It’s not certain when this psalm was written. There are a couple of problems with trying to date it. First, the notation attributes this psalm to Asaph who lived during the times of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. There is nothing to connect the destruction of the temple as mentioned in this psalm to the times he lived in. So it’s most likely that when it says Asaph, it’s referring to his descendants.
I would guess this was written after Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion when the Jews were taken into exile. The main problem with this is that the psalmist writes,
We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left. (9)
It’s possible that it meant no prophets in Jerusalem were left. Daniel and Ezekiel were both in Babylon. And while Jeremiah stayed in Jerusalem for a while, he was later carried off to Egypt where he eventually died.
At any rate, this psalm is in essence a cry for mercy. The psalmist starts by lamenting,
O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the nation you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—Mount Zion, where you dwelt. Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. (1-3)
He then talks about the complete destruction of the temple, and how God was nowhere to be found. But in verse 12, the psalm turns as he sings,
But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth.
In verses 13-17, he recalls the power of God, how he delivered them from Egypt, and how he created all things.
Finally, he closes the psalm once more with a plea for mercy.
There are some interesting things about this psalm. And in it, I think we can learn some things about God’s mercy.
The main thing is that we don’t receive God’s mercy based on our own merit. Nowhere in the psalm does it say, “We’ve been good so please show us mercy.”
Rather, he asks for God’s mercy for his own Name’s sake. He says,
How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? (10)
In other words, “By allowing these people to destroy your temple and defeat your people, your name has suffered. People no longer hold your name in honor.”
And so he says later,
Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long. Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually. (22-23)
The psalmist also asks for God’s mercy based on his promises. At the beginning, he said,
Remember the nation you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—Mount Zion, where you dwelt. (2)
He was saying, “You redeemed us and promised to make us your own. You promised to dwell among us. Remember now those promises and help us.”
Finally, he asked for God’s mercy based on his compassion. He sang,
Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name. (21)
None of us deserve God’s mercy. But though we fall, God is merciful. So let us never give up hope when God seems to have abandoned us. Rather let us turn our hearts to him, and plead for his mercy. And just as he delivered the Jews, he will deliver us.