"A Maskil of Asaph.
O God, why do you cast us off for ever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.
3 Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
4 Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place;
they set up their own signs for signs.
5 They were like those who swing axes
in a forest of trees.
6 And all its carved wood
they broke down with hatchets and hammers.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire;
they profaned the dwelling place of your name,
bringing it down 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 signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is none among us who knows how long.
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name for ever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
12 Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16 Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.
18 Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.
19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor for ever.
20 Have regard for the covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Arise, O God, defend your cause;
remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
23 Do not forget the clamour of your foes,
the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!"
The mood of this Psalm is a very dark and sombre one. It describes the desolation of the land, and especially the Temple, and pleads for Divine intervention. Scholars suggest two possible historical identifications of the situation - one the sack of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, the other the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC. There is a sense in which the theme is plain and straightforward. The Psalmist is conscious of a great calamity befalling his people, and he has an awful sense of having been cast off by God and of suffering His anger and judgment. There is an attitude almost of remonstrance in 2, as if the Psalmist could hardly believe his own eyes as he saw the desolation that had been wrought. It is this that makes him appeal to God to 'step with giant strides' to the scene of desolation, to look for Himself at the havoc that had been wrought (3). This, he thinks, should be enough to move God to action. The nation's calamities are dishonouring to Him, and therefore worthy of His intervention. The havoc in the sanctuary is described in detail in 4-9. It is a grim and desolating picture indeed. We should note the sense of misery in 9, caused by the fact that God had seemed to withdraw from them - there were no signs, or tokens, of the Divine Presence; there was no prophet to speak an authentic word from God, and none to say, ‘How long?’ How apposite all this is for today! The plaint is not that there is lack of leadership, but that there is no authentic national voice from God, and no leader of prophetic vision for the need of the hour. That is the dark and desolating factor in the situation.
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