PSALM 74 TALK: FOCUS ON THE GOD OF POWER AND LOVE IN DIFFICULT TIMES

PSALM 74 TALK: FOCUS ON THE GOD OF POWER AND LOVE IN DIFFICULT

                      TIMES

 (A Psalm written at a devastating time in the History of Israel, God’s special nation which teaches us how we can and should face difficult times in our lives realizing that our only hope in good and bad times is the great God of power and love we find in the bible.)

 THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 INTRODUCTION

 Recently I had the privilege of attending a weekend away with Christian friends of over 40 years who my wife and I worked with in holiday evangelistic work known as Beach Mission. We all looked a lot older and some of our former mission associates have passed on from this life to be with the Lord. We also learnt of other former mission associates who no longer walk with the Lord as they have seemingly given their faith away.

We all acknowledged the great changes that have taken place in our world over the past 40 years but it was the state of the church and the general world’s attitude to the Christian faith that intrigued me the most. We all agreed that there is and has been a growing hostility to Christians and what they believe and those doing Beach Mission type evangelistic work today face great opposition and cynicism today compared to mission work forty years ago. The church and Christians are more openly under attack and seen by many as at best irrelevant or at worst dangerous. Maybe that’s why many of our former mission friends have walked away from God and his church.

It seems that bible believing Christians are swiftly heading into troubled waters and our faith is being surely tested by a world that now mocks those who put their faith in the God of the bible. Christians are also under attack from other religions as well, particularly those of the Muslim faith who in some countries take great delight in torturing and murdering Christians and publishing these ghastly acts on social media as a warning to all bible believing Christians that this could be their fate as well.

Psalm 74 was written it seems at a far worse time for God’s people than our time. It is describing the total devastation of Jerusalem and particularly the Temple by the Babylonians under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar in 597BC.

The Psalm also seems to be written a few years after these terrible events, as verse 9 seems to indicate,

“We are given no miraculous signs, no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be”.

 The Psalm’s heading simply says,

“A maskil of Asaph”

 A maskil is usually seen as a teaching Psalm or a Psalm that instructs and some add a Psalm to instruct the wise. The historical bible character called Asaph lived during the reigns of David and Solomon not during the invasion of the Babylonians

However we read in a number of places that at the time of the return from exile around 539BC descendants of Asaph emerged taking prominent places in the worship of these returning Jews. Ezra 3: 10

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord as prescribed by David king of Israel”.

 One of these “Sons of Asaph” or one of their fathers probably wrote this Psalm a few years before the return from exile. This Asaph, the writer of the Psalm would have been part of a very small remnant of true believers left behind in Israel as we read in 2 Kings 25: 11 – 12,

“Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. 12 But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields”.

The writer, a son or descendant of Asaph hints at the idea that he was in hiding from the Babylonians in verses 20 and 21,

“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”.

Commentators like Coffman point out,

“The dark places of the earth” “Most of the scholars seem to think this refers to the hiding places such as caves etc. where people tried to hide from the Babylonian enemies who, as the verse states, were systematically hunting them down wherever they could find them and killing them”.

Of course he could also be numbered among the “poorest people of the land” 2 Kings 25: 12, which refers to poor people, left behind in Israel by Nebuzaradan a a Babylonian commander under King Nebuchadnezzar.

So this son of Asaph writes of his prayer to God during this extremely difficult time and in the second half of the Psalm he makes a new and different focus turning from his seemingly hopeless difficulties to a God of great power and love he surely knows from the bible. He refers to great, powerful and loving acts of God in the past when Israel faced great difficulty then. This helps him find faith and hope in his difficult time.

I like the excellent general application Spurgeon makes of this Psalm, which I will adopt as well when he writes,

“The history of the suffering church is always edifying when we see how the faithful trusted and wrestled with their God in times of dire distress. we are thereby taught how to behave ourselves under similar circumstances, we learn moreover, that when fiery trial befalls us, no strange thing happened unto us, we are following the trail of the host of God”.

 I hope that you will find in this study of Psalm 74 the focus God’s wants you to have when you face your trials and difficulties even those like Asaph and the people of God of his time that are a result of God’s discipline for our sinfulness.

However God not only sends difficulty on his people because of sinfulness but also uses it to help shape our lives by the testing of our faith and the great lessons we learn as we come through those difficulties makes us stronger and better equipped to serve him more and more,

As Peter says in 1 Peter 1: 6 – 7,

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 With the theme of “Focus on the God of power and love in difficult times” I have broken this Psalm into three sections but each section has three parts:

  1. (1 – 11) FOCUSING ON PROBLEMS AND DIFFICULTIES
  1. (1 – 3) The problems and difficulties exposed
  2. (4 – 9) The problem of the crushing defeat of God’s people by God’s

            enemies.

  1. (10 – 11) The problem of God’s seeming inaction
  1. (12 – 17) FOCUSING ON THE POWER AND LOVE OF GOD
  1. (12) The God who is king and saviour
  2. (13 – 15) The God who saved his people in the past
  3. (16 – 17) The God who made and maintains this world
  1. (18 – 23) APPLYING THE FOCUS OF THE POWER AND LOVE OF GOD IN

                    DIFFICULT TIMES

  1. (18 – 19) Remember God what your enemies have done to your people
  2. (20 – 21) Remember God your covenant of love
  3. (22 – 23) Remember God and act with your mighty power
  1. (1 – 11) FOCUSING ON PROBLEMS AND DIFFICULTIES

 So it appears that a direct descendant of Asaph who lived through the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem in 587BC wrote a few years later this Psalm. The land and the city of Jerusalem is devastated by this Babylonian invasion and most of the people of Judah have been carted off into exile to the Babylon. However a small number of Jews remained in the land and this son of Asaph was one of them.

In the first section the Psalmist is focusing on the very great problems and difficulties the Babylonian invasion had caused the people of Judah over a number of years. I have broken this first section into three parts:

  1. (1 – 3) The problems and difficulties exposed
  2. (4 – 9) The problem of the crushing defeat of God’s people by God’s

            enemies.

