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Psalm 74


What do you do when God has allowed fools to destroy your life, your dreams? Do you insist he couldn’t love you passionately while allowing evil to ravage your life? Or do you cry out to him in faith?

An Asaph psalm.

O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smoke
against the flock under your care?
2 Remember the people you chose so long ago
the tribe you redeemed
for your very own—
Mount Zion, your earthly home.
3 Tour these everlasting ruins—
survey the utter destruction
the enemy has wreaked on your sanctuary.
4 Your foes roared triumphantly
inside your meeting place.
They set up their symbols as the true signs.
5 They hacked away
like someone taking down
a tangle of trees with axes—
6 hacked away at its delicate carvings
with hatchet and pike.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire
and desecrated the house that bears your name
by razing it to the ground.
8 Telling themselves
“We’ll totally crush them!”
they torched every place
we used to meet God in the land.
9 We see no signs to guide us now
there are no prophets anymore
and no one knows how long this will last.
10 How long is the foe to scoff, God?
Will the enemy revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back—
your hands folded in your lap?

12 You’ve been my king from ages past
performing acts of deliverance on earth.
13 You split the sea apart by your power
and crushed the heads of the sea serpent—
14 smashed the heads of Leviathan
and tossed him as food to the sharks.
15 You opened up springs and torrents
you dried up wild floodwaters.
16 Day and night are both yours—
you set both sun and moon in place.
17 You set the limits of everything on earth
making summer and winter.

18 Remember, Yahveh
that the enemy has scoffed at you.
A foolish people has reviled your name.
19 Don’t surrender the life of your turtledove
to the beast.
Don’t forget the life of your poor forever.
20 Remember your covenant!
For every dark corner of the land
is now haunted by violence.
21 Don’t let the oppressed retreat in shame.
Let the poor and downcast praise your name!
22 Stand up and defend your cause, God.
Remember how these fools
insult you all day long!
23 Don’t ignore the outbursts of your foes
the uproar these upstarts raise against you
without ever letting up.

Imagine the psalmist sitting in the smoking ruins of the Temple, after Jerusalem’s fall to marauding Babylonians.[1] Beyond being Israel’s pride and joy, the Temple was the center of Israel’s communal life and relationship with God—the center of the universe.[2] But while its destruction seemed to say he was forever done with them, God’s covenant invited Israel to believe he would restore his people even then.

So instead of turning away, the psalmist turns to God, asking how he could abandon his own sheep to his enemies. She tells him to survey the ruins and describes the enemy’s degrading behavior and how they’d replaced Israel’s symbols with pagan symbols of power. She laments her people’s lostness—without prophets, signs or any idea of when God might speak again.

Then from the smoking shell of God’s desecrated Temple, the psalmist insists with real “theological chutzpah” that God reigns supreme—Babylon’s god merely usurps his place.[3] This may seem a wildly willful denial of reality. But the psalmist knows that, since the catastrophe’s explanation lies in God,[4] he alone can bring beauty out of the ashes. Thus, she pleads with God to remember his covenant, defend his cause, and end the enemy’s constant abuse of his name.

Where do I turn, Lord, when surrounded by cruel oppression? You alone offer healing and hope. You alone have the words of eternal life. Don’t ignore the evildoers’ abuse and sacrifice your dove to the beast. Remember your covenant, sealed with your blood. Defend the honor of your name. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

Don’t surrender the life of your turtledove to the beast.
Don’t forget the life of your poor forever.


[1] Some scholars date this psalm to the Maccabean period. But its central section (vv. 12-17) counters the myth of the Babylonian god Marduk’s defeat of the seven-headed sea goddess Tiamat before he created the world. This speaks far more to Israel’s situation in 587 BC than in the Maccabean period; Beth Tanner (2014) 600. Interestingly, verse 13 conflates Tiamat with Tannin, the sea monster in Egyptian mythology, thus making its imagery do double duty by evoking God’s defeat of Egypt at the Red Sea, which led to his creation of Israel. And given the poem’s allusive nature, the psalm has not surprisingly spoken powerfully to victims of other Jewish catastrophes besides that of the 6th century BCE.

[2] Brueggemann & Bellinger (2014) 321.

[3] Verses 12-17; Tanner (2014) 600, n. 24.

[4] For over three centuries, God had sent prophets warning his people of impending judgment if they continued to rebel.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.