Psalm 74 Arise, O God, Defend Your Cause A Maskil of Asaph. (1 )O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? (2) Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt. (3) Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary! (4) Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place; they set up their own signs for signs. (5) They were like those who swing axes in a forest of trees. (6) And all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. (7) They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground. (8) They said to themselves, "We will utterly subdue them"; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land. (9) We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. (10) How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? (11) Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them! (12) Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. (13) You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. (14) You crushed the heads of the Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. (15) You split open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. (16) Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. (17) You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. (18) Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs, and a foolish people reviles your name. (19) Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever. (20) Have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. (21) Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame; let the poor and needy praise your name. (22) Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! (23) Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually! ESV
Psalm 74 is titled: A Plea for Relief from Oppressors (NKJV), An Appeal against the Devastation of the Land by the Enemy (NASB2020). The HCSB just titles it: Prayer for Israel.
A Maskil of Asaph. A Contemplation of Asaph (NKJV). A psalm of Asaph (NLT). A maskil or maschil is probably a literary or musical term of some sorts; maybe how the psalm should be sung or recited. Bible scholars don’t know for sure.
David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals. 1 Chronicles 25:1 ESV And Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshipped. 2 Chronicles 29:30 ESV
Psalm 74 is a song about something terrible happening to the temple. When we look at historical records and the Bible together, we can understand the context of a psalm better. But often this is speculation, because no one truly knows for sure. This is one of those examples.
Jerusalem, along with Solomon’s temple, was destroyed in 587 BC by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24). Bible scholars believe this total destruction of the holy temple is what Psalm 74 was written about; whether prophetically or by a different Asaph who lived during this terrible time.
Also, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria (the Seleucids), desecrated the temple in 167 BC when he sacrificed a pig upon the altar to Zeus, but he did not destroy it. He persecuted and tormented the people of Israel, set up idols in the temple, and forced God’s people to do things against what they believed or be killed or sold into slavery. The Maccabean revolt of 167-166 BC ended Antiochus’s control in Jerusalem.
Whether it is a prophetic psalm, intended for use in troubles foreseen, or whether it was written by a later Asaph, after the invasion of Sennacherib or during the Maccabean wars, it would be very hard to determine, but we see no difficulty in the first supposition.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture? Remember that we are the people you chose long ago, the tribe you redeemed as your own special possession! And remember Jerusalem, your home here on earth. Walk through the awful ruins of the city; see how the enemy has destroyed your sanctuary. There your enemies shouted their victorious battle cries; there they set up their battle standards. They swung their axes like woodcutters in a forest. With axes and picks, they smashed the carved paneling. They burned your sanctuary to the ground. They defiled the place that bears your name. Then they thought, "Let's destroy everything!" So they burned down all the places where God was worshiped. We no longer see your miraculous signs. All the prophets are gone, and no one can tell us when it will end. How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you? Will you let them dishonor your name forever? Why do you hold back your strong right hand? Unleash your powerful fist and destroy them. Psalm 74:1-11 NLT
Asaph calls upon God’s covenant love for His people. He believes God is angry. The NKJV says, “Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” Whatever has happened, God’s people feel they are being punished, that He has turned His back on them, that He is so very angry with His children.
God is never weary of his people so as to abhor them, and even when his anger is turned against them, it is but for a small moment, and with a view to their eternal good.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
The city is in ruins; the sanctuary is destroyed. God’s enemies shout victory, and they leveled the place that was “your home here on earth,” the temple on Mount Zion.
Although Asaph cries out in despair, he knows that God will act. He knows that God will save them. While he believes God has turned His back on His children, Asaph knows it will not be forever. God will save. God will come. Like He always has.
It seems that the author is left in Jerusalem. If this is, in fact, the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian exile, the city and temple were destroyed, and the people have been carried away. Total lose, total devastation. Alone and fearful that God has abandoned them, the remnants of Israel in the city were left to pick up the pieces. What a terrible time that would have been.
You, O God, are my king from ages past, bringing salvation to the earth. You split the sea by your strength and smashed the heads of the sea monsters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan and let the desert animals eat him. You caused the springs and streams to gush forth, and you dried up rivers that never run dry. Both day and night belong to you; you made the starlight and the sun. You set the boundaries of the earth, and you made both summer and winter. Psalm 74:12-17 NLT
The kingdom of Israel is in ruins, all this author could do now was remember God’s faithfulness throughout time. Asaph is alone and afraid. What else could he do but despair?
When the world seems to cave in around us, remember that God has been faithful before. He will be faithful again.
Asaph remembers. We need to remember.
You “split the sea and smashed the heads of sea monsters” is a reference to the parting of the Red Sea. God saved His people from Pharaoh and his army by parting the waters and allowing His children to walk through to safety. As Pharaoh attempted to come after them, the waters fell again and the Egyptian army was lost in the sea.
Some commentators say that “sea monsters” and “Leviathan” may be references to Egypt. Leviathan could mean crocodile, and Egypt was often referenced as such. Others have ventured to say that Asaph was speaking of mythical creatures from the pagan nations around Israel. Others see references to creation in these verses (sun and seasons) and therefore these verses refer to God’s hand in creating rather than the Exodus from Egypt. The Leviathan is mentioned in other places in the Bible as a dragon or a sea serpent.
In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea. Isaiah 27:1 NLT
Whatever the meaning of these verses, the following is most important: He was faithful; He will be faithful.
The God of Israel is the God of nature. He that is faithful to his covenant about the day and the night, will never cast off those whom he has chosen. We have as much reason to expect affliction, as to expect night and winter. But we have no more reason to despair of the return of comfort, than to despair of day and summer.Matthew Henry, English minister, 1662-1714
See how these enemies insult you, LORD. A foolish nation has dishonored your name. Don't let these wild beasts destroy your turtledoves. Don't forget your suffering people forever. Remember your covenant promises, for the land is full of darkness and violence! Don't let the downtrodden be humiliated again. Instead, let the poor and needy praise your name. Arise, O God, and defend your cause. Remember how these fools insult you all day long. Don't overlook what your enemies have said or their growing uproar. Psalm 73:18-23 NLT
O that the Lord himself would come into the battle field. Long has the fight been trembling in the balance; one glance of his eyes, one word from his lip, and the banners of victory shall be borne on the breeze.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Asaph calls upon the Lord’s saving grace. He asks God to reach His hand into enemy territory and bring His children to safety. Asaph goes so far as to call upon the covenant,
The LORD had said to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Genesis 12:1-3 NIV
The end of this psalm is despair. You can almost see the tears in the man’s eyes while he cries out to God on his knees. Silence all around him. No voice of reassurance. No comfort to be found. Just a man pleading for help for him and his people. No rescue came.
But . . . we know how the story ends. God does rescue His children. God does come. He is faithful.
Father in heaven, thank you for this psalm. Thank you for the song of worry and fear. Thank you for the reminder that you want to hear from your children, that you are real and present in times of struggle and fear. Thank you that you love us so much that you never leave us. Give us strength to face the day. Give us strength to love those around us. Give us strength to be the light in the world that you call us to be. Amen.