Theme: Pleading for God to Act
In this week’s lessons we see the need for continual trust and worship, even during times of trouble and uncertainty.
Scripture: Psalm 74:1-23
Because God is in charge and because he has acted in the past, why should he not also act powerfully in the present to deliver and restore his people? This is where the psalm has been heading, and it is the question with which it ends. Verses 18-23 voice this final urgent plea.
The new and very powerful idea in these last verses is the covenant (v. 20). A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties. But in the Old Testament the word is usually used of a unilateral relationship with the people entered into by God. In other words, it has to do with God choosing them to be his people and declaring that he will be their God, quite apart from any desires or choices on their parts. This is the way God established his covenant with Abraham when he called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, saying, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3).
The reason why the idea of the covenant is so powerful is precisely because the human beings involved have no choice either in its establishment or its terms. If it were up to them, they could opt in or opt out. But since the covenant is not of them and since God is an unchangeable God, will he not remain faithful to his covenant even though they have broken it and brought upon themselves the judgments that destroyed their city and temple? The strongest of all arguments is that God will remember his covenant, that is, remember his solemn promises to continue to be the people’s God.
I said near the beginning of this week that Psalm 74 is a model for prayer because of the way it pleads with God. The psalmist wants God to take his hand out of his pocket and act boldly to rebuke his enemies and reestablish his people in their land (vv. 9-11). But the psalm is not merely a plea that God would do this. It is also a listing of reasons why he should. Let me review them.
God should act because the people who are suffering from his harsh but righteous judgment are but sheep (v. 1). That is, they are “poor, silly and defenseless things.”1
God should act because he has already purchased these poor people for himself (v. 2). That is, he has already expended a great deal of effort on them, and they were no better when he first redeemed them than now.
God should act not merely because the people have suffered, but because his temple has been devastated and the formal worship of God by his people has ceased (vv. 3-8).
God should act because the people’s case is hopeless otherwise (v. 9). Signs and prophetic speaking have to come from God.
God should act because the mocking by Israel’s enemies is really a mocking of God (vv. 10, 11). It is his name that is being reviled, and his name must be honored above all else.
God should act because he has acted powerfully and with wonderful compassion in the past (vv. 12-17). It is his nature to make his greatness known. Why should he not do so again? Why should he not do so now?
God should act because he has entered into an everlasting covenant with his people, and the terms of that covenant call for God to be with them forever. True, the people have been unfaithful. But “what if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?…Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:3). Spurgeon calls this verse “the master key” to Asaph’s pleading, for whatever happens God does not break his covenants.2
God should act because it is fitting that his enemies be rebuked and the poor and needy praise his name (v. 21).
God should act because it is his cause and not a mere man’s that is in jeopardy (vv. 22, 23). It is God’s purposes that are being opposed by Israel’s enemies.
If you are having trouble praying about something important in your life, why not do what Asaph does? Make a list of why God should answer your prayer and plead those reasons. Either God will answer, or you will find that your prayer is not a good one and you will pray for something better.
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87, p. 273.
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 278.
What is a covenant and how is it used?
How does the covenant with God affect the psalmist’s complaint?
What is the psalmist’s final urgent plea?
Application: Make a prayer guideline for yourself using Psalm 74 as a model.
For Further Study: Just as God in his great love acts for the good of his people, so he calls us as Christians to demonstrate love for one another. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Love in Action.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)