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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 74

Verse 1

O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?

Psalms 74:1-23. Complaint that God casts off His people; prayer that He will remember Zion, His inheritance purchased of old (Psalms 74:1-2); His people's misery: the for has destroyed God's sanctuary and synagogues, and no signs of His presence in the land remain (Psalms 74:3-9); how long shall the foe blaspheme thy name? pluck thy hand from thy bosom (Psalms 74:10-11); Gods past interpostions, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness, and His rule over day and night, are ground for hope (Psalms 74:12-17); remember the enemy's reproach and thy covenant: plead thine own cause (Psalms 74:18-23). The Chaldean destruction of the sanctuary is the one referred to (cf. Psalms 74:8 with Jeremiah 52:13; Jeremiah 52:17). Compare the analogous 'reproach' of the Assyrian against the Lord (Psalms 74:10 with 2 Kings 19:4). Compare Psalms 79:1-13 and Lamentations. The Psalmist was perhaps one of the few Israelites left by the Chaldeans in the land.

Title. - Asaph - a seer and chief musician of David's time, author of Psalms 73:1-28; Psalms 78:1-72 (2 Chronicles 29:30; Nehemiah 12:46). But the circumstances,of this psalm require a late date, therefore one of 'the sons of Asaph' (i:e., the family of singers bearing Asaph's name as their founder) is meant (cf. 2 Chronicles 35:15; 2 Chronicles 20:14; Ezra 2:41; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 11:22). All the sacred songs of the family were called 'songs of Asaph.' The often-recurring "forever" is a "Maschil," or instruction; to believers not to give up hope though the foes' desolations seem "forever."

O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? - (Psalms 43:2; Psalms 44:23; Psalms 13:1; Lamentations 5:20.) Our weak faith is apt to think, us severe visitations of God, that He has "cast us off forever." The object is to show us how, by prayer, we may overcome these thoughts.

Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pastures? Smoke is the accompaniment of fire; and God's anger is a consuming fire, (Psalms 18:8; Psalms 80:4, margin) The fundamental passage is Deuteronomy 29:20. Israel is 'the sheep of the Lord's pasture' (cf. Psalms 79:13), as having received from Him Canaan (Hosea 13:6; Jeremiah 25:36; Jeremiah 25:38). Israel now, during the captivity, was driven away from her rich pasture there.

Verse 2

Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.

Remember thy congregation, which thou last purchased of old. A strong plea for present deliverance is here urged-namely, Gods, grace of old, which had elected His people, and "purchased," or made them His own, by delivering them from Egypt (Isaiah 43:3, note).

The rod of thine inheritance - literally, the rod with which the inheritance is measured; then the inheritance itself (Ezekiel 40:3). The fundamental passage is Deuteronomy 32:9, "The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot (Hebrew, cord) of His inheritance." Not the tribal rod; because the 'tribe' would not stand for the whole people. Isaiah 63:17 is plural, "the tribes of thine inheritance" (Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 51:19).

Verses 3-9

Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.

-The enemy has destroyed God's sanctuary and synagogues, and there are no tokens of God's presence in the land.

Verse 3. Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations - `ruins' (Psalms 73:18, note). They seem eternal, because all human hope of restoration has been cut off. "Lift up thy feet," in order to come not slowly, but swiftly and majestically, in the sight of all, to restore what must otherwise be 'eternal ruins,' or "perpetual desolation." Compare the same phrase, margin, Genesis 29:1. In the case of God it has a more exalted meaning: 'Lift up thyself' in thy might (Psalms 7:6; Psalms 94:2).

(Even) all (that) the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary. 'The enemy hath destroy everything (hath done all evils) in the sanctuary' (Hengstenberg).

Verse 4. Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations - Hebrew, 'congregation,' singular. "THE TABERNACLE OF THE CONGREGATION;" so called, not because it was the place of assembly for the people, but because it was the sacred place of meeting between God and His people. The Hebrew is the same as here [ mow`eed (H4150)] (Exodus 33:7; cf. Exodus 29:42-43). The name was transferred, as here, to the temple-`places of assembly' (Lamentations 2:6, Hebrew). In, Psalms 74:8 here it is plural, in the sense "synagogues;" so called because the people met together there for public worship. Many manuscripts read the plural, as the English version here, in Psalms 74:4. which Hengstenberg supports, on the ground of the feminine suffix in Psalms 74:6. The sense is the same, the plural still referring to the temple, as Psalms 68:35, "thy holy places." As early as Samuel's time there were meetings for psalmody and worship on fixed days (1 Samuel 9:12; 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 19:20-24). Similar meetings in Elisha's time, conducted by the prophets, are implied in 2 Kings 4:23. Probably in the kingdom of the ten tribes they were used by Elijah and Elisha as means for counteracting, the calf-worship at Bethel Compare also Psalms 107:32, "the congregation of the people ... the assembly of the elders." These meetings were the forerunners of the synagogues, which prevailed in New Testament times. However, Hengstenberg takes "the synagogues of God" (Psalms 74:8) to refer to the temple alone, with all its apartments. The Hebrew is mow`eed (H4150) - he thinks too lofty a word to be used of any other place than the temple-the only place in the land where God put His name (Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11). The scene is graphically set before the eyes: 'The enemies roar (cf. Lamentations 2:7) ... set up their ensigns ... cast fire in the sanctuary,' etc.

They set up their ensigns for signs - i:e, the signs of their being conquerors and masters of the temple-their military standards. 'Where formerly everything testified of the dominion of God, now everything testifies of the dominion of the pagan.' In sad contrast they say in Psalms 74:9, "We see not our signs."

Verse 5. (A man) was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees. Formerly 'a man was known (so the Hebrew) for lifting up axes' to build the temple; 'but now they break down,' etc. (Psalms 74:6). The ancient versions rather favour the following translation: (The enemy) is known (makes himself

Verse 10

O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?

O God, how long ... for ever - (Psalms 13:2) shall the enemy blaspheme thy name? The prophet, in his zeal and piety, is more concerned for the dishonour done to God's name than for the suffering of himself and his people.

Verse 11

Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.

Why withdrawest thou ... thy right hand? - the symbol of God's might. Why dost thou remain an inactive spectator of our wrongs? (Proverbs 19:24; Lamentations 2:3 is parallel).

Pluck it out of thy bosom - rather, '(drawing it) out of the interior of thy bosom, make a complete end (of them)' [ kaleeh (H3615)], as in Psalms 59:13).'

Verse 12

For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.

For God is my king of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth - rather 'of the land'-Palestine. As King and therefore Guardian of Israel from of old time, He cannot utterly forsake His own people. The past is a guarantee for the future. The present participle implies that God's usual character is that He is "working salvation." The phrase, "in the midst of the land," implies that His working is so entirely in the center or heart of the land as thence to extend to the whole circumference or extremities (Exodus 8:22; Isaiah 10:23). It also implies, 'in the midst of all: openly in the sight of all' (Muis).

Verse 13

Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou ... thou. The seven-fold repetition of the emphatic "thou" stand in majestic contrast to the powerless 'I.' Human feebleness sinks into the arms of Divine Omnipotence, and feels safe.

Thou didst divide the sea ... thou breakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. "The sea" is the Red Sea (Psalms 66:6). The "dragons" (Hebrew, taniyniym (H8577)), or crocodiles, poetically represent the ruling powers of Egypt, Pharaoh and his princes (Ezekiel 29:3-5), even as the crocodile is monarch in the waters of the Nile. Compare also, in the same connection, Isaiah 51:9-10; also Job 26:12-13.

Verse 14

Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. The plural "heads" is put for the singular, his monstrous head being equal in size to many heads. On "leviathan" cf. note, Job 41:1-34. The term is a general one for the Saurian and Cetacean tribes. The King of Egypt, as having not only the Nile river, but also an empire extending to both the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, is described by the double term (tannin, Psalms 74:13, and leviathan). When Pharaoh and His host were overthrown in the Red Sea, their bodies being cast on shore, along with all their trappings, became spoil to the Israelites-the people then "dwelling in the wilderness" (cf. the phrase, Numbers 14:9, "the people of the land ... are bread for us"). Hengstenberg refers the phrase to the Icthyophagi or people inhabiting the wilderness at the Red Sea, whom the God of nature fed with the fish, and also the larger monsters of the deep, whales, etc., cast on the shore, as their ordinary food (Diodorus, B. 3:, p. 110, 122; Agatharcides, ch. 20), Muis refers to the wild birds and beasts called "the people inhabiting the wilderness;" as (Proverbs 30:25-26) to them God "gave" the carcasses of the Egyptians as "meat." Psalms 72:9 favours this. But the scope of the context shows that it is the benefits conferred on Israel which are here recounted.

