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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 74


Maschil of Asaph.

The historic ground of this psalm is found in 2 Chronicles 36:17-20; Jeremiah 52:4-16. It seems properly to stand first in the order of those psalms which commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Chaldeans, and is intimately connected with Psalms 79:0. The author, who was of the family of Asaph, must be supposed to be with the multitude of the exiles on their way to Babylonia, or recently to have come to that province. Psalms 74:1-3 are an earnest prayer for divine interposition in behalf of his Church; Psalms 74:4-8 are a more detailed description of what the enemy had done; Psalms 74:9-11 are a bitter cry of distress that in all their troubles God has not seemed to reveal himself by any offer of help or promise of relief; Psalms 74:12-15 are a rehearsal of God in their national history for the encouragement of faith; and Psalms 74:16-17, for the same end, are a recognition of him as Creator and general ruler of the worlds. At Psalms 74:18 the direct prayer is resumed, and with humble pathos continued to the end.


Maschil of Asaph A fitting title for a lesson of instruction, the most serious of any to which the nation had ever been called to listen. Its Asaphic origin appears, not only in its didactic style, but “in the contemplation of Israel as a flock, and the predilection for retrospective references to Israel’s early history.” Delitzsch.

Verse 1

1. Why hast thou cast us off for ever The rejection and desolation appeared absolute and without remedy. See Psalms 74:3; Psalms 74:10. In the first three verses the psalmist utters a fervent prayer, which is suspended by the recitals of Psalms 74:4-9, and then resumed to the end.

Sheep of thy pasture See Psalms 80:1.

Smoke Compare under Psalms 80:4. The smouldering ruins of the temple and city fitly illustrated the dark and fiery breath of wrath.

Verse 2

2. Thy congregation That is, thy Church. Compare Psalms 22:22; Hebrews 2:12.

Purchased The language is that of endearment. Deuteronomy 9:29; Psalms 78:54. Compare Isaiah 43:3: “I gave Egypt for thy ransom.”

Rod of thine inheritance “The inheritance rod is the staff with which the inheritance is measured; the land surveyor’s rod.

Ezekiel 40:3.” Hengstenberg. See Revelation 11:1. The word rendered “rod” in the original often stands for tribe, and also for sceptre, either of which makes a good sense here.

Verse 3

3. Lift up thy feet Hasten thy footsteps to the places utterly desolate. This lifting up of the foot, [or hand,] implies the purpose of doing something, as in Genesis 41:44: “Without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot [that is, to execute a purpose] in all Egypt.” The lifting up the foot is sometimes for trampling down, in judgment; but here for haste to witness the work of the enemy, with the implied idea of recompense. See Psalms 7:5; Daniel 8:7.

Perpetual Without end, eternal. Psalms 74:1. So the desolations appeared to the crushed spirit.

In the sanctuary The desolations reach even to the temple.

Verse 4

4. Thine enemies roar Having taken the city and entered the temple, the fierce cry of the soldiery was like the roaring of wild beasts.

In the midst of thy congregations Here to be understood of the places of assembly of the people for worship, chiefly the temple and its courts.

They set up their ensigns for signs They have erected their military standards, bearing the insignia of their gods, as trophies or signals of victory, in the holy places. This was a direct challenge to Jehovah, on the part of the heathen conquerors, to deliver his people if he could, as in Psalms 74:10; Psalms 74:18; Psalms 74:22. See Psalms 79:10; Isaiah 10:13; Habakkuk 1:11; Habakkuk 1:16

Verse 5

5. Lifted up axes upon the thick trees The description, in Psalms 74:5-6, is to this effect: The temple appeared as when one had lifted up axes in a thick wood, for they had struck down the beautiful carved work and panelling of the temple with hatchets and hammers, with the indifference of a woodman. This was with a view to despoiling it of its costly ornaments preparatory to setting it on fire. See this despoiling detailed, Jeremiah 52:17-23

Verse 7

7. They have cast fire into thy sanctuary The temple was fired one month after it was taken. Jeremiah 52:12-13. This fearful month witnessed, before the eyes of the now captive nation, the horrible work of demolishing and despoiling by the enemy.

The dwellingplace of thy name Another title of sanctity and endearment for the temple, or sanctuary.

Verse 8

8. They said… Let us destroy them together We will destroy them at once: or utterly; that is, all the sacred places of Jehovah.

They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land The synagogue proper dates during and after the captivity, and the word is not to be taken here in the restricted sense which it afterward received, but in the general sense of sacred places of meeting, or assembly, perhaps like the proseuchae places of prayer mostly in the open field, or by the river side. Thus, Acts 16:16: “As we went to prayer,” προσευχην , to the place of prayer. Such oratories they might have had before the exile. Germs of them appear in the time of Samuel. 1Sa 9:12 ; 1 Samuel 10:5. Later, the “schools of the prophets” were gatherings for instruction and devotion, open, it would seem, to all who would come. Such gatherings also seem implied in 2 Kings 4:23, and other places. But “synagogues of God” certainly is not a happy rendering of מועדי אל , which simply means, meetingplaces of God. In Lamentations 2:6, it is rendered “places of the assembly.” The root of the verb means simply to gather, particularly at set times and for religious purposes; though in Psalms 75:2, it applies to a judicial assembly, or court. The object of the enemy was, as alluded to in the text, to destroy all places of religious worship or resort, and break up and annihilate all vestiges of the Hebrew system of religion.

