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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 76

Psalms 76

THE Lord, who has glorified himself among Israel by his deeds, and has fixed his habitation at Zion, has there broken the might of the conqueror of the world, Psalms 76:1-3. This event is celebrated in the main division, Psalms 76:4-10: the Lord is mightier than all the plunder-and-victory-thirsty kingdoms of the world; this has been manifested by the overthrow of the mighty enemies accomplished by his omnipotence, and by the rest procured through his judgments to the wildly agitated earth. In the conclusion, Psalms 76:11 and Psalms 76:12, the Psalmist grounds on this great event an exhortation, to the faithful to thank God, and to the heathen to do homage to him by gifts.

The division of the Psalm into four strophes of three verses each is inadmissible. Psalms 76:10 cannot possibly be disjoined from the preceding verse, with which it is connected by a “for”, and be bound up with what follows. The Selah at the end of Psalms 76:9 is not decisive in favour of this assumption, which violates the sense. It stands in reference to “the earth was afraid and became quiet”, at the end of Psalms 76:8: this rest of the earth should meet with an echo in the souls of believers. The Psalm may be much better divided into a main-body of seven verses, an introduction of three, and a conclusion of two: these latter making up five, the signature of a half. The arrangement is the same as that of Psalms 75, with this difference, that here the whole number Isaiah 12, while there it Isaiah 10 verses, and that the main-body here consists of 7, and there of 5 verses. It is perhaps not accidental, that the two Psalms, which are strictly connected together, contain between them, including the titles, twenty-four verses.

It is very extraordinary that Koester should still maintain that it is not possible to learn from the Psalm itself the occasion on which it was composed. There are very satisfactory reasons for referring it, as the translators of the Septuagint and the Vulgate saw, to the Assyrian catastrophe. The preceding Psalm was composed in prospect of this, and the Psalm before us after its actual commencement. [Note: The relation of the two Psalms was therefore correctly stated by Gurtler: “it tells that the divine judgment which was promised in Psalms 75 had been executed on the enemies of the church.”]

The same animated appearance and courageous tone which characterize the prophecies and also the Psalms of the Assyrian period, (comp. besides, Psalms 75 especially Psalms 46), meet us in this Psalm. It celebrates, according to Psalms 76:3, a mighty overthrow of the enemies, which put an end at one blow to the war. This overthrow took place, according to the same verse, before Jerusalem; on which Jarchi remarks, that within the whole compass of sacred history, there occurs no other example of the overthrow of the enemy before Jerusalem. The overthrow took place without any co-operation on the part of the people, and by an immediate exercise of divine omnipotence, Psalms 76:3, Psalms 76:6, and Psalms 76:8. God has manifested himself as one who cuts off the breath of princes, Psalms 76:12 the enemies are not only driven away, they are put to death. The catastrophe is an event in the world’s history: all the meek of the earth are delivered through the judgment of God, Psalms 76:9, the tumultuous earth is, in consequence of this, quieted, Psalms 76:8, and God has manifested himself as terrible to the kings of the earth, Psalms 76:12. The exhortation to the heathen to honour God by presents, Psalms 76:11, is in accordance with the narrative as given in 2 Chronicles 32:23, that they actually did so in consequence of the destruction of the Assyrian army.

Verses 1-3

The title: To the Chief Musician, for stringed instruments, a Psalm, of Asaph, a song of praise, is followed by the introduction, Psalms 76:1-3. Ver. 1. God is known in Judah, in Israel is his name great. Ver. 2. And his tabernacle was in Salem, and his habitation in Zion. Ver. 3. Thither he broke the flames of the bow, shield and sword, and battle. Selah.

God’s being known in Judah, Psalms 76:1, comes into notice as it presupposes a rich fulness of deeds of omnipotence and grace, by which he has made himself known. If God was known and celebrated by his church under the Old Testament dispensation, he is infinitely more so now under the New, for which there has been reserved the most glorious revelation of his power and grace. In Israel:—which at that time only existed in Judah. He was the heir of all the ancient associations of the whole people. “His tabernacle” renders it evident that we cannot translate ויהי in Psalms 76:2 by “it is”, but only “it was.” The sanctuary could be thus named, only in so far as, at the beginning, on its being first placed on Mount Zion, it had the form of a tabernacle or tent. The ancient name Salem, Genesis 14:18, of which Jerusalem was merely an enlarged form, (Salem, the sure and peaceful place, Jerusalem, ירוששלם ,—compare “On Balaam,” page 20,—the peaceful possession), is used here to indicate that it is significant: wherever the Lord dwells, security and peace are there, compare Psalms 46:4-5. [Note: Much doubt has been cast upon the identity of the Salem in Genesis 14:18, and Jerusalem. But the following are decisive reasons in its favour: 1. The passage before us. 2. The Jewish tradition, (Onkelos, Josephus). 3. Adonizedeck=Melchisedeck, is called the king of Jerusalem, in the time of Joshua: Joshua 10:3. In all probability, this was the standing name of the kings of the Jebusites. 4. In the kings dale, which according to Genesis 14:17 was situated near Salem, Absalom, according to 2 Samuel 18:8 placed a monument, assuredly not in some remote corner, but in the neighborhood of the metropolis, 5. In all the Old Testament, there is no such thing as a Salem near Jerusalem. It has been repeatedly said, that there is one in Genesis 30:18: but a closer investigation shews that שלם , is there used as an adject.,—that it is not “Jacob came to Salem,” but, “Jacob came in safety,” in spite of the village Selim found by Robinson, P. III. p. 322; in the neighbourhood of Nablus or Sichem. The city of Sichem was Sichem, as is expressly observed, the first city in Canaan, properly so called, where Jacob settled on his return from Mesopotamia. Jacob’s coming to this place in safety, was in fulfilment of the promise made to him on his departure from Mesopotamia to the land of promise, Genesis 31:3; Genesis 31:13, and also of the earlier promise made, to him when he set out to Mesopotamia in ch. 28, where בשלום , of the 21st verse corresponds to שלם here.

