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!
Psalms 73 - 78
73:1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
74:1 O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
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.
Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place;
they set up their own signs for signs.
They were like those who swing axes
in a forest of trees.
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 down to the ground.
They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
We do not see our signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is none among us who knows how long.
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.
Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.
Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.
Have regard for the covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
Arise, O God, defend your cause;
remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!
75:1 We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.
“At the set time that I appoint
I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high,
or speak with haughty neck.’”
For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.
But I will declare it forever;
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.
76:1 In Judah God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.
There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah
Glorious are you, more majestic
than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
all the men of war
were unable to use their hands.
At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.
But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth. Selah
Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
let all around him bring gifts
to him who is to be feared,
who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.
77:1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
78:1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God's covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot his works
and the wonders that he had shown them.
In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
He struck the rock so that water gushed out
and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread
or provide meat for his people?”
Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
a fire was kindled against Jacob;
his anger rose against Israel,
because they did not believe in God
and did not trust his saving power.
Yet he commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven,
and he rained down on them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
When he killed them, they sought him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!
They tested God again and again
and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
when he performed his signs in Egypt
and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
He turned their rivers to blood,
so that they could not drink of their streams.
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them,
and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave their crops to the destroying locust
and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamores with frost.
He gave over their cattle to the hail
and their flocks to thunderbolts.
He let loose on them his burning anger,
wrath, indignation, and distress,
a company of destroying angels.
He made a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but gave their lives over to the plague.
He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to his holy land,
to the mountain which his right hand had won.
He drove out nations before them;
he apportioned them for a possession
and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God
and did not keep his testimonies,
but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers;
they twisted like a deceitful bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places;
they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
When God heard, he was full of wrath,
and he utterly rejected Israel.
He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh,
the tent where he dwelt among mankind,
and delivered his power to captivity,
his glory to the hand of the foe.
He gave his people over to the sword
and vented his wrath on his heritage.
Fire devoured their young men,
and their young women had no marriage song.
Their priests fell by the sword,
and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a strong man shouting because of wine.
And he put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting shame.
He rejected the tent of Joseph;
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded forever.
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.