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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Psalms 74

 

 

Verses 1-23

INTRODUCTION

Superscription.—"A Maschil of Asaph," i.e., an Instruction of Asaph, a Didactic Song by Asaph. See introduction to Psalms 1.

"But here we cannot have the least idea of the authorship belonging to David's time. We must not, however, on this account convict the title of a mistake: for just in proportion as the contents are decidedly and manifestly inconsistent with David's age, was it unlikely that the title would announce that the Psalm was composed at that time. Asaph was the founder of a family of singers, who went by the name of the sons of Asaph, even in the time of Isaiah (Comp. 2Ch ), yea, even in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ez. 2:41; Ezr 3:10; Neh 7:44; Neh 11:22). That the Holy Ghost, who inspired the founder, continued to exert His influence upon the members of this family from age to age, is manifest from the example of Jehaziel, one of the sons of Asaph in Jehoshaphat's time, on whom the spirit of the Lord came down in the midst of the assembly (2Ch 20:14). All the sacred compositions of the members of this family were designated songs of Asaph, just as in the title of the 62. Psalm, Jeduthun stands for the Jeduthunic choir. If the family had not possessed a founder so very famous in this department, these Psalms, like those which bear the name of the sons of Korah, would have had inscribed on their titles ‘the sons of Asaph.'"—Hengstenberg.

Occasion.—On this expositors are not agreed. Some think that it was written by Asaph, in David's time, with a prophetical reference to the destruction by the Chaldeans. Others look upon it as historical, and having reference to the destructions wrought at the time of the Maccabees. Others, who regard it as historical, consider that it refers to the Chaldean destruction. The occasion cannot be determined certainly; but the last-named opinion seems to us most likely to be the correct one. It was written at a time of great misery, the temple was desolated and destroyed, the land was ravaged, the enemies of the Church triumphed, and God seemed to have forgotten or cast away His people. The Psalmist bewails their sad condition and prays for deliverance.

THE SUFFERING CHURCH POURING OUT ITS COMPLAINTS UNTO GOD

(Psa .)

I. The description of the Church.

"The sheep of Thy pasture; Thy congregation which Thou hast purchased," &c. The Church is here represented as—

1. Shepherded by God. We use the word "shepherded," because we do not know of any other which expresses the various duties of the shepherd to his flock. That Jehovah is the Shepherd of His people is an idea of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures. (Psa ; Psa 95:7; Psa 100:3; Isa 40:11; Eze 34:11-16.) The relationship involves His Guidance. With infallible knowledge and tender care He goeth before His people through all their journeyings. By the mystic and majestic pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night He led His people in their forty years' journey through the wilderness. And still He leads His people, though by different means. He guides us now by the indications of Providence, by influencing our convictions, and by the teaching of His Word. The relationship involves Protection. The shepherd had to guard his flock against the attacks of robbers and beasts of prey; and frequently displayed great faithfulness and courage in so doing. In this way David, while a mere stripling, slew a lion and a bear (1Sa 17:34-36). So Jehovah guards His people. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people," &c. The relationship involves Provision. It was the duty of the shepherd to provide for his sheep, and when one pasture was bare to lead them to another, or when the herbage was deficient to cut down the tender shoots of trees for them to eat, and to see that they had water to drink. In thus providing for them the shepherd frequently underwent long and severe labour. Jehovah thus provides for "His people, and the sheep of His pasture." "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." His provisions are varied, abundant, exhaustless.

2. Redeemed by God. The Church is spoken of as "purchased of old" by God, and as an inheritance "redeemed" by Him. From Egyptian bondage He redeemed them at an immense cost. The Church is an ancient possession of the Lord's. He has the most indefeasible right to it as His inheritance. It is His because He called it into being. It owes its origin to Him. He has preserved it in being, watching over it in all the vicissitudes of its fortune. Much of its history resembles the burning bush—"the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed," and the secret of its mysterious preservation must be traced to Him. He has redeemed it. His ancient people He frequently redeemed out of the hand of their enemies. And the Church to-day He has redeemed with a nobler, Diviner redemption. "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ." He "gave Himself for us." What a SELF to give! And how freely was He given by both His Father and Himself! How unspeakably precious is this redemption! How complete and indisputable God's title to an inheritance so redeemed!

