Very few people today were alive and remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 that signaled the beginning of World War II for the United States. More remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s and the realization that the world was at the very doorstep of a nuclear war. Then, a few years later, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 stunned everyone. Many more remember the attack and destruction of the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers in New York City September 11, 2001. In all of these instances, people described the sense of shock when the news was first announced. There was a numb feeling of being in a nightmare and wanting to wake up. “This can’t be happening!!” was the common attitude, but it was happening, and life would not be the same again.
That same sense of shock and despair is reflected in the first 11 verses of Psalm 74. The psalmist described the sack and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. “Turn Your footsteps toward the perpetual ruins; the enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary. Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own standards for signs. It seems as if one had lifted up His axe in a forest of trees. And now all its carved work they smash with hatchet and hammers. They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground; they have defiled the dwelling place of Your name.” (3-7)
Psalm 74 may be the account of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (II Kings 25, II Chronicles 36). The people of Judah had drifted far from God, yet they believed that God would protect them in spite of their sin. Prophet after prophet had risen and proclaimed God’s warnings, but those words were ignored. Now, the reality was before them. All of the great buildings that had been there for centuries were gone. The Temple was destroyed. People of wealth and influence were taken into captivity just like everyone else, and all sense of security and normalcy had vanished.
The psalmist’s first words were probably the same that most of the nation of Judah were saying. “O God, why have You rejected us forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, Which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your inheritance; and this Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.” (1-2)
“Why are you doing this Lord?” How many times have people cried out those words, and how many times can the answers be found in their actions and life? Yes, there are many times when bad things happen to good, godly people. Christians live in a fallen world. But sinful actions will always have consequences. It may take many years before the scales are balanced, but the justice of God will prevail. In the case of the nations of Judah and Israel, it was centuries before judgment was applied.
God has richly blessed the United States. Even a cursory look at American history demonstrates how this country has been blessed. The United States was founded on principles based on Biblical principles. There is a basic core of goodness that the United States has demonstrated over the decades. Yes, this nation has had its dark periods, but Christian influence has been the purifying salt of this country.
This nation and its citizens have stood up to the face of evil many times. The dark days of World War II and the struggle with the spread of atheistic communism are two examples. Today, people of the United States still open their hearts in the face of tragedy that happen in different parts of the world. Yes, there is a generosity in our people. But, all the good does not give this nation a free pass for sin any more than it did for Judah, Israel, or any other nation in history. God raises up individuals, peoples, nations as instruments in carrying out His will. God will also bring down any individual, people, or nations that turn away from Him.
The people of Jerusalem looked around in shock and despair at the destruction of their city. Even Jesus cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” Someday, will the dome of the Capitol building be collapsed, the Lincoln Monument a smoldering ruin, foreign soldiers standing in victory before the steps of the White House? Righteous living does not guarantee a life free from problems, but a path of sin WILL guarantee judgment sooner or later. All Americans would do well to heed the lessons of the Bible and history.
In spite of all that had happened, all that the Psalmist had seen, in verse 12 he reaffirms his faith in God, “Yet God is my king from of old, Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth.” “This world is not our home” is a hymn we all sing, and it is true. But Christians do live in this world, and as God’s Holy Nation, we have a responsibility to stand up to those powers that are opposed to His will and word. We are the salt of the earth. Let’s stay focused on our task. <Jim Shelburn>