idea comes from the idea that maskil means “a person versed in Hebrew or Yiddish literature,” – Merriam-Webster. As modern use is to describe a wise man it would make sense that applied to a psalm it would mean something on the line of a wise saying.
Rejected for ever?
The opening words, “O God, why have you rejected us for ever?” are clearly hyperbole. If Asaph believed God had rejected them for ever, or would do, there would be no need for this psalm. This psalm os using techniques used in wisdom literature, and should be understood in the same way as Job or Ecclesiastes, which is not necessarily literal.
Again this psalm is in three parts:
- Verses 1–11: The sanctuary of God was destroyed and we got no warning from the prophets.
- Verses 12–17: Remembering God’s deeds in the past.
- Verses 18–23: Asking for God’s help.
This psalm is about trusting God in the hard times. It sometimes feels as if God has abandoned us with church buildings doing singing free services, online services or none at all. The answer is in three parts:
- God has not abandoned us, nor will God ever abandon us, the irony in the opening verses is obvious, it is saying what the detractors were saying, they are equating worship in a dedicated building, and also in those days animal sacrifice, as the things necessary to worship God. These things are unnecessary.
- Remember. Remember what God has done in the past. Here it is things like opening up streams and drying up rivers are from the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, but there are also God’s power over mythical beasts. This, like the opening verses is not about literal scientific understanding, but it is saying that God is more powerful than you can imagine.
- Trust. When there is nothing left for you to fall back on, not even the trappings and rituals of your religion, God is still here and can be trusted. God is with his people in their suffering, God sees what we are going through. Jesus is the example of God joining in our suffering, he gave up his place in Heaven to become a human not to lord it over humans but to suffer and die at the hand of humans for the sake of humans. Jesus walks alongside us when we suffer. We need to bring our concerns to him and to trust. God works great things through the sufferings of his people.
I would normally leave the blog post there, on a message of trusting in God. But how the news is going with Covid-19 in the UK with the vaccines at an early stage of being rolled out, it will speed up as more people are trained in administering them. But while that is happening the news is saying that restrictions may need to be tightened, people are still meeting together, only a few, but enough of them to endanger everyone. Police are warning of more arrests if people break the rules. We were warned well in advance of the winter spike in cases and the warnings have turned out to be correct. We need to trust in God, like the Israelites needed to trust in God. We have an advantage, we can see that this pandemic is not forever.