3. Inhabited by God. "Mount Zion wherein Thou hast dwelt." The mysterious Shekinah, the symbol of God's special presence, dwelt in the holy of holies. In the Psalms God is represented as both dwelling in His people, and the dwelling-place of His people. "God is in the midst of her." "In Salem is His tabernacle, and His dwelling-place in Zion." So in the Christian Church God is specially present. "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." He dwells in His Church to hear and answer prayer, to reveal His will, to bestow His grace, to make known His salvation, and to manifest His glory. He dwells in every humble and believing heart as in His temple by the Holy Ghost.

Reflect how the consideration of these aspects of the Church in relation to God would affect His people. They were "the sheep of His pasture," yet they were in captivity, and oppressed by their enemies, and far away from Zion. How could they reconcile these things with the guidance, protection, and provision of their Shepherd? They were redeemed by Him at a great cost, yet now they were once more in bondage. Had He ceased to value the inheritance which He had "purchased of old"? They were inhabited by God, but now the glory of His presence has departed. Had He then cast them off for ever? Thus there have often been times when the position and sufferings of the Church have seemed utterly irreconcilable with their most fundamental relations to God.

II. The distress of the Church.

1. Their enemies triumphed over them and spread ruin around them. They had destroyed everything in the sanctuary, had broken down the carved work, had burnt it with fire, and desecrated it to the ground. The Jews gloried in their temple. They spoke of it as a "holy and beautiful house." It was a costly and magnificent edifice. Around it were gathered many precious and sacred memories. Its associations were most interesting and treasured. To see it ruthlessly destroyed and profaned must have been a great distress to them. The Church in all ages has had its enemies who have sought its destruction. With captious and destructive criticism men seek to destroy the Church, by endeavouring to overthrow the faith of her members in many precious truths in which they have rested. The Church has had foes who have persecuted her by fire and sword, bonds and imprisonments, pains and penalties. Different are the weapons which are used to-day. The theories and arguments of cold intellectual men—men often of large heads, but infinitesimally small hearts; whose knowledge has "grown from more to more," but in whom no reverence dwells—are the weapons by which it is now sought to overthrow the Church. She has spiritual foes also. "The gates of hell" are arrayed against her. And many in this world by word and deed are foes to the cause of God.

2. Their enemies blasphemed the name of God. Where God had been reverently worshipped by devout hearts they madly shouted their war cry, in the temple they had set up their military standards, and they had reproached and blasphemed the name of God. This was a great grief to the people of God. And to those of them who were faithful and pious the grief would be most deep and acute. The godly heart is most deeply pained in its tenderest part when anything is done by which God is dishonoured. And this blasphemy had been long continued, adding amazement to the grief of the Psalmist, and causing him to inquire, "O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme Thy name for ever?"

(1) Man is free to reproach and blaspheme God if he will. We may praise and adore Him, or revile and curse Him if we will. God has made us thus morally free. He allows us the exercise of this freedom.

(2) God has long patience even with the profanest and most outrageous sinners. For a long season He tolerates even blasphemers, giving them time for repentance. He waits to show mercy even to the chief of sinners. He wills not that any should perish.

(3) God's patience with blasphemers causes sore amazement to His people. They cannot understand why He does not pluck His hand out of His bosom and smite them. They cry, "O God, how long?" Assuredly, not for ever. If the wicked "turn not, He will whet His sword; He hath bent His bow, and made it ready." But while judgment lingers, and men continue to blaspheme, the people of God are distressed by the blasphemy, and amazed at the delay of judgment.

3. The prophetic voice was silent. The prophetical office of Jeremiah terminated with the destruction of the temple. "It was assuredly the cessation of his office that more immediately gave occasion to the painful cry: there is no longer any prophet. This standing ruin of the prophetical class proclaimed, even in louder accents than the non-appearance of other prophets, that God was no longer Israel's King. It was necessary that along with the other signs of the dominion of God, this one also should cease for a long period of time, that the people might be taught how they had treated it, wherein they had offended, and might, at the same time, be led with tears of repentance to seek its return."—Hengstenberg. The cry of the Psalmist reminds me of the words of Saul to the apparition of Samuel, "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams." Well may he be distressed! Man cut off from God—severed from the great central Life and Light of the universe—appealing to heaven, and being answered only by stony-hearted silence! How appalling! God had threatened, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land," &c. (Amo ; Comp. Eze 7:26.) That time had come. "Her prophets found no vision from the Lord." Distress had come upon the people; and no prophet's voice was heard, either in merciful encouragement, or faithful rebuke, or stern threatening. They have treated the prophetic message with scornful indifference at times, and at times they have cruelly persecuted the Heaven-sent messenger; and now they cry for some word from heaven, some communication from the Divine, and the only answer they receive is inexorable silence. Surely there is warning for us here. How do we treat the great and precious privileges which are granted unto us? The Word of God, do we prize it? The opportunities of worship, are they dear to us? The influence of the Holy Spirit, do we value it? do we profit by it? If we fail to appreciate our spiritual privileges, and practically despise them, God may withdraw them from us, and we may awake to a sense of their value too late.