  1. (10 – 11) The problem of God’s seeming inaction
  1. (1 – 3) The problems and difficulties exposed

 Like many of the Psalms this Psalm is a very real prayer and the Psalmist opens his prayer with two questions to God in verse 1,

“Why have you rejected us forever O God? Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture?

 Nowhere in this Psalm does the writer even mention the sin of the people of Judah and Israel. He seems bewildered by the sudden and devastating invasion and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and particularly the Temple. He must not yet have made the connection of his people’s great sins and turning away from God to other God’s over a number of generations and the Babylonian conquest as God’s judgement for those sins.

The prophet Jeremiah would have been a contemporary of this Psalm writer however Jeremiah by this stage had been taken by Johanan to Egypt to escape the Babylonian invasion. Jeremiah had made it clear that the hand of God in Judgment would fall on his people in Judah in the form of the Babylonians because of the great sins of the people.

Jeremiah could have answered the Psalmist’s two questions with words like he spoke to the exile group he was with in Egypt in Jeremiah 44: 2 – 6,

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins

3 because of the evil they have done. They aroused my anger by burning incense to and worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your ancestors ever knew.

4 Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’

5 But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods.

6 Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today”.

 No doubt our Psalmist was not aware of Jeremiah’s words or could not yet connect them clearly to his own current situation. No doubt he was one of the faithful remnant who remained loyal and true to the God of the bible and yet he was caught up in the terrible fallout of God’s Judgment that was rightly deserved by the general population of Judah at this time.

When judgment or general natural disasters or even man made disasters strike the world around us believers are not exempt from the consequences of that. However we have a faithful and loving God to turn to for help and protection during any form of difficulty we might face. As Paul exhorts the believers in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 9: 8,

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work”.

And this idea is even more clearly in the great benediction of Jude 24 and 25,

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—

25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

 The writer speaks of this rejection as being forever but he probably means it feels like forever giving us the first clue to the fact that this Psalm was written a number of years after the Babylonian invasion but not before the return from exile around 70 years after the Babylonian captivity. Again Jeremiah had the answer to the length of this difficult time in Jeremiah 25: 11,

“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years”.

God’s times of testing and difficulty can last a number of years. In recent history a great part of Eastern Europe suffered under the hands of the cruel anti- God communist regime for 50 years but now that regime has been judged and overturned and Christians can now operate in relative freedom again. Stories of how God helped Christians through those years of great persecution are still being told and the church in Eastern Europe rather than been done away with by the active ant- God regime has emerged stronger than ever.

We too might be facing or have faced difficult times in our lives but if we look to God for help and protection during these difficult times we can join Paul in saying what he wrote in Romans 8: 28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.

Then we have this interesting term at the end of verse 2,

“Your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture?”

 Jerusalem and the Temple particularly were burnt to the ground by the Babylonian invaders so maybe our writer is using a very real and powerful image or picture of God’s anger when he speaks of it as anger that smoulders. Spurgeon makes this observation and application of this image,

“It is a terrible thing when the anger of God smokes, but it is an infinite mercy that it does not break into a devouring flame.”

 Spurgeon goes on to comment on this smouldering wrath of God and the idea of his faithful people being his sheep with these words,

“It is meet to pray the Lord to remove every sign of his wrath., for it is those who are truly the Lord’s sheep a most painful thing to be the object of his displeasure. To vex the Holy Spirit is no mean sin, and yet how frequently are we guilty of it, hence it is no marvel that we are often under a cloud”.

 The idea of God’s people being like sheep and God being like their shepherd runs right through the bible and seems to first appear in Numbers 27: 16 – 17,

“May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

Which is Moses prayer for a successor to his leadership. Of course the most famous reference to God’s people being like sheep and God being their shepherd is David’s Psalm 23: 1 and 2,

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters”.

Even the prophets used the sheep, shepherd image and Jeremiah who lived around the time of this Son of Asaph who wrote this Psalm uses the sheep image this way in Jeremiah 50: 6,

“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place”.

Here the Shepherd image is not God but the bad or Godless leaders of Israel and Judah who helped lead the people astray from obeying and worshipping the true God of the bible and brought about God’s judgment which Asaph is now writing about in this Psalm.

Jesus used the sheep / shepherd image in John 10 and I think the most relevant verses in this verse in Psalm 74 is John 10: 27 – 30,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

 In verse 2 the writer continues to explore in prayer to God the problems and difficulties the Babylonian invasion has caused him. He pleads in this verse for God to remember his special people, who he has blessed from of old or for s very long time, he writes,

“Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance, who you redeemed – Mount Zion, where you dwelt”.

 Tremper Longman 111 explains the first part of this verse this way,

“This verse looks back on the exodus, where God established Israel as his chosen nation, the descendants of the family of God rooted in the covenant promises to Abraham (Genesis 12: 1 – 3)

 “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 people on earth will be blessed through you”.

Redeemed or saved out of slavery in Egypt these people were ultimately led to the Promised Land and under King David took and established God’s chosen place on earth to say he dwells with his people, namely Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

But now the Psalmist has clearly seen the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple, which was the symbol of God dwelling with his people. He is clearly having a crisis of faith.

How could the Psalmist people be God’s special people when God’s enemies the Babylonians overrun them?

How could they be the “tribe of your inheritance, who you redeemed”, when they are captive again by a foreign power like they were in Egypt?

So the Psalmist pleads with God to remember both who his people are in God’s sight and I think remember the covenant he made with them. Something he clearly asks for in verse 20 of this Psalm, which says,

“Have regard for your covenant because haunts of violence fill the dark places if the land”.

A verse I will comment further on in the second part of the third section of this Psalm talk.

However what this writer has not remembered himself was the basis of the covenant was, yes God would make Israel his special nation but they had to uphold their part of the covenant or agreement which was to obey the laws of God and serve only him as Moses declares in Exodus 19: 3 – 6,

“ Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Israel in the north had already been destroyed by foreign invasion by the Assyrians in 740BC because they had disobeyed God’s law and worshipped other God’s rather than the God of the bible. Now it was Judah in the south turn to face the judgment of God in the form of the Babylonian invasion in 597BC.

