Today I am looking back on my whole series on the Psalms of Asaph. I understand the Asaph Psalms as originating in a community of cult prophets in charge of the worship, especially the music, at an alternative sanctuary in northern Israel shortly before the fall Samaria in about 722 BCE.
As such, these are often prayers sung in desperation. As someone who has often prayed in desperation myself, I find these psalms most meaningful. Those psalmists tried to understand the ways of God. They prayed to God to arise and prevent the impending national disaster. God didn’t. Israel fell and the people were driven out of the land just as Israel is said to have driven other people out of the land in the conquest.
Among the people driven out were members of the Asaph guild who went to Jerusalem. There they took part in a renewal of the old covenant religion under Hezekiah. Their songs were revised a little for use in the Jerusalem temple. This time, in about 700 BCE, the prayers seemed to be answered. The Assyrain invasion of Judah failed. Perhaps, a plague struck the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35 and Isaiah 37::16). Archeologists have found mass graves at Lachish. But there are, of course, different ways of interpreting that–a plague, a massacre, a battle.
I suspect that there was a plague and that the aftermath was so horrible that it lodged in the memory of the Isaiah school of prophets and is reflected in the last verse of our Book of Isaiah: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be repulsive to all people.”
Whatever happened, the withdrawal of the Assyrians got interpreted as the result of divine intervention. God had finally asserted himself just as the psalmists prayed and imagined that he would:
Then the Lord awakened as one out of sleep,
Like a mighty man who shouts because of wine.
He beat back his foes.
He made them an everlasting reproach.”
This speaks to my own prayer life and that of churches I have been a part of. Sometimes God doesn’t seem to answer. Sometimes miracles seem to happen. Our prayers continue to rise, sometimes in desperation. There are no easy answers, but people of faith hold on and keep praying–and singing.