For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. – Nehemiah 12:46
We turn to Book Three of the Psalms today and engage six Psalms attributed to Asaph. We’ve read his writing once before in Psalm 50, where he praises The Mighty One, God the LORD, [who] speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
This celebration of Zion – of Jerusalem – and Judah is found throughout the Psalms you’ll read today. Asaph was appointed the chief of the tabernacle musicians by King David and his descendants served faithfully, even through the treachery of David’s descendants. The “Sons of Asaph” clang their cymbals when the foundation of the second Temple, is laid and blow their trumpets at the dedication of Nehemiah’s wall.
To refer to Asaph in the singular is tricky, though, which is highlighted in Psalm 74. The heading calls it “A Maskil of Asaph,” and its anguished prayer begins: “O God, why do You cast us off forever?” Listen to his lament: “Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place… And all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set Your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of Your name, bringing it to the ground.”
This all happens, as we’ve read often, almost 400 years after King David’s death, and certainly well beyond the lifespan of the original Asaph. So how is this Psalm “Of Asaph”?
This need not cause of difficulty. We’ve seen elsewhere in the Bible that personal names carry forward through families and positions: Israel, Judah, Benjamin, and David begin as living actors whose names become shorthand for their descendants. The very clear context of Psalm 74 indicates that the same is true of Asaph. In fact, consider the honor afforded to Asaph, whose descendant four centuries on was faithfully serving the LORD Asaph had trusted in the Temple he had loved.
The same can be said for the Psalms “Of David.” Where not directly connected to a historical point of reference, we can safely, and honorably, admit that a Psalm “Of David” could have been penned by him, or for him, or by one who sat on his throne, or for one who sat on his throne. We’ve already seen examples of each. Allow the text to insist upon what it demands, and allow it to breathe where it desires.
And today it breathes in the charred ruins of Zion, the perfection of beauty, to which Asaph’s steadfast son cries defiantly: “Yet God my king is from old, working salvation in the midst of the earth…Arise, O God, defend your cause!”
Our verse for this week is 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
Psalms 73 through 78. Now let’s read it!
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,