 Coffman points out that God did remember his people now primarily not in the land of inheritance but in captivity in Babylon, he writes,

God did remember “the congregation” which at that time had been transferred to Babylon, but the psalmist was apparently still in Jerusalem, from which God’s presence had been removed, and in which the Temple itself had been profaned, plundered and desecrated and burned to the ground.”.

 Coffman makes this important and very significant observation of God’s dealing with his people from now on, when he goes on to write,

“God was forever finished with the “earthly kingdom” of Israel pitiful indeed was the plight of the few true children of God who, along with the psalmist, were still left among the conceited, rebellious, and soon to be destroyed residue of the people that yet remained in Jerusalem”.

 The destruction of Judah and the captivity happened in a couple of stages and it seems the people who hung around in the invaded land did not get the clear idea that this all happened because of God’s judgment of their many sins. It is in exile in Babylon that God raises up the prophet Ezekiel and Daniel, who God inspires to speak a great word of encouragement to the Jews in exile and back in Judah our Psalmist writes in verse 9,

“We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left and none of us knows how long this will be”.

 Finally in this first part of the first section of this Psalm the Psalmist prays to God in verse 3,

“Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary”.

 As we have just seen this prayer would not be answered for a number of years, Jeremiah predicted 70 years the Jews would be in captivity. God would not turn his steps or as some translate, “feet” toward Jerusalem and the Temple their for some years.

The expression “Turn your steps” or “Feet” is a poetic expression for God’s guidance and when we consider that this prayer was not answered in the positive or the “Yes” for some years you can realise that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is “Not Now” or “Wait”.

My good friend Ted Penny has a good way of explaining God’s three possible answers to our prayers. He uses the colours of the traffic lights;

Green = Yes

Red = No

And Yellow = Not now or wait.

I like the way the prophet Micah speaks of waiting for God’s answer to our prayers, he writes in Micah 7: 7,

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me”.

 In Luke 18 Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow and the introduction to this parable in Luke 18 verse 1 says,

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up”.

 So the Psalmist wants God to restore the ruins of Jerusalem and particularly the Temple called here “the sanctuary” but God’s answer is not now but in a number of years time I will lead my people back to the promised land and will guide men like Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild my special city and Temple once again.

  1. (4 – 9) The problem of the crushing defeat of God’s people by God’s

            enemies.

Our Psalmist continues to focus on the current problems and difficulties he and his people faced in his prayer to God. In this second part he spells out some of the disastrous details of the recent invasion of the Babylonians who served up a crushing defeat of God’s people in Judah and particularly Jerusalem.

The focus here seems to be the devastating destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which is not surprising if this Psalm is written by a descendant of Asaph who’s job was to serve in the Temple particularly in the role of leading the music in the worship there.

This destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians could be summarized in three ways:

  1. What they did (4 – 7)
  2. What they said (8)
  3. What God did not do (9)

 Lets now look a little closer at these three summarized points of what happened when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.

  1. What they did (4 – 7)

Verse 4 speaks of the Babylonians entering the inner sanctuary of the Temple and what they did when they got there,

“Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs”.

 This verse is better understood when you realize that the great symbol of the Babylonians is a winged lion and this symbol would have been present on the Babylonian standards or flags.

These standards or flags were taken by the Babylonian soldiers into the Temple before its destruction to make clear to Judah that Babylon and its God’s now defeated Judah’s God Yahweh.

 The prophet Jeremiah in his prediction of the fall of Judah and Jerusalem speaks of the Babylonian conquers in terms of being like a lion in Jeremiah 4: 6 – 7,

“Raise the signal to go to Zion! Flee for safety without delay! For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction.” A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out. He has left his place to lay waste your land. Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitant”.

 So the poetic concept here of the roaring lion followed by the flags or standards carried by the Babylonians and set up in the Temple has a double meaning. It speaks first of the ferocity of the Babylonian invaders, like a roaring lion and it also hints at the victory of a false God over the one true God.

I found this excellent explanation of the symbol of the Lion in the bible by Prof. Walter J. Verth in an article on the Net, he writes,

“The lion is used in the Bible as a symbol of authority and power. The symbol is applied to Christ as the Lion of Judah, but it is also the symbol for Babylon, the destroyer of nations and the seat of the apostate religion, which would seek to entice God’s people into idolatry”.

Verse 5 speaks of how these invading Babylonian soldiers behaved as they destroyed the sanctuary in Jerusalem,

“They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket or trees”.

There behavior was the opposite of Asaph and his fellow Jewish worshippers, they acted in awe and wonder at the God which the Temple building represented to them while the Babylonian soldiers behaved like mad men cutting down trees in a forest. They had no regard for the God this building represented and to them God’s house was nothing more that a pile of stone and wood that deserved to be smashed to pieces and desecrated.

In recent times we had heard of the extreme Muslim fighters smashing to pieces ancient artifacts they find in the towns they have conquered in the middle -east. They have no regard for history other than their own distorted narrow view of history their so-called religion tells them.

All through history conquering armies have left a path of destruction in their wake as they seek to treat their enemies with contempt. Maybe they are trying to impress on them that their culture and beliefs are so superior to the people they conquer that there is no value or place for their cultural buildings or artifacts.

Verses 6 and 7 speak of how the Babylonians completely destroyed the Tempe,

“They smashed all the carved paneling with their axes and hatchets.
They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name”.

Coffman points out that they probably were not just smashing down the carved paneling as an act of senseless vandalism as the panels in the temple were overlaid with pure gold according to 1 Kings 6: 20.

However the attack on the Temple, as we will see in a moment was also motivated by their religious and political beliefs as they wanted to dominate both the people of Judah and their God and to do this they had to smash down any representation of their former political and religious systems.

Again this has been the way of all conquering nations throughout history and even in our present day as we see the methods of people like the extreme Muslim groups like Islamic State.

Christians today like Asaph in his day have been caught up in this kind of evil destructive madness and many have lost their lives in these terrible conflicts but we must keep in mind Jesus words when he tells us in Matthew 10: 28,

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.

