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There is somewhat of history in this Psalm, as referring to the desolations of the church; probably concerning the devastation made by the Chaldean. The Sacred Writer laments the sad event, and commits the cause unto the Lord.
Maschil of Asaph.
This Psalm hath a mark put upon it, namely, Maschil, by which is meant, a Psalm of instruction. And the great object, it should seem, intended by it, is, that instead of poring over our own difficulties, or looking into ourselves to seek redress from them at anytime when they bear hard upon us, we should be looking unto God. Sweet is that call of Jesus; Come unto me! - Look unto me! - Behold me, behold me! Matthew 11:28 ; Isaiah 65:1; Isaiah 65:1 .
It is blessed under afflictions to be enabled to remind God of his covenant love and engagements. Pleading with God on this ground is blessed pleading. Reader! can you explain that paradox; the humblest believer is the boldest pleader. Yes! for he that hath seen most of Christ, and his covenant blood and righteousness, hath seen most of his own unworthiness void of Christ. And therefore he that is humblest in himself, is strongest in Christ.
The pleading soul here takes up many strong and unanswerable arguments to plead with God. He first sets out with reminding Jehovah, that the anger God hath manifested is against his people. Now, saith the prophet, should God's anger continue forever against his own redeemed? Whom should a father regard, if he regards not his own children? And whom should a God in covenant regard, if he regards not his redeemed? He next reminds God of his purchase. Mount Zion is the gift of the Father to his Son, the purchase of his Son's blood, and the palace of his kingdom. Think, Lord, then (saith the prophet) upon thine inheritance which thou hast purchased, which thou hast redeemed, and whereon thou hast dwelt. He next tells God what the enemy hath done, and how he hath triumphed. And will the Lord be silent while his people are oppressed, and the enemy rejoiceth? He next laments the loss of ordinances, and the want of prophets to explain to the people what the mind and will of God is concerning these heavy afflictions. And lastly, the prophet throws himself and people upon God's faithfulness and covenant mercy for an assured deliverance: O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? Reader! if we read this Old Testament gospel by a New Testament interpretation, it will appear most abundantly sweet and precious. Doth the enemy tempt, harass, reproach? Is our God apparently silent at a mercy-seat? Are ordinances unprofitable, and do we go heavily all the day? Oh! how blessed is it then to look to Christ, and the everlasting efficacy of his blood and righteousness, and to lean upon these, and plead them before the throne, reminding our God and Father of his oath and promises. Psalms 89:30-19.89.35 .
The Holy Ghost evidently intended by these sweet and precious verses, to teach the church, in all ages, how to adopt such arguments, in all our dealings with God, when under trial. The best thing I can say to my God in Christ, is, what my God hath first said to me. In past experience, the truest and best confidence is found for future exercises. Hence the church reminds God what great things had been done by him in times past for his people: he alludes to the triumph of Israel over Pharaoh at the Red Sea; and how, in a time of drought in the wilderness, afterward, the Lord caused the rock to give out water to refresh the thirst of the people. Now, saith the prophet, shall not God give the like deliverance to his people at all times, and upon all occasions? Are not all past deliverances so many tokens and pledges of future ones, when needed? But what is meant by the Lord's breaking this leviathan, this monster, Pharaoh's head, and giving him for meat to the people in the wilderness? No doubt, the sense is, that the glorious interposition of the Lord, in a moment of such danger, became as food to the faith of the people upon all after-trials. Whenever the church was brought low, they were to recollect the events of the Red Sea, and feed by faith upon God, and his assured promises in Christ. Reader, do not overlook your personal concern in those sweet scriptures. Did God break the monster's head then, and will he not bruise Satan under your feet shortly now? Did the rock follow Israel, and was that rock Christ? And will not Jesus follow thee, go before thee, and bring thee through every difficulty? Oh! how blessed is it to read the Old Testament saints experiences in a gospel dress, and see our own interest in the whole of them.
Here is a beautiful acknowledgment of God, in his works of nature and providence, who had before been adored in his works of grace: and perhaps in allusion to the Lord's appearing for his people in times of danger, when in the wars of Joshua and in that of Deborah and Barak, the Lord arrested the course of nature, and caused the sun and the stars to fight for Israel. Joshua 10:12-6.10.13 ; Judges 5:20 . It is probable also, that the Lord is here reminded of his covenant engagements to his people, that he who is faithful in sending the regular return of day and night, summer and winter, will be faithful to all his covenant promises. Genesis 8:22 . The Lord himself makes an appeal to this, by way of confirmation to his people's faith, Jeremiah 31:36; Jeremiah 31:36 .
The prophet, here appealing for the church's safety, makes use of an additional argument, namely, God's own honour and glory. For who is blasphemed, but the Lord? Whose name is abused, but the Lord's? Reader, do not fail to remark the strength of this plea. Moses and Joshua both had recourse to this, as their last and chief resource. See two or three beautiful examples; Exodus 32:11-2.32.13 ; Numbers 14:11-4.14.21 ; Joshua 7:6-6.7.9 . And what is the whole glorious design of redemption by the Lord Jesus, but for the glory of Jehovah? Ezekiel 36:32 ; Revelation 5:9 .
Here is the great charter of a poor sinner's plea. It is as if the soul said, Look, O Lord, unto Jesus! Behold, O God, our shield! See the Lamb in the midst of the throne! Oh! blessed argument! God himself manifesting grace to the soul, in putting a plea into a poor sinner's heart, of God's own providing. Psalms 84:9 ; Revelation 5:6 ; Genesis 22:8 .
God had said, For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; Psalms 12:5 . Well then, saith the church, in answer to this promise, Let not the oppressed return ashamed; let the poor and needy praise thee.
The prayer closeth with a repetition of the two very powerful arguments; God's own cause, and the malice of the enemies. As if the church should say, It matters not what becomes of us; but, Lord, thine own glory is concerned in our salvation: arise then, O Lord our God, and, for thine own cause bless and deliver thy people.
READER, behold in this Psalm, the best and strongest arguments for the church to plead in sad times, namely, God's great name, and the security of his own honour in the salvation by Jesus. Let the enemies of the church seem to triumph as they may, with a high hand; and though they but too often derive success to their cause from the unworthiness and backsliding of the Lord's people; yet their triumph is short, and the church's down-falling not long to be continued; God will be gracious for his name's sake, and will make his mighty power to be known. The Lord will have respect unto his covenant: God hath taken his people into covenant relations with himself; he hath received a ransom for their deliverance, from their glorious Surety; he hath engaged for their salvation; and he will fulfil it. Oh! precious consideration, amidst all the Pharaohs of the present hour, and all the remains of indwelling corruption, under which the people of God groan.
Precious Lord Jesus! it was thou that didst break the head of Leviathan in pieces! It was thou that didst divide the sea before thy people, to make thyself a glorious name! It was thou that didst supply thy people through all the wilderness dispensation, in cleaving the hard rock, and in drying up mighty waters! Oh! do thou now, blessed Jesus, perform all that is needful for thy redeemed: for thou art the same Jesus yesterday, and today, and forever. Break down, and break through, all the power of the enemy, and make thy people more than conquerors, through thy grace helping them. Be thou, Lord, the all in all to them in every situation and circumstance; for then thy poor and thy needy will never go away ashamed, but will sing aloud praises to thy name.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Psalms 74". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent