Psalms 83 talks about how people want to wipe Israel off the map.
Psa 83:1 A Song or Psalm of Asaph. Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.
Psa 83:2 For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
Psa 83:3 They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.
Psa 83:4 They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.
All of these people are beginning to work together against Israel, and Asaph wants God to assert Himself. He was God to intervene and stop all of these enemies in their tracks.
Don’t we all kind of have moments like this? There are plenty of times where you wonder where on earth God could be because it certainly doesn’t feel like He is right beside you. All of the walls seem to be closing in around you.
We don’t necessarily get a resolution to this problem in this particular Psalm. However, it is pretty evident throughout the Bible that God does not abandon us. Let me give you a few examples.
Psa 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Even in the most morbid places in life, God is with us. We even see this later on in the New Testament as a promise from Jesus.
Mat 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
We have these kind of affirmations spread throughout the Bible so we have two claims. On one hand, we have times like Asaph where it feels like God is far away. On the other hand, we have verses that say that God will never leave us. How do we go about reconciling this?
Honestly, I think that the best way to think about this is to use a practical example. Say you were put in a pool of very cloudy water. Your eyes are not capable of seeing through the water, so you have no idea if you were dropped in the middle of the ocean or in an 8 foot deep pool in your backyard. All you know is that you are in some cloudy water.
I picture our lives being like that. We have been dropped in the pool. The pool holds everything around us. God is the one holding onto that pool. He is the wall that holds everything into the pool so to speak. There are times when we can try to look through the water and not realize that someone was holding onto the water. The water might be so dirty that it simply is impossible to realize the boundaries. Our lives might get pretty messy as well.
That is how I imagine this fitting together. I know that there is a God who holds it together just like we heard about in the second two verses. However, there are some times where I wonder where on earth He is. I try to look down through the water and can’t see. When I can’t see, I might get nervous and wonder where God is because it is not incredibly obvious to me at that point. I panic and feel like Asaph.
The reality of the pool hasn’t changed, but I might not understand that it is there. I may not fully comprehend reality, but it doesn’t mean that reality is false.
I hope that this helps clarify this issue a little bit. It is entirely possible for God to be always present yet for us to not always realize that He is indeed there.
Psalms 79 is a little bit gruesome because we see the consequences of Israel failing to follow God. Personally, I’m not sure what time exactly is being described in this chapter because Israel was conquered a few times, but the point is that this was not a happy time.
Listen to what the writer, Asaph, has to say in response to this consequence that God has allowed to happen.
Psa 79:8 O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.
Psa 79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.
If I didn’t tell you, you might have thought that this was a New Testament passage. It doesn’t sound all that much different. God is our salvation, and when He forgives us of our sins, He will never remember them again.
However, there is an interesting difference. In this verse, he seems to be largely talking about the physical salvation of Israel. The entire structure of the chapter begins on the physical overrunning of Jerusalem, then we get to the verses I mentioned about needing salvation, and we finally get around to asking God to help avenge the blood of those who had fallen.
This is a very physical type of chapter. This is the type of prayer that you pray when you are in a very difficult situation. Even if you had made some bad decisions that led you to your current location, you can still bring that to God for His help and strength.
Of course, we could spiritualize these verses like I said before. It does sound a lot like some of the spiritual salvation verses that we find in the New Testament, but I would be cautious about doing that. It does not seem to fit the greater context of the chapter, and we want to make sure that we are not reading things in that really are not there.
You all know that I enjoy apologetics, and one of the biggest issues we have in that field is when opponents take Bible verses out of context and “proof text.” We want to make sure that we are not doing that on our side either. Certainly, God is a God who does provide spiritual salvation, but if I was looking for a verse to support that claim, I would not use this one necessarily. This chapter is about a man praying for physical deliverance and salvation from literal captivity.
Psalms 77 finds Asaph in a difficult situation. Because of the way that his life had become, he developed a list of questions about God.
Psa 77:7 Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?
Psa 77:8 Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?
Psa 77:9 Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.
Think about Jesus as He was being crucified asking why God had abandoned Him. This isn’t all that much different from that. Asaph feels like God has maybe cast Him off forever. Is He ever coming back? This is not a pleasant place to be in to say the least. Separation from God is difficult even if it is only perceived.
I brought up the point about perception because it seems as if deep down, Asaph really did not believe that God had entirely abandoned Him because of the rest of the chapter.
Psa 77:11 I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
Psa 77:12 I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.
Psa 77:13 Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?
Psa 77:14 Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people.
Psa 77:15 Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
All of the aforementioned questions are still certainly valid, and there is no doubt that Asaph felt like he was very far away from God, but when you read the rest of these verses, he did not deny the power of God, and he certainly seems to believe that God can still do amazing things.
That is an important distinction. For some people, they have the questions that Asaph lists, and they stop believing in God. They feel like God has abandoned them, and they give up on the reality of God. Other people respond like Asaph did. If you don’t feel like God is close to you right now, think about those times when His presence was undeniable. Remember the works of God.
Taking that perspective is helpful because it is not like God existed at that time and does not exist now. Even if it feels like He is far away, I would encourage you to remember why you started following God in the first place. I don’t mean something like you did because your parents did. I mean think about the time when you first understood and believed that God was real and Jesus was the Way of salvation. Remember the work that God started performing in you that day. Remember what put you on this Christian road in the first place. Obviously, at that point, God was right beside you in such an obvious and convincing way that you were willing to put your faith and trust in Him.
That is the strategy we see here in Psalms 77 for persevering through those times when God feels like He is far away.