So like men cutting down trees in a forest the Babylonians hacked into the walls of the inner Temple, taking away the gold gilt and then, verse 7,

They burned your sanctuary to the ground”

Asaph certainly saw the actions of the Babylonians as an attack on his faith and the God his faith was centered in as he says in verse 7,

“They defiled the dwelling place of your Name”.

Recently in a weekly bible study I attend we were looking at the pre- trials and trials of Jesus before the Jewish authorities of his day and we read in John 18: 22,

“When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him (Jesus) in the face”.

I made the comment that I would not like to have been this man when he died and stood before Jesus in judgment and I then referred to that famous verse in Revelation, Revelation 1: 7,

“Look he is coming in the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pieced him; and all the people of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen”

These Babylonian soldiers would have been quite smug and would have had big smiles on their faces as they defied the Temple of God but would they be smiling when they died and stood before the heavenly throne of God that that Temple they sought to destroy represents?

  1. What they said (8)

Asaph then gives us an insight into the minds of the Babylonian soldiers as they performed their ghastly deeds. This is what they were saying in their heads at least,

“They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely! “

This again reveals the real intent of the Babylonian soldiers and their superior offices; they wanted to crush the spirits of their conquered victims. So many people in the past when facing certain defeat of their enemies have committed suicide rather than face the shame and torture of their conquering enemies.

This crushing was also religiously inspired because the rest of the verse says,

“They burned every place where God was worshipped in the land”.

Leupold suggests that the burning of places where God was worshipped was,

“Any place where people had loved to assemble even though they had no sacrifices”.

The Babylonians sought to wipe out in Judah and physical trace of worship and loyalty to Yahweh the God of Judah.

This to has been attempted in the past by anti- Christian regimes like the communists in Russia and Eastern Europe and in our day extreme Muslims in countries in the middle east and North Africa where wholesale burning down of Christian churches has taken place.

Again the words of Jesus in Matthew 10: 28, come to mind,

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.

  1. What God did not do (9)

The son of Asaph then prays to God what he believed God did not do when this was happening and even at the time of writing his Psalm,

“We were given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be”.

It would have been a very difficult time for the small number of true and faithful believers like this son of Asaph who are left in Judah while the vast majority of fellow countrymen had been taken into exile in Babylon.

Jeremiah again had declared God’s answer to this situation years before but he has been forcibly taken to exile in Egypt. Before he was taken off to exile in Egypt he wrote a letter to the first group of exiles in Babylon and this is what he said to them, Jeremiah 29: 4 – 11,

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

But by the time Asaph would have been writing Psalm 74, Jeremiah was gone exiled in Egypt and the rest of Judah along with all the prophets and religious leaders of his day where gone, exiled in Babylon. Therefore Asaph’s claim of no Prophets was real.

The miraculous signs, prophets and answers to how long this Babylonian domination would last was now in Babylon with the exiled Jews there. We know of the great prophet Ezekiel who is in Babylon among the exiles and we know of the great men of God like Daniel who rises to high office in the Babylonian empire and experienced many miraculous signs of God’s blessing and protection.

However back in Judah where this Son of Asaph was there were no such prophets and leaders and what is said about these people is not very encouraging.

We read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah of how the people who stayed in Israel during the Babylonian exile opposed the return of the Jews from exile.

Nehemiah 4: 1 -3 speaks of the opposition the mixed ethnic group that developed in the Israel homeland caused the faithful Jews who returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the temple,

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

 So the true and purer faith in the God of the bible developed more and more in the Jews in exile while those who remained in the conquered land of Israel inter married with non Jewish people and either gave up their faith in the God of the bible or incorporated foreign non bible beliefs in their faith making them enemies of the bible believing Jews who returned from exile a few years after this son or descendant of Asaph wrote Psalm 74.

  1. (10 – 11) The problem of God’s seeming inaction

With no prophets like Jeremiah left in Judea to give divine guidance at the time of a son of Asaph (descendant of Asaph) the next two verses make sense, they read,

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!”

This son or descendant of Asaph does not seem to be aware of the prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy of the length of the Babylonian exile recorded in Jeremiah 25: 11,

“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years”.

He was experiencing the first part of Jeremiah’s prophecy, namely.

“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon”.

So God’s answer to Asaph’s question, “How long will the enemy mock you, God? “ is 70 years.

The next question he asks God is, Will the foe revile your name forever? and again God’s answer is, no not forever but 70 years.

The final question Asaph asks is, “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?”

The answer to this question is found in the entire prophecies of prophets like Jeremiah, which is that God allowed his people to be defeated by the Babylonians because he wanted to judge them for their sins of disobedience and turning to other God’s in worship.

All this also seems unknown or nit understood by the Asaph who wrote Psalm 74, so the writer is suffering from the problem of God’s seeming inaction.

This should serve as a lesson to us as well as their has been and will be times in our lives when we will not understand God’s leading or even seemingly inaction in our lives. Sometimes we will come to a understanding of God’s divine will in our lives but other times we will not understand this at all but God wants us to trust in him.

Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 5: 7,

“We live by faith, not by sight”.

Many years ago I read in some book somewhere of the true story of the famous British bishop named J.C. Ryle the morning after of the terrible painful death of his beloved second wife. Ryle had spent days caring for his wife dying of some form of Bright’s disease. The morning after she departed to be with the Lord Ryle was booked to preach in his Liverpool Cathedral. He stepped up to the large cathedral bible weeping and held up the large embroidered bookmark the wrong way round. All the congregation could see was the mesh of embroidered cotton. Ryle weeping said something like, “at the moment all I can see of God’s purpose in my wife’s death is this”.

He then turned the big bookmark around to reveal the beautifully embroidered word “Love”.

This story made me realise that even in our darkest moments of life like the death of a loved one our faith needs to hang on to the God of Love who will one day make everything clear to us when we are in his presence in glory as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: 12,

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

This verse come alive when we realise that in Pau’s day mirrors where no more than pieces of highly polished metal, not a very clear image at all.

Finally in verse 11, Asaph asks God in prayer to,

“Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!”

It of course it is the right hand of God Asaph believes God is withholding. The right hand is always seen as the powerful or dominant hand and so Asaph wants God to use his power and might to put down the Babylonians who he rightfully sees as God’s enemies.

