There’s so much going on in Psalm 74. As we saw yesterday, this song too is a deep lament, the lifting up of great communal loss.
Listen to these powerfully devastating words, describing the destruction of the Temple.
Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
They smashed all the carved paneling
with their axes and hatchets.
They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. (4-8)
I don’t think we can imagine today what a profound tragedy, loss, and dishonor this was. Remember: they believed God’s presence literally dwelled in this location uniquely. Though they also sang that God was present in the highest heavens and lowest hells, God’s glory was somehow tangible in the walls of the Temple. They could go there and meet with God.
And then it was gone. Worse than gone: God’s enemies stood in the sacred place and violently destroyed it with their hands.
Remember what we learned about honor/shame cultures earlier this week? There could be no greater shame—for the people and for God. God had been mocked in the most blatantly dishonoring ways possible.
No surprise then that what followed next was silence. No prophets. No signs. No comfort from the Lord at all.
And so, these ancient people from an honor/shame culture are appealing to God in the best way they know how: by appealing to God’s sense of honor. Surely God will not allow Himself to be made a fool, a mockery! Their many remembrances in this passage are not so much to cheer themselves up but to plea for help. God, you are being dishonored by such smaller beings! Yet you are the King from long ago, the one greater than the seas, the monsters, the desert, the rivers, the day and the night, summer and winter. Do not let your enemies have the final word over you!
When God moves to defend His honor—as they know He will do—they, as His children, will be justified and saved as well.
Questions for reflection and discussion: What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you or to your community? When has it felt like God abandoned you? How do you appeal to God for comfort and help? How has God come near to you?