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"THE misery of the Jews is here at its deepest". The psalmist describes Jerusalem as fallen into "perpetual ruins" (Psalms 74:3). The temple is violated (Psalms 74:3); its carved work is ruthlessly cut down (Psalms 74:6); the aid of fire has been called in to destroy it, and its walls are cast down to the ground (Psalms 74:7). Nor has Jerusalem alone suffered. The object has been to "make havoc" of Israel "altogether;" and the enemy have spread themselves, and "burnt up all the houses of God in the land" (Psalms 74:8). The prophets have succumbed; their voices are heard no more (Psalms 74:9). A blasphemous enemy lords it over the entire country (Psalms 74:10, Psalms 74:23), and sets up its banners as signs of its dominion (Psalms 74:4). Three periods have been assigned for the composition of the psalm:
(1) the time of the invasion of Shishak;
(2) that of the Babylonian conquest; and
(3) the early Maceabean period, or the reign of Judas Maccabaens.
In favour of the first is the ascription of the psalm in the "title" to Asaph. But all other considerations are against it. There is no evidence that Shishak ever entered Jerusalem. He certainly did not break down the carved work of the temple, or set the temple on fire, much less "cast it down to the ground." His invasion was a mere raid, and Rehoboam seems to have bought his retreat by the sacrifice of the temple treasury (2 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chronicles 12:2-12). The circumstances described in the psalm are also unsuitable to the reign of Judas Maccabaeus, in whose time the temple suffered desecration at the hands of the Syrians, but was not seriously damaged, much less demolished. Thus the only date suitable for the composition of the psalm is that immediately following the capture of the city under Nebuchadnezzar. We must explain the "title" by the consideration that Asaph, like Jeduthun and Heman, became a tribe name, attaching to all the descendants of the original Asaph, and was equivalent to "sou of Asaph" (see Ezra 2:41; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 11:22).
The psalm consists of three portions:
1. A complaint to God, including a description of all the horrors of the situation (Psalms 74:1-11).
2. An enumeration of God's mercies in the olden time, as a foundation for hope that he will yet rescue Israel (Psalms 74:12-17).
3. An earnest prayer for relief and restoration, and the re-establishment of the covenant (Psalms 74:18-23).
O God, why hast thou cast us off forever? It could only have been in the extremity of distress that a devout Israelite believed, even for a time, that Israel was "cast off forever" (comp. Psalms 79:5, which must have been written nearly at the same period as this). Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? God's anger "smokes" when it is hot and furious (see Psalms 18:8; Psalms 104:32; Psalms 44:5). It is now smoking "against the sheep of his pasture"—his own flock (Psalms 78:53), his peculiar people (comp. Jeremiah 23:4; Jeremiah 50:6, Jeremiah 50:17; and Psalms 79:13).
Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; or, which thou didst purchase of old. The reference is to the redemption out of Egypt (see Exodus 15:16). God is besought, though he has forgotten, once more to remember his people, and urged to do so by the memory of his former mercies (comp. Psalms 74:12-17). The rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; rather, which thou didst redeem to be the tribe of thine inheritance; i.e. the people of thine inheritance. "The conventional expression, 'the tribes of Israel,' was not always used after the fall of the northern kingdom" (Cheyne); comp. Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 51:19. This Mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt (comp. Psa 73:1-28 :68). The expression, "this Mount Zion," implies that the psalm is composed either by one of the exiles before he is removed from the Holy Land, or by one of those who were left behind by the conquerors (2 Kings 25:12, 2 Kings 25:22; Jeremiah 42:10; Jeremiah 52:16).
Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; or, the perpetual ruins. God is asked to visit and protect, or else to visit and inspect, the desolate ruins with which the Babylonians have covered Mount Zion. Even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary. The Babylonians had plundered the temple of all its treasures, breaking the precious Phoenician bronze work into pieces, and carrying off everything of value that was portable (2 Kings 25:13-17). They had also "burnt the house of the Lord "(Psalms 74:9), and "broken down the walls of Jerusalem" (Psalms 74:10) and the walls of the temple to a large extent (see below, Psalms 74:7). It is quite certain that neither Shishak nor the Syrians under Antiochus Epiphanes created any such devastation.
Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; or, have roared; i.e. have created disturbances, or raised tumults. The temple did not pass into the enemy's hands without fighting and bloodshed; the battlecry of the assailants and their shouts of triumph when victorious resounded through it (comp. Lamentations 2:7) They set up their ensigns for signs. Probably for tokens of victory and dominion. Scarcely as objects of worship, since their intention was to destroy the temple and leave Jerusalem desolate.