"Like birds whose beauties languish, half-conceal'd

Till mounted on the wing, their glossy plumes

Expanded shine with azure, green, and gold;

How blessings brighten as they take their flight."—Young.

Let us prize the gifts of God while we have them, lest God should remove them from us for ever.

4. God in anger had cast them off. So they thought; and it was true that their miseries came upon them in consequence of their sins. God was visiting them with the rod of chastisement because of their idolatry, their spiritual apostasy, and rebellion. Their Babylonian enemies were unwittingly the agents of God to punish them. But God had not cast them off for ever. When they turned unto Him in true repentance, He turned unto them and had mercy upon them. Yet at this time they could see no sign of His favour. His anger seemed to smoke against them. Such were some of the distresses of the ancient Church. Their foes were triumphant and were spreading ruin on every side, even destroying their best treasures; the name of God was blasphemed, the prophetic voice was silent, and God seemed to have abandoned them. Their distresses are a picture and parable of sufferings which have befallen the Church in other ages. Their distresses were on account of their sins. So also in subsequent times, in some instances, the Church has been tried and chastened by reason of error, or unfaithfulness, or lukewarmness. In every time of suffering let the Church seek to ascertain the cause and meaning of her suffering; and if it be God's expostulation with her for her sins, let her repent and do her first works, or He will remove her candlestick out of its place.

III. The prayers of the distressed Church.

1. That God would remember them. God seemed to have forgotten them. They seemed to have passed away from His mind. He bestows no attention upon them. They entreat Him to remember them, thinking that, if He turned His attention to them and saw their miseries, He would surely deliver and save them.

2. That God would interpose for them. "Lift up thy footsteps unto the eternal ruins." "The Psalmist speaks of eternal ruins, because the complete destruction had cut off all human hope of a restoration." Man could not deliver them. Their only hope was in God. They pray Him to hasten His approach to them. In the day of their distress they have to seek help from Him whom they neglected in their prosperity, for He alone can help them.

3. That God would interpose for them speedily. God's help seemed to them long delayed. They were weary of waiting for His appearing. "O God, how long shall the adversary approach? shall the enemy blaspheme Thy name for ever?" They longed to hear the sound of the chariot wheels of their Deliverer. They knew not that the waiting for His coming was itself a blessing. Their sufferings made the time seem long. Their anxiety made them impatient. But God delays His salvation until the captivity has fulfilled its mission to them, and suffering has done its work in them, and waiting itself has blessed them.

There is something very touching and effective in the form of expression adopted by the Psalmist in addressing the Lord. "The sheep of Thy pasture. Remember Thy congregation, which Thou hast purchased of old; Thine inheritance, which Thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion in which Thou hast dwelt." He thus brings before Him His interpositions for them in former times, His ancient loving-kindness for them, His relation to them, and His having dwelt in Zion. Thus he pleads not their own misery only, but His mercy also; not their need only, but His fulness and power also, and their relation to Him. Surely He will listen to such pleadings. He will not leave His sheep to perish, or lose His ancient purchase, or suffer His inheritance to be entirely desolated, or leave His glorious dwelling-place a ruin for ever.

CONCLUSION.—

1. Let the enemies of the Church of God take warning. Let them not interpret His silence as nonexistence, or construe His patience into powerlessness. He lives, and His arm has lost none of its ancient strength.

2. Let those who are richly blessed with spiritual privileges remember that they involve corresponding responsibilities. Be wise, prize them, improve them, lest they be the occasion of greater condemnation to you.

3. Let the favoured Church be warned. Be faithful, or God may write "Ichabod" upon your temples and altars.

4. Let the suffering Church take encouragement from her relationship to God, and from His past interpositions on her behalf, and learn how to plead them at His throne.