The only reason against the identity of Salem and Jerusalem, viz: that according to Judges 19:10, Jerusalem had formerly been called Jebus, is of no weight. This name is no more exclusive of the name of Salem, or Jerusalem, than Kirjath-Arba, and Mamre are exclusive of Hebron: Beitr. III. 187. Had Jebus been the only name of the city, the name Jerusalem must have originated with David. The analogy, however, of Zion, the circumstance that the name has no connection whatever with any thing that occurred in David’s time, and the absence of every account, in the historical records of this time, which are peculiarly copious, are all against this supposition.] The שמה , Psalms 76:3, means always “thither”, never “there”: compare the Christ. P. 105, and Hävernick on Ezekiel 48:35. By this are set aside the attempts which have been made, (attempts at fault even on the supposition of this false sense), to remove the catastrophe from the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. “Hence”=so that they are broken in falling on it. In the same way as in the remarkably similar passage Psalms 46:9, “who makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth, bow breaks and spear cuts asunder, chariot with fire burns,” there is here also an abbreviated comparison: God has rendered the conquerors as helpless as if their arrows had been broken, &c. The רשף means always “flame.” The flames of the bow, are the shining glittering arrows: compare Job 39:33, Nahum 3:3, and Deuteronomy 32:41. It is evident from Psalms 46:9, that by מלחמה we are to understand war itself, and not military equipage. In the whole verse, the subject treated of is not one single defeat, but a catastrophe such as the Assyrian, which put an end at one stroke to the whole war. The “war”, occurring at the end of the verse, points expressly to this. Arnd: “We have here to learn the gracious deliverance granted by God from bodily enemies, how he breaks all the human earthly power which is turned against the church. For the power of the enemies is human, earthly, fleshly, but the power of the church is spiritual, divine, and heavenly. There contend and fight with each other, the spirit and the flesh: spiritual power, by faith and prayer; and earthly power, by the sword, the bow, and the spear. Thus fought Goliath and David, Hezekiah and Sennacherib, Jehosaphat and the Moabites, Asa and the thousands of the Moors, and thus from the beginning, the church has fought against all the power of tyrants, and will still continue to fight till the end of the world;—yea, the church gains the victory, and conquers through the cross, according to the beautiful figure of the 19th chapter of Revelations, where we read that ‘the Son of God rides upon a white horse, and that out of his mouth there goeth a sharp sword, and that there follows him a great army.’” Within the spiritual as well as in the external domain, the Lord reveals himself, as one who breaks the arrows of those, who are the enemies of his church and of his faithful ones.

Verses 4-10

Ver. 4. Thou art illustrious, more glorious than the plunder-mountains. Ver. 5. The strong hearted have disappeared, they have sunk into their sleep, and all the men of might have not found their hands. Ver. 6. Before thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both have sunk into a sleep, chariot and horse. Ver. 7. Thou art dreadful: and who can stand before thee, since thine anger? Ver. 8. Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth was afraid and was still. Ver. 9. When God rose up to judgment to deliver all the meek. Selah. Ver. 10. For the wrath of man praises thee, and with the remainder of wrath thou girdest thyself.

The plunder-mountains of Psalms 76:4 is a figurative expression for powerful plundering nations, conquering kingdoms. On “the mountains”, as a figurative term for “kingdoms”, compare at Ps. 65:6, 16, and especially the strikingly similar passage Psalms 46:2-3. The epithet “plunder” is illustrated from Nahum 2:11, where Nineveh is called “the habitation of lions, and the feeding place of the young lions,” Nahum 3:1, “the bloody city, from which the prey departeth not,” and from Song of Solomon 4:8, where the high hills, the emblems of the kingdom of the world, which the Bride is instructed to leave, that she may turn to her Bridegroom the Lord, is described as “the habitation of lions, the abode of leopards.” אשתוללו , in Psalms 76:5, the Aramaic form, is generally translated “they are robbed”, “plundered”: but this sense is not quite suitable here, and the sense “to be plundered” is inadmissible in the only other passage where the Hiph. Occurs, Isaiah 59:15. The sense demanded there, “to be made a prey of,” “to disappear,” is the one which must be adopted in this passage also. Even שולל in Job 12:17, Job 12:19, is not “to be plundered,” but “to be made a prey of.” The disappearance, without leaving a trace behind them, of the strong spirits, the pretended lords of the world, fits in well with the second clause. The sleep is the sleep of death: compare at Psalms 13:3, Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57, and particularly Nahum 3:18, “thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria, thy nobles are at rest,” and 2 Kings 19:35, “and behold they were all dead corpses.” The expression, “they found not their hand,” is used in contempt of the strong men, who, at the very moment when they wished to turn their hand against the holy city, could not find their hand:—death had deprived them of it. The מן in Psalms 76:6, is the מן of cause. The נררם is the partic. and expresses the condition. The pretended “Latinism” (Koester), &ו ו , ( et—et), “as well as,” occurs in Numbers 9:14, Daniel 8:13, and in other passages. The chariots are as it were cast in a deep sleep when their rattling has ceased. Tholuck: “The poet describes the scene, as if we were walking along with him through the camp, which such a short while ago was so full of life, but is now silent as death.”