A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees; rather, they seemed as men that plied aloft hatchets in a thicket of trees (so Kay, Canon Cook, Professor Cheyne, and the Revised Version); i.e. they plied their hatchets with as little reverence as if they had been hewing timber in a copse of wood.
But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers. The "carved work" (pittuchim) of the temple consisted of the cherubim and palm trees and open flowers which formed the decoration of the temple walls (see 1 Kings 6:29, where the same word, pittuchim, is used). This superficial carved work may have been broken down for the sake of the gold with which it was overlaid (1 Kings 6:22, 1 Kings 6:32, 1 Kings 6:35).
They have cast tire into thy sanctuary; or, they have set thy sanctuary fire (Revised Version). The temple of Solomon was burnt by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chronicles 36:19). That of Zerubbabel was never burnt, but was entirely rebuilt, and on a much larger scale, by Herod the Great. That of Herod the Great was burnt in the siege by Titus. They have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy Name to the ground (comp. Lamentations 2:6; Lamentations 4:1). The very foundations of the second temple had to be laid by Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:6, Ezra 3:12).
They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them altogether. It was, no doubt, the intention of Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Israel as a nation. Hence the complete destruction of the city and temple (2 Kings 25:9, 2 Kings 25:10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Lamentations 2:1-9, etc.); hence the deportation of all the strength of the nation (2 Kings 24:14-16; 2 Kings 25:11), and their settlement in the far off region of Babylonia; hence the desolation, not only of Jerusalem, but of "all the habitations of Jacob" (Lamentations 2:2), all the "strongholds of the daughter of Judah" (Lamentations 2:2, Lamentations 2:5). They have burnt up all the synagogues of God in the land. The synagogue system was first introduced by Ezra, according to Jewish tradition; and it has been argued that the mention of "synagogues" here—literally, "sacred meeting places"—proves the psalm to be Maccabean. But meeting places for worship, other than the temple, always existed in Palestine, both before and after its erection. Mesha speaks of having plundered a "house of Jehovah" in his war with Ahab; and it is plain from 2 Kings 4:23 that religious meetings were held by the prophets, probably in houses devoted to the purpose, during the period of the divided monarchy. Hezekiah's destruction of the high places (2 Kings 18:4) is not likely to have interfered with the use of these buildings, to which no savour of idolatry can have attached in the mind of the most violent iconoclast. I should therefore believe, with Leopold Low, that buildings existed before the Exile, in which religious instruction was given by authorized teachers.
We see not our signs. Some suppose "standards" to be meant, as in Psalms 74:4, where the same word is used; but it is, perhaps, better to understand, with Dr. Kay, "Divine ordinances, which were standing signs of God's presence—as the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the sabbaths." There is no more any prophet. It has been said that this shows the psalm not to have been written on the occasion of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, since Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were, all of them, then living. But the writer only means to say that there are no prophets in Palestine, where he is residing. Jeremiah in Egypt, Ezekiel on the banks of Chebar, Daniel in Babylon, are nothing to him, even if he knows of their existence, and in no way fill up the gap whereof he complains. Neither is there among us any who knoweth how long. Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11, Jeremiah 25:12) did net remove the doubt, since it was uncertain from what event the seventy years were to be counted. Jeremiah's prophecies, moreover, were not yet, in all probability, collected into a volume, and so may not have been known to the psalmist.
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy Name forever? There is no contradiction between these two clauses. The psalmist wishes to ask two things:
1. Is the present distress to continue forever?
2. And if not, how long is it to endure?
It is true that he inverts the natural order of the questions; but this is so common a mode of speech, that grammarians have given it a name, and call it ὔστερον πρότερον.
Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? Why dost thou keep back the right hand of thy power, hiding it in thy besom? Why not show forth thy power, and consume them, as it were, in a moment? (See the next clause.) Pluck it out of thy bosom; rather, out with it frown thy bosom, and consume them. The psalmist sees no reason why the Babylonians should not be consumed, and Israel delivered, at once. He has an insufficient sense of the greatness of Israel's sin.
Comfort springs from the thought of God's previous deliverances of his people, and of his other great mercies. The deliverance from Egypt has the foremost place (Psalms 74:13,Psalms 74:14), as the most striking. Then the deliverance from the wilderness, and the passage of Jordan (Psalms 74:15). From these the poet passes to God's mercies in nature—day and night, light and sun, set bounds of earth and sea, alternations of the seasons—all formed and arranged by the Almighty (Psalms 74:16, Psalms 74:17).
