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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 76

Verse 1






Any of the above titles is appropriate for this remarkable psalm. Many scholars view the occasion of it as that of God's destruction of Sennacherib's army in the times of Hezekiah, an interpretation with which this writer fully agrees, although some are hesitant to accept this, supposing that some other great victory could have inspired the psalm.

It is hardly possible for there to be a psalm which so exactly coincides with a historical situation, the overthrow of the Assyrian army before Jerusalem, as affirmed by the superscription in LXX.[1] No known event corresponds so closely to allusions in this psalm as does the destruction of Sennacherib's army.[2] The occasion that springs to mind here is the elimination of Sennacherib's army by the angel of the Lord (Isaiah 37:36).[3] There were many other occasions in Jewish history to which the psalm would likewise be applicable (but he listed none of them).[4] Critics of all schools agree that the occasion here is the deliverance from the threat of Sennacherib's army, and we must therefore understand the `Asaph' of the title as designating not the original Asaph, but the division of the Levites named after him.[5]

The paragraphing of the psalm is simple enough, there being four stanzas of three verses each. The psalm also divides into two parts, the first two stanzas speaking of the deliverance, and the last two stressing the results.

Psalms 76:1-3

"In Judah is God known:

His name is great in Israel,

In Salem also is his tabernacle,

And his dwelling place in Zion.

There he brake the arrows of the bow;

The shield, and the sword, and the battle.


"In Judah ... in Israel" (Psalms 76:1). Rhodes thought these terms to be "synonymous,"[6] but the setting of the psalm is in the days of the divided kingdom, and the words may apply to the two divisions, thus including all of God's people.

"Tabernacle ... dwelling-place" (Psalms 76:2). These renditions are unfortunate, because, the words thus translated actually mean "covert" or "lair."[7] "The poet probably intended both of these terms in a literal sense, conceiving of God as the Lion of Judah."[8]

"In Salem also" (Psalms 76:2). "Salem is the ancient name of Jerusalem, for the Salem of Melchizedek is one and the same with the Jerusalem of Adonizedek (Joshua 10:1)."[9]

"There he brake the arrows of the bow" (Psalms 76:3). The big word here is "there," a reference to Jerusalem, which was exactly where the judgment of God fell upon the mighty army of Sennacherib and destroyed it in a single night. Note, that all of the significant military weapons of the enemy were destroyed: the arrows, the shield, the sword, and the `battle,' that latter word meaning `everything' that was required in the fighting of a battle. The horses, chariots and their riders would be mentioned a moment later. Delitzsch's comment on this was that, "God has broken in pieces the weapons of the worldly power directed against Judah."[10]

Verse 4

"Glorious art thou, and excellent, more than mountains of prey.

The stouthearted are made a spoil, They have slept their sleep;

And none of the men of might have found their hands.

At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob,

Both chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep."

"More than mountains of prey" (Psalms 76:4). There is some uncertainty of the meaning here. Delitzsch explained it as, "An appellation for haughty possessors of worldly power."[11]

"They have slept their sleep ... and none ... have found their hands" (Psalms 76:5). Briggs translated this verse this way:

"The stouthearted slept their last sleep,

And the men of war did not find spoil."[12]

The clause, "none have found their hands" in the New English Bible is rendered, "the men cannot lift a hand." The Septuagint (LXX) reads, "have found nothing in their hands." Rawlinson gave the meaning as, "They cannot even move a hand."[13] Such various attempts to give the meaning of an admittedly difficult verse should not concern us very much, because, what is being described here, according to Delitzsch, is, "A field of corpses, the effect of the omnipotent energy of the word of the God of Jacob."[14]

"Both chariot and horse ... into a dead sleep" (Psalms 76:6). Of course, no chariot ever went to sleep. The chariot here, by a figure of speech, refers to charioteer, just as the horse also includes the rider. Sudden death overcame the whole army.

"Cast into a deep sleep" (Psalms 76:6). "The sleep here is the sleep of death as distinguished from natural sleep."[15]

"One word from the sovereign lips of the God of Jacob, and all the noise of the camp is hushed, and we look upon a field of the dead, lying in awful stillness, dreamlessly sleeping their long slumber."[16]


We have previously quoted from Lord Byron's poem, but here are a few more lines of it:

"And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide.

