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Bible Commentaries

Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 74

Verses 1-23

Psalms 74:1-23. Title. This psalm is so adapted to the case of the Jews, during the Babylonish captivity, that if Asaph, who lived in the time of David, were the writer of it, he must have composed it by the Spirit of prophecy. But it is far more probable, that it was written by some other Asaph, who lived at the time of the captivity ; or, as some think, by one of Asaph’s descendants.

V. 1, 2. Israel as a nation was typically (what true Christians are really,) the sheep of God’s pasture, his purchased congregation and ransomed inheritance, whom he redeemed by desolating Egypt ; and among whom he dwelt, by the ark the symbol of his presence ; which, from the days of David to the captivity, was stationed on mount Zion, and then was finally lost or destroyed. (Notes, Psalms 95:7. Exodus 15:14-16. Isaiah 43:3-4. Acts 20:28.) Both the ten tribes and the kingdom of Judah had given abundant cause for the anger of God to smoke against them ; and had even deserved to be " cast off for ever : " yet the pious remnant of the nation, remembering what the Lord had formerly done for their ancestors, and how he had repeatedly pardoned their rebellions, especially when they humbled themselves before him ; knowing also that the promises and prophecies of the Messiah were not yet accomplished, and witnessing the insults of idolaters over the worshippers of the true God ; were emboldened thus to plead, and as it were expostulate with him, for seeming finally to cast off his people, and to retain his anger for ever.

Notes,Psalms 79:8-13. Is. 63. 7- 19; 64. 5- 12. Jeremiah 33:23-26.) The church, and every true member of it, under persecution or oppression, though deserving worse than all that is inflicted, may on similar grounds plead for deliverance.

V. 3. The idolatrous Chaldeans had wickedly burnt the temple, and left it to perpetual desolations; and God himself seemed to stand at a distance, and pay no regard to it : but the Psalmist called on him to come speedily, that he might survey and restore his ruined Sanctuary. (Note, Psalms 44:23-26.) Some render it, " Lift up thy feet, that " thou mayest destroy every enemy, which hath done evil "in thy Sanctuary." (Notes, Isaiah 25:10-12; Isaiah 63:16, Revelation 14:14-20.)

V. 4. The Chaldeans, rushing into the temple, shouting for victory amidst the affrighted worshippers, and setting up their standards, or erecting trophies of their success, on that sacred ground, seem to be here described. (Notes, Lamentations 1:8-11; Lamentations 2:6-7) Antiochus Epiphanes afterwards greatly profaned the temple, and dispersed the worshippers; but he did not burn it. The prevalence of infidelity, and the triumphs of heathens, infidels, and antichristian persecutors and corrupters of Christianity, are events equally lamentable ; and the proper directory for prayer on such occasions is here given.

V. 5, 6. ’ It was heretofore thought an employment of ’ much honour and merit in those men, who did cut down ’ and square the timber-trees, for the building of the holy ’ sanctuary. But now every man thinks himself to deserve ’ most thanks, that can do most havock to thy holy place.’ Bp. Hall. ’ As a ... skilful person ... liftcth up the axe ’ in the thick wood; so now men set themselves to work, ’ to demolish the ornaments and timbers of the sanctuary.’ Bp. Home. " He that lifted the axes upon the thick trees, " was renowned as one that brought a thing to perfection " but now they break down, &c." Old Version. The eagerness of the destroyers, and the honour which they acquired by the work of destruction, are evidently intended (Marg. Ref.) Thick trees. (5) "The density of the " wood." Heb.

V. 7, 8. (Notes, 2 Kings 25:8-10. Is. 64. 9- 12. Zechariah 11:1-3.) The word rendered synagogues, is in the fourth verse translated congregations. It means, according to the context, either the stated seasons of assembling, the places in which the people met statedly, or the congregations collected together at the solemn feasts, or the solemn feasts themselves. As it is doubtful whether synagogues, in the common sense of the word, had become general before the captivity; it is probable, that the courts of the temple, in which the people assembled, were intended ; and that the passage might be rendered, " They have burned God’s places of assembling even to the " ground." The LXX translate the clause, ’ Let us cause ’ the feasts of the LORD to cease from the earth.’

(Notes, 2 Kings 4:23. 2 Chronicles 17:7-9.)

