Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, I attempted to pick up the discipline. I got part-way through that month, and so after a long hiatus, am determined to get going. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the 30th of January 2024, here’s Psalm 74:
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 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!
What is this Psalm about?
Psalm 74 is a psalm of Lament, with god’s people crying out to God regarding the rejection of a nation by God, and the desolation of the land and the destruction of God’s sanctuary by foreign invaders (v. 4-8) . At the same time, it builds to a worshipful crescendo, perhaps recognising God’s attributes and being, in such a way as to hint to the reader that repentance is possible.
What does this Psalm teach about God?
Addressed to God, the very structure of the Psalm makes it clear that God is someone to whom we can speak. God has anger (v. 1), memory (v. 2), works salvation (v. 12) and can defend his cause (v. 22). These all imply the personal nature of God, and the way that God can and does act.
We also read that God is King (v. 12), and addressed as Lord (v. 18). This recognises God’s sovereignty, and also the fact that we can know and speak to and about God. Psalm 74 also speaks of God’s enemy, and our enemies, and a state of war that seems to exist (v. 23) – though this last somewhat pales in comparison to the character of the God who is king and lord.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I think Psalm 74 is a challenge to God’s people today to think through our present or other experience of distance from God, to recognise who God is, and to turn to him and address him. It is a Psalm that reminds us that God can be addressed, and we can turn (or return) to him. It also challenges us and reminds us that God is King and lord – not us, not those seemingly in power now, and this should be a comfort to us even on the darkest days.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 74
Lord, you are our majestic King. The warrior who has never lost a battle. The one we can turn to and cling to. Help us see through the desolation we find ourselves in, and turn to you. Amen.