What do you do when God has let evildoers ravage your life or community in some way? Do you assert that any God who let that happen couldn’t possibly love you? Or do you cry out to him in faith?
An Asaph psalm.
1 O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smoke
against the flock under your care?
2 Remember the people you chose so long ago
the tribe you redeemed
for your very own—
Mount Zion, your earthly home.
3 Tour these everlasting ruins—
survey the utter devastation
the enemy has wreaked on your sanctuary.
4 Your foes roared triumphantly
inside your meeting place.
They set up their symbols as the true signs.
5 They hacked away
like someone taking down
a tangle of trees with axes—
6 smached its delicate carvings
with sledgehammer and pickaxe.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire
and desecrated the house that bears your name
razing it to the ground.
8 Telling themselves
“We’ll totally crush them!”
they torched every single place
we used to meet God in the land.
9 We see no signs to guide us now
there are no prophets anymore
and no one knows how long this will last.
10 How long is the foe to scoff, God?
Will the enemy revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back—
your hands folded in your lap?
12 You’ve been my king from ages past
performing acts of deliverance on earth.
13 You split the sea apart by your power
and crushed the heads of the sea serpent—
14 smashed the writhing heads of Leviathan
tossing him as food to the sharks.
15 You opened up springs and torrents
you dried up wild floodwaters.
16 Day and night are both yours—
you set both sun and moon in place.
17 You set the limits of everything on earth
both summer and winter.
18 Remember, YHWH
how the enemy has scoffed at you.
A foolish people has reviled your name.
19 Don’t surrender the life of your turtledove
to the beast.
Don’t forget the life of your poor forever.
20 Remember your covenant!
Because every dark corner of the land
is now haunted by violence.
21 Don’t let the oppressed retreat in shame.
Let the poor and downcast praise your name!
22 Rise up and defend your cause, God.
Remember how these fools insult you all day long!
23 Don’t ignore the outbursts of your foes
the uproar these upstarts raise against you
without ever letting up.
Imagine the psalmist sitting in the smoking ruins of the Temple in 587 BC, after Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians. The psalm’s central section seems to counter the Babylonian myth of the god Marduk’s defeat of the seven-headed sea goddess Tiamat. But if so, it conflates Tiamat with Tannin, the sea monster in Egyptian mythology, and makes its imagery do double duty by evoking God’s defeat of Egypt at the Red Sea, which led to Israel’s creation.
Beyond being Israel’s pride and joy, the Temple was the center of Israel’s communal life and relationship with God—the center of the universe. But while its destruction seemed to say he was forever done with them, God’s covenant invited Israel to believe he would restore his people even then.
So instead of turning away, the psalmist turns to God, asking how he could abandon his own sheep to his enemies. He tells him to survey the ruins and describes the enemy’s degrading behavior and how they’d replaced Israel’s symbols with pagan symbols of power. He laments his people’s lostness—without prophets, signs or any idea of when God might speak again.
Then from Jerusalem’s smoking ruins, the psalmist insists with theological chutzpah that God still reigns supreme. This may seem a wilful denial of reality. But despite the Babylonians’ arrogant boasts, their days usurping God’s place are numbered. The psalmist knows God’s judgment has fallen, as his prophets had said it would. But the psalmist also knows God can still bring beauty out of Jerusalem’s ashes. So he pleads with him to remember his covenant, defend his cause, and end the enemy’s abuse of his name.
Surrounded by oppression, Jesus, where do I turn? You alone offer healing and hope. You alone have the words of eternal life. Don’t ignore the evildoers’ abuse and surrender your dove to the beast. Remember your covenant, sealed with your blood. Defend the honor of your name. Amen.
During your free moments today, pray these words: