The Third Midweek in Lent
March 3, 2010
Text: Psalm 74:1-8, 12-16
Dear Friends in Christ,
Psalm 74 ties in very closely with our sermon for this past Sunday. It is a Psalm written to lament the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The Psalm is written by Asaph. There are at least two men bearing that name who wrote Psalms. The first was a leader of the temple musicians at the time of David and Solomon. The other Asaph, about whom we know virtually nothing, lived at the time of the exile in Babylon.
The psalmist begins by asking: O God, why do You cast us off forever?
Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Here we must understand that we are reading poetry. In poetry words are not always literal. God does not cast off His people forever. The whole of Scripture speaks to that again and again. Rather, here the psalmist feels as though He has been cast off forever. What is the evidence for God’s anger? “The enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place;” Here is a clear reference to the temple being destroyed. He also calls upon God to remember Mount Zion. Mount Zion is one two peaks upon which the city of Jerusalem sits. The other is Mount Moriah, which is where the temple itself was located. So we know that this was not a reference to the destruction of Shilo. Rather the psalmist is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of Solomon in 586 B.C.
God is clearly angry with His people. But what does the psalmist beg God to do?
Remember. Remember Your Congregation. Remember that You redeemed them from Egypt and set them aside as Your people. And as is normally the case in the Psalms, when someone asks something of God, it carries with it the idea that God does indeed do this very thing. In this case psalmist asks God to remember His people, knowing that indeed He does remember His people.
In the ancient world. Wars were seen as battles between the gods. So when two nations fought one another, they believed that not only were their armies fighting, but also their gods. The armies were in fact the smaller part of it. Victory was proof that your god was great than there god. Yahweh, throughout the Old Testament, tries to disabuse people of this notion. So when the Philistines took the Arc of the Covenant, they saw it as proof that Dagon was greater then Yahweh. Yet, when they set the Arc of the Covenant before Dagan, they would find the statue of Dagon laying before the Arc, worshiping Yahweh. Then the people began to become ill. Finally, the Philistines acknowledged that Dagon was powerless against Yahweh, by sending the Arc back to the Israelites. It would never again return to Shilo. But eventually it would be placed in the new temple of Solomon. Again in 586 B.C. the Babylonians saw their gods as greater than Yahweh, the God of the Jews. Among their gods, they counted their king - Nebucudnezzar. Nebucudnezzar was greater than Yahweh. But soon, strange things began to happen - things which Nebucudnezzar could not control. He threw three Jewish princes in to the fiery furnace and the flames could not harm them. Yahweh protected them in the very midst of Babylon. Soon, proud Nebucudnezzar was driven insane and thought he was a beast. He would graze on the grass of his garden, until Yahweh released him and restored him to his throne. We cannot say with any certainty that Nebucudnezzar came to have saving faith. He might have, he might not have. But he did acknowledge the power of Yahweh over him. This was a quite a humbling thing for a king who thought of himself as a god and for people who thought that there gods were superior to all others. They conquered Yahweh, but found themselves subject to Him.
This is what the Psalmist is recognizing in the end of our text. God is King. He rules over the sea. He could even part it, for the Israelites to pass through, and close it to drown Pharaoh and his army. There was another ancient king who thought he was a god, who in turn was crushed by Yahweh. God destroyed the great creatures that once lived upon the earth. Leviathan could be a reference to a serpent like dinosaur. But it is also a symbol of Satan. Yahweh has overcome Satan for the sake of His people. Yahweh rules over nature itself - drying up rivers and making new ones from the springs of the earth.
This points us forward to Christ. In Christ, God would complete His victory of the ancient serpent and that is Satan. In Christ, there would be forgiveness, restoration and life. No more would the temple be in ruins, nor could it be in ruins. For the true temple is the bodies of God’s children. The true place of God’s presence would be wherever He gathers the baptized. For God is present wherever His name has been placed. In baptism that name was placed upon us. So now, the temple is right here. And so long as there are Christians, God will be present with them. We might feel as though God has turned against us forever. But He has not. He remains with through His name. Forgiveness and restoration are daily event for us, because we bear His name upon us. And so we have here a lament. But also a recognition that God remains King. He is a King who forgives and restores His people and makes them once again stand before His face.