Today’s Scripture Lesson: Psalm 74
Once again, I encourage you to read the Psalm in its entirety and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you directly through His Word.
We have covered a number of Psalms attributed to David, and we have covered one or two attributed to a priest appointed by David named Asaph. This Psalm is attributed to Asaph. As I’ve enjoyed this journey through the Psalms, this psalmist named Asaph has become a bit of a particular delight for me. I admire the weakness he shows before God. Though relatively few Psalms are attributed to him, on many of these occasions we see his anxious thoughts and I am comforted by the progression he sets on full display – from anxious despair to the hope of faith.
In preparing this study, I used the New American Standard Bible. I mention this as the terminology I’m about to extract is not in every translation in their entirety. You may find it helpful to reference an NASB translation while reading this.
Asaph takes two progressions in this Psalm. The first is the progression of despair. It is located in the first 10 verses. Let’s break these down by verse:
- v1 – Why have You rejected us forever?
- v2 – Remember Your congregation…
- v3 – Turn Your footsteps…
- v4 – Your adversaries have…
- v10 – How long, O God, will…
Throughout this progression, Asaph points to one place, in particular, the sanctuary. He refers to them as “ruins.” Everything is damaged. The adversaries of God have wreaked destruction on the sanctuary and defiled it.
Asaph points out all the ways that God has been damaged, but the real issue for Asaph is revealed in his opening question.
“O God, Why have You rejected us forever?”
He follows it up by essentially saying, “Don’t you remember us?” He could have just as easily and accurately said, “Why have you rejected me forever?”
When Desperate Hearts Cry
Isn’t this really the cry of a heart in despair? Asaph masks the pain of the sense of rejection by pointing out how God’s sanctuary has been damaged. In reality, Asaph’s instinctual response of “Why” shows that this is more about Asaph’s fear of rejection. The result of hyper-focus on himself and the enemy eventually becomes, “How long is this going to last, God?”
Then, we get to see the second progression, the progression of hope and praise. Let’s break this one down by verse:
- v11 – Why do You withdraw Your hand…
- v12 – Yet God is my king from old…
- v18 – Remember this…
- v19 – Do not deliver the soul of Your turtledove to the wild beast…
- v19 – Do not forget…
- v20 – Consider the covenant…
- v21 – Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name.
Seeing these two progressions back to back reveals a very different outcome. When we focus on the wrong things, despair leads to despair. But when we focus on the right things, despair leads to hope and praise.
What was different?
It happened at step 2 in each progression. In the progression of despair, Asaph tells God, “Remember Your congregation.” In other words, “God, don’t forget about us. God, look at us. God, do you see what’s happening to us.” This wasn’t the case in the progression of hope and praise. Yes, he did cry out, “WHY?” But then he said, “Yet God is my king from old.”
Asaph spends the next several thoughts (verses) on who God is. He’s the One who, “works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth,” who “divided the sea,” who “broke open springs and torrents,” who has “prepared the light and sun,” who has “established all the boundaries of the earth.” Asaph essentially says, “God, I know who You are.”
God Still Deserves the Glory
Before he ever moves another step into “remember,” Asaph is already speaking truth about his Creator and thereby glorifying Him.
After meditating on who his Creator has revealed Himself to be, Asaph returns to the word, “remember.” It was actually OK the first time around to say “remember Your congregation.” It just isn’t helpful to do so without establishing the truth of God’s sovereignty and authority first. Time and time again in the Old Testament, God tells His people, “remember.” He tells them “Remember, I brought you out of Egypt,” “Remember, I am the Lord your God,” “Remember, I am faithful.”
In remembering, Asaph calls for protection and he leans heavily on their relationship when he states, “Consider the covenant.” It was through the relationship of covenant that God intimately revealed Himself to His people, and it is through that covenant that He continues this day to call His people into His holy presence that we may know Him and be known by Him. In covenant, God serves as Provider and Protector.
When we turn our focus to Him — in the midst of despair, in the midst of ruin, in the midst of trials of every kind, — Asaph shows us that in His presence and sustaining glory we have nothing but reason to hope and praise.
So, What’s the Play Call?
I find it interesting that Asaph was so focused on the sanctuary, on the dwelling place of God, yet God didn’t seem to have much regard for it. As I’ve been reading the Psalms, one thing has become very clear to me – we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the sanctuary. Over and over in the Psalms, God is called “the sanctuary,” “the refuge,” “the dwelling place.”
We can build our houses of worship and anyone can destroy, ruin and defile them. We must “remember” and be mindful that no one can “destroy” or “defile” the all-consuming holiness and glory of our Creator, God Almighty, in Whom we find our refuge, our sanctuary.
We’re going to have despair and trials in this life. But, they don’t change who God is, regardless of whatever destruction you see around you. So, pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal the trivial matters which have drawn your focus away from the Father. When He has done so, meditate on God’s glory, and walk in the hope and praise of His name as you stand firm in the midst of trials of every kind.