He pictures in his poem the right hand of God tucked away in God’s clothing as it were.

This is just a poetic image for God withholding his power and might from destroying his enemies, Again what Asaph cannot see at the time of writing this is that God will destroy the Babylonian empire through the rise and conquest of the Persian empire.

The mighty Babylonians will disappear from history and their glorious city of Babylon will simple become a pile of ruins in the desert area of modern day Iraq.

However again Asaph cannot or did not see this when he wrote his Psalm so how could he maintain a strong faith in his time of problems and difficulties?

The next two sections of this Psalm will be the answer to this problem Asaph himself, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit will come up with.

  1. (12 – 17) FOCUSING ON THE POWER AND LOVE OF GOD

 The second half of this Psalm starts with the word “But” in verse 12 which signifies a big shift in Aaaph’s thinking as so many other famous “but” bible verses do like Romans 6: 23,

“For the wages of sin is death,

but

the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

This “but” reveals a wonderful shift in the thinking of Asaph in the face of the terrible problems and difficulties he faced as we have just seen. I call this change or shift of thinking or focusing:

“Focusing on the power and love of God” and we will look at this second section and this concept in three parts:

  1. (12) The God who is king and saviour
  2. (13 – 15) The God who saved his people in the past
  3. (16 – 17) The God who made and maintains this world
  1. (12) The God who is king and saviour

 Verse 12 of this Psalm is what I call a “Turning Point” in the thinking of the Psalmist who wrote it who I am calling a son or descendant of Asaph. He writes,

“”But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth”.

 Up to verse 12 the writer is full of complaint and negative description of his and his country’s plight at the hand of the Babylonians. Now his focus has changed and instead of the problems and difficulties being his focus his focus is God and what he has revealed of himself and did in the past.

The focus is on the God of the bible not some other God and he first identifies this God as king and saviour.

Saying that God is his king and saviour I think is significant in the historical context of this Psalm is during the last King in the line of David, Jehoiachin lived out his days in exile in Babylon and no more kings of Israel or Judah ever reined again.

This led Psalm writers like the son of Asaph and others after him to see that the promised eternal kingdom of David was a messianic future hope. As Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 9: 6 – 7,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”.

No more earthly kings of the line or house of David so Asaph calls God his king and savior. Asaph calls God “from of old” so he sees God, rightly as the one and only true King of Israel. Even David the God appointed earthly king acknowledges God as the true king in Psalm 10: 16,

“The Lord is King for ever and ever; nations will perish from his land”.

Even when the first king of Israel, who became, Saul was asked for by the people God told Samuel this, 1 Samuel 8: 7 – 9,

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

So the idea that God is the real king of Israel is not a new concept to people like this son of Asaph and the link between God’s kingship over Israel and its salvation is also not a new idea as well. Even King Jehoshaphat over 150 years before the writing of this Psalm links God’s kingship with Israel’s salvation as a nation in 2 Chronicles 20: 5 – 9,

“Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard and said:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’”

 So Asaph or a son or descendant of Asaph turns his focus from his current problems and difficulties to the God of Power and love. The God who saved the nation so many times in the past by his power and love and the God who is Israel’s king of old and saviour of Israel and the world.

As Christians we know so much more about God the king who is our saviour because of the coming and particularly teaching of Jesus, the promised Messiah king God sent to earth to save us from our sins.

Right from the beginning Jesus is presented as saviour and king, take the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary telling her of the coming birth of her child in Luke 1: 30 – 33,

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Jesus message right from the start of his earthly ministry, Mark 1: 14 – 15,

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Finally what Paul teaches us about Jesus as King and Savior, like Colossians 1: 13 – 14,

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.

  1. (13 – 15) The God who saved his people in the past

Asaph is now focused on God his king and saviour and with that focus now looks at some of the great acts of the God of the Bible as the loving powerful saving God.

He looks at two occasions in the past when God acted in power and love to save Israel:

  1. Out of the Bondage of Egypt (13 – 14)
  2. Into the land of promise from the dry waterless desert (15)
  1. Out of the bondage of Egypt (13 – 14)

 Both verse’s 13 and 14 are poetic pictures of God the king saving Israel out of the bondage of Egypt. He writes in verse 13,

“It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters”.

 This is an obvious poetic reference to God’s saving Israel out of Egypt and particularly the crossing of the red sea or some call it the sea of reeds in Exodus 14. Here God’s special people Israel seemed trapped by the mighty army of Egypt as to their backs was a mass of un crossable water and in front was a large and ferocious army.

But God, as this son of Asaph put it, then “split open the sea” and made dry land for the people to cross over safely.

Then when the Egyptian army tried to cross the waters closed over them and they were all destroyed by the raging tide.

Asaph describes this poetically this way,

“You broke the heads of the monster in the waters”.

 In verse 14 he describes this destruction of the Egyptian army this way,

“It was you who crushed the heads of the Leviathan”.

 Leopold explains the significance of the poetic image of Leviathan,

“Leviathan is merely another name for the crocodile, and the crocodile is native to Egypt”.

 Then after the crossing of the red sea the corpses of the Egyptians would have washed up on the red seas shore line and desert animals would have fed on them, which Asaph describes this way,

“And gave him as food to the creatures of the desert”.

 How was this great event in Israel’s history a demonstration of the power and love of God?

It shows God’s power because only by God’s powerful hand was that sea opened up and then closed at the right time to destroy the Egyptian enemies.

It shows God’s love because Israel did not deserve this great act of salvation by God. It was out of God’s underserved love or grace as the New Testament calls it that Israel was saved out of the bondage of Egypt.

God has acted in power and underserved love to us when he saved us from our sins by his Sons death on the cross. As Paul speaks of in Romans 5: 6 – 8,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

When we face difficult times and there seems little hope and light in the darkness of those times we need to do what this son or descendant of Asaph is doing here focus on what God has done for us in the past. We need to turn from the focus of transient current circumstances and lo God our King and Savior.

