Psalm 74 “O God, why hast thou rejected us forever; why does Thy anger smoke against us. The enemy has damaged everything within Thy Sanctuary…”
The psalmist has lost something he dearly loves. I can’t help but wonder was Asaph the Psalmist, a servant in the temple, was this his livelihood, the priests had no other portion, was this his residence? We know it was his place of worship and fellowship? He laments deeply of all he has lost, the sanctuary, the meeting place, the dwelling of God. And not only physical loss, but the emotional, spiritual and relational change that occurred was clearly grave. Perhaps he feels he has lost the favor of God, the signs God promised, the very words of God which would be read and taught there is the sanctuary and kept in the Most Holy Place. What is left for him, for his people, but sorrow and despair. His eyes seem to be fixated on the world he knew before the destruction of the temple, likely recalling the joyful celebration of the feasts and peace he had known there. Like Job before him he is overcome by all the sadness and damage he sees around him, before him, everything has disappeared from his hands. His eyes are assessing the damage of his beloved life and house of God. Everything Lost.
The house of God was the center of life to Israel, today we might feel the same grief over losing our community, our homes, our jobs or our families. Listen to this language: “Perpetual ruins, it seems as if an axe in a forest of trees has carved its work. They smash with hatchet and hammer, they have burned thy sanctuary to the ground, defiled the dwelling place of Thy name.” These are strong word pictures, certainly experiences many can relate to. He describes the temple as being burned to the ground. What’s burned to the ground cannot rise but would be considered completely and utterly dead never to return to its former glory.
Then suddenly in the midst of all his despair, meaning long before the temple was rebuilt, while he was mourning, and perhaps as a catalyst to hope – Asaph shifts his focus from loss to life – “yet…God is my King from of old.” Its as if the psalmist remembers, God is His King, and God cannot be destroyed. The building lying in a heap of ashes is not his king, not even the hope of another building, nor the sanctuary or the work is sovereign, but God is his King. For God alone delivered his people before, long before the temple was ever even a twinkle in Israel’s eye. God, in verse 12, “works deliverance, God breaks the heads of the sea monsters and crushes the head of leviathan God fed the people in the wilderness, God parts the red sea, open the springs, he owns the day and night, he establishes all the boundaries on earth.” It’s as if Asaph awakens out of a slumber of sorrow, in the midst of his sorrow, being shaken awake. What can the sanctuary do for us that God cannot?
The Psalmist recounts all of God’s power and victories towards Israel. His appeals are transformed from “why has God spurned us to Lord remember us!” “Consider thy covenant, do not forget the afflicted forever.” In essence Asaph, shifts his focus from the sanctuary to God. From ‘fix the temple’ to ‘fix us’.
This simple shift makes the difference between despair and loss to hope and freedom.
I think we all have a tendency to set our eyes on what we once had, what was lost, the way God used to connect, the job we used to have, the life we once lived the relationship we were in. We lament over the cost, but even in the midst of our despair God is doing something new, something wonderful, and had the old sanctuary remained standing, there may never have be opportunity for the new one to be filled.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 1 Corinthians 3:16 this is the new that all Israel had to look forward to, not a temple made with hands.
Our lives can experience destruction and loss and demise but our God and King never can, the grave could not hold him. Death and destruction had no victory over him, Yet, the power of God raised him. The same power that split the red sea and reminded Asaph his hope was not in the sanctuary, but God alone.