Psalm 74 - Why do you cast us off forever?

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A Maskil of Asaph.
1) O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
2) Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago,
which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage.
Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell.
3) Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.

4) Your foes have roared within your holy place;
they set up their emblems there.
5) At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.
6) And then, with hatchets and hammers,
they smashed all its carved work.
7) They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrated the dwelling place of your name,
bringing it to the ground.
8) They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
9) We do not see our emblems;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us who knows how long.

10) How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
11) Why do you hold back your hand;
why do you keep your hand in your bosom?

12) Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the earth.
13) You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
14) You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15) You cut openings for springs and torrents;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16) Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you established the luminaries and the sun.
17) You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
you made summer and winter.

18) Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and an impious people reviles your name.
19) Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.
20) Have regard for your covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
21) Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
22) Rise up, O God, plead your cause;
remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.
23) Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the uproar of your adversaries that goes up continually.

Psalm 74
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

O God, why do you cast us off forever?

Well, doesn't that get straight to the point? From our earliest days as infants, being abandoned is about the worst thing that can happen to any person. Isolated and alone, things do not go well for us.

The psalm seems to describe one of several invasions of the land of Israel. This closely matches the invasion and conquest by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE. Jerusalem was occupied, the Temple defiled and destroyed.

The psalm carefully, painfully, recounts the destruction in detail, like reporting a crime, compiling a list of damages for the insurance adjuster. Or telling the story for the fortieth time, to a therapist, or anyone who might listen.

"The enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary." "Everything," though, is not sufficient to describe the damage. The scenes are burned into the eyes, the brain, and deeper. The holy place and the holy things, once touchstones of hope, of joy, now are... gone.

If you have a place of faith, these verses tear at you. But we are not strangers to desecration of holy places. It is bad enough when someone vandalizes a statue, or robs the poor box. But the shedding of faithful blood...
  • Al Noor Mosque & Linwood Islamic Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019
  • Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2018
  • Islamic Center of Quebec City, January 29, 2017
  • First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 5, 2016
  • Emmanuel AME Church, Charleston, South Carolina, June 16, 2015
  • Mater Misericordiae Mission, Phoenix, Arizona, June 11, 2014
  • Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, August 5, 2012
  • Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, July 27, 2008
  • First Congregational Church, Neosho, Missouri, August 12, 2007
  • West Nickel Mines School, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, October 2, 2006
  • Chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence, San Salvador, El Salvador, Match 24, 2980
  • 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, Sunday, September 15, 1963
  • And countless more throughout history
Thousands upon thousands of desecrations. God's heart must break with sorrow, just as it burns with holy anger. Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth. Remember this, O Lord! Do not forget the outrages of your foes. Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame. If you can fix the bounds of the earth, divide the day from the night, establish the seasons, surely you can work the salvation you promise.

Without that hope, there is nothing for us but a pile of stones, some charred wood, and the fading bloodstains of those who once praised you.

Do not cast us off forever. Remember your congregation.

Credits:
Assembled from various sources. Mount Pleasant Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (April 4), Greater Union Baptist Church (April 2), St. Mary Baptist Church (March 26). Three African American churches burned in suspicious fires, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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