My little boy is a font of wisdom. The other day we were having coffee. Actually, I was drinking coffee and he was drinking hot cocoa.
“Abba (Dad), I don’t want to be a navi (prophet),” he said. “It would be really nice to talk to God, kind of like the best cell phone that was ever made. But God always tells the truth to his best friends. And it seems like he always tells the prophets when something bad is going to happen. That can’t be very nice to hear.”
Psalm 74 begins with the words “maskil l’Asaf.” Asaf was credited with having such a deep relationship with God that he was a prophet (I Chronicles 25:2, II Chronicles 29:30). The word maskil comes from the Hebrew verb ‘to enlighten’. In this chapter, he is enlightening us about a horrible tragedy that had yet to take place in his time: the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
In response to the upcoming tragedy, Asaf begged God to remember his longstanding relationship with the Jewish people.
Remember the community You made Yours long ago, Your very own tribe that You redeemed, Mount Tzion, where You dwell. Psalms 74:2
In his vision, Asaf saw the most tragic thing of all; the enemies of Israel desecrating the Temple in an attempt to drive a permanent wedge between God and His people:
Bestir Yourself because of the perpetual tumult, all the outrages of the enemy in the sanctuary. Your foes roar inside Your meeting place; they take their signs for true signs. Psalms 74:3-4
According to the biblical commentator known as Seforno, the enemies misinterpreted the signs sent by God with the intention of uplifting Israel’s spirit as indications that they had defeated God. Furthermore, the fact that “Your foes roar inside Your meeting place” was misinterpreted by the enemies to mean that Jerusalem belonged to them, and that the Jews no longer had a connection to their God and to their eternal capital.
Asaf’s vision also extended into the long, nearly interminable, second exile when there were no signs and no prophets to guide or give hope.
No signs appear for us; there is no longer any prophet; no one among us knows for how long. Till when, O God, will the foe blaspheme, will the enemy forever revile Your name? Psalms 74:9-10
In this exile, the desecration of the Temple was not enough for the enemy. They reached too far, abusing, exploiting and oppressing the Jews throughout the centuries. But the covenant, the basis of God’s relationship with the Jews, would ultimately lead to their defeat. The Jews could rely on their eternal covenant with the God of Israel to protect them against all odds against the other nations. As Asaf continues:
Do not deliver Your dove to the wild beast; do not ignore forever the band of Your lowly ones. Look to the covenant! For the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of lawlessness. Psalms 74:19-20
Indeed, it can be tough to carry the burden of truth, especially when it pertains to inevitable hardships. Yet, it’s important to remember that prophets are not only the bearers of bad news. They also convey God’s messages of hope, reassurance, and redemption. Their role is crucial in providing guidance to the people during difficult times and reminding them of God’s eternal covenant. They remind us of our deep-rooted connection with God and the strength that comes from this relationship. In the context of Asaf’s psalm, his prophecy isn’t merely a harbinger of destruction; it also carries an affirmation of God’s eternal bond with His people, the Jews, despite all the trials and tribulations they face.
As my son said, being a prophet was not easy. But witnessing the fulfillment of prophecies, such as the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, in contemporary times is indeed a testament to the enduring power of these divine messages. It’s proof that even in the face of despair, there remains the prospect of hope and redemption. The key lies in our ability to stay steadfast in faith and hold onto the promises of God, just like Asaf and the other prophets of old.