Psalms 74 and 75 speak to one another.

In Psalm 74 we hear a desperate cry for help. The unthinkable happened when the Babylonians destroyed the Jerusalem temple. The psalmist in Psalms 74 says,

Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place; they set up their own signs for signs. They were like those who swing axes in a forest of trees. And all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground. They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land (Ps. 74:4–8).

Psalm 74:4–8

The temple was—on the one hand—the center of religious life and identity for God’s people. The temple was the normative place of God’s presence for Israel. If you wanted to be in God’s presence, all you had to do was go to the temple. No matter how bad things seemed in Israel, there was the comforting knowledge that the temple stood not far away. At any moment of crisis or even of celebration, Israelites could face the temple and be assured of the presence of God. He was always there in their midst, blessing them with his presence.

The temple was also a memorial of God’s saving work in the lives of Israel and their ancestors. The temple came about after the deliverance from Egyptian slavery. After 400 years in slavery God showed up and brought them to the Promised Land. The temple was a reminder that God was far superior to any human king, pharaoh, or deity of foreign nations. No matter what came their way, they could remember that God split the Red Sea. This inspired hope.

There’s even more to it than this. The temple also reminded Israel of the covenant that made them all that they were. The temple, whose first iteration was the tabernacle in the desert, was the climax of the covenant agreement that their ancestors made with God, through Moses, at Sinai. The temple reminded them that above all, they were God’s.

In other words, the temple wasn’t only the center of religious life and identity of God’s people, the temple was the source of everything about who they were. It anchored them in the past and prepared them for the future. Without the temple, they were no one.

Imagine how distraught the Israelites must have been when the Babylonians destroyed the temple. The words of Psalm 74 describe pagans burning the temple to the ground. The first verse of the psalm, in a way, sums up the sentiment of the community, “O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?”

In this moment, everything seems lost.

Then we turn to Psalm 75, whose opening verse says, “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.” Here, in this first verse of 73’s neighboring psalm, the people speak of God’s name being near. This is a way of talking about God’s presence. [1] Psalm 75 is saying that even though the temple is gone, his presence is still with them.

While there are a number of observations to make about this, the one I want to point out is that this is the very next Psalm. These Psalms are immediate neighbors. You don’t have to read long to go from being on the brink of despair to God’s very presence.

As God’s people, we should not despair, for he can act in a moment.

There are times when we have to wait a long time for God to speak into our circumstances. There are other times, however, when he speaks in an instant. The point is, never despair.

Even when things seem most dire, dark, lost, and without hope, God can change things in an instant.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

No matter how hard things may seem in your internal, private life, God is near and can act in a moment. No matter how chaotic the affairs of the world around us, God need only speak a single word and everything can change.


[1] Back in the Exodus story, the ancient writers describe God’s presence in the tabernacle by saying that he placed his name there. See Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, and 21.


Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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