(H) A Maskil of Asaph. (1) Why, God, have you continually rejected us? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? (2) Remember your congregation which you purchased of old, which you redeemed as the tribe of your inheritance. (Remember) this Mount Zion where you took up residence. (3) Turn your steps to the perpetual ruins. The enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary. (4) Your foes have roared (like lions) in the midst of your meeting place. They set up their standards as (our) standards. (5) They seemed like those wielding axes in a forest of trees, (6) and now they smash all the carved work with hatchets and hammers. (7) They burned your sanctuary to the ground. They profaned the dwelling place of your name. (8) They said in their hearts, “Let us together oppress them.” They burned all the meeting places of God in the land. (9) We do not see our signs. No longer (is there) any prophet. (There is) no one with us who knows how long (this will last). (10) How long, God, will the foe scoff? Will the enemy spurn your name forever? (11) Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? (Take it) from your bosom and destroy (them).
Several repetitions help us grasp the thrust of this segment. First, the Hebrew word translated both “continually” and “perpetual” is repeated (vss. 1 & 3). Then the word for “enemy” is found twice (vss. 3 & 10) as is the word for “foe” (vss. 4 & 10). “Standard” is repeated for emphasis (vs. 4).
We also find three synonyms for chopping and smashing tools: “axe,” “hatchet,” “hammer” (vss. 5 & 6). More than that, two synonyms for “burn” are used (vss. 7 & 8). Finally, “how long” occurs twice (vss. 9 & 10). Five questions, two at the beginning (vs. 1) and three at the end of the segment (vss. 10 & 11) express Asaph’s deep yearning for God to work to reverse the effects of the nation's devastating losses.
I. Why, God, have you forgotten your people? (1 & 2)
II. Consider what your enemies have done to us. (3-8)
III. How long, God, will you allow this to go on? (9-11)
When we suffer the consequences of rebellion, we are liable to question God’s compassion and ask, “How long will this last?”
In this psalm, as in the previous one, Asaph asks God, “Why?” In this case it was not, “Why are the wicked prospering?” Rather, it is, “Why are our enemies triumphing over us and treating us so badly?” While an answer is never articulated in this psalm, Asaph could have found the answer to his question in Deuteronomy 28. There Moses set forth the terms of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel. If the chosen nation had walked in obedience to God, they would have experienced great blessings. However, because they disobeyed and their entire history was an almost unbroken record of rebellion, God promised that the nation would undergo his chastening, namely their enemies triumphing over them as described in this psalm. Someone has said that every unrepentant sinner eventually sits down to a banquet of consequences. Israel’s history is a powerful testimony to the truth of this statement.
This principle holds true for those who have been justified by faith in Christ. While God will never remove the names of his children from the Lamb's book of life, we must still face the consequences of our sinning. Christians who overeat or abuse their bodies with alcohol or drugs will inevitably suffer the consequences of overindulgence just like our non-Christian friends. Christians who cheat on their husbands or wives are still adulterers who will pay a heavy price for their infidelity. Christians who steal or lie and then try to cover up their actions will be called to account for their behavior. Paul warned the Galatians with these words: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). If we use our freedom to indulge our sinful desires, we should not be surprised if we pay a steep price for the consequences that will inevitably follow.