Unfortunately, it’s true that we sometimes don’t cry out to God until it’s too late. The destruction of God’s temple in Jerusalem had a devastating effect on his people. For those people that believed it was necessary for them to worship God in his temple, they saw the destruction of the temple as the end of their relationship with God. At the very least, the temple was a place for God’s people to gather together. It was a representation of the community of believers being united as one. Without the temple, there was no way for believers to connect with each other.
Psalm 74 was written some time after the Babylonians destroyed everything in Jerusalem, including the temple that was built by king Solomon. The Psalmist prayed that God would come to the aid of his people and pleaded with him to “remember thy congregation, which thou has purchased of old, the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, where in thou hast dwelt” (Psalm 74:2).
In Psalm 74:2, the Psalmist’s reference to “thy congregation” meant the people that had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The Psalmist was reminding God of the work he had done to bring the nation of Israel into existence. The Psalmist was disturbed because it looked like all God had done was ruined and his enemies had succeeded in destroying God’s kingdom. He said, “Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set their ensigns for signs” (Psalm 74:4).
What the Psalmist was implying was that God’s people no longer belonged to him. Because Nebuchadnezzar had taken the captives of Jerusalem to Babylon, it seemed as if they were no longer citizens of God’s kingdom, but God promised to visit or look after them until the time when he would return them to the Promised Land (Jeremiah 27:22).
Psalm 79 opens with a description of the wasteland that Jerusalem had become after the Babylonians destroyed it. It says in Psalm 79:1-5:
O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever?
It is likely Psalm 79 was written at the same time or shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. The Psalmist requested that God would show compassion to his people and declared, “for they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place. O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us” (Psalm 79:8).
The Hebrew term translated as tender mercies, “racham expresses a deep and tender feeling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those who are dear to us or in need of help (7356). At the time the citizens of Jerusalem were taken into captivity, they didn’t know if they were going to live or die. The Psalmist asked that God would “preserve thou those that are appointed to die” (Psalm 79:11).
God’s compassion toward his people was evident in his repeated warnings to them that destruction was coming. Even though Jeremiah made it clear that all who surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar would be kept alive (Jeremiah 15:11), the people didn’t believe him, and as a result, many were slain when Nebuchadnezzar’s army entered and destroyed Jerusalem (Psalm 79:3). Ultimately, the Psalmist’s prayer was answered because God did prevent the nation of Judah from being destroyed permanently and he did preserve the remnant or congregation of his people that were taken into captivity.