Verse 9

9. We see not our signs The word rendered “our signs” implies tokens or answers of prayer, of a general character, connected with the instituted ordinances of worship. These they had not, now that their temple and altars were destroyed, and they in exile.

There is no more… prophet For Jeremiah did not accompany the exiles, but was released at Ramah and returned to Mizpah. Jeremiah 40:1-6. Ezekiel, however, did live and prophesy among the exiles of Mesopotamia, by the river Chebar, or Chaboras, (Ezekiel 1:1-3,) but did not go into Babylonia. The complaint strongly indicates that the psalm was written after Ezekiel’s death, and before Daniel came into public repute as a prophet.

Neither is there among us any that knoweth how long They did not know how long the captivity was to continue, though Jeremiah had foretold it, (Jeremiah 25:12,) and afterward wrote to the exiles more specifically as to the time. Jeremiah 29:10. For the same cause the disciples understood not the Saviour’s prediction of his own death and sufferings.

Luke 18:31-34. It was against their traditional faith, not against their sacred writings, and they had not risen to the height of the new dispensation.

Verse 10

10. See note under Psalms 74:4

Verse 11

11. Pluck it out of thy bosom With the orientals the hand in the bosom indicates a state of rest, inaction. “In the folds of the garment, in front of the body, they keep their little valuables, (see Psalms 79:12, and note,) and there, when they are perfectly at ease, they place their hands.” Roberts.

Verse 12

12. For God is my King of old, etc. Having finished his special prayer against his enemies, in which he struggles with the “crying contradiction between the present state of things and God’s relationship to Israel,” (Delitzsch,) the psalmist now proceeds to draw comfort, and fresh argument for divine interposition, from a review of the times when God was Israel’s King, working salvation in the midst of the earth.

Verse 13

13. Thou didst divide the sea He begins with the deliverance from Egypt. Could their deliverance now from Babylon be greater? Could not the same God even now restore them? Psalms 74:13-15 are a historical review of God’s providence; Psalms 74:16-17, of his providence and power in nature.

Thou brakest the heads of the dragons Or, crocodiles, the symbol of Egypt. Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3.

In the waters Hebrew, upon the waters; in allusion to those river and sea monsters who lie with their heads exposed above water. See Psalms 74:14

Verse 14

14. Leviathan A different word in the original from “dragons” in preceding verse, but of similar import. In Isaiah 27:1, it is described as a serpent, crooked and tortuous, but crocodiles often present that form. So Job 26:13. These names are not given according to scientific classification, but generally signify saurian monsters of any kind, and are here used interchangeably. In Psalms 104:26, it evidently means a mammal of the Mediterranean, the whale, which formerly inhabited that sea.

Gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness The Egyptians proper held the crocodile sacred, and worshipped it as a god, hence they never ate its flesh. But others, like the inhabitants of the city of Elephantine, in Upper Egypt, of whom Herodotus speaks, (book ii, sec. 69,) freely ate it. But we may take “people” in the figurative sense of Proverbs 30:25, “The ants are a people not strong,” and apply the term to the wild beasts of the desert. The crushing the head of the crocodile and throwing out the carcass as common food for desert men or beasts, was the contempt which Jehovah inflicted upon its worshippers.

Verse 15

15. Driedst up mighty rivers This was done when he dried up the rivers of the desert after having miraculously created them. See note on Psalms 78:15, and when he “dried up the waters of Jordan.” Joshua 4:23

Verse 16

16. The day is thine From a glance at God in history the psalmist ascends to God in nature. Faith rises upon these steps of ascent, and pleads, Cannot the God of history interpose now as of old? Cannot the God of day and night, of sun and earth, of summer and winter, restore his own people?

Thou hast prepared the light and the sun The light, even the sun. So the Hebrew particle is often used.

Verse 18

18. Remember this The issue is between thee and these idolaters. They have reproached and blasphemed thy name. O consider this!

Verse 19

19. Turtledove The emblem of innocence and fidelity, but here used as the emblem of helplessness, timidity, and mourning. See on mourning, Isaiah 38:14; Ezekiel 7:16. Israel is represented as like the turtledove, the smallest of the dove family, unable to offer resistance or self-defence, bemoaning their guilt and sufferings.

Congregation of thy poor Same as denoted by “turtledove;” and is another appeal for help, grounded on their helplessness and their relation to God.

Verse 20

20. Have respect unto the covenant Hebrew, Look to the covenant. Comp. Genesis 9:16, “And I will look upon it” the bow “that I may remember the everlasting covenant.” But the reference is to the covenant, (Genesis 17:7,) “To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” Their present condition seemed wholly in violation of the covenant engagements. But God never forgets his promise. Psalms 111:5; Daniel 11:4. Faith now goes back to this ground of all their Church relations and national hopes.

For the dark places of the earth Hebrew, The darknesses, the plural for emphasis. Those regions where God is not known nor his law obeyed. All religions and all infidelity which reject the one true God, and man’s accountability to him, have ever been against humanity, cruel and selfish, as all history attests.

Verse 22

22. Thine own cause Again the issue is urged as between Jehovah and the gods of the heathen, and the “cause” is thrown upon him. The chastened importunity of the prayer closes with a tone of subdued and plaintive appeal.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 74". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.