  1. Into the land of promise from the dry waterless desert (15)

 In the first part of verse 15 this son of Asaph refers to God’s powerful and loving provision of water in the desert when Israel wandered for forty years. Here he led Moses to break a rock and a stream of life giving water flowed he writes,

“It was you who opened up springs and streams

Then in the second half of verse 15 the Psalm writer moves on to the crossing of the Jordon River where Israel moved into the land of promise and we see another demonstration of the powerful loving God who is king and Savoir, He writes,

“ You dried up the ever flowing rivers”.

 So God provides water where there is no water in the desert and stops water flowing were there is lots of water so his people can cross over into the land of promise. Such is the power and love of the God of the bible who Asaph had called, “King from of old” and “You (who) brings salvation upon earth”.

Jesus used the image of water to speak of our salvation and promised spiritual refreshment through the Holy Spirit in John 8: 37 – 39,

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified”.

  1. (16 – 17) The God who made and maintains this world

Asaph or this descendant of Asaph now declares the greatest demonstration of God’s power and love in the reality of his work in the creation of the world. Here he uses poetic images of:

  1. The creation of day and night, (vs. 16) and
  2. The creation of the seasons (vs. 17).
  1. The creation of day and night (vs.16)

 Here he seems to have Genesis 1: 3 – 5 in mind,

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day”.

As he writes in verse 16,

“The day is your, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon”.

God is king of creation and he made us kings or rulers over the earth under God’s kingship as Genesis 1: 27 – 28,

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

 This divine order of creation was messed up by our sin or rebellion to God’s rule but God continued to love man by making way for us to be saved and the rest of the bible is the story of God’s rescue mission to save man.

This rescue mission culminates in the sending of God’s Son, Jesus Christ to earth, born as a man like us so that he could die for us and forgive the our sin and rebellion as the famous John 3: 16 verse says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Interestingly John goes on to use the concept of light, spiritual light and darkness to explain how God’s rescue mission operates, we read this in John 3: 19 – 21,

“19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God”.

  1. The creation of the seasons (vs. 17).

This son or descendant of Asaph continues his focus on God’s power and love in verse 17 again picking up the role of the God of the bible in creation. From the creation of the day and night in verse 16 he moves to the creation of the seasons. He writes,

‘It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter”.

 The position of the earth from the sun, the lilt of earth as it spins round the sun and the position of the land- mass on the north, namely in the Northern hemisphere produce the four seasons of most of the earth as we know it. The popular thought that all this came about by chance I think is much harder to believe then that there is a designer of the universe who we know from the bible is God Almighty.

I read this interesting quote from an article on the net called, “Evidence For God” by Richard Deem,

“The universe, our galaxy, our Solar System and the Earth-Moon double planet system demonstrate some remarkable evidence of intelligent design. Taken separately, each characteristic is highly improbable by random chance. When taken together, the probability is so small as to be impossible—by random chance. The alternative explanation, design by an intelligent Creator is a more realistic explanation. Either way, one must admit that we are a product of a miracle—either a miracle of chance or a miracle of design”.

 Deem then goes on to look at a number of remarkable facts that make the earth and life on it possible. He looks at:

 Deem then goes on to look at a number of remarkable facts that make the earth and life on it possible. He looks at:

1.     The unique location in our galaxy—co-rotation radius,

2.     The unique stabilization of the inner solar system

3.     The unusually circular orbit of the earth

4.     The axial tilt and eccentricity of orbit

5.   The Unusually thin atmosphere

6.   The Slowing rotation makes advanced life possible

7.   The Van-Allen radiation shield is unique to Earth

8.   The Unique continental crust and tectonic activity

9.   The All other earth-sized planets will be either deserts or water-worlds

10.   The Reduction of greenhouse gases with increasing solar luminosity

 All this strongly points to intelligent design rather than random chance and as Asaph puts it in verse 17,

 ‘It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth”.

 God did not have to create this world or the life we have in it but out of his great power and love as Psalm 104: 1 – 5 puts it,

 Praise the Lord, my soul. Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty. The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.

He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved”.

 So Asaph or this descendant of Asaph concludes his focus on the power and love of God. He started the Psalm looking at the horrific problems and difficulties of his time brought about by the invasion of the Babylonians and their utter destruction of Jerusalem and particularly its Temple. But now he has turned his focus to the God of the bible who miraculously saved Israel out of the bondage of Egypt by opening up the red sea for them to cross and then closed that sea to kill the Egyptian army who pursued them.

 He also reflected on the provision of water in the wilderness for God’s people as they wandered there and the crossing of the river Jordon by God stopping the flow of the waters so that his people could enter his promised land.

 Finally he focused on the great power and love of God that made this world and the seasons it enjoys and all this has helped him to have faith in God even in his great problems and difficulties.

 Recently in church I heard a sermon on the trial and sentencing of Jesus before Pilot a very dark and disturbing story of the suffering of Christ at the hands of the Jews and Romans. It was pointed out by the preacher that Pilot wanted to find Jesus innocent but he was forced by particularly the Jewish leaders to have Jesus crucified. In John 19 verse 10 Pilot says this to Jesus,

 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

 Jesus answer shows that Pilot is not in control of this situation but God is in control,

 “Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

 Jesus is not a victim he is in control even in this dark and terrible time of his suffering and he is in control even in our dark and difficult times. The descendant of Asaph was realizing that even though all seemed out of control in his world God was in control and what he needed to simply trust in God or as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5: 7,

“We live by faith, not by sight”.

 We will see now in the last section of this Psalm how this descendant of Asaph puts this new focus into action in the completion of his prayer to God.

  1. (18 – 23) APPLYING THE FOCUS OF THE POWER AND LOVE OF GOD IN

                     DIFFICULT TIMES

 The tone of this remarkable prayer of this descendant of Asaph has changed as he moved from describing the dark and difficult situation the Babylonian conquest caused to a focus on the great power and love of God in the past to Israel. Now armed with the thought of this God in his mind he prays.

 I have broken this final part of his prayer into three parts:

  1. (18 – 19) Remember God what your enemies have done to your people
  2. (20 – 21) Remember God your covenant of love
  3. (22 – 23) Remember God and act with your mighty power
  1. (18 – 19) Remember God what your enemies have done to your people

 The writer then prays that his great and powerful God will remember what the Babylonians did to his homeland and people, verse 18 says,

 “Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O Lord, how foolish people have reviled your name”.