V. 9. The constant sacrifices on the altar, and the observance of the solemn feasts, were signs of the Lord’s presence with his people, which ceased during the captivity: neither had they any miraculous interpositions in their favour. They had little encouragement from prophets, were destitute of prudent counsellors, and could not well determine when these calamities would cease. Jere- miah indeed prophesied in Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple, and in Egypt after that event; and Ezekiel and Daniel in Babylon : yet they were often silent for a long while together, and the case of the pious Jews was very discouraging, and their prospect gloomy. Many of the predictions, likewise, of all these prophets, after the destruction of Jerusalem, related primarily to other nations and to distant periodi. (Jeremiah 46:1 to Jeremiah 51:64: Ezekiel 25:1 to Ezekiel 32:32:) And though Daniel, and doubtless many others, understood from Jeremiah’s predictions, when to expect some favourable crisis ; yet it is evident that even these eminent persons had considerable difficulty in knowing what that crisis would be, and when the nation would be restored ti> prosperity. (Notes, Daniel 9:1-27:) Consequently the pious remnant, dispersed in distant places, must in general have been greatly at a loss on these subjects ; and have deeply regretted the want of prophets, bringing them explicit and encouraging messages from God, suited to their distressed condition. The passage, however, is still more aptly descriptive of the state of the Jews, in their present long continued dispersion : and we may well suppose, that when numbers of that nation shall be led to enquire, on what account they have been left in captivity and oppression, for a term of years so vastly exceeding the duration of the Babylonish captivity, without priest, prophet, or token for good, or indication how long it will be before they are restored ; this Psalm will direct or even express their complaints and devotions.. (Notes, Genesis 49:10. Deuteronomy 4:25-28. Hosea 3:4-5.) It may also suit the state of the Christian church, under the tyranny of antichrist, the entire termination of which cannot yet be precisely ascertained.

V. 10, 11. The reproaches and blasphemies, which insulting idolaters incessantly poured out against God and his worshippers, seem to have more grieved these supplicants, than their own distresses ; and this was their principal plea in prayer.

(Notes, Psalms 44:23-26; Psalms 79:8-13; Psalms 89:38-45; Psalms 89:50-51. Isaiah 51:9-11.)

V. 12. ’ Why should we despair of it, since the great ’ God, whom they deride, has many ages ago undertaken ’ the government and protection of us,’ (the nation of Israel,) ’ working for us suth deliverances in this land, ’ which now lies waste, as astonished all the world.’ lip. Patrick. (Marg. Ref. 2 Kings 19:1-37 : 2 Chronicles 14:9-15; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.)

Salvation.] The original is plural, Salvations; referring to the many wonderful deliverances, which God had in former ages wrought for Israel.

V. 13- 17. Pharaoh as the great leviathan, (Notes, Job xii,) and his captains and soldiers as sea-monsters of inferior size, were ready to devour Israel in the Red Sea but were themselves entirely destroyed : and the people were enriched and armed by the spoils of their enemies, as well as encouraged for their march through the wilderness. (Notes, Exodus 14:1-31; Exodus 15:1-27:) There the rock was cleft to give them’ water, and then Jordan’s flood was dried up to open their passage into Canaan. (Notes, Exodus 17:1-7 Josh, iii, 4:) These had been the tokens of JEHOVAH’S care of them, and his power displayed in their behalf : and the appointment of the succession of night and day, and of summer and winter, through all the borders of the earth, by Israel’s God, was a most encouraging demonstration of his omnipotence ; and an emblem of the favourable change, which the afflicted Jews hoped he would effect in their circumstances. (Notes, Genesis 1:3-5; Genesis 1:14-19; Genesis 8:20-22. Isaiah 54:6-10.) The words, rendered " the people inhabiting the wilderness," may signify the wild beasts which live in deserts ; and the clause may mean, that the bodies of Pharaoh and his captains, being thrown on shore, were devoured by beasts of prey.

V. 18. Notes, 21, 22. Psalms 14:1; Psalms 89:50-51. Deuteronomy 32:26-27.

V. 19. The word, rendered first " multitude" and then " congregation," signifies living, or a living creature. It is often translated " beast," or collectively " beasts : " but in many places it evidently means a living multitude. (Note, Ixviii. 30.) Some read this verse in connexion with the foregoing, " O deliver not the life of thy turtle into the " hand of that multitude," namely, the multitude of the foolish people who blasphemed God. The church, as faithful and loving, pure and harmless, destitute and defenceless, and silently mourning under the displeasure and at the absence of her Beloved, is described under this beautiful image. Surely the Lord valued his turtle-dove too much, to leave her to be devoured by the hawks and eagles which surrounded her. (Marg. Ref.) ’ Yet hear ’ our cries, and at last relieve a poor helpless company, ’ who flee unto thee, and depend upon thee alone for ’ safety.’ Bp. Patrick.

V. 20. Though Israel was unworthy of God’s regard, and had broken their national covenant ; yet even that covenant gave intimation of returning favour to the nation, when brought to confess their sins and seek humbly to God, even from the ends of the earth ; and of a reinstatement in Canaan, after their dispersions.

(Notes, Leviticus 26:40-42. Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Deuteronomy 30:1-10. 1 Kings 8:46-53.) And the covenant with Abraham and his seed, and that with David and his seed, were in full force. (Marg. Ref. r.)

The coming of the promised Messiah from that race was thus unalterably secured: and how should the dark places of the earth, which were filled with the habitations of cruelty, be enlightened and converted, or the worship of God be at all maintained, if Israel were destroyed before the coming of that Redeemer, who was to be a " Light to the Gentiles, and the glory of his people

" Israel?" ’All places where thy word shineth not, there ’ reigneth tyranny and ambition.’ What a different view does this verse give us of those countries, where the oracles of God are not known, from that which some travellers and speculators draw of them ! But the view here given is found on examination to accord with the real state of things all over the earth ; and it should stimulate Christians to exert themselves in endeavouring to send the light of truth to the regions of darkness, and the habitations of cruelty, in all its varied and horrid forms.