But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;

And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,

And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,

With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail.

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown."

Verse 7

"Thou, even thou, art to be feared;

And who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?

Thou didst cause sentence to be heard from heaven;

The earth feared, and was still,

When God arose to judgment,

To save all the meek of the earth.


In these three verses we have, "An announcement of the eschatalogical defeat of the nations at the last judgment."[17]

"Who may stand in thy sight?" (Psalms 76:7). This strongly reminds us of Rev. (Revelation 6:12-17), "Which is a most powerful exposition of this verse. The action here is no longer in the past, or localized, or defensive; here is a prophecy of God's striking the final blow against evil everywhere."[18] The result of this will be stated in the final stanza, where God the Righteous Judge is represented as receiving the homage of the whole world as its King. The tenses here, of course, are sometimes called the prophetic perfects.

"Thou ... art to be feared" (Psalms 76:6). The RSV has "awesome," and James Moffatt's translation of the Bible (1929) has "terrible" here in place of "feared." Miller stated that, "`Terrible' is not too strong a translation here."[19] The judgment scene in Revelation 6:12-17 surely exhibits a great deal of terror at the appearance of God in the final judgment.

Yates summarized these three verses as follows.

"Thou, even thou, art to be feared. This is the judgment of God. The thought goes beyond the battle scene as God takes his seat in heaven. He is the judge to be feared, who strikes men with terror. All of the earth stands still as God saves the oppressed peoples of the earth, of whom Israel is representative."[20]

Of course, God's amazing and sensational destruction of the Assyrian army was in itself a "token" of the final judgment, no doubt receiving almost universal attention from the whole world of that period.

"Man will not hear God's voice if he can help it, but God makes sure that he will hear it anyway. The echoes of God's judgment upon the haughty Sennacherib are still heard, and will ring on down through the ages, praising the justice of God."[21]

Verse 10

"Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee:

The residue of wrath shalt thou gird upon thee.

Vow, and pay unto Jehovah your God:

Let all that are round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.

He will cut off the spirit of princes:

He is terrible to the kings of the earth."

Here again we have echoes of that judgment scene in Revelation 6:12-17, where the kings of the earth are seen crying for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from The Lamb and from Him that sitteth upon the throne.

"Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee" (Psalms 76:10). We have chosen this as an appropriate title of this whole psalm. Sennacherib was angry against God's people; but that vicious anger exhibited by his deployment of an arrogant and blasphemous army against Jerusalem surely `praised God' in its total destruction. It is always thus in history.

Pharaoh was angry with God's people and decided to exterminate all of them, by his edict commanding the destruction of all male children in the Nile River. Did that anger praise God? Indeed! Pharaoh's edict did not destroy God's people; it only bounced the infant Moses out of the River and into the lap of Pharaoh's daughter, from which position Moses eventually delivered God's people, destroying Pharaoh and all his host in the process. Thousands of other examples of the same phenomenon might be cited.

"The residue of wrath shalt thou gird upon thee" (Psalms 76:10). This makes much more sense if the marginal reading is used. "The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."

"Vow, and pay unto Jehovah your God" (Psalms 76:11). The blessing of God upon his people and his protection of them against every enemy carries with it a reciprocal behavior pattern that is also binding upon Christians today. In order for the soul of redeemed persons to grow in the likeness of the Saviour, it is absolutely necessary that they should heed the admonition, "Freely ye have received; freely give." A stingy, penurious Christian is a contradiction of terms.

Kidner pointed out that not only are God's followers commanded to give (in the first part of this little paragraph); "But in the second half the surrounding world also are summonsed to pay tribute to the True God, who alone should be feared."[22]

The great lesson of this psalm, according to McCaw, is that the mighty victory over the most terrible army on earth in a single night, accomplished by a single word upon the lips of the Lord, "Should be seen as the pledge and foretaste of God's ultimate subjection of the entire world to do his will."[23]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 76". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.