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Rise Up for Your People, O LORD! (Ps. 74)

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Introduction:

Psalm 74:12 KJV 1900
For God is my King of old, Working salvation in the midst of the earth.
There are times in life when present circumstances offer us no evidence that God is present in—let alone in control of—our situation. Psalm 74 was written for just such a time. Psalm 74 leads us to live eschatologically, to live believing that God reigns “amid circumstances that seem to deny” that reign (McCann 1996:974). In this regard Psalm 74 is a companion psalm to Psalm 73, as both address the problem of the apparent success of the wicked.1 But whereas Psalm 73 is from the perspective of the individual, Psalm 74 is from the perspective of the community (McCann 1996:972).
[Mark D. Futato, “The Book of Psalms,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), 246.]
Main Thought: “Theme: A cry for deliverance when the temple is defiled by the enemy” (McGee); “Evil shall not triumph for ever” (Scroggie).
Sub-intro:
This is the ninth maschil of thirteen such psalms of instruction. There is a subscription to this psalm addressed to the chief Musician, with the added note: Al-taschith, meaning “Destroy not!” The psalm teaches us how to pray when calamity strikes, when it seems as though God is blind and deaf to what is going on. This psalm deals with disaster of no small measure: the enemy has come into the sanctuary with fire and axe.
[John Phillips, Exploring Psalms 1–88: An Expository Commentary, vol. 1, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Ps 74.]
...the central prayer asks, "How long?" and "Why?" (10, 11). This analysis may be set out as follows:
(a) 1-3 Prayer. "Remember."
(b) 4-9. The Profanation of God's Name in the Present,
(c) 10, 11. Prayer. "How long? Why?"
(b) 12-17. The Revelation of God's Power in the Past,
(a) 18-23. Prayer. "Remember."
[W. Graham Scroggie, The Guide to the Psalms, A Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms, vol. 2, The Scroggie Studies of the Psalms and the Gospels Library (Kregel Publications, 2014), 142.]
SOME think that Asaph, the penman of this psalm, was not the same that lived in the times of David, but some other of the same name, a descendant of hisk, that lived after the Babylonish captivity, since the psalm treats of things that were done at the time the Jews were carried captive into Babylon, or after; but this hinders not that it might be the same man; for why might he not, under a spirit of prophecy, speak of the sufferings of the church in after-ages, as well as David and others testify before-hand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow? The psalm is called Maschil, because it gives knowledge of, and causes to understand what afflictions should befall the church and people of God in after-times.
[John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 4, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 7.]
While we have no certainty about the period the psalm reflects in history, we can be quite sure as to what period it reflects in prophecy. It anticipates the desecration of a future Jewish temple by the Antichrist.
[Phillips]
Body:

I. The Painful Question: Why, LORD? (Ps. 74:1-11).

Singing psalms was very important to the Huguenots, those persecuted Protestants who were driven out of France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The power of the psalms to bless and fortify them must have been especially feared by their persecutors, for under Louis XIII and Louis XIV many edicts were passed forbidding their use of the Psalter. Nevertheless, these brave people merely hid their books while carrying on their singing in mountain caves or forests, since they knew the psalms by heart.
One psalm from which they gained particular strength was Psalm 74. In 1686, one year after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which removed their protection under the earlier laws of France, the Protestants of Vaud were driven from their homes and dispossessed of their property. They p 617 crossed the Alps, some dying on the way, and at last entered Geneva, the City of Refuge. There, their voices choked by exhaustion and misery, they sang the opening verses of this psalm, while scores of refugees who had already reached Geneva as the result of earlier persecutions joined in...
Three years later, in 1689, the same psalm was chanted in triumph by seven hundred of these exiles who, led by their pastor, Henri Arnaud, had fought their way back to their homes. When they met at last in their own homeland in one of their own churches the joy and enthusiasm were inexpressible, and once again Psalm 74 was sung.
[James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 616–617.]

A. A Prayer for God to Remember His People (Ps. 74:1-2).

Psalm 74:1–2 KJV 1900
O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; The rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; This mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.
The terms to denote God’s relation to His people increase in force: “congregation”—“purchased”—“redeemed”—“Zion,” His dwelling.
[Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 369.]

B. Enemies Have Destroyed the Places of God (Ps. 74:3-5).

Psalm 74:3–5 KJV 1900
Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; Even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary. Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; They set up their ensigns for signs. A man was famous according as he had lifted up Axes upon the thick trees.
The temple of Solomon made lavish use of the great trees of Lebanon. It was no small feat to hew down one of those giant cedars and saw it into boards. That called for skill. But now vandals were hewing down the carved work of the temple to haul away in triumph as souvenirs of their prowess in destruction. The singer’s lament is all the more significant when we remember that much of the carving in the temple represented palm trees and open flowers (1 Kings 6:29).
[Phillips]
1 Kings 6:29 KJV 1900
And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.

