With the words quoted above, a very challenging psalm begins. It is thought by some scholars that the title "A Psalm of Asaph" does not denote authorship, but rather the primary recipient of the psalm. It may be an abbreviated reference to "the sons of Asaph" (2 Chr 35.15), whom David appointed as one of the temple choirs. Many years later, the singers who returned to the Land with Zerubbabel, as part of the first repatriation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, were "children of Asaph" (Ezra 2.41). Those whose ancestors, nearly four centuries earlier, had filled Solomon's temple with rejoicing and praise, were children when their grandfathers had sobbed in dejection at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? (Ps 137.1-4).
But the covenant-keeping God was working on behalf of His people, and the time had come for an amazingly specific prophecy, penned by Isaiah, to be fulfilled:
Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer … to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited … that saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid (Isa 44.24-28).
More than 150 years after that prophecy,
… in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah (Ezra 1.1-2).
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid (3.10-11).
Only 128 singers had come from Babylon to Jerusalem, but they brought to an end a long absence of genuine praise. Why had the hearts of God's people fallen silent? Long before the exile, they had lapsed into external conformity to religious procedures, and their hearts were far from God. Therefore, God spoke to rebuke His people in Psalm 50. Their lack of faithfulness, so obvious from their idolatry, had brought them under divine discipline, but God spoke again, through Isaiah, to promise that He would restore them. Their arrogant pride would not allow them to bow their knees in repentance, but God spoke through Jeremiah to announce that, once they humbled themselves, He would release them. If only they had been sensitive to the word of the Lord!
Did the 128 sons of Asaph reflect on these things as they sang "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: and call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Ps 50.14-15)? Should we not reflect on them too? God's requirements of His people have not changed. He still expects thankfulness, faithfulness and a humble admission of dependence upon Him. Many of the articles in this issue of Believer's Magazine enlarge upon these themes. May God graciously bless them to us.