Psalm 74:4–9 (NRSV): 4 Your foes have roared within your holy place; they set up their emblems there. 5 At the upper entrance (of the temple) they hacked the wooden trellis with axes. 6 And then, with hatchets and hammers, they smashed all its carved work. 7 They set your sanctuary on fire; they desecrated the dwelling place of your name, bringing it to the ground. 8 They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land. 9 We do not see our emblems; there is no longer any prophet, and there is no one among us who knows how long.
The Israelites were habitually unfaithful to God at the time these events took place. For generations God had sent prophets to warn the people to turn from their idol worship (among other grievous sins) to no avail. So God withdrew his protection and Jerusalem was sacked while the surviving Israelites were taken to exile in Babylon. The part that sticks out for me today is:
9 We do not see our emblems; there is no longer any prophet, and there is no one among us who knows how long.
In the Old Testament the people of God did not have direct access to God, but relied on prophets as their go-between with God. Since the prophets were gone (killed or sent to Babylon) they had no way to ask God the important question “How long?” How long would they suffer? How long would the pagan people prevail over Israel? How long until God delivered them? They had no idea.
Sometimes when we’re in a difficult season, it helps to know an end is coming. We can circle a date on the calendar and push ourselves to get across the finish line. What’s far more difficult (at least for me) is when there is no end date in sight. Is the situation temporary or is this the new normal? If it is temporary, how temporary? Will it be days? Weeks? Years? Not knowing… is the worst.
Lord there are some of us living in difficult seasons of life right now. The question on our minds is, “How long?” Give us grace to keep going when our situation appears hopeless. Help us to place our trust in you, first and last. Amen.