For God is my King of old (comp. Psalms 44:4). As "King," he has power to perform all that he wills, to set up and to cast down, to give into the enemy's hand and to deliver. Working salvation in the midst of the earth. Not in any imaginary earth centre, but, as Professor Cheyne says, "quite broadly, in various parts of the earth" (comp. Exodus 8:22).
Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength. A clear reference to Exodus 14:21 (comp. Psalms 77:16; Psalms 78:13; Psalms 106:9). Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. The dragon (tannim) is frequently used as a symbol of Egyptian power (see Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2). The allusion here is to the destruction of Pharaoh's host in the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:27-30; Exodus 15:4).
Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces. Here the metaphor is only slightly varied, leviathan, "the crocodile," being substituted for tannim, "the dragon," or "sea monster," as the representative of the might of Egypt. And gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. The corpses of the Egyptians thrown up upon the Red Sea shores (Exodus 14:30) are certainly the "meat" intended. Whether the "people of dwellers in the wilderness" are cannibal tribes, or jackals and hyenas, is perhaps doubtful.
Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood; rather, and the torrent (comp. Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). Thou driedst up mighty rivers; i.e. the Jordan (Joshua 3:13, et seqq.).
The day is thine, the night also is thine; thou hast prepared the light and the sun (see Genesis 1:5, Genesis 1:15, Genesis 1:16); rather, thou hast prepared him light and sun. "Luminary" (מָאוֹר) is probably a class name for the heavenly lights generally. The sun is then particularized, as so much the most important of the luminaries. But the result is "an imperfect parallelism" (Cheyne).
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth. The "borders of the earth" are the boundaries of land and sea, which are ascribed to God in Genesis 1:9 (comp. Job 26:10; Job 38:8; Psalms 33:7; Proverbs 8:29; Jeremiah 5:22). Thou hast made summer and winter; literally, summer and winter thou didst form them; i.e. they are the result of thy arrangement of creation.
In conclusion, the psalmist prays earnestly that God will deliver his people from their wicked oppressors (Psalms 74:18, Psalms 74:19), that he will remember his covenant (Psalms 74:20), cause the oppressed ones to praise him (Psalms 74:21), and assert himself against those who insult and oppose him (Psalms 74:22, Psalms 74:23).
Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy Name. Every nation of idolaters is a "foolish people" to the sacred writers, whatever cleverness or intellectual capacity it may possess. Nabal, the word translated "foolish," designates a folly that is closely akin to wickedness.
O deliver net the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the multitude of the wicked; rather, O deliver not thy turtle dove unto the greedy multitude. Israel is beautifully compared to a pet dove, the gentlest and tenderest of birds. The Babylonians are the "greedy multitude" ready to kill and devour it. Forget not the congregation (or, the multitude) of thy poor forever. The "multitude of God's poor" is being carried off into a cruel captivity, or else left as a miserable remnant in an exhausted and desolated land—in either ease needing much God's protection and "remembrance."
Have respect unto the covenant. The "covenant" intended is probably that made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whereby Canaan was assured to their descendants, as "the lot of their inheritance." Israel is being deprived of its inheritance, and dragged off into "dark places." Will not "respect for his covenant" induce God to interpose, and even now at the last gasp deliver his afflicted ones? For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. Israel is being dragged into "dark places of the earth"—benighted lands, where there is no glimmer of the light of God's truth—and lands, moreover, which are "full of habitations of cruelty," abodes, i.e; where captives taken in war are treated with harshness and violence.
O let not the oppressed return ashamed; i.e. let not this oppressed nation turn their back on thee in shame and confusion at thy forsaking them. Rather, let the poor and needy praise thy Name; i.e. show them some mercy, some deliverance, which may turn their shame into joy, and call forth from them songs of praise.
Arise, O God, plead thine own cause; i.e. assert thyself, show forth thy power, avenge thyself on thine enemies. Remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily (comp. Psalms 74:18, and see the comment ad loc.). In the ancient world the conquest of a people was always regarded as a triumph over the people's god or gods. Naturally, insults to the god found a place in the victor's songs of triumph (see 2 Kings 19:10-13; Isaiah 10:8-11).
Forget not the voice of thine enemies. God does not forget insults of this kind, but punishes them (see 2 Kings 19:28, "Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into my ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou earnest"). He punished Babylon after a time with extreme severity (see Jeremiah 50:1-46 and Jeremiah 51:1-64). The tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually; rather, ascendeth continually—goes up before God's throne, crying for vengeance (comp. Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20, Genesis 18:21; Exodus 3:9, etc.).
