Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
2. Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago,
which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage.
Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell.
3. Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.

4. Your foes have roared within your holy place;
they set up their emblems there.
5. At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.
6. And then, with hatchets and hammers,
they smashed all its carved work.
7. They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrated the dwelling place of your name,
bringing it to the ground.
8. They said to themselves, 'We will utterly subdue them';
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.

9. We do not see our emblems;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us to knows how long.
10. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
11. Why do you hold back your hand;
why do you keep your hand in your bosom?

12. Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the earth.
13. You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
14. You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15. You cut openings for springs and torrents;
you dried up the ever-flowing streams.
16. Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you established the luminaries and the sun.
17. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
you made summer and winter.

18. Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and an impious people reviles your name.
19. Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

20. Have regard for your covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of
21. Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
22. Rise up, O God, plead your cause;
remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.
23. Do not forget the clamour of your foes,
the uproar of your adversaries that goes up continually."

The situation in which this psalm was written is clear. The people of Israel had been conquered by their enemies. These invaders had destroyed the beautiful carved work of the temple with hammers and axes, and then set the temple itself on fire. There were three ways in which the godly writer of the psalm reacted to this situation.

God's name dishonoured

The deepest distress of the psalmist was not so much for his own suffering or the defeat of his people, but because it was God's house that had been destroyed. "Your holy place", "your sanctuary" he says to God in his prayer. The people who have suffered are "the sheep of your pasture", "your congregation --- which you redeemed". Their enemies are "your foes" (verses 4 and 23). They had taken away the "emblems" of the worship of God and set up "their emblems". Whether these were military or religious, they profaned the house of God. The psalmist was most concerned for the "name" of God (this is mentioned in verses 7, 10, 18 and 21), that is for God's reputation in the world. He was concerned lest the living God should be thought to be powerless because his people had been defeated and his temple destroyed. The challenge to us here is, when we pray, whose honour and glory is in our minds? Sometimes we speak of God letting us down or disappointing us. The real question is, Whose glory is in view when we struggle for justice or want prayer answered?

God's purpose questioned

As in Psalm 73, so here, the psalmist asks why God has allowed all this to happen. It could be seen that, as the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel had said, the defeat of the Jewish people by the Babylonians had been because they had turned away from God and had not trusted him in their need. But the years had passed by, and it seemed that God had cast off his people forever (verse 1). and that the ruins of the temple were "perpetual ruins" (verse 3). "How long, O God?" the psalmist asked (verse 10, and compare this question in Psalm 4:2, 6:3, 79:5 and 89:46). "Why have you refused to help us? Why do you keep your hands behind you?" (as the Good News Bible puts verse 11). The lesson to be learned is that God's delays are not always denials. The triumph of evil is short-lived. When we are in the thick of the battle, we need patience. "Wait for the Lord" says Psalm 27:14, "be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord."

God's power trusted

The psalmist was both distressed and perplexed, but he turned back to God. The temple was destroyed. The signs of the worship of God were removed. There were no prophets left. Yet the psalmist said, "God my King is from of old" (verse 12). When the going is tough let us remember the times "of old". There is no greater encouragement to faith in the dark hours than remembering God's mercy and acts of deliverance in the past. The psalmist trusted God as mighty Creator. He who established sun, moon and stars, fixed the boundaries of land and sea, and ordered the seasons, could never be said to be powerless (verses 16 and 17). He was the one known for his "working salvation in the earth" (verse 12). God had acted to bring salvation at the dawn of the history of Israel as a nation. He set them free from Egypt, led them across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and made a way for them to cross the River Jordan. Though the land was dark and full of violence, the psalmist knew he could pray that the enemy would not be allowed to blaspheme God's name for ever. He could ask that the people would not remain powerless like a little dove at the mercy of wild animals (verse 19). He could pray that the poor and downtrodden people might have cause to praise God for his salvation (verse 21). "Rise up, O God" he could say, "plead your cause" (verse 22). Truly it was God's cause. Such prayer to the living God is never made in vain. But God asks us to refrain from violence and not to avenge ourselves (see Romans 12:19). This may be hard for believers who are oppressed by colleagues or even by other believers. Does God forget such people? Jesus says, "He will quickly grant justice to them" (Luke 18:6)

Meditation Consider how the beginning of the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray, "Hallowed be your name", sums up this Psalm. What does this teach us about our praying?

For further thought and study

a. What does it mean to ask God to "remember" and "not forget" the situation of his people and to "have regard" for his covenant? What do such words suggest about the meaning of prayer? See also Isaiah 62:6-7. b. Similar to the people losing the temple and having no more prophets, what must it be like for Christians to have churches destroyed and copies of the Bible taken from them and burned? What should the response of Christians be to such situations?


1. The heading of this psalm has the name of Asaph like Psalm 73, and the word "maskil" as in Psalm 42 and other psalms (see Note 1 on Psalm 42)

2. 1 Kings 6 gives us an idea of the beautifully carved work of the temple which is spoken of in verses 5-6 as being destroyed.

3. Some translations of verse 8 speak of "all the synagogues" being destroyed. There were no synagogues at the time of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Some have thought that the psalm could refer to the time in the 2nd Century B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the temple. But "the meeting places of God in the land" may have been places that were used for prayer and non-sacrificial worship while the temple was still standing, that is, before the exile of the people in Babylon.

4. Verses 13-15, like other Old Testament passages, use the language of the ancient Babylonian and Canaanite stories of creation, though the Old Testament writers did not believe the ideas behind them. The dragons and the great monster Leviathan were thought of as conquered and so the world was created. The psalmist knew that the one living God had conquered chaos and brought all things into being and into their order in the universe. The old stories could be applied both to creation and also to the work of God in saving his people from Egypt and bringing them to their land (see Isaiah 51:9-11); it is not quite certain which is the application in verses 13-15. In any case, as we have seen, both show the mighty power of the living God.