The מאז in Psalms 76:7 has its usual sense: “since,” “since thy anger,” “as soon as thou wast angry.” In Psalms 76:8, “the earth was still,” is not “a poetical expression for the gloomy silence of nature under the divine judgment,” (Koester), but it denotes the cessation of the wild uproar of the earth, the termination of the war: compare “the people’s roar,” Psalms 46:6, “who makes wars to cease to the end of the earth,” Psalms 76:10, and here Psalms 76:3, Isaiah 14:7, “the whole earth is at rest and quiet,” Joshua 14:15, and other passages. The earth, as opposed to heaven, comes into notice more particularly as regards the noisy uproarious part of it, which is reduced to eternal silence in consequence of what is spoken from heaven. The meek, in Psalms 76:9, are in the first instance, and chiefly, to be found in Israel. Still the Psalmist has his eye also upon the heathen nations, who are classed along with Israel on account of their fellowship in sufferings and violent oppression. This assumption of the heathen into the number of the meek is unusual, and is to be explained from the relations of the times, which led to the prevalence of milder, views. In Psalms 76:10 the connection indicated by “for”, (the “for” does not refer to what immediately precedes, but to the whole contents of the strophe,—it leads back to the fact, celebrated in it, of the destruction of the enemies, as its basis), the parallelism, and the history prevent us from regarding the praise as the free will praise of God. The thought is one which is frequently expressed in Scripture, viz.: that wickedness, even rebellion against God, must promote his glory, inasmuch as its punishment calls forth the manifestation of his godhead: compare Exodus 9:16, and Ezekiel 38:16, “I bring thee into my land, that the heathen may know me when I shall be satisfied in thee:” Ezekiel 38:23. Romans 9:17. To gird one’s self, is to arm, to prepare for battle; the girdle, is the war-girdle to which the sword was fastened: compare Psalms 45:3, 2 Kings 3:21, 1 Kings 20:11, Judges 11. God girds himself with the remainder of the wrath directed against him, (we can only think of this, and not of the wrath of God, as the suffix is wanting), i.e. the wrath of the enemies must, even to its last remnant, (compare משרים in Psalms 75:8), serve him as a weapon by which to accomplish their destruction.

Verses 11-12

Ver. 11. Vow and pay to the Lord your God, all ye who are round about him: Gifts may be brought to him, the dreadful One. Ver. 12. For he cuts one the breath of princes, he is terrible to the kings of the earth.

In the first clause of Psalms 76:11, the address is to those who are members of the people of the covenant. This is evident from “the Lord your God”, from the fundamental passage, Deuteronomy 23:21, “when thou makest a vow to the Lord thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it,” and, finally, from “all ye who are round about him”;—nothing similar to this is ever used of the heathen, but of Israel it is frequently said, that the Lord dwells in the midst of them, and in Numbers 2:2, we read “they shall encamp round about the tabernacle of meeting.” This last reason shows, at the same time, that several interpreters have very inconsiderately connected “all ye who are round about him”, contrary to the accus. with the second clause. As vows are generally made at the time of trouble, and not after deliverance has been obtained, the “vow and pay,” must be held as equivalent to “pay what you have vowed”:—the fundamental passage Deuteronomy 23:22, also is in favour of this. The indefinite expression, “they bring”, of the second clause, (compare Ewald, § 551), receives its exact limitation from the fundamental passage, Psalms 68:18, on which also, as was shown at it, Isaiah 23:7, depends. The words are to be considered, as if read with marks of quotation. Probably, the reference to the heathen is intended to be placed beyond a doubt by the שי , which is always used of gifts from strangers. That the heathen responded to the exhortation of the Psalmist, is evident from 2 Chronicles 32:23, “and many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem.”

The ( Psalms 76:12) 12th verse, contains the basis of the exhortation: for, i.e. as the preceding event shows. The רוח here is the breath of life, (compare Psalms 104:29); and the idea of pride, has been adopted without any foundation. The בצר “to cut”, is generally used of vine dressers, (compare Revelation 14:18-19); and the representation of the enemies, under the figure of vine dressers, occurs in Jeremiah 49:9.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 76". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.