God's cause that of his people.
"Arise …. thine own cause." The great problems of life, and the inner depths of human experience, are the same in all ages. The surface of society changes marvellously; but heart still answers to heart. Asaph's questions and troubles and prayers find their echo in ten thousand Christian hearts today. It would be extremely interesting if we could certainly tell to what crisis of Israel's history this noble psalm refers. Some say the Chaldean invasion; others, the Maecabean tyranny. Very strong reasons are given in the 'Speaker's Commentary' for believing that it refers to the Egyptian invasion in the reign of Rehobeam (2 Chronicles 12:1-16). As that was the first time when the kingdom of David fell under the power of a heathen conqueror, so the trial to the faith of God's people was correspondingly severe. It seemed as though God had forgotten his covenant, and Church and state (to use our modern phrase) were to Perish in common ruin. The spiritual lesson is not affected by any uncertainty as to the historic reference. The psalmist takes refuge in God. His plea is that it is God's own cause which is at stake. In effect, it is the same which Moses urged (Exodus 32:11, ff.; Numbers 14:13, ff.); and Joshua, "What wilt thou do unto thy great Name?" (Joshua 7:9). "Arise," etc.
I. THE CAUSE OF GOD'S CHURCH IS GOD'S OWN CAUSE. The word so rendered means "strife," "controversy" (comp. Hosea 4:1; Hosea 12:2; Micah 6:2; Jeremiah 25:31). The Lord's cause, then, is that ancient controversy which began when sin entered the world; and will never cease till sin is conquered, and death, the last enemy, destroyed, and all things placed Under the feet of Christ. The strife between truth and lies, holiness and sin, right and wrong, between "the things that make for peace" and the things about which men cry, "Peace! peace!" but God says, "There is no Peace to the wicked." One of the moral dangers of our time is a feeble sense of the reality, greatness, infinite issues, of the conflict. Society is awake, sensitive, as never before, to human suffering and misery; but no corresponding sense of man's sin and guilt. Criminals are often more pitied for their punishment than condemned for their wickedness. We can understand (or think we can) our Saviour's tears over the approaching calamities of Jerusalem; but, perhaps, fail to see that the deepest source of his grief was the unbelief and the sin of which those impending calamities would be the outcome (Luke 19:42; Matthew 23:37). We see how dreadful it is for savages to run about naked and eat one another, to be enslaved or massacred. But do we see how far more terrible it is for them to be without God in the world, without Christ, without hope? We do not want to be less humane, soft-hearted, sympathetic; but we do want to measure by a juster standard, to see that God's cause is the supreme interest of human history, that there is nothing we can pray for, work for, live for, to be compared with this—that his Name be hallowed, his kingdom triumph, his will be done. We can see that this is God's own cause; but how is it the cause of his people, of Israel in ancient days, of the Church of Christ in our own? Just because this is the very end for the sake of which the Church exists, for the sake of which the nation of Israel was called into being. Christians are in danger of just the mistake into which the Jews fell. They thought they were the chosen, favoured people of Jehovah, to the exclusion of all other nations, and that they might despise and hate the Gentiles. Whereas the truth was, it was for the sake of all mankind that they were chosen—to be God's witnesses, that all nations might be blessed in their promised King and Saviour. So Christians are not saved simply for their own sake, but to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world; firstfruits" (James 1:18).
II. Therefore, secondly, THE CAUSE OF GOD IS THE CAUSE OF MANKIND. Attempts have been made to set in opposition "the service of God" and "the service of man." In actual fact, none have rendered such service to men as those devoted to the service of God. No power but the gospel of Jesus Christ can take a horde of naked cannibals and, in a single generation, change them into peaceful, intelligent, useful members of the great community of nations—many of them willing martyrs for truth and charity. The moral ideas of universal justice, personal liberty, human brotherhood, the value of each human being, the duty of the rich to the poor, which have abolished slavery and serfdom, and are working so mightily towards the regeneration of society, find room only in Christianized nations, and have their fountain in the gospel. But the gospel aims at something very different from regenerating society with ideas, however true and Divine. It aims to bring each human being, as a lost wanderer, home to God. Alone among systems, the gospel goes to the heart and root of all man's wretchedness and degradation—sin. The estrangement of the individual heart and life from God, and disobedience to his law of love. If you want an unanswerable proof that the gospel is God's word, not man's, you may find one (among innumerable others) in the view given of sin and God's dealing with it. Take just four passages:
(1) John 1:29;
(2) 1 John 4:10 ("our sins;" q.d. "of the whole world," 1 John 2:2);
(3) John 6:51, "the bread," etc.);
(4) John 16:8.
