Psalm 74 – Why Do You Cast Us Off Forever?

Have you ever felt that God had turned His back on you? Have you wondered if God would ever remember you? Asaph in Psalm 74 begs God to not forget him.


Who Is Asaph?

Psalm 74 is attributed to Asaph. Asaph is listed as one of David's primary worship leaders in 1 Chronicles 25:1. The problem is that the psalm seems to be describing a time when the temple was destroyed or at least sacked by an enemy, but the temple was not even built until Solomon's reign (who followed David as king).

There are a few possible solutions:

  1. This is a different Asaph. There could be someone named Asaph who lived at a later date and did see the temple sacked by enemies. It would be expected that some of Asaph's descendants would be named after their famous musical ancestor.
  2. The designation may have been used to represent anyone in the line of Asaph. The "sons of Asaph" are mentioned in multiple places in scripture. It could be describing a later time, perhaps the fall of Jerusalem.
  3. It is referring to a different sanctuary than the one in Jerusalem. The Tabernacle was kept at Shiloh for many years. Jeremiah 7:12-14 strongly suggests that a sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed. It is possible that there was a building there in addition to the Tabernacle tent. Maybe that building was sacked by an enemy at some point during the life of Asaph. One possibility is after the capture of the ark in 1 Samuel 4.
  4. It could be referring to the temple desecration described in 1 Chronicles 12:9-10. It appears that King Shishak of Egypt may have sacked the temple when he defeated Judah. This was during the reign of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. At this time Asaph would either have been very old or it is referring to one of his descendants.
  5. This is a prophecy by Asaph. The psalm is not describing an event at the time of Asaph, but rather a prophecy of what was to come.

Chaistic Structure

After the introductory verse, the psalm divides into 5 parts and uses a chaismic (mirror) structure similar to Psalm 73.

Remember (Psalm 74:2-3)
The Wicked Destroy (Psalm 74:4-9)
How Long? (Psalm 74:10-12)
You Deliver and Create (Psalm 74:13-17)
Remember (Psalm 74:18-23)

The meaningful center of the psalm is found in verse 12 and is the only section not directed as a prayer to God.

Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Psalm 74:12

Two Part Structure

Casper Labuschagne, who I usually use as a resource for the structure of the psalms, sees a larger two part structure, each part with its own central theme.

Part 1 (Psalm 74:1-12) finds its central theme at verse 7.

They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground. Psalm 74:7

The central theme of Part 2 (Psalm 74:13-23) is found in verse 18.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs, and a foolish people reviles your name. Psalm 74:18

Notice that both of these central themes include the phrase "your name", asking God to protect the glory of His reputation.


Psalm 74:1-3

This psalm, like Psalm 73, begins with a one verse introduction setting the mood and theme of the psalm.

O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? Psalm 74:1

The desire to know why is repeated in verse 11, just before the meaningful center, creating book ends to the first part of the psalm.

The rest of this section calls upon God to remember His people and ends by asking God to come and see the destruction the enemy has brought to God's sanctuary.

They Destroy

Psalm 74:4-9

The second section is devoted to a description of the destruction of God's sanctuary. The enemy hacked at the wood of the sanctuary with axes and set the building on fire.

Even worse, it looks as if God has deserted them completely.

We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. Psalm 74:9

Have you ever felt like your life was falling apart and that God was nowhere to be found? Have you ever cried out to God, "How long?"

Know that you are not alone. Psalms like this one remind us that this feeling is a common human emotion.

How Long?

Psalm 74:10-12

The final section of the first part begins as the second section ended: "How long?" Asaph cannot understand why God waits and does not destroy the enemy.

But the mood changes in verse 12.

Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Psalm 74:12

Verse 12 is the only verse not spoken to God and the turning point in the psalm. It is the middle of the chiasm (mirror) and closes the first half.

Asaph reminds us that God is King and he is still working salvation. He may not know when he will see God's salvation, but he is sure it will come.

Don't give up! God is still working - even when you can't see Him!

You Deliver

Psalm 74:13-17

Now the psalm mirrors its themes. This section responds to the destruction of the sanctuary in Psalm 74:4-9.

The enemy is bent on destruction, but God is the Deliverer and Creator.

  • He divided the sea. Water in scripture is often a symbol of chaos and trouble. But God divided the Red Sea to rescue Israel and He divided the waters during creation. There are no troubled waters too deep for God!
  • He crushed the serpent. God defeated Egypt, the greatest nation on earth, to rescue Israel. Maybe that is what Asaph is referring to. But Leviathan is also a mythological creature associated with chaos and sometimes creation. God is metaphorically shown defeating chaos and evil. Satan, the dragon, has no power over God.
  • He opened the streams and dried up the rivers. God can make water flow from a rock or dry up a great river so Israel can cross. Neither famine nor flood are a problem for our God.
  • Day and night, summer and winter, all creation is under God's hand. Whether we are in the light and warmth of a summer's day or the cold dark of a winter's night, God is always in control!

The enemy always seeks to destroy (1 Peter 5:8), but God is always there with us to deliver and create new life!



Psalm 74:18-23

The final section mirrors the beginning as it calls on God to remember:

  • The scoffing of the enemy
  • The lives of His people
  • His covenant


Why and How long?

These are questions we find ourselves asking when all seems dark and God seems hidden. This psalm appears to end with despair - begging God to remember. But that is only because we read the psalm incorrectly. The key verse is in the center, not the end.

Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Psalm 74:12

Never forget: God is King and He saves! The Creator and Deliverer will not be defeated by the chaotic waters surrounding you. The serpent is already defeated and your salvation is certain!


Jerry Wyrick

This post is part of a series on the Psalms.

by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory

Posted in General Worship, Psalms and tagged , .