O God, why have You rejected us forever?Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,Which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your inheritance;Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt. Turn your footsteps [quickly] toward the perpetual ruins;The enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary. In the midst of Your meeting place Your enemies have roared [with their battle cry];They have set up their own emblems for signs [of victory]. It seems as if one had lifted upAn axe in a forest of trees [to set a record of destruction]. And now all the carved work [of the meeting place]They smash with hatchets and hammers. They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground;They have profaned the dwelling place of Your name. They said in their heart, “Let us completely subdue them.”They have burned all the meeting places of God in the land. We do not see our symbols;There is no longer any prophet [to guide us],Nor does any among us know for how long. O God, how long will the adversary scoff?Is the enemy to revile Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand [from judging the enemy]?Remove Your hand from Your chest, destroy them! Yet God is my King of old,Working salvation in the midst of the earth. You divided the [Red] Sea by Your strength;You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan (Egypt);You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. You broke open fountains and streams;You dried up ever-flowing rivers. The day is Yours, the night also is Yours;You have established and prepared the [heavenly] light and the sun. You have defined and established all the borders of the earth [the divisions of land and sea and of the nations];You have made summer and winter. Remember this, O Lord, the enemy has scoffed,And a foolish and impious people has spurned Your name. Oh, do not hand over the soul of your turtledove to the wild beast;Do not forget the life of Your afflicted forever. Consider the covenant [You made with Abraham],For the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. Let not the oppressed return dishonored;Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name. Arise, O God, plead Your own cause;Remember how the foolish man scoffs at You all day long. Do not forget the [clamoring] voices of Your adversaries,The uproar of those who rise against You, which ascends continually [to Your ears].
The late Norman Vincent Peale told a story from his boyhood when he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley, and lit up. It didn’t taste good, but it made him feel very grown up-until he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigar behind his back and tried to be casual.
Desperate to divert his father’s attention, Norman pointed to a billboard advertising the circus, “Can I go, Dad? Please, let’s go when it comes to town.”
His father’s reply taught him a spiritual lesson he never forgot. “Son,” he answered quietly but firmly, “never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide smoldering disobedience.”
This psalm by Asaph was written years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians. As prophet/poet, he knew the reason for God’s judgement- the smoldering disobedience of His people who had collectively failed to respond to their altar call.
In Psalm 74, Asaph speaks for all those who constantly reject God’s will and who choose spiritual death rather than life. Only after coming face to face with the consequences of their disobedience do they then seek a place of repentance.
Five things result from the choice to consistently disobey the Lord:
First, it brings God’s rejection. “Why,” we ask, does His anger smolder against us?” Both Hosea and the New Testament reveal that it’s because that’s how you feel when rejected by a loved one and they become unfaithful. That hurt becomes a direct assault upon the relationship and it is not easily set aside.
Second, it creates a sense of hopelessness. In this psalm, Asaph no longer sees a shining temple but everlasting ruins. Time may erase physical ruins but self-destructive choices create long-term distress and trouble upon ourselves and others.
Third, disobedience moves us into a place of powerlessness. Asaph remembers the horrendous destruction of the temple which God’s backslidden people were helpless to prevent. If we are being racked by continual devastation could it be that we are insisting on doing our own thing regardless of God’s will?
Fourth, disobedience results in spiritual abandonment. Spiritual abandonment is the place where we haven’t felt close to God in a long, long time. It is a place where God’s presence seems far away. It’s a place where no prophets are left, and we are given no miraculous signs and none of us know how long this will last.
Fifth, it’s a place of frustration. Like Asaph, we know that God could undo the bad consequences of our long disobedience and change our circumstances, but God doesn’t move His hand from the folds of His robe. His strong right hand that had been raised to deliver His people now hangs limp at His side.
In the midst of repeatedly asking, “Why?” and “How long?” Asaph with childlike faith and repentance seeks to awaken God’s memory.
In our moment of grieving for our sins coupled with a readiness to change, what do we wish God to remember?
Asaph lists seven things we might wish God to remember:
First, we want Him to remember His people whom He purchased at the price of His own blood. Although God never forgets who we are, we surely often do. We may project our forgetfulness onto God and all the time He’s waiting for us to remember Him.
Second, we want Him to remember His dwelling place. Asaph asks God to remember the temple lying in ruins and the destroyed Jerusalem. But now we are God’s temple. Is there a place that you can remember- a place where you have sensed the presence of God more strongly than any other place? If so, make a new commitment to become the habitation of the Holy Spirit.
Third, we want Him to remember His past deeds. Asaph makes his appeal based on the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. We make our appeal based on the finished work of Christ on Calvary.
Fourth, we want Him to remember His power in creation. God stands outside of time and space as the Creator and yet works redemptively within human history. The One who made summer and winter, day and night also brings us through seasons as He purposes.
Fifth, we want Him to remember His enemies. We do not identify ourselves as His enemies. Yes, we do want to remind God of His enemies for we are the helpless sheep of His pasture. The ancient foes over whom Christ holds power are death, hell, the grave, the devil, and those who oppose Him.
Sixth, we want Him to remember His mercy. Asaph compares the people of God to a dove. What person who is merciful that would hand a dove over knowingly to wild beast? So too, we must remember that God will not deliver us up to wanton destruction.
Seventh, we want Him to remember His covenant. Asaph makes his appeal for God to act on the basis of His own goodness. We can make no case by proclaiming we deserve God to move on our behalf because “we have been doing the right thing now for ‘x’ amount of time. Our only hope lies in the character of God Himself. The covenants recorded in the Bible between God and man were all initiated by God. The new covenant under which we live has been ratified by the blood of Jesus and it alone enables us to experience God’s deliverance. Though it was years in the making, God answered Asaph’s prayer of “rise up O God, and defend Your cause” through the giving of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Though we may have made disobedient choices and for a season decided we could live our own way, ignoring the voice of God which has ended in destruction and devastation; it’s not too late to cry out for mercy as we repent and turn from our wicked way and seek forgiveness. Those who do will experience God’s deliverance and restoration. If this is you, don’t delay. Make the move today!
Dr. John Thompson