III. THE SUCCESS OF GOD'S CAUSE DEPENDS ON GOD HIMSELF PLEADING IT. Asa's plea (2 Chronicles 14:11). We may be in danger of forgetting this. If we see full subscription lists, large congregations, plenty of new societies, we think God's work is surely prospering. If the reverse, we are downcast, perhaps almost despairing. One way in which God wonderfully holds the work in his own hand is in the raising up of workers. What would the religious history of mankind have been without Abraham, Moses, St. Paul? Such men as John Wesley, J. F. Oberlin, Felix Neff, Robert Moffat, are not results of any law of evolution and human progress. Each is unique—a gift from God. God only is the Judge, in what way best to plead his own cause. Sometimes by letting men take their own blind, proud way, and eat the fruit of their doings. Spain has never recovered the withering blight brought on her by the Inquisition, which trampled out her noblest life. Nor France the massacre of the Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
IV. Therefore we are WARRANTED, ENCOURAGED, CONSTRAINED, TO OFFER THIS PRAYER. "Arise," etc. Beware of playing as though we were more zealous for God's cause than God himself, more earnest for his glory, more compassionate towards perishing men. Yet we are not to treat prayer as a mere form. Sometimes it seems inscrutable, almost incredible, that our poor, weak prayers can be of any account in the world's history—the fulfilment of God's promises. But God knows best. He has made prayer one of the great laws of his spiritual universe. Ours not to question, but obey. What infinite comfort to turn from our own failures, the world's unbelief and misery, and the mysteries of providence to God's plain word. of promise and command (Matthew 6:9)!
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
This is what is portrayed to us in these lamentations over the desecrations and destructions wreaked upon the temple at Jerusalem, probably at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion (see 2 Chronicles 36:17, etc.). As the destroyer acted then, so he acts now when the like work is on hand of profaning God's sanctuary. What the ancient temple was, the Church of God is—the sanctuary of God. And it has once and again come under the destroyer's power.
I. THE TEMPLE IS LAID WASTE. (Psalms 74:3.)
1. That at Jerusalem was. The sacred service had come to an end; the throng of worshippers were driven away: the ministers of the temple no longer served at the altar; there was desolation everywhere. "The holy and beautiful house wherein the fathers of Israel had worshipped has been plundered and desecrated by a heathen soldiery. Instead of the psalms and hymns and sacred anthems which once echoed within those walls, has been heard the brutal shout of the fierce invaders, roaring like lions over their prey."
2. And there have been similar desecrations. Our own land, and other's, are sprinkled over with the ruins of desecrated shrines. They are beautiful even now in their decay, and suggest to us how glorious they must have been when they stood erect and complete in all their grandeur; when, instead of being given over, as now, to mouldering ruin, they were thronged with devout worshippers, and the sublime music of the praises of God reverberated through their high-roofed naves and choirs, and down the long vistas of their vaulted aisles. One can, even now, scarce keep back the bitter curse upon those brutal iconoclasts who in these once magnificent houses of God have wrought such cruel havoc and desolation, and the effects of whose blind fanaticism or wanton wickedness and greed can now never be repaired. The sacred rage which breathes in this psalm finds place yet in many hearts against those detestable destroyers of the most beautiful products of God-inspired genius and devotion that the world has ever seen or will see.
3. But the desolation of the spiritual temple is worse still, and what most concerns us all. And the wasters of that are not wicked men who assail us from without, but spiritual foes whom we have sheltered within. It is unbelief which lays waste the spiritual temple. Worse than fire, or axe, or sword, it makes havoc of the soul. And wickedness following hard on its footsteps completes the work which it has begun. Then comes—
II. THE EXULTATION OF THE ADVERSARY. (Psalms 74:4.) No doubt this literally occurred at Jerusalem, as it has in many another sanctuary of God which has been brought to ruin. But most assuredly that "roar" has been heard when the Church of God—his temple in the soul—has been laid waste. The adversaries of God point the finger of scorn; they scoff and jibe and mock; they never weary of holding up to contempt the loud, lofty pretensions and vast claims of the Christian Church, as they bid all men see what a wretched fraud she has at last proved to be. They contrast what she said and what she is, and the roar of execration and exultation over her is heard far and wide as that contrast is seen. Let none of us by our infidelities add to that bitter shame.
