Devastation surrounds the composer of Psalm 74. His mind recoils in shock as he remembers the ruins of the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The enemy had demolished the building. The Psalmist tells us that the invaders had not contented themselves with destroying the Temple. Intent on breaking the will of the Jewish people, “They [the invaders] said to themselves, ‘we will utterly subdue them’; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land” (74:8). He describes the act of destroying the temple in detail as he prays; this psalm is a fervent prayer by a pleading worshiper shocked by desolation of what he considered sacred. As he prays, he repeatedly calls upon God to “remember.” He tells God to inspect the damage to his Temple. He entreats God to “have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence” (74:20). He challenges God, “Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! Do not forget the clamor of your foe, the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!”(74:22-23).
Key words and phrases resonate through this prayer:
Direct your steps
Have regard for the covenant
Do not forget
Perhaps the most poignant words are found in this confession and plea in verses 9-11:
“We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!”
The people of God can no longer hear the message of God. The challenges to faith, both physical and spiritual, have obscured it. They wonder how long the terror will last, and whether God’s poor can endure.
In the midst of this anguished lament, the psalmist gathers himself and speaks a stalwart statement of confidence in God. God still is “working salvation in the midst of the earth.” He has conquered foes in the past. He rules the planet and the universe, for he created their boundaries and seasons. God sustains.
In places on our planet today, people of God still witness the destruction of their places of worship. They may die for confessing their faith. In other places, “the foolish” still scoff at God. They question his power; they disdain standards of morality and laugh at the concept of his existence. Disoriented people of faith, shaken by attacks on the sacred may still pray as did this believer:
“O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!” (74:1-2a).
We may call upon God to remember. We may plead to God to have regard for his covenant with his people. We may call upon God to arise and defend his cause. As we pray, however, like the Psalmist we too must remember how God has rescued in the past, we ourselves must have regard for the covenant, and we must know God’s will, his scripture, and our culture well enough to compose a defense that will be heard, understood, and accepted by our contemporaries. The “dark places of the land [may be] full of the habitations of violence,” but we too remember how God broke through to reconcile, showing his love through the suffering of Jesus, giving us hope through his resurrection. God still works salvation in his world.
O God, remember your people as societies scorn your will and terrorists seek to destroy our faith. Have regard for the covenant, and renew our memories of your acts on our behalf. Defend your cause. Remind us of our promises to you and revive our courage to act on what we believe. Help us to be faithful agents of your love in a world driven by cynicism and hatred. Help us to hear your word and to hold on however long we must. In Jesus’ name, Amen.