Psalms 74:1. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever — So as to leave us no visible hopes of restitution? Why doth thine anger smoke? — That is, why doth it rise to such a degree, that all about us take notice of it, and ask, What meaneth the heat of this great anger? Deuteronomy 29:24. Compare Psalms 74:20, where the anger of the Lord and his jealousy are said to smoke against sinners. Against the sheep of thy pasture — Against thy chosen people.
Psalms 74:2. Remember thy congregation — That is, the Israelites, who are thy church, and whom at the expense of so many miracles, thou didst make thy peculiar people; show by thine actions that thou hast not utterly forgotten and forsaken them; which thou hast purchased — Hebrew, קנית, kanita, rendered bought, Deuteronomy 32:6, but which also signifies acquired or procured, though without price, as Ruth 4:9-10. Of old — When thou didst bring them out of Egypt, and form them into a commonwealth; gavest them laws, and didst enter into covenant with them at Sinai. The rod of thine inheritance — That people which thou hast measured out, as it were, by rod, to be thy portion: or, the tribe (as the word שׁבשׂ, shebet, here rendered rod, commonly signifies) of thine inheritance, that is, the tribe of Judah, which thou hast, in a special manner, chosen for thine inheritance, and for the seat of thy church and kingdom, and the birth of the Messiah. And thus here is an elegant gradation from the general to particulars: First, the congregation, consisting of all the tribes; then the tribe of Judah; and lastly, mount Zion. Nor is it strange that he mentions this tribe particularly, because the calamity and captivity here lamented principally befell this tribe and Benjamin, which was united with it, and subject to it; and those who returned from the captivity were generally of this tribe. This mount Zion — Which is often put for the temple, or the hill of Moriah, on which it was built.
Psalms 74:3. Lift up thy feet — This is spoken after the manner of men, and means, Come speedily to our rescue, and do not delay, as men do when they sit or stand still; unto — Or rather, because of, the perpetual desolations — Namely, those ruins of the city and country, which had lasted so very long, and which, if God did not come to their help, he intimates, would be perpetual and irrecoverable. Even all that the enemy hath done wickedly, &c. — God had deserted his sanctuary, and the shechinah, or cloud of glory, emblematical of the divine presence, had gone up from between the cherubim: see Ezekiel 10:4. In consequence of which the heathen people had invaded that holy place, and laid it waste. And the psalmist here supplicates and urges God’s return to them, as that which alone could restore their temple, city, and country to their former happy state.
Psalms 74:4. Thine enemies roar — Make loud outcries; either out of rage and fury against the conquered and captivated Israelites, now in their power; or rather, in the way of triumph for their success and victory. In the midst of thy congregations — In the places where thy people used to assemble together for thy worship; whereby they designed to insult, not only over us, but over thee also, as if their idols had been too strong for thee. They set up their ensigns for signs — As trophies, in token of their victory over us and over thee. “No sound,” says Dr. Horne, “can be more shocking than the confused clamours of a heathen army sacking the temple; no sight so afflicting as that of the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. Turbulent passions are the enemies which raise an uproar of confusion in the heart; wealth, power, and pleasure are the idols which profane that sanctuary.”
Psalms 74:5-6. A man was famous, &c. — The meaning, according to this translation, is this: The temple was so noble a structure, that it was a great honour to any man to be employed in the meanest part of the work, though it were but in cutting down the trees of Lebanon. And this interpretation is favoured by the opposition in the next verse. But now, &c. — Some learned expositors, however, translate the first words of this verse, יודע, not, He was famous, but, as is more literal, It is, or will be, well known; and they interpret the two verses thus: “It is, or rather, will be, known or manifest; it will be published to all posterity, as matter of astonishment and admiration, that, as one lifteth up axes in the thick wood, or upon thick trees, to cut them down; so now they, the enemies above mentioned, break down the carved wood thereof, namely, of the sanctuary, with axes and hammers.” It has been ingeniously observed by some, that the two words thus rendered are not Hebrew, but Chaldee or Syriac words, to point out the time when this was done, even when the Chaldeans brought in their language, together with their arms, among the Israelites. Dr. Horne thinks that the Hebrew word above mentioned may be translated a knowing, or skilful person; and then the sense is, “As a skilful person, who understands his business, lifteth up the axe in the thick wood, so now men set themselves to work to demolish the ornaments and timbers of the sanctuary.” They neither regard the sacredness of the place, nor the exquisite curiosity and art of the work, (here signified by the term carved work,) but cut it down as indifferently and rashly as men cut down the thick and entangled boughs of the trees of the forest. “The words,” adds Dr. H., “suggest another reason why God should arise and have mercy upon Zion, lest his name should be blasphemed among the nations, when they saw and heard of the sacrilegious and horrible destruction wrought by the enemy; whom neither the majesty of the temple, nor the reverence of its divine inhabitant, could restrain from defacing the beauty of holiness. The ornaments of the internal and spiritual temple sometimes suffer as much from the fury of inordinate affections, as the carved work of the sanctuary ever did from the armies of Nebuchadnezzar or Antiochus.”
