Psalms 74-76 are psalms composed by Asaph. Recall that Psalm 73 was also penned by Asaph where he questioned why the wicked seem to succeed but the righteous suffer. These next three psalms call for the judgments of God against the wicked. Yet these are confident calls for judgment but questioning calls for why God has not brought vengeance.
“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?”
Do you feel like God has rejected you? Asaph did. In fact, Asaph feels this way on behalf of the whole nation of Israel. The chosen people of God have been rejected by God. They are experiencing the burning wrath of the Lord. Notice as we read the first 9 verses that this question is posed in a similar way as Psalm 73. The question is why are the people of God rejected and experiencing God’s anger when the wicked succeed in their fight against the Lord. Essentially, Asaph cries out, “Look at the evil committed against you, Lord!”
Therefore, Asaph says that they have been rejected by God. Do you feel rejected by God? It is a lonely feeling. Notice verse 9, “We do not see our signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.” The people proclaiming in the name of the Lord have vanished. The wonders and signs of God are no longer available. The two most common questions that people ask in the midst of suffering, when we feel like we have been rejected by God: “why?” and “how long?”
Verse 10: “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever?” How long will these continue this way? How long must we endure this suffering? How long will we continue to feel this way?
Verse 11: “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” Why are these things happening? Why will God not save us? Why doesn’t God change our circumstances?
The answer to these questions are not revealed. Asaph does not say that this is how long this suffering would continue. Nor does Asaph reveal the reason why the nation is enduring these problems. The inability to answer these questions causes us mental anguish. We do not know why these things are happening to us and we do not know how long these things will continue to be this way. Every trial consists of these two problematic questions: why and how long? So how does Asaph deal with this feeling of alienation? How does Asaph cope with his circumstances, not knowing how long or why these things are happening?
“But you, O God, are my king from of old.”
In verses 12-17 Asaph repeatedly refers to the mighty works that God has done in the past. Each verse begins with the word “You” or “Yours.” I like how the NIV renders “It was you” at the start of each verse. Asaph begins to recall the deeds of the Lord.
- You, O God are my king from of old. Remember that God reigns and continues to rule.
- You bring salvation upon the earth. God is the only place that deliverance can be found. If there is anyone who can help me in my turmoil, it is God. No one else can save. No one else has the power to deliver.
- You split open the sea by your power; broke the heads of the monster in the waters. Asaph recalls the parting of the Red Sea and the exodus from Egypt. The Almighty and all-powerful God delivered the people of God from slavery. The monster is not a literal monster in the waters, but speaks of overcoming the trial. God overcame the trial of having their backs to the water as the Egyptians attacked by splitting open the sea.
- You crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert. Similarly, this is not speaking of the actual animal, Leviathan that we read about in Job. Rather, Asaph also recalls the wandering in the desert. God destroyed the trial of hunger and lack of food in the desert by bringing manna and quail.
- You opened up springs and streams and dried up ever flowing rivers. Opening the springs and streams likely refers to the many occasions where God provided water, most notably the water from the rock in the desert. Drying up the rivers probably refers to the drying up of the Jordan River as the nation crossed to take the land promised by God.
- The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon; set the boundaries of the earth; made summer and winter. Asaph now remembers that God is the creator of all that we see in creation. God set things in motion and holds things in their places.
Asaph deals with the feeling of rejection by remember all of the mighty works of God. Asaph wants God to rise up and destroy the enemies. But until the situation is resolved, Asaph is going to remember God’s power to change any circumstance. God had made a promise to the people of Israel: “Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). This promise, along with God’s promises to Abraham, seem to be in view when Asaph says, “Have regard for your covenant” (74:20). Essentially, Asaph’s cry is to remember and deliver us.
The point we learn from Psalm 74 is to remember the mighty works God has done for us in the past. We will elaborate on this point more at the end of the lesson. Psalms 75-76 seems to have been written at the same time as Psalm 74 because these continue cries for God to bring judgment.
“We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.”
The second thing Asaph is able to do besides remembering the good deeds of the Lord from the past is to give thanks to God while in the midst of suffering. If we are not thankful to God, then we are going to become bitter and angry about our circumstances.
Third, God is judge. “You say, ‘I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly. When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.'” We want justice right now for what we are suffering. Job wanted the same. Justice now! God says that he will judge, but only at the time he has appointed. Judgment will not come on our schedule. We want to see consequences for those who commit evil acts against us. Justice will come, but it will come on God’s schedule. In all of this, God is in charge.
“For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; it is well mixed, and He pours out of this; surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs” (75:8). When God speaks about drinking the cup of wine that is in his hand, it always speaks of severe judgment. In Jeremiah 25:15-29 this image symbolized disaster and sword. Therefore, Asaph is realizing that though he wants judgment to come now, judgment will eventually come and it will bring disaster upon the wicked. The picture is the cup of the wrath of God and it is foaming and boiling over. The wrath of God is well mixed and is poured out on all the wicked, until the very last drop has been swallowed. There will be no mercy for the wicked. The Lord will not hold back in His judgment against them. When suffering, know that God will judge the wicked.
Psalm 76 describes the wrath of God in action. God is breaking the flying arrows and shattering the swords and shields. The valiant soldiers lie plundered. Horse and chariot are stilled by the very word of the Lord. “You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?” (76:7). The wicked will not be able to stand against the Lord. When God’s judgment comes, none will be left standing. The wrath of God comes on behalf of the afflicted.
- When suffering or feeling rejected by God, we may not know the “why” or the “how long.” We want to know how long we will have to deal with our suffering. We also want to know why we are suffering. The answers to these questions are not readily available. We can want answers, but none will be forthcoming. Therefore, we need to remember: (1) God is the king and is still in charge over the affairs of the earth. (2) God has delivered us through difficulties is the past and will deliver again. (3) In every instance, it seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet God makes a way. The backs of the Israelites are against the Red Sea and the Egyptians are attacking, God parts the sea to bring deliverance. Wandering in the desert without food, God sends food from heaven. Wandering the desert without water, God provides water from rocks. A river prevents Israel from crossing into the land of Canaan, God dries up the river.
- When it seems that there are no remedies, God can create remedies we cannot imagine.
- God’s judgments will come at His appointed time, not ours.
- The wicked will not escape drinking the cup of God’s wrath.
- God’s judgments will be on behalf of the afflicted.