The Psalms of Asaph, mostly 75
We began our “Coram Deo” study in Ecclesiastes, where the one searching for wisdom turned to every source but God. He looked at all the injustice and evil in the world, and his only answer was to despair, to ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’ and to enjoy what you can. He did not fear God with reverence and awe–he feared God and so hid. During that time we also read through one of Asaph’s Psalms, Psalm 73. (Pause here to read it!) Asaph saw all the same wickedness, all the same injustice–and was so close to despair. Yet he did not hide from the LORD, he prayed. Honestly. He poured out his heart, and took comfort in the nearness of his God.
We then turned to Micah; a prophet who did not sugar-coat the truth as he revealed Israel’s sinfulness, and God’s truth concerning their condition before Him. Micah truly feared the LORD, and looked to Him for justice. True justice can never be separated from righteousness; and Micah calls the remnant to both. There are beautiful gospel promises given to the remnant, true hope, and the pledge of unchanging love. His ways are perfect, and His plans will not fail, see here.
We close this week with Psalm 75, and a few of Asaph’s others, asking how we ought to pray for justice, and how we should pray for the generation around us that is slipping into the despair of hopelessness.
Who was Asaph?
He was one of David’s chief musicians, the other two being Heman and Ethan (see Psalms 88-89). Asaph conducted at the tent of the arc, as David inaugurated worship and instructed that there would always be a group before the LORD offering up thanksgiving. (see 1 Chronicles 16). He was also present at the dedication of the temple, 2 Chronicles 5:12. He saw a lot of Israel’s early history, saw a lot of life–a lot of injustice and oppression and evil as people strayed from living in light of Deuteronomy 6-11 (see here and here). He wrote Psalm 50, and 73-82 as well as prophesying (1 Chronicles 25).
A Walk Through Psalm 75
Though all his Psalms, this one included, are ones of “disorientation,” as a man of deep faith Asaph opens his song with thanks. This is not uncommon for him, who was commissioned by David to be ever offering up thanksgiving in the true worship of YHWH. (For more in depth study on types of Psalms, see Walter Brueggemann, “The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary,” published in 1984).
Asaph gives thanks for “Your name is near.” The nearness of God is his good (Psalm 73). Though Asaph sometimes felt distanced from God, he knew that God’s nearness is an unchanging truth. The nearness of God’s name implies all of who God is. A name was much more meaningful than it is now; much more than a pleasant sounding word. God’s name carries the weight of His whole Person.
In verses 2 and 3 God responds to Asaph:
When I select an appointed time, it is I who judge with equity. The earth and all who dwell in it melt, It is I who have firmly set its pillars. Selah.
God’s judgement will come, and at the perfect time. There is no other better time, our timetable is not somehow superior to His. He will judge with equity. People stagger about and commit injustice; people show partiality and accept bribes; people try to cover up sins and pretend all is well; people preach false peace incessantly. Not so with God, the One True Judge.
People cannot stand under His judgement; when the day comes we will all melt and totter. Some of us with awe, trembling, amazed and how glorious He is–more glorious than we had imagined. Others will melt with fear, having just realized God is real, and they themselves are not gods after all. They will answer to a God they have tried to ignore. When we all finally realize what equity is we will not be able to be flippant or stoic, we will melt.
Pause. How often we fail to pause. In our quotidian tasks, in our reading, in our own thoughts, in our striving, in our work… We fail to breath, to pray, to muse, to ponder, to pause. We do not simply sit and marvel, or sit and reflect. There is a need in every person’s daily life for this. And in worship, when told to pause, we must. So pause and think about what God has revealed–about His timing, His sovereignty, His plans. Ponder also His nearness.
In verses 4-7 Asaph is singing of the unjust ones, whose boast is empty, whose pride is mere vanity, whose words carry no weight. We, the remnant, do not look around for others to fulfill God’s role, we recognize that He is judge; and He alone “puts down one and exalts another.”
The Cup of the Wine of God’s Wrath
Asaph, a man who knew the Words of God, and prayed at all times from the truths he knew, knows the reality of God’s wrath. Asaph, who is said to have also prophesied, wrote of this cup that later prophets also mention. It is worth your time to look up all these cross references before continuing (this list is not exhaustive):
Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:15; 49:12;
Obadiah 16; Revelation 14:10; 16:19; 18:16.
Surely all the wicked will drink from this cup of everlasting torment and shame. This is not an easy cup, and it is far deeper than we want to imagine. Jesus drank this cup for those who are His. What sweet comfort. (We could use another ‘selah’!) When we recite the Apostles Creed, we claim by faith that Jesus went to hell for us, and rose again from the dead victorious! When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus told us to remember–that the cup was His blood poured out for us. He drank the cup we could not, to give us such sweet atonement.
But as for me…
Before we walk through the last two verses, let us hop over to Psalm 79. Here Asaph begins by recounting the oppression and hostility that God’s people are facing. He pours out his heart so richly, and while doing so does not fall prey to grumbling. Asaph wonders if God will be angry forever, feeling this is too much to endure. But he does not forget that God is compassionate, and he knows he can still turn to God for help, for mercy, for deliverance.
For the glory of Your name, for Your name’s sake. How often do we pray, and without a thought to God’s glory? We want outcomes without God’s glory factoring in. So much of his prayer comes from considering Who God is, and what He has done in the past. Asaph prays for true justice, not for some hyper-inflated entitled version. He does not exchange righteousness, asking that everyone pay for someone else’s sin, or asking that God forget Israel has ever sinned and just move forward.
Our sinfulness makes us like Lamech, who, in Genesis 4, claimed that “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Psalm 79:12 reveals that Asaph asks according to what God had said rather than Lamech. “Return to our neighbors sevenfold…the reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.”
So what? So that I can have my way? So that I can destroy my enemies and laugh at their misfortune? So that what someone did 200 years ago, I will get payment from and be able to spend it on my pleasure? So that I can be made much of? So that my will be done, my kingdom come, my glory be known?
No. When we pray like Asaph, we pour out our hearts, we tell Him our woes, we ask for mercy and grace and help. We cry, we lament. We remember His marvelous deeds and bank on His power, His greatness, His compassions that fail not. And so say:
So we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture will give thanks to You forever; to all generations we will tell of Your praise.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.