Verse 15

Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.

Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood - Thou didst cause the water of the fountain to break forth by cleaving-referring to Exodus 17:5-6; Numbers 20:11; Job 28:10.

Thou driedst up mighty rivers - as the Jordan (Joshua 3:13). Not easily dried up: never so by the sun. The Chaldaic adds to the Jordan Arnon and Jabbok. Numbers 21:14 implies that some miracle was performed at Arnon similar to that at the Jordan (cf. Deuteronomy 2:36-37). The "book of the wars of the Lord" may have had some such tradition from which the Chaldeans derived it.

Verse 16

The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.

The day is thine. Not only the sea and the waters, but the day and the light are at thy sovereign control. Not only in history, but also in creation and in providence, God reigns.

Thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Science confirms revelation that light and the light-bearing body are distinct (Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:14-16). Maa'owr (H3974) is literally a luminary or light-bearing body (Genesis 1:14). Shemesh (H8121) is the solar stream of light from it (cf. Joshua 10:12, which is explained by this consideration).

Verse 17

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth - its boundaries toward the sea (Job 38:8, etc.; Psalms 24:2).

Verses 18-23

Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.

-The prayer (Psalms 74:1-2) resumed and expanded.

Verse 18. Remember this - answering to Psalms 74:2; Psalms 74:10.

The foolish people - (Psalms 39:8) These self-wise and proud enemies are in God's eyes but fools; sin is the acme of foolishness.

Verse 19. O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the multitude (of the wicked) - rather 'unto the wild beast' [ lªchayat (H2416), for which the Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Ethiopic read lachayot, 'unto the wild beasts;' which would obviate the need of supplying words (of the field, or similar words) as the present construct form requires]. The Chaldaic paraphrases, 'to peoples resembling a wild beast' (cf. Psalms 68:10, note), whence Kimchi takes it in the sense "congregation." But 'wild beast,' forms the natural contrast to "thy turtle-dove." The strongest argument for the English version is that it takes the same Hebrew word both clauses in a similar sense - "the multitude (of the wicked)" - "the congregation." But the same word may be used designedly to mark the contrast between the wild-beast-like foe and the turtle-dove-like 'congregation of God's poor.'

Forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever - even though chastisement for a time be needed by us. Hengstenberg translates, 'the life of thy poor.' Maurer most approaches to the English version, so as to retain the same sense for the same word in the two clauses, and also to avoid the need of supplying to the construct Hebrew form the words "of the wicked." Deliver not thy turtle-dove to the greedy host (cf. Psalms 27:12; Psalms 41:2), lªchayat (H2416) nepesh (H5315) - literally, to the host of greed or desire; i:e., to the host that desires it; 'the host of thy poor forget not forever.'

Verse 20. Have respect unto the covenant - the strongest plea in prayer to remind God of His covenant and promises to His people (Psalms 106:45).

For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty - i:e., the earth on which there are 'darknesses' (such as there are in Hades or Sheol, Psalms 88:6) is full of the habitations of cruelty (cf. Psalms 143:3, end, Lamentations 3:3; Lamentations 3:6).

Verse 21. O let not the oppressed return ashamed - i:e., come back from thee disappointed in their hope, their prayer not being heard.

Let the poor ... praise thy name - give them cause for praise by saving them.

Verse 22. O God, plead thine own cause. Our cause is thy cause. For the enemy reproacheth not merely us, but thee, and that daily.

Verse 23. The voice of thine enemies, their clamour, etc. (cf. Psalms 74:4).

The tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth - Hebrew, 'ascendeth' (Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:21; Genesis 19:13; Jonah 1:2).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 74". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.