THE CONSTRUCTIVE AND THE DESTRUCTIVE

(Psa .)

Destruction is sometimes a wise and good employment. It is wise and good to destroy disease, error, evil. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." But destruction is inferior to construction.

I. The constructive is greater and more difficult than the destructive. An idiot might destroy St. Paul's Cathedral, London; but it needed the genius of Sir C. Wren to design it. A child might destroy a young oak sapling; but the mightiest man cannot create a daisy. A fool might unsettle a man's faith and destroy his character; but the wisest and holiest of men cannot of himself establish a man's faith and build up his character.

II. In the kingdom of the truth it is wiser and nobler to aim at building up the true than destroying the false.

1. It is wiser; for you may destroy one error only to make room for another. One evil spirit is expelled, but "other spirits more wicked than himself" enter in his place. But he who builds up the true is effectually destroying old errors and guarding against the entrance of new ones.

2. It is nobler. In destroying even the false and bad, men are often actuated by mean and base motives and feelings, but in aiming at edification in the true and good the motives and feelings are noble.

III. How terrible is it to destroy the true and good! To destroy a noble building, a magnificent city; to destroy life, virtue, truth, beauty, how heinous is this!

IV. God is the great constructor of the good. He is ever engaged in overcoming error and evil by building up souls in truth and grace.

Let us imitate Him in this.

THE SUFFERING CHURCH RECOUNTING THE DOINGS OF GOD IN THE PAST AS AN ARGUMENT FOR HIS HELP IN THE PRESENT

(Psa .)

The poet, in calling to mind and celebrating the interpositions of God on behalf of His people in former times, brings into prominence the Divine Sovereignty. From that Sovereignty, as it had been manifested in past deliverances and blessings, he drew encouragement for himself and the people in their present distresses.

I. The history of God's dealings with His people reveals His universal sovereignty.

1. He is sovereign over His people. "God is my King." The people of God loyally and heartily recognise His sovereignty over them. He is sovereign over all men; but His sovereignty is not acknowledged by all men. There are those who disown it and rebel against it; there are others who meanly and slavishly submit to it from base motives. But His own people recognise its righteousness, and wisdom, and goodness, and cordially own Him as their King. To them His "law is holy, and His commandment holy, and just, and good." He occupies the throne of their affections. In the hearts of His people He is supreme. They serve Him with willing minds. They bow to His authority with loyalty, and love, and reverence.

2. He is sovereign over His enemies. Expositors are pretty generally agreed that by "the dragons" and the "leviathan" whose heads were broken in the waters, the poet intended to set forth the Egyptians and their Pharaoh who were destroyed in the Red Sea. God manifested His sovereignty over them by destroying them for their rebellion against Him, and for their oppression of His people. They would not submit themselves to His authority, so He crushed them by His power. God is sovereign over all men, whether they acknowledge Him or not. The rebellion of the wicked in no way diminishes His right to reign, or His power to do all His pleasure. He is King. "He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet."

3. He is sovereign over nature. The Psalmist speaks of Him as dividing the sea, cleaving the fountain and flood, drying up mighty rivers, preparing the light and the sun, setting all the borders of the earth, making summer and winter. God is not only the great Creator of the universe, but its Sustainer also. We discover in nature not only wise and beneficent laws, but a Lawgiver also. We are acquainted with great forces, and are persuaded that there must be some intelligent and almighty Being who originated and sustains them. We mark a beautiful order and arrangement in nature, and regard them as signs of a Divine presence and power. He is but a superficial student of nature who never pursues his investigations beyond the discovery of mere laws and forces. To the devout and earnest listener nature is eloquent of God. God is the sovereign of nature. He controls her forces. He regulates her operations. He presides over all her processes. He is supreme in all. There is no province of His universe from which He is excluded. His sovereignty is complete and universal. He rules over all nature and all life. The life of the ephemera sporting its little hour in the rays of the summer sun, and the life of the archangel standing in His own presence, are both subject to Him.

