The Saints’ Lamentation & Plea
On Behalf Of The Church

a brief study of Psalm 74, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 30 January 2009

Psalm 74 is another Psalm of Asaph. Who is this Asaph? We normally think of Asaph as the Asaph the seer who is spoken of in 2 Chronicles 29:30, which reads—

“Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer.…” (2 Chr 29:30a).

This Asaph was a descendant of Gershom, the son of Levi (1 Chr 6:39, 43). He was a contemporary of David. At the time when the ark was brought back to Jerusalem, he was appointed by the chief Levites as a leading singer to use the cymbals (1 Chr 15:17, 19). And David later made him leader of the choral worship (1 Chr 16:4-5).

However, Psalm 74 appears to refer to a time when the temple was destroyed by the enemies of God (v. 3-7). The first time the temple was destroyed was in 586 BC, more than 400 years after the ark was bought back to Jerusalem.

What then? Well, it is possible that Asaph the Seer was writing prophetically about the destruction of the temple even before the temple was built. But it is unlikely. More probably, this Asaph refers to a member of the musical guild known as the ‘sons of Asaph’ (1 Chr 25:1).

This Asaph must have written this Psalm sometime after 586 BC, and perhaps a few years after Jeremiah died or after he was carried away to Egypt. “There is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long” says Asaph (v. 9).

Our Asaph was perhaps standing by the ruins of the temple, recalling the days when the Babylonian came to strip off the cedar panelling and carved work of the temple before setting the building on fire. As tears streamed down his eyes, he began to sing the words of this Psalm as they are given to him by the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ.

As Andrew Bonar puts it beautifully—

The Head of the Church, who wept over Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, and lamented their too sure ruin, could use these strains, and pour them into the Father’s ear.

And so too may all of us sing this Psalm to lament how sin has brought destruction to the church even in our day.

We may entitle it: “The Saints’ Lamentation and Plea on Behalf of the Church.”

It has four parts.

·  The first part, verses 1-3, is a call unto the Lord to remember His people. The key phrase is: “Remember thy Congregation” (v. 2)

·  The second part, verses 4-11, is a description of the present desolation. The key phrase is: “O God, how long?” (v. 10).

·  The third part, verses 12-17, is a declaration of the power of God. The key phrase: “God is my King of old” (v. 12).

·  The fourth part, verse 18-23, is a plea to the Lord to defend His own name. The key phrase is: “Arise, O God, Plead Thine Own Cause” (v. 22).

1. Remember Thy Congregation

The psalmist, as I mentioned, must have penned this psalm as he beheld the desolation of the land. Perhaps the smoke was still rising from the houses that were burned down.  The people who were left alive were scattered  and terrified. The fields that used to be covered with beautiful flocks were barren with a few frightened sheep huddled at a corner. Could this pathetic sight have given rise to the opening words of this psalm?

1  O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?

But Israel is no ordinary people. They belong to the LORD. They were purchased at a great price. Has the Lord forgotten?

2 Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.  3 Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.

Israel of old was, as it were, purchased and redeemed out slavery in Egypt. She was made the rod or tribe of Jehovah’s inheritance. She was appointed the dwelling place of God. Will not the Lord remember Israel? Would not the Lord lift up his feet and step into the land to see destruction and desolations that the enemy has poured on the land, and especially of the temple?

Today, the Israel of God is likewise purchased and redeemed out of bondage to Satan. We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, and made the dwelling place of God.

And look, do we not see how the Israel of God is today suffering much desolation and destruction? Churches that are faithful to the word are few and troubled by many difficulties. Churches that have departed from the truth appear to be fat and flourishing. Has God forgotten? No, no; God does not forget.

But perhaps we have forgotten to pray as the Psalmist would teach us to pray: “Remember thy congregation, O Lord; behold the desolation that they enemy has wrought. Remember, O Lord, thy redeemed people for the sake of Christ who shed his blood to purchase her.”

