Does God Hear and Help in Times of Need? p.4

Psalm 74 – God’s Saving Deeds

Nürnberger takes this notion and says that in Psalm 74 when God tames chaos, it was not written for historical purposes, but was written to proclaim the superiority of Yahweh, from who help was needed.[1]  Mays notes however, that “salvation history and creation process” are not thought of as two separate categories, but all of these actions are seen as “saving deeds.”[2]  The creation history of defeating chaos is used as a metaphor for the Exodus from Egypt and entry into the Promised Land.[3]  The psalmist interweaves myth and history to speak of God’s saving deeds.  The psalmist uses myth to speak of the victory over chaos and then speaks of God saving Israel in the Exodus with passage through the sea and safe passage through the wilderness.[4]  The psalmist connects the killing of the Leviathan with the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and saved from chaos and so that deed was seen as an act of creation.[5]  This interpretation connects well with verse 2, “the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance, whom you redeemed— Mount Zion, where you dwelt,” is an allusion to God’s creative redemptive work from bringing the Israelites through the Red Sea and wilderness.[6]  If the creation myth refers to the Exodus then the Leviathan would represent the Egyptians.  The reference to the Leviathan being thrown into the wilderness could refer to the Egyptian army being cast on the shore (Ezekiel 29:3; 32:2).[7]  What Ba’al did as a myth in pagan stories, God did in history with his people Israel.[8]

Verse 18 assert that since God created the world and exterminated the Leviathan, the world is His procession and the psalmist is crying out to God to take care of his people (v. 20-21).  Verses four through eight show how those who oppress the Israelites and “profane the holiness of YHWH” should be dealt with because they act as if God is not the Lord of creation.[9]  Verses 18-23 call for God to defend Himself and the actions that have been taken against Israel.[10]  The Psalmist does not want God’s people to be scattered, for God’s work of redemption to be for nothing and the Psalmist also realizes that their present experience is not consistent with their past experience.[11] 

Verses 18-23 show the rationale for the prayer (psalm) and also for the speaking of God’s saving power (vv. 12-17).  It is a call for “God to act for the sake of his name, his people, his covenant, and his cause.”  By acting for his own account, God would also be helping the Israelites.[12]  The Israelites know that their interests are the same as God’s.[13]  The psalmist reasons that God had made them his people and redeemed them and all of that would be pointless if he does not save them now also because they will be destroyed and lost forever.[14]

This psalm as many psalms in the Psalter is a lament to God.  It is a cry out to God in faith for Him to help them and to rebuild His sanctuary.  The psalmist is crying out to God within a particular situation and context.  The Babylonians have destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and the Israelites have been taken into exile.  After many years without a place to worship God, the Psalmist is wondering if God is ever going to come to their rescue and establish his people once again as he had done in the Exodus event.  He also uses poetic imagery and popular beliefs of the time to convey to God the hopelessness of their situation and to try to convince God to help them.  In the end, even though the Psalmist questions God, he knows that God is the only one who can help them and he believes that God will.  When we reflect on this psalm, the situation they were going through, and the faith that they had, it is an incredible example of how to deal with our own problems today.

[1] Nürnberger, 51.  Endres also says this chaos creation myth does not speak of the Exodus at all (109-110).

[2] Mays, Psalms, 245.

[3] Weiser, 520.

[4] Mays, Psalms, 245.

[5] Anderson, Creation Versus Chaos, 150.

[6] Mays, Psalms, 246.

[7] Anderson, Book of Psalms, 544.

[8] Kidner, 268.

[9] Gunkel, 29.

[10] For a study of the dove imagery used in v. 19 and for a good bibliography on this subject cf. Christopher T. Boggs, “The Covenantal Dove in Psalm LXXIV 19-20,” Vetus Testamentum 37 no 1 (1987):  78-81. Cf. Anderson, Book of Psalms, 546.

[11] Schaefer, 181.

[12] Ash, 249.

[13] Eaton, 269.

[14] Ash, 249.

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