V. 21, 22. ’It is thy own cause, as well as our’s : therefore, though thou waitest to be called on by us ; yet thou wilt certainly and effectually plead it in due time : and in this hope we thus call on thee to arise for our deliverance, and the glory of thine own name.’ (Notes, Psalms 9:18-20. Psalms 21:13; Psalms 79:8-13. Psalms 115:1-2. Matthew 6:13.)

V. 23. ’ While speaking, she seems to hear the tumultuous clamours of the approaching enemy growing every minute louder, as they advance ; and we leave the turtledove, without the divine assistance, ready to sink under ’ the talons of the rapacious eagle.’ Bp. Home. (Notes, 14.)


V. 1-12.

Churches and nations, professing true religion, have often provoked God finally to cast them off; so that he would no longer acknowledge them as his flock or inheritance. But " the sheep " whom he has purchased, and brought into his pasture, and made to answer in character to this instructive emblem, and in whom he dwells by his Spirit, shall never be thus cast off. Yet the rod of his fatherly correction may sometimes be mistaken for the sword of his vengeance; the purification of his church, by the destruction or dispersion of degenerate professors, may make his people think that he intends to " make a full " end" with them; and the methods used for the mortification of the evil propensities of believers, sometimes seem to threaten the destruction of their souls. (Notes, Romans 7:22-25.) But God will never utterly forsake any individual, who turns to him, by penitent faith, when he is corrected ; nor any church, while there is a considerable remnant of such, as wrestle with him in fervent prayer to spare and deliver them : nor can the gates of hell prevail against his cause. Infidels, persecutors, and hereticks, who do wickedly in God’s sanctuary, may make grievous desolations ; they may erect their trophies, and glory in the mischief which they have devised ; they may run down the truth, silence faithful ministers, shut up places of worship, and persecute Christians : and they may say in then- hearts, ’ Let us destroy them and then- religion together.’ In the mystery of Providence they may for a time prosper : and the oppressed servants of God may complain, that they see no tokens of deliverance, have none to encourage or counsel them, and cannot tell how long these calamities will last. But this remnant is the seed of a future harvest : they pray with fervent zeal for the glory of God, that he would not withdraw his hand, or delay his powerful interposition ; but that he would " pluck his right hand out of his bosom," to defend the cause of his people, and to vindicate his own insulted honour. Such prayers have hitherto prevailed : and the despised church has survived vast numbers of those assailants, who once triumphed over her, but are now perished as the dung of the earth. Indeed we cannot be too confident that the cause of God will prevail : we are allowed to expostulate with him freely, according to our feelings, when we are grieved to hear his name blasphemed, and his truth reviled ; and every former mercy to his church constitutes a cogent argument, why he should again interpose to perfect what he has so gloriously begun.

V. 13-23.

The triumph of Christ over Satan, by his crucifixion and resurrection, and the consequent success of his gospel among the Gentiles, may be urged as a far greater display of his power and mercy, than any of the miracles wrought for the deliverance of Israel. If this God, who thus wrought salvation in the midst of the earth, be our King whom we willingly obey ; he will make every assault of Satan, that great leviathan, and of all his progeny, to be Profitable to our souls. If we drink of those waters, which flow from our smitten Rock, even the sanctifying influences of the Spirit of Christ ; (Notes, Exodus 17:1-6 ;) he will also divide Jordnn’s flood before us, that we may pass comfortably from this wilderness to the inheritance prepared for us. The vicissitudes of day and night, summer and winter, (through the changing of our situation in respect of the sun, the fountain of light which God has prepared,) are emblematic of those changes in our circumstances and experiences, which must take place on earth ; and should remind us neither to be secure, nor to despond. (Note, James 1:16-18.) But in the world above, we shall have no more changes : " our Sun shall no more " go down, and the days of our mourning will be ended." While, in faith, and hope, and patience, we wait for this completion of our personal felicity ; we may also confidently expect a glorious event of all the oppressions, persecutions, and corruptions, which have hitherto harassed the Christian church. We may indeed well enquire of the Lord, with astonishment, how long he will permit his adversaries to blaspheme his name. But it shall not be for ever : and the folly of such as reproach him and his servants, will at length be as visible to all men, as it now is to the remnant of despised believers. (Note, 2 Timothy 3:6-9.) The true church is as amiable and pleasant to the Lord as a turtle-dove, though poor and despicable in the world’s estimation. His covenant with the Redeemer engages for more extensive blessings than have yet been vouchsafed. Ere long the Jews shall be converted, the visible church purified, every antichrist destroyed, and the fulness of the Gentiles called. This time approaches : let us then call upon our God to " have respect unto his covenant ; " to enlighten all the dark nations of the earth, which are filled with cruelty and wickedness; and to rescue his people from shame and dishonour, that the poor and needy may praise his name. Let us call upon him to arise and " plead his own cause," and to silence, effectually and finally, the boastings and clamours of his enemies, which increase continually. This is our duty and privilege ; and all the prayers, offered in this behalf, will at length terminate in loud acclamations of praise and thanksgiving.

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Bibliographical Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 74". Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. 1804.