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This psalm is one of those which in the title are ascribed to Asaph (see Introduction to Psalms 73:0), and there is no reason to call in question that statement. On the phrase “To the chief Musician on Neginoth,” see Introduction to Psalms 4:1-8.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is not stated, and cannot now be ascertained. The Septuagint regards it as having had reference to the Assyrians - ᾠδὴ προς τὸν Ἀσσύριον hōdē pros ton Assurion - “An ode to the Assyrian.” So the Latin Vulgate; Canticum ad Assyrios. This is the opinion adopted also by Jarchi. The title in the Syriac version is, “When Rabbah of the Ammonites was laid waste; and further it describes the judment of the Messiah against the wicked. Grotius supposes that it was intended to describe the victory over the Ammonites. Rudinger ascribes its composition to the time of the Maccabees. DeWette supposes that it refers to some late period of the Jewish history, but that the particular time is unknown. It would be vain to attempt to ascertain with any certainty the particular occasion on which the psalm was composed. It was evidently on some occasion when an attack had been made on “Salem,” that is, on Jerusalem Psalms 76:2-3, and when that attack had been repelled, and the enemy had been driven back. Many of the circumstances in the psalm. would agree well with the account of the invasion of the Assyrians under Sennacherib, but there were many other occasions in the Jewish history to which it would, in like manner, be applicable.
The psalm is a song of praise for deliverance from an enemy. The contents are as follows:
I. The fact that God had made himself known “in Judah,” or to the Jewish people - or, that he had manifested himself to them in a remarkable manner, Psalms 76:1.
II. The fact that he had showed this in a special manner in “Salem,” the capital of the nation - referring to some particular time in which this was done, Psalms 76:2.
III. The manner in which he had done this - by breaking the arrows of the bow, and the shield; by showing that his power was superior to all the defenses which men had set up; and by overcoming entirely the invading foe, Psalms 76:3-6.
IV. The fact that, on this account, God was to be feared and reverenced, Psalms 76:7-9.
V. The statement of a great truth, and a most important principle, which had been particularly illustrated by the occurrence; to wit, that the wrath of man would be made to praise God, and that the remainder of wrath he would restrain, Psalms 76:10.
VI. A call on all people to acknowledge God in a suitable manner, by bringing presents, and by standing in awe of him, Psalms 76:11-12.
In Judah is God known - That is, he has made himself known there in a special manner; he has evinced his watchful care over the city so as to demand a proper acknowledgment; he has manifested himself there as he has not elsewhere. It is true that God is known, or makes himself known everywhere; but it is also true that he does this in some places, and at some times, in a more marked and striking manner than he does in other places and at other times. The most clear and impressive displays of his character are among his own people - in the church. “His name is great in Israel.” Among the people of Israel; or, among his own people. The meaning here is, that, by some act referred to in the psalm, he had so displayed his power and his mercy in favor of that people, as to make it proper that his name should be exalted or praised.
In Salem also - This was the ancient name for Jerusalem, and is evidently so used here. It continued to be given to the town until the time of David, when it was called “Jerusalem.” See the notes at Isaiah 1:1. The word properly means “peace,” and is so rendered here by the Septuagint, ἐν εἰρήνῃ ὁ τόπος αύτοῦ en eirēnē ho topos autou - “his place is in peace.” There may have been an allusion here to that ancient signification of the name, as being more poetical, and as suggesting the fact that God had restored peace to the city and nation when invaded.
Is his tabernacle - The tent, or sacred place where he is worshipped. Salem or Jerusalem was made the place of public worship, and the ark removed there by David, 2 Samuel 6:17.
And his dwelling-place in Zion - That is, on Mount Zion - the portion of Jerusalem in which David built his own palace, and which he made the place of public worship. This remained so until the temple was built on Mount Moriah; see the notes at Psalms 2:6; compare Psalms 9:11; Psalms 48:12; Psalms 65:1.
There brake he the arrows of the bow - That is, in Salem, or near Salem. The language is such as would be used in reference to invaders, or to armies that came up to storm the city. The occasion is unknown; but the meaning is, that God drove the invading army back, and showed his power in defending the city. The phrase “the arrows of the bow,” is literally, “the lightnings of the bow,” the word rendered “arrows” meaning properly “flame;” and then, “lightning.” The idea is, that the arrows sped from the bow with the rapidity of lightning.
The shield - Used for defense in war. See Psalms 5:12; Psalms 33:20; compare the notes at Ephesians 6:16.
And the sword - That is, he disarmed his enemies, or made them as powerless as if their swords were broken.
And the battle - He broke the force of the battle; the strength of the armies drawn up for conflict.
Thou art more glorious and excellent - The word rendered glorious - נאור na'ôr - is from the verb which means “to shine,” to give light, and the word would properly refer to a luminous or “shining” object - as the sun, the source of light. Hence, it means “shining,” splendid, glorious; and it is thus applied to the Divine Being with reference to his perfections, being like light. Compare 1 John 1:5. The word rendered “excellent,” means exalted, noble, great. These words are applied here to God from the manifestation of his perfections in the case referred to.
Than the mountains of prey - The word “prey” as employed here - טרף ṭereph - means that which is obtained by hunting; and then, plunder. It is usually applied to the food of wild beasts, beasts of prey. Here it refers to the “mountains” considered as the abode or stronghold of robbers and banditti, from where they sally forth in search of plunder. These mountains, in their heights, their rocks, their fastnesses, furnished safe places of retreat for robbers, and hence, they became emblems of power. It is not improbable that the hordes referred to in the psalm had their abodes in such mountains, and hence, the psalmist says that God who made those mountains and hills was superior to them in strength and power.
The stout-hearted are spoiled - The valiant men, the men who came so confidently to the invasion. The word “spoiled” here, as elsewhere in the Scriptures, means “plundered,” not (as the word is now used) “corrupted.” See the notes at Colossians 2:8.
They have slept their sleep - They are dead; they have slept their last sleep. Death, in the Scriptures, as in all other writings, is often compared with sleep.
And none of the men of might - The men who came forth for purposes of war and conquest.
Have found their hands - The Septuagint renders this, “Have found nothing in their hands;” that is, they have obtained no plunder. Luther renders it, “And all warriors must suffer their hands to fall.” De Wette, “Have lost their hands?” The idea seems to be, that they had lost the use of their hands; that is, that they had no use for them, or did not find them of any use. They could not employ them for the purpose for which they were intended, but were suddenly stricken down.
At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob - At thy word; thy bidding; or, when God rebuked them for their attempt to attack the city. The idea is, that they were discomfited by a word spoken by God.
Both the chariot and horse ... - The Septuagint renders this, “They who are mounted on horses.” The word rendered “chariot” here - רכב rekeb - may mean “riders, cavalry,” as well as chariot. See the notes at Isaiah 21:7. Hence, there would be less incongruity in the Hebrew than in our translation, where it is said that the “chariots” have fallen into a deep sleep. The idea may be either that horsemen and horses had fallen into a deep slumber, or that the rumbling of the chariot-wheels had ceased, and that there was a profound silence, like a deep sleep.
Thou, even thou, art to be feared - To be had in reverence or veneration. The repetition of the word “thou” is emphatic, as if the mind paused at the mention of God, and remained in a state of reverence, repeating the thought. The particular “reason” suggested here why God should be had in reverence, was the display of his power in overthrowing by a word the mighty hosts that had come against the holy city.
And who may stand in thy sight - Who can stand before thee? implying that no one had the power to do it. “When once thou art angry.” If such armies have been overcome suddenly by thy might, then what power is there which could successfully resist thee?
Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heavens - It seemed to come from heaven; it was manifestly from thee. The overthrow of these enemies of thy people was a manifest judgment from thee, and should be so regarded.
The earth feared - The world itself seemed to hear the voice of God, and to stand in awe.
And was still - It seemed to be profoundly attentive to what God said, and as if it reverently listened to his voice. It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to represent the earth - the hills, the mountains, the streams, the rivers, the plains - as conscious of the presence of God; as either rejoicing or trembling at his voice. Compare Psalms 65:12-13; Psalms 114:3-7; Habakkuk 3:8-11.
When God arose to judgment - That is, when he came to overthrow and destroy the enemies of his people, as referred to in the former part of the psalm.
To save all the meek of the earth - Of the land - to wit, the land of Judea; or, to save his people when in affliction. The word “meek,” which with us usually means those who are forbearing under injuries, means here the humble, the afflicted, the crushed, the oppressed.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee - It shall be the occasion of praise; or, honor shall accrue to thee from it, “as if” it were employed in thy praise, and “as if” it were voluntarily engaged in promoting thy glory. The deliverance of the people by the direct interposition of God in the case referred to in the psalm, the sudden and entire overthrow of the invading forces by his power, led to this reflection. The overruling power of God was displayed. The “wrath” of the invading host had given occasion for this manifestation of the divine perfections; or, in other words, his character would not have been displayed in this manner if it had not been for these wicked purposes of people. It is not that there was anything in the wrath itself, or in their plans or intentions, that was in itself “adapted” to honor God; but that it was overruled by him, so that he took “occasion” from it to display his own character.
The wicked conduct of a child is an “occasion” for the display of the just character and the wise administration of a parent; the act of a pirate, a rebel, a murderer, furnishes an “occasion” for the display of the just principles of law, and the stability and power of a government. In like manner, the sins of the wicked are made an occasion for the display of the divine perfections in maintaining law; in the administering of justice; in preserving order. But there is another sense, also, in which the wrath of man is made the occasion for glorifying God. It is, that since there is such wrath, or since there are such wicked purposes, God makes use of that wrath, or of those wicked purposes, as he does of the powers of nature - of pestilence, disease, and storms, as instruments to accomplish his own designs, or to bring about great results. Thus he made use of the treasonable purpose of Judas, and the mad passions and the angry feelings of the Jews, in bringing about the work of redemption by the death of his Son; thus be made use of the purposes of Sennacherib in order to punish his own people (see the notes at Isaiah 10:5-7); thus he employed Cyrus to “execute his counsel” Isaiah 46:10; and thus he made use of the wrath evinced in persecuting the church to secure its permanent establishment in the world. Whether these things could be accomplished “without” that wrath, is a question which is too high for man to determine. It is certain, also, that the fact that God overrules the wrath of people does not justify that wrath. The purposes of people are, like the pestilence and the storm, what they are in themselves; and the nature of their conduct is not affected by any use that God may make of it. People must be judged according to their own deeds, not for what God does through their wickedness.
The remainder of wrath - The word “remainder” here - שׁארית she'êrı̂yth - means properly “part;” what remains, especially after a defeat or slaughter - the “survivors” of a battle, Jeremiah 11:23; Jeremiah 44:14; Micah 7:18; Zephaniah 2:7. Gesenius renders it here (Lexicon) “extreme wrath,” retained even in extremity. The Septuagint, ἐγκατάλειμμα engkataleimma - “the things which are left.” So the Vulgate, “reliquice.” Luther, “When men rage against thee, thou turnest it to honor; and when they rage yet more, thou art yet prepared.” Venema supposes that the meaning is the whole wrath. As in Arabic the word used here means “wholeness,” or the whole of anything; and according to this, the idea would be that it was not merely wrath in general, or in a general sense, that would be made use of, but all that there was in wrath; it would all be made use of in advancing the divine purposes. The allusion seems to be to something that had been laid up in a magazine - as provision or arms, when the soldier went forth to war - which he would make use of if necessary, so that “all” might be ultimately consumed or employed. The control of God was over “this” as well as over that which was actually employed; he could overrule that which was employed. He could restrain people from at all using this that was kept in reserve. The idea seems to be that all the “wrath” which is “manifested” among people would be made to praise God, or would be overruled for his glory - and “all” which would “not” contribute to this end he would keep back, he would check; he would prevent its being put forth - so that “all” should be under his control, and “all” disposed of as he should will. There was nothing in the heart or the purposes of man that was beyond his jurisdiction or control; man could do nothing in his wrathful plans that God could not dispose of in his own way, and for his own honor.
Shalt thou restrain - The word used here - חגר châgar - means literally to bind around; to gird; to gird up, as of a garment or sword that is girded on, 1 Samuel 17:39; 1 Samuel 25:13; Psalms 45:3; or sackcloth, Isaiah 15:3; Jeremiah 49:3. The Septuagint renders this, “and the remainder of wrath shall make a feast to thee,” ἐορτάσει σοί heortasei soi - that is, it shall praise or honor thee as in a festival. So the Vulgate. Prof. Alexander renders it, “Shalt thou gird about thee;” that is, God would gird it on as a sword, and would make use of it as a weapon for executing his own purposes. So DeWette, “And with the last wrath thou shalt gird thyself.” Others render it, “Thou restrainest the remainder of thy wrath” - that is, punishment - “when the wrath of man will not promote the knowledge of thyself” It seems to me, however, that our translators have expressed the exact idea in the psalm; and the meaning is, that the whole of the wrath of man is under the control of God, and that whatever there is, or would be, in the manifestation of that wrath, or in carrying out the purposes of the heart, which could not, in the circumstances, be made to promote his glory, or which would do injury, he would check and restrain. He would suffer it to proceed no further than he chose, and would make it certain that there should be no exhibition of wrathful feelings on the part of man which would not, in some way, be made to promote his honor, and to advance his own great purposes. He has absolute control over the passions of people, as he has over the pestilence, over earthquakes, and over storms, and can make all tributary to his glory, and executioners of his will.
vow, and pay unto the Lord your God - That is, Pay your vows, or sacredly observe them. On the word “vow,” see the notes at Psalms 22:25. Compare Psalms 50:14; Psalms 56:12; Psalms 66:13. The word refers to a voluntary promise made to God.
Let all that be round about him - All that worship him, or that profess to honor him.
Bring presents - Bring gifts or offerings; things expressive of gratitude and homage. See the notes at Psalms 45:12. Compare Isaiah 16:1, note; Isaiah 18:7, note; Isaiah 60:5, note.
Unto him that ought to be feared - Margin, “to fear.” The meaning would be well expressed by the word dread; “to the Dread One.” It was not to inspire fear that the presents were to be brought; but they were to be brought to One who had shown that he was the proper object of dread or reverence.
He shall cut off the spirit of princes - That is, He will cut down their pride; he will break them down. Luther renders it, “He shall take away the wrath of princes.” The allusion is to what he had done as celebrated in this psalm. He had shown that he could rebuke the pride and self-confidence of kings, and could bring them low at his feet.
He is terrible to the kings of the earth - When they are arrayed against him.
(1) they are wholly under his control.
(2) he can defeat their plans.
(3) he can check them when he pleases.
(4) he can, and will, make their plans - even their wrath - the means of promoting or carrying out his own purposes.
(5) he will allow them to proceed no further in their plans of evil than he can make subservient to the furtherance of his own.
(6) he can cut down the most mighty of them at his pleasure, and destroy them forever.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 76". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29