Psalm 74 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
Asaph begins this psalm with a heart-wrenching question: “O God, why do you cast us off forever?” Of course, the Lord had not cast off Israel forever, but it certainly did feel that way to the psalmist. “Why does your anger smoke against us?” he said. We don’t know all the specific sins that Israel had committed at this time, but it is clear that they had broken covenant with God, and that is why they were being cast off. It is just as Moses promised in Leviticus 26 that God would bless them if they obeyed the Law of God, but curse them if they did not, and the ultimate fulfillment of the curse was to be cast off and cast out of the Promised Land.
Nevertheless, the psalmist pleads for mercy and begs the Lord to remember that He had purchased Israel as His prized possession, that He had redeemed them out of Egypt and had dwelt in their midst, setting up His tabernacle in their camp. How then could the Lord allow their enemies to profane the dwelling place of God’s name, set fire to His sanctuary, and set up their own pagan symbols in God’s Holy Place? That is an abomination of desolation set up by a man of lawlessness in their midst. How could God allow such evil men in their arrogance to boast against the Lord in this way? The psalmist longed to know the answer, but there was not prophet at that time to reveal the secret plan of God. So Asaph cries out, “How long, O God?” How long would He allow His foes to scoff and boast? How long would He allow “His enemies to revile His name forever?”
“How long?” is a recurring question of many sufferers in Scripture, particularly in the section of wisdom literature (See Job 7:19; Ps 13.1-2; 35:17; 79:5; 80:4; 89:46; 90:13; 94:3; 119:84; Isa. 6:11; Hab. 1:2; Zech. 1:12; Rev. 6:10.) Much of the time the question is centered on the individual’s experience of suffering asking God how much longer they would need to endure the pain, humiliation and injustice of their circumstances. But oftentimes the sufferer also points out the fact that God’s own reputation is at stake in allowing the evil to triumph, thus they would often pray something similar to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer, saying “Hallowed be thy name.” In this instance, Asaph asks God to hold back his hand no longer but to bring it out from the fold of his garment in order to destroy His enemies. Again, this prayer is made for the sake of God’s reputation, not just for the sake of Israel’s relief.
Then, in vv.12-17, Asaph begins to recall the wondrous works of the Lord in the past both to increase his faith in the Lord’s power and glory in his own day as well as to say to the Lord, “Renew them in our day as well.” So he recalls how the Lord worked salvation for his people by bringing them out of Egypt in dividing the waters of the sea. The mention of sea monsters and the Leviathan were a reference to the pagan symbols of Egypt, similar to the symbols being set up in God’s sanctuary during the time of this writing. Just as the Lord took out the gods of the Egyptians, so He will take out these so-called gods as well. The psalmist also remembers that the Lord is sovereign over the night as well as the day, suggesting that He is still God in the midst of their trials. He has given both the summer as well as the winter, and He has fixed the boundaries of the earth, so, certainly, He will also limit the time that evil men can run freely in the land.
Having recalled these works by faith, the psalmist again asks God to consider how the enemy scoffs and reviles His name, and he asks the Lord not to forget His poor people, His dove, His beloved, but to remember the covenant that He made with them and to defend His cause and His name in the world.
Certainly, we can all relate with sympathy to the feeling of abandonment and alienation by God that the psalmist is expressing in this passage. We all have felt at times that the Lord has forsaken us either because of our sins or because of some evil calamity that has overtaken us. But the Lord has not abandoned us. He still is sitting upon his throne and is still working out everything for His own name sake and for our good.
The only son of Abraham who was ever truly abandoned by the Lord was the son of God, Jesus, the Christ. On the cross, he cried out like the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For at that moment, when he was bearing the sin of the world, the Lord had poured out his hot anger upon his only son. He had pronounced curse upon curse on the Holy One of God because as the Lamb of God, he had become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God by faith in His name. It is because the Lord had cursed him and poured out his wrath upon him that He can look with love upon us. And now we know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and that God works everything out for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we will not see dark days nor that we will never be confused and bewildered by the will of the Lord, but it does mean that God will keep his covenant with us and continue to love his precious dove for the sake of His own name.