III. THEY SET UP THEIR STANDARDS AS TRUE. (Psalms 74:4.) In the temple at Jerusalem the invaders, no doubt, piled their military trophies, banners, and ensigns; or the "signs" spoken of may mean religious emblems, heathen rites and ceremonies (cf. 1 Macc. 1:54, 59; 3:48). But both meanings may be combined, as the temple may have been turned both into a barrack and heathen altar at the same time. The incident, however, suggests what is so continually seen when the spiritual temple of God is laid waste. Then men take their standards of truth for those of God; they assert their miserable theories of things for the verities which the Holy Scriptures have taught us; they bid us welcome some age of reason instead of the time-honoured truths on which the Church is founded. Their ensigns for signs, man's speculations for God's revelations.
IV. THE BEAUTY AND GRACE OF THE TEMPLE THEY BREAK DOWN. (Psalms 74:6.) So has it been with material sanctuaries of God, and the like has been done in those which are spiritual. For a while the unbeliever filches from the fair fabric of Christian truth those gracious and winsome doctrines which have ever commended the faith of Christ to men, and he claims them as the mere product of reason, as evolved by the processes of human thought. But when his work of destruction is complete, and the spiritual sanctuary of God is all laid waste, faith utterly gone, then it will be found that this "carved work of the sanctuary" will be broken down, and the love and care of men will depart with the love and faith of God.
V. THE WORK GOES ON UNTIL ALL IS DESTROYED. (Psalms 74:7.) It was so with the material temple; but, thank God, all is not lost in the spiritual There may be, however, individuals and groups of men in which the dread work is complete, and "God is not in all their thoughts."
VI. EVERY RELIC AND TRACE OF THE WORSHIP OF GOD IS GOT RID OF. (Psalms 74:8.) Besides the temple, there were, doubtless, synagogues, places of assembly, where religious men met for worship, though we do not meet with the actual mention of synagogues until the times of the New Testament. And when the first temple was destroyed, we may reasonably believe that such places existed, as we know they did afterwards. But there are, alas! places and human hearts where every relic and trace of God's worship have been swept utterly away, as if burned with fire. So long as any place where the soul can meet with God is left, the great enemy's triumph is not complete; he is not satisfied till what is said in Psalms 74:8 has been done. But from this may God keep us all!—S.C.
We see not our signs.
It is said that there were five signs in the first temple which the second had not—the ark of the covenant, the fire from heaven, the Shechinah, the Urim and Thummim, and the spirit of prophecy. So in the Church of Christ there are signs which are very blessed for us to see.
I. SIGNS OF WHAT? it will be asked. Of the presence, the power, the love of the Lord in our midst. This was what the signs in the first temple told of.
II. WHAT ARE THESE SIGNS?
1. The attention of men around.
2. The work of conversion going on.
3. Witness of believers.
4. Their love to one another and to their fellow men, because of their love to God.
5. Their peace and joy in God.
III. THE DIFFERENT RELATIONS BETWEEN THE SEEING AND THESE SIGNS.
1. There tray be neither. It is better there should be no fancied seeing, if the reality be not there.
2. There may be the seeing, and not the signs.
3. There may be the signs, and yet not the seeing.
4. There may be both. This is most blessed of all.—S.C.
The four seasons, it has been well said, are God's four evangelists of the natural world. The sternness of winter; the hopefulness of spring; the richness of summer; the bounty of autumn;—each season has its own message from God to our souls. Note—
I. THE NATURAL SUMMER. This is what is referred to in our text: the psalmist appeals to it as a plea for God's much-needed help. His infinite power, which had made summer and winter, and had been manifested in so many marvellous ways, was able to help Israel in their great distress, and their trust was that he would.
1. Israel had to maintain stoutly the truth that God made all things. A whole mob of idol gods was put forward and worshipped by the heathen as the authors and creators of the powers of nature.
2. And our missionaries to the heathen have to maintain the same truth of God the Creator of all. It is by no means universally or generally believed even yet.
3. And in our day and in our own land, professedly Christian as it is, we may not slacken our testimony to this truth. It is not that we have to contend with rival gods, as Israel had, and the missionary still has, but the existence of any God at all is either openly questioned or flatly denied. It is not polytheism, but atheism, that confronts and opposes the Christian advocate today and here at home. Natural law is everything; as if a law could do anything without an executive to put it in force. The ancient Greeks were pantheists, but our men of science have, too many of them, sunk down to a lower depth than that. The Greek saw gods everywhere and in all things; we see God nowhere. Shall we give in to this proud yet miserable atheism? God forbid! Let us still maintain with the psalmist, "Thou hast made summer." As we look round on all the rich glories of the season, let us confess, with our great Puritan poet—
"These are thy works, Parent of good," etc.
II. THE SUMMER OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. How many are enjoying this! God's daily gifts of life, health, and joy are lavished upon them. They bask in the sunshine of his love. Everything bids them rejoice. But forget not the Giver of your joy—him who made the summer. That holy memory will be to you like the string attached to the child's kite, which is soaring away up in the blue heavens to the child's exuberant delight. But let that string be broken which now steadies and sustains, it, not hindering but aiding it in its upward way through the sunlit air, and then you know that at once it will come tumbling ignominiously to the ground. So if we let ourselves forget our God, and we be in thought and affection separated from him, then our poor joy, like that child's kite, will soon fall to the ground, and our gladness will soon be at an end. It is the remembrance," Thou hast made summer," which does not hinder but help our joy, steadying and sustaining it as did that cord the child's toy. Let us not forget this. And we would bid you remember God, because, else, the summer of God's providence, like the natural summer, is apt to breed many forms of evil life, like those many creeping, noisome, and miserably destructive insects, etc; which the summer sun calls forth, and which in our fields and gardens we are ever seeking to be rid of. How full the Bible is of records of the ill that the summer of God's providence has occasioned to many unwatchful and God-forgetting souls! Remember, too, that such seasons let that live which is not really strong, and which the first frost of winter will speedily kill. So is it easy, when no trial or persecution arises because of Christ, to appear as if we were really his. But when they do arise, what then?
III. THE SUMMER OF GOD'S GRACE.
1. This may be in us—is so when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. It is very delightful; is independent of every other summer; comes by degrees; is the result of conflict; unlike the natural summer, it never ends, though it may be interrupted. And:
2. It is above us, waiting for us in the future world. There is the "land of pure delight." The lovely scenes of earth are reminders of it. It is the true, real, most blessed, because unending, summer of the soul.—S.C.
Winter: what has that to say to us of God and of his ways?—Winter, with its cold, chilling breath, compelling even the strong to wrap themselves round with all manner of protection, and making all who can, shelter within their well built homes, and draw close their warm curtains, and heap up the blazing fires. Winter, pinching so cruelly the ill-clad, the ill-fed, the ill-housed, making want more terrible, all sickness more deadly, and all misery more miserable. Winter, grim, gaunt, bearing down in its cruel might all less strong than itself. Winter, with its snowy shroud covering the fields and hills which all lie as silent and as still as if they were laid out for burial, and the snow over them were a real winding sheet instead of only a seeming one. And sometimes it is a real one, when winter bids the snow fall quickly, closely, softly, continuously; then, blinding the eyes of the unfortunate wanderer on the moor, so that he can make out neither road, nor path, nor track, nor waymark; beating persistently against his mouth and nostrils, taking away his breath, numbing all his senses, until the poor lost one staggers on in hopeless search of the way he has lost. "Oh, thou winter snow, who more cruel, deadly, treacherous, than thou? Thou wilt not cease thy work until the poor traveller, weary and heartbroken, falls down exhausted; and then, as he dies, thou wilt smite him in the face, cover him up softly as with kisses, tenderly as with eider down, like a sleek white murderer as thou art!" (Alex. Smith). And not only so is winter terrible; its keen northerly blast, tearing over the seas and lands, driving the ships across the waves, and rendering the mariners all but powerless to struggle against their foe. Their fingers freeze to the rigging, and the stiffened sails refuse to bend to their will, and happy are they if, "amid this howling wintry sea," they find some port of refuge. Shepherds and their flocks in some seeming shelter on Scotch hills are caught by the whirling, blinding, smothering, snow, and all are lost. Oh, the terrible winter, ruthlessly tearing the foliage off the trees, stripping the flowers from all gardens and fields, banishing most of the birds, and silencing all that remain; rejoicing seemingly in darkness and cold, in all that is drear, deadly, desolate;—such is winter, bearable by the rich and strong, but terrible to the poor and weak, and would be terrible to all were it not for the sure hope of the blessed spring. And yet, though we have spoken hardly of it, God made it even as he made the summer. And he has promised that it shall not fail. Certainly, therefore, it must be for other than only evil; it must serve some beneficent purpose. And it does; we have proof upon proof. Winter, as well as the other seasons, is one of the gifts of our Father-God, the gifts of his love. Let us listen a while to some of the voices of the winter—the wise, warning, winning words it utters to those who will hearken. And—
I. IT SEEMS TO US TO SAY, "BE YE ALSO READY." It is certain to come; it is no chance arrangement, and none but a fool would fail to make provision for it. Every one does to the best of his power.