Psalms 74:7-8. They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, &c. — The Chaldeans first polluted, and then set fire to Solomon’s temple, and burned that stately and costly fabric down to the ground. And Antiochus set fire to the gates of the second temple, (1 Maccabees 4:28,) and afterward the Romans razed it from the foundation, and left not one stone upon another. They said, Let us destroy them together — Root and branch, one as well as another, or all at once. So they desired, and so, it seems, many of them intended, although afterward they changed their counsel, and carried some away captive, and left others to cultivate the ground. They have burned up all the synagogues — All the public places wherein the Jews used to meet together to worship God every sabbath day, as is mentioned Acts 13:27, and upon other occasions. That the Jews had such synagogues is manifest, both from these and other places of Scripture, and from the testimony of the Hebrew doctors, and other ancient and learned writers, who affirm it, and particularly of Jerusalem, in which they say there were above four hundred; and from the necessity of such places: for seeing it is undeniable that they did worship God publicly on every sabbath, and at other holy times, even when they could not go up to Jerusalem, both conscience and prudence must needs have directed them to appoint convenient places for that purpose.
Psalms 74:9. We see not our signs — Those tokens of God’s gracious presence with us, which we and our ancestors used to enjoy. There is no more any prophet — Either, 1st, Any public teacher. We have few or none left to instruct us in the law of God, and in divine things. Or, 2d, Any extraordinary prophet, who can foretel things to come, as the next words explain it. For as for Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they might be dead when this Psalm was composed; and Daniel was involved in civil affairs, and did not teach the people as a prophet; and the prophetical spirit, which sometimes came upon him, and made those great discoveries to him which we read in his book, might possibly at this time suspend his influences. Besides, it is not unusual, in Scripture, to say there is none of a sort of persons or things, when there is a very great scarcity of them. Bishop Patrick thinks what is here said respecting there being no prophet, to tell the Jews how long the captivity would last, is a proof that this Psalm was written toward the end of that captivity.
Psalms 74:10-12. How long shall the adversary reproach — Namely, thy name, (which is expressed in the next clause,) by saying that thou art either unkind to thy people, or unfaithful in thy covenant, or unable to deliver us out of our miseries. Why withdrawest thou thy hand? — Why dost thou suspend or forbear the exercise of that power which thou hast so often exerted in behalf of thy people? Pluck it out of thy bosom — In which thou now seemest to hide it, as idle persons used to do. This is spoken after the manner of men. It means, Why art thou an inactive spectator of our miseries? Why dost thou not put forth thy power and deliver us? For God is my king of old — In a singular manner. It belongs to thine office to protect and save us; working salvation in the midst of the earth — In the view of the world: saving thy people so eminently and gloriously, that all the nations around observed and admired it.
Psalms 74:13-14. Thou didst divide the sea, &c. — “The first part of this verse alludes to that marvellous act of omnipotence which divided the Red sea for Israel to pass over; the second part to the return of its waves upon the heads of the Egyptians, who, like so many sea-monsters, opening their mouths to devour the people of God, were overwhelmed, and perished in the mighty waters.” — Horne. Thou brakest the heads of the dragons — The crocodiles, meaning Pharaoh’s mighty men, who were like these beasts in strength and cruelty. Thou brakest the heads — That is, the head of Pharaoh himself. He says heads, because of the several princes who were and acted under his influence. Dr. Waterland renders the first word, which we translate dragons, crocodiles, and the latter, the crocodile, meaning Pharaoh. And gavest him, &c., to the people inhabiting the wilderness — Hebrew, לעם לציים, legnam letziim, populo desertorum, locorum, (Buxtorf,) to the people of desert places. The Seventy render it, λαοις
τοις αιθιοψι, to the Ethiopian people. Poole, Horne, and some other commentators, suppose that ravenous birds and beasts of the desert, and not men, are here intended; and that the sense of the clause is, that the bodies of Pharaoh and his captains were thrown on shore by the sea, and so became food for the wild beasts of the neighbouring deserts. We find the same word ציים, used for wild beasts haunting the deserts, Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14.
