Prayer at the Destruction of the Temple
1A maskil of Asaph.
Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture?b
2Remember your people, whom you acquired of old,
the tribe you redeemed as your own heritage,
Mount Zion where you dwell.c
3Direct your steps toward the utter destruction,
everything the enemy laid waste in the sanctuary.
4Your foes roared triumphantly in the place of your assembly;
they set up their own tokens of victory.
5They hacked away like a forester gathering boughs,
swinging his ax in a thicket of trees.
6They smashed all its engraved work,
struck it with ax and pick.
7They set your sanctuary on fire,
profaned your name’s abode by razing it to the ground.d
8They said in their hearts, “We will destroy them all!
Burn all the assembly-places of God in the land!”
9*Even so we have seen no signs for us,
there is no prophet any more,e
no one among us who knows for how long.
10How long, O God, will the enemy jeer?f
Will the enemy revile your name forever?
11Why draw back your hand,
why hold back your right hand within your bosom?*
12*Yet you, God, are my king from of old,
winning victories throughout the earth.
13You stirred up the sea by your might;g
you smashed the heads of the dragons on the waters.h
14You crushed the heads of Leviathan,i
gave him as food to the sharks.
15You opened up springs and torrents,
brought dry land out of the primeval waters.*
16Yours the day and yours the night too;
you set the moon and sun in place.
17You fixed all the limits of the earth;
summer and winter you made.j
18Remember how the enemy has jeered, LORD,
how a foolish people has reviled your name.
19Do not surrender to wild animals those who praise you;
do not forget forever the life of your afflicted.
20Look to your covenant,
for the recesses of the land
are full of the haunts of violence.
21Let not the oppressed turn back in shame;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
22Arise, God, defend your cause;
remember the constant jeering of the fools.
23Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the unceasing uproar of your enemies.
* [Psalm 74] A communal lament sung when the enemy invaded the Temple; it would be especially appropriate at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Israel’s God is urged to look upon the ruined sanctuary and remember the congregation who worshiped there (Ps 74:1–11). People and sanctuary are bound together; an attack on Zion is an attack on Israel. In the second half of the poem, the community brings before God the story of their origins—their creation (Ps 74:12–17)—in order to move God to reenact that deed of creation now. Will God allow a lesser power to destroy the divine project (Ps 74:18–23)?
* [74:11] Why hold backâ€¦within your bosom: i.e., idle beneath your cloak.
* [74:12–17] Comparable Canaanite literature describes the storm-god’s victory over all-encompassing Sea and its allies (dragons and Leviathan) and the subsequent peaceful arrangement of the universe, sometimes through the placement of paired cosmic elements (day and night, sun and moon), cf. Ps 89:12–13. The Psalm apparently equates the enemies attacking the Temple with the destructive cosmic forces already tamed by God. Why then are those forces now raging untamed against your own people?