Psalm 74 is a community lament prayed by the people of God in the midst of confusion and distress. The psalm begins with the people recognizing that they have been rejected, but they do not know how long they will continue to be rejected by God. (74:1) The worshippers know they are the ancient people of God who have been redeemed by God and brought to his dwelling place on Mount Zion (Jerusalem). But, now they ask to know how long this destruction will last and when God will again turn to defend and restore the people and the sanctuary.
The date of this psalm appears to be after 587 BC when Babylon had destroyed the land of Judah, leveled the city of Jerusalem, burnt the temple and deported the Jewish people into Babylon. The scene is similar to Lamentations 2:5-17 and 2 Kings 25. It is clear that God is angry, but the question is how long his anger will last.
In Psalm 74:4-7 the temple sanctuary is described as being overrun by Babylonian soldiers who have carried their military standards into the Lord’s holy places. The invaders’ purpose is to destroy the temple, so they chop with axes and hatchets through the wooden wall panels carved with images of trees and vines. The splintered lumber is lit on fire as they move through the Lord’s dwelling place.
Although the Babylonians present their own “standards as signs” (74:4), the Lord himself remains silent and “no signs from God” are given (74:9). The people of Israel are left alone to endure this judgment. Even the prophets cannot answer questions or explain how long the people will remain abandoned by their God. (74:9)