And let us not allow ourselves to grow used to the sorry situation, but learn to cry out unto the Lord, “How Long?” as the psalmist teaches us to do.

2. O God, How Long?

4 Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs. 5 A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees. 6 But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers.

The Babylonian soldiers must have roared and laughed as they stripped the temple of God of her cedar carvings and gold. They congratulate one another for how well they were dismantling the temple of God! What a contrast with the days when brave men were applauded for how they were able to cut down huge trees for the temple of the Lord.

But not satisfied with plundering the temple, they set it on fire and tore it down:

7 They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.  8 They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues [or the meeting places] of God in the land.  9 We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.

So thorough was their work of destruction that every meeting place which God’s people used, and not just the temple, were burned up. The symbols of the faith were destroyed. The prophets and teachers were killed or exiled. There is no one left who can say how long this humiliation will last.

10 O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever? 11 Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.

It is not wrong to ask the Lord, “How long?” No, no; we are not expecting an answer in words. When we ask “How long?” we are essentially expressing our desire that God will soon intervene. So as we pray “how long?” with the Psalmist, we pray at the same time, “Maranatha!” with the apostle Paul. Come quickly, O Lord! Pluck out thy right hand from thy bosom for the sake of thy people.

God is able to do exceedingly above what we may think or imagine, for he is our King, or as the psalmist says in the third part of this psalm:

3. God is my King of Old

12 For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. 13 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. 14 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. 15 Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.  16 The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun. 17 Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter. 

Nothing is impossible with God. He is the King, the Creator and Redeemer. He is the governor of all things upon the earth. Notice the eight-fold ‘thou.’ He alone is in control. All things that come to pass upon the earth comes to pass according to His sovereign providential power. The great leviathans and dragons or dinasaurs may inspire the imagination of man because of their strength and power, but they are nothing in the hand of the Lord. Even the mighty rivers and the sea, and the seasons are in His hands.

All things in the universe are ordered by God’s power for the salvation of His people.

God, of course, know that. But in prayer, God glorified when we appeal to His power and sovereignty. Such is the argument for the petition in the last part of this psalm, which is:

4. Arise, O God, Plead
Thine Own Cause

18 Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.

When the Babylonians desecrated the temple of God, they blaspheme the name of the LORD. Today, when atheists (i.e. “the foolish people”) and those of false religions speak evil of the Word of God and his people, they blaspheme the name of the LORD.

When the name of God is blasphemed, then the people of God would inevitably suffer mockery and injustice. So we must appeal to the compassion of the Lord for his people:

19 O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor forever.20 Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. 21 O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.

The Lord is a loving and compassionate God. He will not sit idly while his covenant people are being persecuted or taken advantage of by the world.

But let us also not forget to appeal to the Lord vindicate His own name, for the blessedness of the people of God is very much tied to glory of God’s name in the world. So let us cry with the Psalmist:

22 Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. 23 Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.

Is it not true that the tumult of those who rise against the Lord are increasing continually. Year by year, we see atheists and those who care not for the Lord or His Law getting louder and louder in their opposition of God and His ways. We have it here in this land. We have it in the Western nations which were once Christian.

So year by year we see Christian influences being eroded and evolutionistic humanism swaying entire populations of people away from God and old fashion biblical values.

Shall we not cry out unto the Lord to Arise, to plead His own cause, for He alone can put a stop to the rapid declension of society and the desecration of His name throughout the world.


Beloved brethren and children, this psalm contains an urgent prayer. The church that would not pray as the psalmist would have us pray must be blind to what is happening in the world.

But this psalm must also encourage us to trust in the Lord. In the midst of the ruins we see and the sufferings we may experience as God’s people, let us learn to turn our eyes to the Lord our King, for He is God unchanging and omnipotent. He will in His own time arise for our deliverance and vindication. Only let us remember to look to him rather than allowing ourselves to become discouraged or apathetic. Amen.

—JJ Lim