 This descendant of Asaph has realised that if his God is so powerful and great and does love his people Israel then the Babylonian enemies who defied Israel’s God will face a horrible day of judgment in the future. If they will face God in judgment Asaph then asks God to remember what these Babylonians did in the destruction of Judah and particularly Jerusalem.

 He calls the Babylonians “foolish people” Joseph Benson writes,

“Who, though they think themselves, and are thought by others, to be wise, yet in truth are fools, and herein show their stupendous folly, that they vilify and provoke that God whose powerful anger they can neither resist, nor escape, nor endure”.

 Jeremiah, who this descendant of Asaph probably had no contact with at the time of writing his Psalm because Jeremiah was in exile in Egypt wrote this telling prophecy of the future judgment of Babylon in Jeremiah 50: 1 – 3,

“This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians; “Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back, but say, ‘Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror.’ A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away”.

Interestingly Babylon becomes an important symbol concerning bible prophecy of Judgment in both the Old and New Testaments.

What then is the significance of Babylon in Old and New Testament prophecy?

The proof directory team give this excellent summary of what they have found is the prophetic significance of the term, “Babylon,

“Babylon, both literal and mystical, has been recognized as the traditional enemy of God’s truth and people. As used in the Revelation the name is symbolic of all apostate religious organizations and their leadership, from antiquity down to the close of time”.

 They then give two bible references in Revelation, Revelation 17:5,

“The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth”.

 And

Revelation 18: 24,

“In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people, of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”

This descendant of Asaph then appears not only to the power of God in judgment to his love in salvation or in verse 19, deliverance, he writes in verse 19,

“Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever”.

 So God used the Babylonians to judge his people and in turn they would be judged by the rise and might of the Persians but what about God’s people will their judgment be final like the Babylonians?

This descendant of Asaph asks for God to remember his special people he knew God had declared his love for them.

He uses the term “the life of your dove” which many bible commentators believe should be translated “turtle dove” and Albert Barnes explains what this term actually means,

“The “life” of thy turtle-dove; or, thy turtle-dove itself. The turtle-dove is a name of endearment for one beloved, in Sol 2:12, and is thus applied here to the people of Israel. The leading idea in such an application of the word is that of innocence, harmlessness, timidity, gentleness”

 God’s covenant, which is spoken of in the next verse, sets up the agreement for Israel to be through God’s love his special people. So now when they have been so badly beaten and knocked around by the armies of Babylon formally likened to a roaring lion in verse 4 and therefore “wild beast” Asaph asks “do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever”.

 This prayer was answered by God particularly for his people who were now in exile in Babylon because they prospered in the very heart of the evil empire’s Capital of Babylon and when Babylon was over run by Persia a few years after the writing of this Psalm God led the people back to resettle in the promised land and would rebuild Jerusalem.

We can learn from this ourselves that God uses even the problems and difficulties we face tody for his good purposes in the future as Paul wrote of in Romans 8: 28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.

  1. (20 – 21) Remember God your covenant of love

This new focus on the God and power and love continues to make the writers prayer more positive and God centred. Saying he is praying God centred is another way of saying we need to focus our faith and prayers on God in difficult times not the transient problems we face in life from time to time but on God and his word. The question we always need to ask is:

Who is in charge of my life?

Are my life experiences controlling me or is it the God of the bible who has saved me?

The problem with many Christians today is that they are really letting life’s problems or life’s success become the controlling influence of their lives. I call this experience based Christianity and I know of many churches who have promoted this and know that when things are going well in theses churches they are flourishing but when they hit the inedible speed humps of life they are not doing so well.

This descendant of Asaph in verse 20 makes a very God centred request to God in verse 20, he prays,

“Have regard for your covenant”.

 He is praying to God for help focussed on God’s revelation to his people, the covenant that I spoke of earlier in this Psalm talk when commenting on the phase in verse 2,

“Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance”

 And I quoted Exodus 19: 3 – 6,

“ Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

He wants God to bless his people again as he promises to do in the very covenant or agreement God made with the nation of Israel through Moses. He wants God to keep his promise to,

“Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession”.

But this descendant of Asaph also needed to remember that God’s covenant said,

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant”

As I have mentioned a number of times the Babylonian invasion and exile only happened because the people before this descendant of Asaph and the people at the time if Asaph had not kept God’s covenant and had disobeyed God and worshipped other God’s.

What then is this New Covenant we should focus on at all times in our lives?

I found a perfect answer to this question by a man named Joseph Tkach, writing on this subject on a web site called “Grace Communion International, he writes,

“How can we have a relationship with God? How can we become his friends? How can we become citizens of his holy nation? Sinful humans aren’t in a position to make deals with their Creator. As sinners, we are alienated from him, estranged from him. Sin and corruption cannot enjoy his presence. But because he is good, because he loves us, God has acted decisively to end our alienation and restore us to his household.

 Tkach goes on to explain in a nutshell how God has acted decisively to end our alienation with him and restore us into his household, he writes,

“The terms God has set are these: Jesus died for our sins. In a financial metaphor, he has paid for them. There is no more debt. We have been forgiven. Our works cannot add anything to it. God has in Christ acted unilaterally, reconciling all things to himself (Colossians 1:20).”

 This last statement of Tkach is a brilliantly simple explanation of what the new covenant of God is.

The fact that over and over again Israel failed to be able to keep the covenant of God tells us that God needed to establish a new agreement or covenant with us and this is what Paul is speaking about in the early chapters of Romans and brings his argument of being saved by keeping the law or being saved by faith in the grace of God to a head with these words in Romans 5: 20 – 21,

“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

This descendant of Asaph would not have not known this new covenant because it was only made known over 500 years later when Jesus came to earth to be the Messiah and through his death and resurrection establish this new covenant.

So Asaph describes in the second half of verse 5 what God’s judgment on Israel’s sin led to the people of his day left back in Israel,

“Because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land”.

Many commentators believe this is describing the hidden places like caves that people like this descendant of Asaph had to hide in to escape the marauding Babylonian army who searched mercilessly for loyal faithful followers of Israel’s God.

Or the expression could simply describe the general dark time throughout the land that the Babylonian invasion and occupation would have caused.

He goes on to further plea for God’s help in the difficult times he lived in with verse 21,

“Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace”

This descendant of Asaph is pleading with God to take the yoke or the grip of Babylonian power away. I like the New Living Translation way of expressing the first part of this verse,

“Don’t let the downtrodden be humiliated again”.

 At the time of writing this Psalm this son or descendant of Asaph saw no let up of oppression from the Babylonians and he, humanly speaking saw only further humiliation. However he has shifted his primary focus to the God of the Covenant or the God of the bible so he continues to pray,

“May the poor and needy praise your name”.

David often called himself, poor and needy like Psalm 34: 6,

“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles”.

So the poor here could be simply the spiritually poor which we all are before God. Isaiah says this about our spiritual state before God in Isaiah 64: 6,

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”.

So as sinners before God we are all spiritually poor and needy. This means this descendant of Asaph wants God to free the poor and needy from the oppressive hands of the Babylonian over Lords and this will lead to praise for the name of God who has done this.

The Gospel message received by us has changed our state before God and this should be the basis of our focus at all times of our lives, even in difficult times. Paul spoke of this in Colossians 1: 21 – 23,

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant”.

  1. (22 – 23) Remember God and act with your mighty power

In the final two verses of his Psalm this descendant of Asaph asks for God’s judgment to fall on his enemies. He has focussed on the power and love of God since verse 12 and this has helped him remember the God of the bible who in the past had saved his people in a number of ways an over a number of times.

He has remembered how this God of the bible has made this world and continues to up hold it. Finally he has reminded God of his covenant of love and has asked God to remember it as well.

Now he calls on this God he has positively focussed on to:

“Rise up, O God, and defend your cause” (vs. 22a)

 This is a clear call for God to judge his enemies who he sees as God enemies as well. Note how he is leaving the judgment of his enemies to God as Paul teaches all Christians to do in 1 Corinthians 5: 12 – 13,

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

 Jesus made it clear we are to leave judgment to God, Luke 6: 37,

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven”.

God answered this prayer a few years later when he helped lead the Persians to rise up and over power the Babylonians and then through the Persians send the people out of bondage in Babylon back to the promised land.

So the second half of verse 22 was answered at the same time,

“Remember how fools mock you all day long”

Yes this descendant of Asaph faced a dark and difficult time when the cruel and Godless Babylonians oppressed the people of God. Who no doubt persecuted them in word (mock) as well as in deed. Those who mocked them are described as fools because they did not believe in the true God of heaven and earth.

Today many Christians face verbal persecution and in some parts of the world physical torture. Peter had this to say to Christians of his day who faced verbal abuse for being a Christian, 1 Peter 4: 12 – 17,

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

Finally in verse 23, the last verse of this Psalm this descendant of Asaph asks God,

“Do not ignore the clamour of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies which rises continually”.

In this last verse this descendant of Asaph seems to know God does not stay ignorant of the persecution of his people by their enemies but simply asks God not to ignore what he knows or sees.

It is very interesting that when Jesus confronted Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus. He said this to this great persecutor of Christians in Acts 9: 5,

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”

Jesus is so close to and identifies so much with his followers that when they are persecuted he is persecuted. When they are insulted he is insulted and when they hurt he hurts with them.

Not also the subtle image of the lion in the phase,

“the uproar of your enemies”

 

The great symbol of the Babylonians is the lion and interestingly Satan himself is referred to as being like a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5: 8,

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”.

Note Peters advice is to be alert or aware of this great enemy of God and us and in another reference, James 4: 7,

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”.

Note also that this descendant of Asaph realised that this persecution of the Babylonians was always something God knew about as the last words of his Psalm says,

“Which rises continually”

Jesus promises all his disciple to be with them always in Matthew 28: 20b,

“Surely I am with you always, to the ends of the age”.

This should be our focus in difficult times that no matter what happens to us Jesus is with us to help us through those difficult times. He is aware of the words and deeds of those who might be giving us a hard time. He knows what it was like to face both verbal and physical persecution so we should not be afraid to turn to him for help and strength as we face problems and difficulties in this life because opposition.

I am reminded here of how we can focus on the God of power and love in difficult times with the words and advice we read in Hebrews 4: 15 – 16,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”.

I close as usual with a original poem and a prayer:

GOD THE KING OF EVERYTHING

(Based on Psalm 74)

Why have you rejected us Oh God?

Are you angry by the path we have trod?

Turn our steps to your precepts

And free our troubled minds.

 

Remember your people purchased of old

Remember your children redeemed and restored

By the blood of the lamb who came as a man

To die on the cross for our sins.

 

Chorus:

 

You Oh God are the king

The king of everything

You bring us salvation

To you Oh God we sing.

 

Satan rages like a roaring lion

Attacks our churches with deceit and lying.

Some say in their hearts God’s love will depart

From those who have trusted in him.

 

How long will our enemies mock you Oh Lord

How long will they reject your wonderful word

Why don’t you stop the devils dark plot

To bring down your people in this world.

 

Chorus:

 

You Oh God are the king

The king of everything

You bring us salvation

To you Oh God we sing.

 

You Oh God has saved us

By sending your Son to die on the cross.

You made the sun and everyone

You are in charge of this world.

 

So now I can clearly foresee

God’s great judgment that will end history.

Jesus will come and God’s will will be done

And we will rise up to the Lord.

 

 

Chorus:

 

You Oh God are the king

The king of everything

You bring us salvation

To you Oh God we sing

To you Oh God we sing.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven we look to you for help as we face difficult times in this life. Help us to have the faith to believe that you are in control no matter what seems to be happening to us at the moment. Help us to believe by faith that you work all things both good and bad for good. Help us to lift our eyes to the great hope of the future that you will one day send Jesus back to judge this world and raise us up to be with you in heaven forever. In Jesus name we pray, amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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