From Psalm 74
When I was in college, I served as treasurer for the university Chorale. At the end of each concert, my job was to set up a small booth and sell CDs of our songs. Guests would peruse the table and chat for thirty to forty-five minutes post-performance. Meanwhile, the rest of the chorus filed into the fellowship hall (we performed in churches) for dinner.
Dinner was, typically, fried chicken and cornbread … or hot meatball sandwiches on toasted buns … or actually, I don’t have a clue what dinner was. That’s because I wasn’t there—not when they prayed over it, or when the girls were told to go first in line, or even when they made the announcement, “Now that everyone’s eaten, go ahead and get seconds or thirds. There’s plenty!”
About fifteen minutes after that, I walked in and, typically, to some variation of a bowl with Cheeto crumbs, a mountain of homemade pimento cheese sandwiches, and some pickles.
“They left me nothing,” I would have told you, grumpily (and a little martyrish, if I’m honest). “I don’t even like cheese.” But that isn’t true (not even the cheese part—I do love parmesan and feta and baked brie wrapped in puff pastry). The truth is, they didn’t leave me with nothing at all. They just didn’t leave me with the something I wanted.
In Psalm 74, the writer is bemoaning the miserable state of Israel. Speaking to God, he says, “Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place” (v. 4 ESV). What was he talking about? Enemies had swooped in and destroyed God’s chosen city—worse yet, they had destroyed the sanctuary (v. 7), God’s chosen house in that city.
“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.” (vv. 6-7)
This was no exaggeration. In the days of Babylon’s takeover in the ancient Near East, King Nebuchadnezzar stormed and sieged Jerusalem, finally felling the city, burning its temple, and capturing and deporting its best citizens about 586 BC. Read Psalm 137. These were dark, dreadful days for the people of God.
But in Psalm 74, the writer, after describing what has happened, says, “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?” (vv. 9-10).
As an exercise, read this psalm in full, and circle all the extreme language (alls, nones, forevers) you can find.
It was true, enemies had overtaken the land. But it was 100 percent not true that God left His people to deal with it alone. Prophets like Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk were sent during the days leading up to Jerusalem’s fall, and prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel walked in the wreckage with them. Jeremiah even answered the question “How long?” specifically, telling the people they would be in exile for “seventy years” (cf. Jeremiah 25).
The point? Life’s disappointing, even painful, moments can easily distort our vision. They can cause us to think we have nothing when, truly, we have something and, praise God, the something we have is the only something we need.
Perhaps, instead of praying so often for provision, we should pray for better vision. That is, for the “eyes of our hearts” to be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18) to all He has given, all He is doing, all He has done and promised to do. Even if the spread before us seems bare, praise God, we have all we need.
Next week’s reading: Psalm 78–84.