C. Enemies Defiled & Oppressed (Ps. 74:6-8).

Psalm 74:6–8 KJV 1900
But now they break down the carved work thereof At once with axes and hammers. They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, They have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground. They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.
This is very vivid poetry, because we can almost visualize Asaph taking God by the hand to lead him through the twisted rubble left by the invaders. “Look, that is where they broke in,” he seems to be saying. “Over there is where they set up their military standards. That is where they attacked the carved paneling, as if they were merely hacking their way through a thicket of trees. Then they burned the temple. Look at those ashes. That is all that is left. And then, as if the damage to the temple itself were not bad enough, they went through the whole land and destroyed every place where you were worshiped. They said, ‘We will crush them completely!’ And they have! Do you see it? Do you care?” This is a fierce complaint, bordering just possibly on impropriety as an address to God. But we should not miss the fact that it is at least addressed to God. When we complain it is more often the case that we just complain, either to ourselves or to other people. It is better to complain to God.
[Boice, 618–619.]
2 Kings 25:9 KJV 1900
And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire.
Isaiah 64:11 KJV 1900
Our holy and our beautiful house, Where our fathers praised thee, Is burned up with fire: And all our pleasant things are laid waste.
It is always Satan’s strategy to get into the sanctuary if he can. He worked, down through the long ages of the Hebrew monarchy, until at last he managed to bring to ruin that stately temple, built as a tribute to the living God. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?” demanded Paul of the Corinthian saints. “If any man defile the temple of God him will God destroy.” Twice, during His earthly pilgrimage, Jesus cleansed the temple which once again graced Moriah’s hill in His day. Each time the money changers, the merchants, the Sanhedrin with its vested interests brushed aside His cleansing work. Satan used them to foul the sanctuary. So God pulled it down as Jesus foretold. He beckoned to the legions of Rome, commissioned them to work His sovereign will and pull the temple down. The Christian’s body is the Holy Spirit’s temple; Satan would like to see that temple defiled as well. He gloats to observe the end result of his work in a wrecked and ruined temple. He delights to find God’s home, the dwelling place of the eternal Holy Spirit, defiled and then destroyed.
[Phillips]

D. How Long Will God Allow Taunting? (Ps. 74:9-11).

Psalm 74:9–11 KJV 1900
We see not our signs: There is no more any prophet: Neither is there among us any that knoweth how long. O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? Shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever? Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? Pluck it out of thy bosom.
Lamentations 2:5–9 KJV 1900
The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, He hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, And hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation. And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: The Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, And hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, He hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; They have made a noise in the house of the Lord, as in the day of a solemn feast. The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: He hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: Therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together. Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: Her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; Her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.
Amos 8:11 KJV 1900
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, That I will send a famine in the land, Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord:
“Do you have time for God’s Word? Your attitude should be that of John Wesley, the great Methodist evangelist who wrote, ‘Give me that book! At any price, give me the the book of God!’” (Boice).
The four questions are:
How long will God allow the adversary to ridicule?
Will God allow His name to be reviled indefinitely?
Why is His hand restrained from stopping the destruction?
Why does He keep His right hand idly hidden in the folds of His robe?
[William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 662.]
Though as Christians we have never had this same experience, many of us have had similar experiences—similar in that our lives have been in “awful ruins,” and we have been painfully perplexed as to why God was doing nothing about it. What is the best response in such a situation? The first response we are taught here is to bring the painful “why?” to expression. The question is there deep in our hearts. Our pain is as intense as God’s anger. We know it. God invites us to express it in prayer. The second response is found in the second strophe.
[Futato, 247.]

II. The Provident Truth: God Is King (Ps. 74:12-17).

A. God Is a Mighty King (Ps. 74:12-14).

Verse 12 is the central verse of the psalm and the turning point in Asaph’s experience. He lifted his eyes by faith from the burning ruins to the holy throne of God in the heavens and received a new perspective on the situation.
[Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 242–243.]

B. God Is the Sovereign Creator (Ps. 74:15-17).

Psalm 74:15–17 KJV 1900
Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: Thou driedst up mighty rivers. The day is thine, the night also is thine: Thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: Thou hast made summer and winter.
Asaph was asking God to fulfill His purposes for the nation.
The nation had been ravaged, the city of Jerusalem had been wrecked, and the temple had been destroyed and burned—but the essentials had not been touched by the enemy! The nation still had Jehovah God as their God, His Word and His covenant had not been changed, and Jehovah was at work in the world! God is at work in our world today, and we need not despair.
[Wiersbe, 244.]
With no evidence of God’s salvation in the present, the psalmist grounded his faith in God’s salvation in the distant past.
[Futato, 247.]

III. The Passionate Plea: Remember, LORD! (Ps. 74:18-23).

A. Prayer for Action Against Enemies (Ps. 74:18-19).

Psalm 74:18–19 KJV 1900
Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, And that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name. O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: Forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever.
Spurgeon wrote, “We have here before us a model of pleading, a very rapture of prayer. It is humble, but very bold, eager, fervent and effectual. The heart of God is always moved by such entreaties.”
[C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58–87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), 275–76.]

B. A Reminder of the Covenant (Ps. 74:20-21).

Psalm 74:20–21 KJV 1900
Have respect unto the covenant: For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. O let not the oppressed return ashamed: Let the poor and needy praise thy name.

C. A Call for God to Rise Up! (Ps. 74:22-23).

Psalm 74:22–23 KJV 1900
Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: Remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. Forget not the voice of thine enemies: The tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.

Conclusion:

When our circumstances seem to deny that God is king over the world he has made, Psalm 74 encourages us to articulate the agony of our confusion and the ecstasy of our faith. When there is no evidence in the present for God’s reign in our lives, we too can look back to what God did in ages past. To what he did in establishing the marvelous order in creation. To what he did in accomplishing our redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. When our faith reaches back to God’s work of creation and redemption, it finds a sure anchor for the soul. That anchor is the heart of the message of the Psalter and the heart of the Christian faith: “You, O God, are my king from ages past” (74:12). This anchor keeps us safe and secure in the storms of life.
[Futato, 248.]
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