If you have your Bibles turn with me to Psalm 74. The circumstance of this Psalm is the Babylonian destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, one of the most cataclysmic events in the history of Israel. There are three things we will consider as this cry of the heart is lifted in this time of national disaster. Firstly, we will see the disaster outlined in verses 1 – 11. Next, in verses 12 – 17, we will consider God’s sovereignty. Finally, in verses 18 – 23, we will consider the psalmist’s prayer of petition. 

I. The Disaster Outlined 

Firstly, I want you to notice that the psalmist, speaking on behalf of the afflicted Israel, says in verses 1 – 2: “O God, why have You rejected us forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple has led the people of God to feel rejected by God and to question his judgment. 

Sometimes we ask one another, “Why do you think such-and-such happened?” And sometimes well-meaning Christians will say to us, “You shouldn’t ask why.” But have you ever noticed how the Bible is filled with the question, “Why?” And in this passage, the people of God asking the question is not an index of their unbelief, but an index of their faith. And so they’re asking of the question “Why?” is a very important practical and theological question for them to ask.

And this is so important for them to ask because this is not just a natural disaster that has befallen the people of God; this is a spiritual disaster, because the focal point of God’s presence, the temple, has been destroyed and they have been taken into exile. It is this crisis of the exile which will define the theological question all the later prophets ask: “Lord, You said You were going to set up a king in the line of David and he was going to reign forever, but the king has been carried off into Babylon. How are we to understand that, God?”

But they already had the answer to this question. 

Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 47:6 that it was God Himself who had taken up this wrath against Israel. There is an answer in God’s word to this, “Why?” Because the children of Israel had not listened to the messengers of grace that God had been sending to them over and over. They had rejected those messengers, and God had visited them in this destruction through the Babylonians. And so this ruined temple is evidence that God was deadly serious when He had warned them through the prophets. And yet the people of God can still turn to Him and say, “Lord, run to the temple and look what’s happened, and remember.”

II. The Sovereign God 

In the middle of all this lament and crying, we see in verses 12 – 17 that the psalmist rehearses the power of our sovereign God: “Yet God is my king from of old, who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of sea-monsters in the waters. You crush the heads of Leviathan; You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.”

You see the point there. The psalmist is making it very clear: this did not happen because God was not powerful enough to keep it from happening, because this is the God who created the world. This is the God who divided the seas from the land. This is the God who hung the stars. This is the God who created sun and moon. This is the God who controls the mightiest of the sea creatures and the mightiest of the land creatures. This is the sovereign God of heaven and earth, so if this has happened it has not happened because He is not too powerful.

Yet today, every crisis that occurs we are told by somebody that God couldn’t help it, that God had nothing to do with this. A child dies tragically, and we’re told God has nothing to do with it. A city is destroyed: God had nothing to do with it; God couldn’t do anything about it; He didn’t know it was coming; He couldn’t stop it from happening. And the psalmist is just telling you that that is not the answer.

God is sovereign; God is all-powerful; there’s nothing out from under His control, so that’s not the answer to the question, “Why.” The answer to the question “Why” from God is not, “Oh, my people, I really would have liked to have helped you, but I just didn’t have the power to do it.” That is never the answer, because God is sovereign.

II. The Prayer of Petition 

Lastly, in verses 18 – 23, we have a prayer of petition amid this lament, and here is the prayer: “Remember this, O Lord, this enemy has reviled; a foolish people has spurned Your name. Do not deliver the soul of Your turtledove to the wild beast; do not forget the life of Your afflicted forever. Consider the covenant….”

Why is that word ‘remember’ so important? In Exodus 2 verses 23 – 24, Moses describes the people of God burdened under the oppression of their taskmasters in Egypt: “And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and their cry for help rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant.” Why is he saying ‘remember’ now? Because he wants the Lord to remember the promises that He has made to Abraham.

Daniel does the exact same thing in Daniel 9. Daniel stumbles upon Jeremiah’s scroll, he reads Jeremiah’s explanation as to why the children of Israel have been sent into exile, and he says to the Lord, “Lord God, heed Your word. Do what You say You will do in Your word. We don’t deserve Your mercy, but, Lord, do what You said You would do in Your word: bring the children of Israel out of exile.” And at the end of Daniel 9 God dispatches His angel to explain to Daniel that his prayer is going to be answered in a quite unexpected way. The angel tells Daniel that in answer to Daniel’s prayer the Messiah is going to be sent into the world; the Messiah is going to die in Jerusalem, and then God’s great purposes are going to be brought to pass.

For God’s promise to Abraham to come to fruition, His Son must die. The Messiah must die, and we, trusting in Him alone for our salvation, become the recipients of all the promises that God has stored up for His believing people since the day that He made those gracious words of promise to Abraham. And that’s how this Psalm closes: with a people who deserve to be judged, yet standing before God and saying, “Lord God, deal with us not as we deserve, but as You have promised.”

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