Psalms 74:15. Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood — That is, thou didst, by cleaving the rock, make a fountain in it, and a flood or stream to flow from it, for the refreshment of thy people in those dry deserts. Thou driedst up mighty rivers — Hebrew, נהרות איתןrivers of strength. The Seventy, however, render it, ποταμους ηθαμ, taking the latter word, eethan, for a proper name. Undoubtedly Jordan is meant: so that “two other remarkable exertions of the divine power, in favour of the Israelites, are here referred to. Water was brought out of the rock to satisfy their thirst in the time of drought; and the river Jordan was dried up to open the passage for them into Canaan.”
Psalms 74:16. The day is thine, the night also is thine — It is not strange that thou hast done these great and wonderful works, for thou hast made the heavenly bodies, and appointed the vicissitudes of day and night, depending upon them, which is a far greater work. Thou hast prepared — Hebrew, הכינות, hachinota, thou hast established, that is, not only created, but settled in a constant and orderly course, the light and the sun — That primitive light mentioned Genesis 1:3, and the sun, in which it was afterward condensed and gathered: or the luminaries in general, with their chief the sun. Thus, “from the miraculous interpositions of God in behalf of his people, the psalmist passes to those ordinary and standing evidences of his goodness toward us, the sweet vicissitudes of light and darkness, and the grateful succession of times and seasons; by which man is taught, in the most sorrowful night, to look for a joyful morning; and, during the severest winter, to expect a reviving spring. Thus is the revolving year our constant instructer and monitor; incessantly inculcating the duties of faith and hope, as well as those of adoration, gratitude, and praise.” — Horne.
Psalms 74:17. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth — Thou hast fixed the bounds, both of the habitable world in general, so that the seas, though they do encompass and assault them, yet are not, and never shall be, able to remove them, and of all the countries and people upon earth, whom thou hast confined within such bounds as thou hast seen fit. Thou hast made summer and winter — As the former clause of the verse shows God’s power and government over all places, so this displays his dominion over all times and seasons. And both together are fitly alleged as a motive to God, that he would, at this time, take care of his poor people, and restore them to their ancient land and borders, in which he had been pleased to set them.
Psalms 74:18. Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached thee — Though we deserve to be forgotten and destroyed, yet remember thyself, and do not suffer thine and our enemies to reproach and blaspheme the name of that great and glorious Being, the Creator and sovereign Lord of the whole world, whom they ought always to reverence and adore; and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name — Who, though they think themselves, and are thought by others, to be wise, yet in truth are fools, and herein show their stupendous folly, that they vilify and provoke that God whose powerful anger they can neither resist, nor escape, nor endure.
Psalms 74:19. O deliver not the soul — That is, the life; of thy turtle-dove — That is, thy church; unto the multitude of the wicked — Or, to the wild beast, as חית, chajath, often signifies: or, to the troop, namely, of her enemies. As if he had said, Thou hast delivered thy people into captivity; do not deliver them to death, nor suffer their enemies utterly to destroy them. The church is fitly compared to a turtle-dove, as resembling it in disposition, being simple, harmless, meek, faithful, solitary, timid, mournful, exposed to manifold injuries, and unable to defend itself.
Psalms 74:20. Have respect unto the covenant — Made with Abraham, whereby thou didst give the land of Canaan to him, and to his seed for ever; and thou didst further promise, that if thy people were carried away captive into a strange land, and did there humble themselves and pray, and turn unto thee, thou wouldst mercifully restore them, 1 Kings 8:46-50. Do thou, therefore, now restore us to that pleasant land which thou hast given us. For the dark places of the earth — That is, this dark and dismal land in which we live, wherein there is nothing but ignorance and confusion, and all the works of darkness; are full of the habitations of cruelty — Here are nothing but injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, under which we groan, in all the parts of this great empire, where we have our abode.
Psalms 74:21-23. O let not the oppressed return ashamed — From thee, and from the throne of thy grace, to which they have recourse in this their distressed condition. “It is for the honour of God that they who apply to him for help should not, by returning without it, suffer shame and confusion in the presence of their insulting adversaries.” Let the poor and needy praise thy name — Which they will have a fresh motive to do, if thou deliver us. O God, plead thine own cause — Maintain thy honour, worship, and service, against those that reproach thee, as it here follows, and was observed before, Psalms 74:10; Psalms 74:18. As we are reviled and persecuted for thy sake, so thou art injured in all our wrongs. Forget not the voice of thine enemies — Their insulting and reproachful expressions against thee, as well as against us. The tumult — The tumultuous noise and loud clamours; of those that rise up against thee increaseth — They grow worse and worse, encouraging and hardening themselves in their wicked courses by their continual success and prosperity, and by thy patience extended to them.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 74". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany