Asaph, in Psalm 74, is grieving the fallen city of Jerusalem and its temple, the place where God meets with His people. He calls out to God to hear, answer, and move to reestablish His fallen but covenanted people. Through this prayer, Asaph teaches us a model of pleading with God: a) it is direct; b) it is passionate; c) it is honest; d) it is respectful; and, e) it is wise. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon said of this psalm, “We have here before us a model of pleading, a very rapture of prayer. It is humble, but very bold, eager, fervant, and effectual. The heart of God is always moved by such entreaties. By its very nature, this is truly a psalm of faith in God.
We plead with pain. 74:1, 2
This psalm is a “Maskil” which may mean it is a “skillful psalm” or “efficacious psalm.” No one is for sure what the term means, but it is a psalm that is instructive in the sense that it is teaching, or at minimum, implying wisdom for those who are singing or reading it.
Asaph first asks the question of God, “How long will You be angry with your people, O God?” He feels the sting of rejection from the Lord. God’s anger toward His people is felt deeply because of the sin of the people. Asaph is wondering if it will last forever. The anger felt is “smoking” or “raging” against God’s people, the “sheep of His pasture.” Asaph desires to see an end, the finality, of this anger toward God’s people. And this plea is painful as he reminds God of who His people are: they are purchased by God, they are redeemed by God, they have dwelt with God in His holy temple.
We pleaed with honesty. 74:3-8
Asaph, as if taking God by his right hand, begins to describe the ruins of the temple. The enemies of God have come and destroyed the temple, the place where God meets with His people. In the midst of this meeting place, God’s adversaries have broken into the sanctuary and replaced the banners of God with their own wicked banners. They have hacked away at the carved work and torn to pieces everything in their wake stealing the gold and silver that overlaid the wooden fixtures. These enemies of God have gone so far as to even burn the entire sanctuary to the ground. Asaph is showing God how they have destroyed every place that was used for worshiping Him–even destroying the City of God, Jerusalem.
Asaph points out that it is God who has allowed His enemies to come and destroy the temple and the city. How can there be public worship of God if there are no remaining places for worship in the land? Asaph, pained by what he sees, addresses God honestly with what he is thinking and how he is feeling.
We plead to know how long affliction will last. 74:9-11
This is the lowest point in the psalm. Asaph reiterates that the banners of God are removed. There are no prophets in the land to speak and teach the people. God’s people are at His mercy wondering how long this affliction will last. The enemy continues to bring contempt against the very name of God. They mock His name verbally. They take God’s name in vain. They spurn and despise God’s name. At this low point, Asaph admits that he believes that God has withdrawn His hand from His people. He feels as if God has turned back from them and is no longer there for His people. He then asks God to destroy His enemies. When the enemies of God come against His people, they are coming against God! Asaph speaks of the wanton destruction of the temple; Israel’s enemies are mocking God by doing what they have done. They are enemies not only of God’s people, but of God.
We plead knowing our unchanging God. 74:12-17
Asaph now turns his attention to how great God truly is. He is not one with which to be trifled. He is not one which is to be mocked. God is not one which is to be reviled, despised, held against with contempt. Earlier in the psalm Asaph asked God to remember His people. Now Asaph is remembering God! He remembers God’s works of deliverance, a reference to the exodus from the bondage of Egypt. God divided the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross over on dry land. And the sea monsters were broken, even Leviathan was crushed. These sea monsters, some scholars believe, may have been crocodile types of animals in the waters. Leviathan was supposedly crushed by Baal in the Canaanite religious legends. But Asaph says it is the God of Israel that has crushed Leviathan and fed his flesh to the wild beasts. Other scholars beleive this is representative of Egypt who’s symbol was that of a crocodile. At any rate, God defeated the armies of Egypt because they were enemies of His people, therefore, enemies of Him.
God also caused the torrents of water to rage and dried up streams. He caused the waters to to swallow up the enemy in the Red Sea and then He caused it to dry out so His people could cross over into the His land on dry ground. Asaph remembers the sovereignty of God as having control over all that occurs on the earth. He is sovereign over all created things. He has made both the day and the night. God has established the boundaries of the earth. He has made the seasons to occur year after year for the sustaining of life. Asaph remembers all that God has done and how He is unchanging in His very nature and character.
We plead by calling on the character of God. 74:18-23
The psalmist now turns his attention to the covenant that God has made with His people. he calls on the Lord to remember how His enemy has spurned His name. Asaph asks that God not forget the life of His afflicted one. Then, in verse twenty, He asks the Lord to consider the covenant that He made with His people. It is a unilateral covenant. God, as you recall above, has purchased His people, redeemed His people, and has dwelt with His people. He made a covenant with His people stating that they are His and that He is there God (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). It is a covenant that God made and is one-sided. This is what God has chosen to do with Israel. By invoking this covenant, Asaph is saying to God that He cannot go against His very nature of being unchanging, but rather that He must keep His covenant. By keeping His covenant with His people, God will raise His people to a place of honor and in praise of His holy name.
Asaph calls on the Lord to plead His own cause. Show that the covenant that He has made with His people still stands. Show His enemies who His people are and who their God is. He should act because it is fitting that His enemies be rebuked and the poor and needy praise His name. God should act because it is His cause and not a mere man’s that is in jeopardy. It is God’s purposes that are being opposed by Israel’s enemies, therefore, by His enemies.
How then shall we plead our case to God?
We do what Asaph did! We make a list of why God should answer our prayer and plead those reasons. We need to repeat that God has secured us in Himself and by Himself. We have been made secure by the shedding of blood by His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. We are secured in the promise that He has made to those who have believed that Jesus Christ died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised again according to the Scriptures (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). We state our case to God and we plead with Him to answer. Either He will answer, or we will find that our prayers and our pleading is not a good one and that we will pray for something better–namely for His will to be done.
May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering.