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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Psalms 74

Verses 1-2

1. A call for God to remember His people 74:1-2

Evidently Israel was suffering under the oppression of a foreign foe. The writer prayed that God would stop disciplining His chosen people and remember (act) to bless the nation He had redeemed. The figure of sheep (Psalms 74:2) stresses the helpless, weak condition of the people (cf. Psalms 79:13; Psalms 95:7; Psalms 100:3). The reference to Israel’s redemption recalls the Exodus (cf. Exodus 15:13). The word "tribe" (Psalms 74:2) also pictures Israel as small and vulnerable (cf. Jeremiah 10:16). God regarded Israel as His own inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:20). The sanctuary stood on Mt. Zion in Asaph’s day.

Verses 1-23

Psalms 74

The writer appears to have written this communal lament psalm after one of Israel’s enemies destroyed the sanctuary. [Note: See Ralph W. Klein, Israel in Exile: A Theological Interpretation, pp. 19-20.] The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. may therefore be the background. The writer asked the Lord to remember His people and defeat her enemies, as He had in the past, for His own glory (cf. Psalms 79; Psalms 137; Lam.).

"The temple has been violated. The key symbol of life has been lost. Things in all parts of life fall apart-precisely because the center has not held. This psalm of protest and grief does not concern simply a historical invasion and the loss of a building. It speaks about the violation of the sacral key to all reality, the glue that holds the world together." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 68.]

Verse 3

There is no record that any of Israel’s enemies ever destroyed Israel’s central sanctuary in David’s day, or the temple in Solomon’s, to the extent that this verse implies. Perhaps Asaph was speaking hyperbolically, namely, describing the destruction in extreme terms for the sake of the effect. Probably this description is of what took place when the Babylonians destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. This would mean the writer was an Asaph who lived much later than David’s day, or perhaps Asaph stands for the order of musicians he headed. Another possibility is that this psalm is a prophecy.

Verses 3-9

2. A lament over the enemy’s destruction 74:3-9

Verses 4-8

These descriptions of the destruction also picture a complete devastation of the sanctuary as the last of God’s successive meeting places (Psalms 74:8; cf. Exodus 20:24; Psalms 78:60-64).

Verse 9

The writer bewailed the fact that no prophet could give the people a revelation about the length of God’s present judgment of His people. There were no prophetic signs that would indicate this.

Verses 10-17

3. An appeal for divine help 74:10-17

The psalmist pleaded for God to help His people and to subdue their enemy. The Lord’s reputation fell with the sanctuary in the eyes of Israel’s neighbors. Ancient Near Easterners regarded a god’s temple as the reflection of his glory. Now that the temple on Mt. Zion had suffered damage, the nations would have concluded that Yahweh was unable to defend His people.

Asaph recalled God’s mighty acts in the past in order to motivate Him to act for His people by defeating their enemy in the present (Psalms 74:12-17). Psalms 74:13-14 describe the crossing of the Red Sea during the Exodus.

". . . the language of Psalms 74:12-14, while tailored to reflect the redemptive character of the Exodus event, also alludes to God’s victory over chaos at creation." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 260.]

The sea monsters refer to Pharaoh’s soldiers, and Leviathan was a mythical monster that the writer used to describe Egypt here. The creatures of the wilderness are the Israelites. Psalms 74:15 recalls events in the wilderness wanderings and the crossing of the Jordan. Psalms 74:16-17 go back to God’s creation of the cosmos.

"The point here is that what Baal had claimed in the realm of myth, God had done in the realm of history-and done for His people, working salvation." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 268.]

Verses 18-23

4. An appeal to the covenant 74:18-23

The writer also appealed for action because of God’s reputation ("Thy name," Psalms 74:18). He compared Israel to a harmless dove and the enemy to a raging wild beast (Psalms 74:19). God had promised to hear His people’s cries for help and had done so in the past (cf. Judges), but now He was silent. Consequently Asaph asked God to remember His covenant promises to Israel (Psalms 74:20). This may be a reference to the promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) or to the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). Deliverance would lead God’s people to praise Him (Psalms 74:21). The foolish man (Psalms 74:22) is the enemy who does not regard God’s revelation of the fate of those who oppose His people. Israel’s adversaries evidently mocked Yahweh as they devastated His sanctuary (Psalms 74:23).

"The acts of God are primarily a vindication of his name and secondarily of his people." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 490.]

This psalm is a good example of prayer based on the person and promises of God. When God’s people suffer for their sins, they can call out to Him for help, but He may continue the discipline even when they base their petitions on His character and covenant.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 74". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.