Psalm 74 (NIV)
A maskil of Asaph.
Asaph—or one of his descendants, since the psalm seems to be written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
1 O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
This is a desperate Psalm, yet “this is not the song of an atheist, but the wail of a believer.”
–G. Campbell Morgan
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 toward these everlasting ruins,
all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
The temple has been violated. The key symbol of life has been lost. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” This psalm of protest and grief does not concern simply a historical invasion and the loss of a building. It speaks about the violation of the sacral key to all reality, the glue that holds the world together.
This psalm permits to reconsider a centeredness in life, a refusal to accept fragmentation, which leaves us abandoned, homeless, and open to brutalization, both as agent and object. Jerusalem destroyed is the occasion of the loss of such a center. And the psalm shows the three parties in the travesty: the foes who have done it, the people who have suffered it, and the God who must now deal with it.
–adapted from Walter Bruggemann’s The Message of the Psalms
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 paneling
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 worshiped in the land.
The First Temple was built by Solomon. It replaced the tabernacle which had been originally constructed in the wilderness under Moses. When the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the first temple was totally destroyed. No definite remains of Solomon’s temple are known to exist, in part because religious leaders do not allow archaeological excavations on one of the holiest sites for Judaism and Islam. The site, known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is now covered by Islam’s Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to the book of Ezra, construction of the Second Temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great of Persia, one year after the fall of the Babylonian Empire. It was finished some two decades later under Zerrubbabel. Alexander the Great, marching with his armies, left Jerusalem alone, as did the Romans initially. Herod did significant renovating and improving during the time of Jesus; it became known as Herod’s Temple. The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, pictured above, is one of the ancient support walls built for the Jewish temple courtyard under Herod.
But in the year 70 the Romans destroyed the temple during the Siege of Jerusalem. It has never been rebuilt, although the construction of “the Third Temple” has often been discussed through the years, and even today.
9 We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
“Our problem is not an absence of God’s Word or God’s teachers. Our problem is that we do not value this Word. We do not cherish it and study it. We do not memorize its important passages. Instead we allow countless lesser things (like television) to take the Bible’s place.”
–James Montgomery Boice
10 How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
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.
The wonder is not that the psalm reacts so strongly to the loss of temple. The wonder is that in that loss there is still one to address, known by name. There is one who is still credible and who is therefore the ground of hope. The coming and going of the temple does not reduce Israel to despair. Instead, it drives to indignation, which properly is deposited at God’s throne. So the psalm has a curious and surprising outcome. This psalm, ostensibly about the temple, is in the last measure not about the temple. but about the source of life and hope in the absence of the temple. This is a faith which is willing to “wait without idols.”
–adapted from Brueggemann’s The Message of the Psalms
“The man of faith is never blind to the desolation. He sees clearly all the terrible facts. But He sees more. He sees God. Therefore his last word is never desolation: it is rather salvation.”
–G. Campbell Morgan
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.
Genesis 8:22 (TNIV)
“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, LORD,
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 forever.
God has kept me through my struggles by showing me King David’s secret hope. David, lamenting and complaining, wondered why God was angry with him. He called on God to “put out your hand and destroy the enemy” (see Psalm 74:11). It seemed to David that the enemies of God were taking control and in his despair, he prayed, “O deliver not the soul of the turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked” (Psalm 74:19).
Like David, we began to see ourselves as little turtledoves, surrounded by the snares and traps of the wicked. It encouraged me, in my most trying times, to see myself as his lovebird, resting on his promise to keep me out of the snares of the wicked.
I picture Christ coming to me in the form of a dove—his Holy Spirit—revealing to me his constant love and continual care. How unspeakable that such a great and majestic God would condescend to relate to my needs as a turtledove. Did he not descend on Christ at the baptismal waters as a dove?
Child of God, are you going through difficult times? Is there suffering in your home? Do you hurt? Are you confused at times because of the severity of it all? Remember, you are the Lord’s little turtledove and he will never turn you over to the wicked one. He will deliver you from every snare of the enemy and show you how devoted he is to you in your hour of need. He is there beside you, at all times, as a dove, whispering, sharing his love with you.
Solomon, speaking of Christ, said, “His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, beautifully set” (Song of Solomon 5:12). And of the church, the Lord’s beloved, it is written, “My dove, my undefiled one is but one…” (Song of Solomon 6:9). We are one in Christ—his dove—a turtledove.
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.
Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
23 Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.
Although Yeats wrote this poem in the aftermath of the First World War, I can hear it resonating with the writer of this psalm after the temple had fallen: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. But God will rise up and the hour come round at last — a birth in Bethlehem.
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
–William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
HERE is The David Crowder Band and “You Never Let Go,” an encouraging word to any of us who may feel that things are falling apart . . .