"All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin."
Let it be so in regard to the winter that is sure to visit our souls, our circumstances, our lives. Be ready for it when it comes. Let our treasure be where winter cannot come, even in God and the eternal life.
II. TRUST. For the winter is God's ordering: he makes it drear and dark and even dreadful, as it often seems to be. It is the product of no blind fate, no mere soulless relentless law; but it is of God. If we will hold fast to this sure faith, we shall be able to hope and patiently wait for the salvation of our God, and meanwhile even to rejoice.
III. SUBMIT. Winter is irresistible. Everything must bend before it. Who can resist his will? Great is the part that the winter has played in the humiliation of haughty men. As it lays hold even upon the raging seas, and binds them down in motionless silence, hushing their turbulence till they lie still as a stone; so has God, by the same agency, often baffled and destroyed the power of man. See Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. And how easily! The gently, persistingly failing snow did it all. Shall man, then, war against God? Submit.
IV. SING OF MERCY AS WELL AS OF JUDGMENT. See how in the winter these are blessedly mingled. True, God giveth snow, but it is "like wool" (Psalms 147:16, Psalms 147:17). It wraps up warmly the seed sown in the earth.
"His flakes of snow like wool he sends,
And thus the springing corn defends."
And "he scattereth the hoar frost," but it is "like ashes," cleansing, purifying, making healthful that on which they are cast. And the frost is a cleansing power, ridding gardens and fields of the foul, noxious creatures that swarm and creep and devour. And does not that humiliation and sorrow of which the sprinkled ashes told do the like in the region of the soul? "He casteth forth his ice," but they are "like morsels"—like the crumbs which feed the hungry. So the ice prepares the soil, breaks it up, and fits it for the growth of the seed.
V. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH. Abundant life—see that throng of shouting, laughing boys careering on the ice—heeds not the cold, rather rejoices in it. So let there be in us fuluess of Divine life, the life which Christ gives, and we shall be able to "stand before his cold."—S.C.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Psalms 74:7-8, Psalms 74:12
The destructive work of man and the constructive work of God.
The prayer in Psalms 74:1, Psalms 74:2, to help the people sunk in the deepest misery, is followed by its basis or ground, which consists of a picture of this misery (Psalms 74:3-9); the sanctuary is destroyed, and all traces of the presence of God among his people have disappeared. The short prayer in Psalms 74:10, Psalms 74:11 seeks support and stay in the thought of the omnipotence of the God of Israel (Psalms 74:12-17). The prayer is renewed at the close in an expanded form (Genesis 17:7, Genesis 17:8). It shows how the Church of God and individual believers are to conduct themselves in times when everything appears to be lost and to lie in ruins. The whole psalm may suggest two general points for consideration—the destructive work of man, and the constructive work of God.
I. THE DESTRUCTIVE WORK OF MAN. (Psalms 74:3-9.) The enemy had destroyed everything in the sanctuary, and burnt up the holy place itself. Look at some destructive work in our day.
1. The material tendencies of physical science. Leading to a denial of God and immortality, and striking at the foundation of morals by denying the freedom of man's nature. Ideas destructive, as well as conduct.
2. The critical spirit which is abroad. A spirit of denial, almost universally pulling down, and not building up. This and that not true—in history and creed.
3. The selfish spirit, wherever it rules, is destructive. In politics and commerce, and in our social relations—tending to antagonism and separation, and breaking all law—moral, Divine, and social.
4. The absence of true prophets—inspired men—is also a sign of the destructive process. (Psalms 74:9.) The true prophet is the constructor, and not the destroyer; the inspirer, and not the critic.
II. THE CONSTRUCTIVE WORK OF GOD.
1. God's greatest work of old was redemptive. (Psalms 74:12-15.) "For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." His work in Christ is reconstructive, building men up after the highest pattern. Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil.
2. His work in the physical creation is constructive. (Psalms 74:16, Psalms 74:17.) He prepared the light and the sun, made summer and winter. The same mind ordained and continues the precious seasons as ordained the laws and works of redemption.
3. God's covenant is a covenant of salvation. (Psalms 74:20.) And the world is still in urgent need of redemption. "The dark places," etc.
4. The work of redemption is God's own—"his own cause." (Psalms 74:22). And therefore he will not abandon it. We can therefore pray as the psalmist did.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 74". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28