Psalm 74 takes place in the time that followed the destruction of the nation Israel. The people were taken captive into foreign lands and the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. “O God, why do you cast us off forever”? Now, with the centre of their religious life gone, the people feel cut off from God. Worse than that, the bitter years in captivity lead them to doubt God’s faithfulness. “Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage”!
Has God forgotten his covenant with Israel? The people invite him to go and inspect the ruins of the city and the temple. Perhaps it will cause Him to remember His covenant and bring them back to home. “Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary”! They describe the scene of defilement and destruction in the temple. The beautiful woodwork has been broken, smashed and burnt. “All its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set your sanctuary on fire”.
Surely this will get God to take action. “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever”? Certainly, he is not lacking power, for He has demonstrated that in the past. “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand”? The psalmist could not understand why God is not taking action. After all, these are His people and He has directed the world of nature in such a way as to save Israel in the past. “Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun”.
Why isn’t God taking action to silence those who dishonour him? The psalmist calls God to action. “Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day”! Will He not save His helpless people according to the covenant He made with them many years previous? If He will only do what He is capable of and has done many times before, God can defend His cause and rescue his people. That’s what the psalmist is calling for – it is his hope and the desire he has for God to get involved.