O God, why do you cast us off for ever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago,
which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage.
Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell.
Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.
Your foes have roared within your holy place;
they set up their emblems there.
At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.
And then, with hatchets and hammers,
they smashed all its carved work.
They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrated the dwelling-place of your name,
bringing it to the ground.
They said to themselves, ‘We will utterly subdue them’;
they burned all the meeting-places of God in the land.
We do not see our emblems;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us who knows how long.
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name for ever?
Why do you hold back your hand;
why do you keep your hand in your bosom?
Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You cut openings for springs and torrents;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
you made summer and winter.
Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and an impious people reviles your name.
Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals;
do not forget the life of your poor for ever.
Have regard for your covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
Rise up, O God, plead your cause;
remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.
Do not forget the clamour of your foes,
the uproar of your adversaries that goes up continually.
Since 2014 Isil have plundered and destroyed funeral and other monuments from antiquity in Syria, Iraq and Libya. There is a religious motivation behind these actions. Inspired by Salafism, Isil have attempted to eradicate earlier cultures, as well as what they regard as erroneous beliefs, by the wholesale destruction of Shi’ite mosques and shrines.
The Psalmist is crying out at the desolation and destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar and directs his sorrowful cry to God. How long will it be before worship is restored in this place where every sacred emblem has been smashed to smithereens? Perhaps we can identify with this cry imagining our worship space smashed beyond recognition.
When will God act to vindicate our hope and trust in our own lives and in the affairs of nations?
Grant us dear Lord
in this season of the coming of Jesus
To grasp that your power and your authority
will not be thwarted,
May gentleness and peace,
Prevail in the long term
against those who simply want to impose their will
through violence and destruction,
Bring us to our knees again
to beg that your kingdom may come,
In our own lives in the affairs of nations,
The Rev’d Richard Church is the Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) of the United Reformed Church.