II. The History of God's dealings with His people reveals the beneficence of His sovereignty.

God is a "King working salvation in the midst of the earth." God is actively engaged in every department of His universe. He is the supreme Worker. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." In the operations of nature He ceaselessly works. In the events of history He works, aiding His servants, restraining the wrath of His foes, directing and controlling all things, so that in the end truth and righteousness and love may be triumphant everywhere. And He works in human souls, delivering them from sin, and educating them into holy living and useful working. The Psalmist recognised the work of God in the past history of His people. He had brought them forth from Egypt with a high hand and an outstretched arm. He had smitten their enemies with destruction. He had led them through the sea as on dry land. He had wrought for their salvation. It is of the very nature of His sovereignty to work beneficently. And the salvation which He works is gloriously complete. This the Psalmist indicates by the words, "Working salvation in the midst of the earth." "The words denote the comprehensive nature of the salvation: whoever has obtained possession of the interior of a country has got the ascendency over the whole boundaries,—whatever is done there extends to the whole circumference" (Exo ; Isa 10:23). What God undertakes He carries to completion. His salvation is "unto the uttermost." He is "mighty to save." Let us rejoice in God's sovereignty. "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad." Man has sadly misrepresented His sovereignty. We have contemplated with horror representations of a Being of unlimited and arbitrary power, which power is often used to crush and curse his creatures, a power which, except in the case of a favourite few, works destruction in the midst of the land. Such is not the sovereignty of God. His rule is a thing of infinite wisdom, and goodness, and beauty. He doeth all things well. Under His sovereignty the race is advancing not to darkness and night, but to the glad and beautiful morning of eternal day. The beneficence of the work of God is seen by the Psalmist when he looks at it through the intervening years. While it is yet in process we cannot discover the significance or beauty of His work. While events are in progress they often seem chaotic, and sometimes even maleficent. Wait until the work has advanced to a period, and then the design of the great Worker will be before you a thing of joy and beauty.

III. The history of God's dealings with His people is full of encouragement to them.

The poet recounts the doings of Israel's King to encourage their hearts in their time of distress. His past interpositions are so many reasons for our placing our trust in Him in every time of need. God is unchangeable and eternal,—"the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." He is unchangeable in power: what He has done already He can do again. He is unchangeable in purpose. The design and tendency of His government is to "work salvation." "He is not a man that He should lie, or the son of man that He should repent." He is unchangeable in goodness: what He willed to do in the past He will do again. "He abideth faithful." So past deliverances and blessings encourage us to plead with Him, and to trust Him for help in present distresses. "Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice."

CONCLUSION.—

1. Let us rejoice in the beneficence and universality of the Divine Sovereignty. God—the Supremely Good—is King. He rules in righteousness, wisdom, and love.

2. Let the troubled heart take encouragement from God's relationship to him, and past dealings with him. He who has led you hitherto will never fail you or forsake you.

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

(Psa .)

In the time of trouble to which this Psalm refers the Psalmist took encouragement from the consideration of God's sovereignty. His kingship implies authority. As a Sovereign He proclaims His laws for the government of His subjects. And these laws involve penalties for those who violate them, and rewards for those who obey and honour them. God's kingship implies the protection of His people. It is the duty of kings to protect their subjects in the enjoyment of their rights. God is our shield. God's sovereignty is moral. He rules by reason, not by force. The laws which He prescribes are in harmony with the laws of our own nature. Thus, He has made us morally free, and His sovereignty never invades our freedom. He never coerces man into obedience.

In the text His sovereignty is presented in several aspects.

I. As loyally acknowledged. "My King." The sovereignty of God is universal in its extent, but is only partially acknowledged. There are those who utterly deny it, and are avowed rebels against His government. There are others who acknowledge it as slaves. If they obey His rule at all, it is because they feel compelled to do so by dread of the lash. There are others who acknowledge it as hirelings. They avoid transgression lest they should incur severe penalties; they obey that they might receive the reward of obedience. But there is no spontaneity or heartiness in their obedience. There are others who acknowledge it heartily as loyal subjects. They recognise and admire the justice and benevolence of His laws, and the wisdom of their administration; they cordially acknowledge His right to reign; they venerate Him as their King and God. What is our relation to this government? Are we rebels? slaves? hirelings? or loyal subjects?

II. As of ancient date. "Of old." God's sovereignty has existed from everlasting as regards Himself. His fitness for rule, His right to rule, His purpose to rule, are all eternal as Himself. In the solitude of the awful eternity He was supreme. As to His sovereignty over the Jews, by the term "of old" the Psalmist referred to the days when God brought His people out of Egypt with signs, and wonders, and great power. His sovereignty over them may be traced back to the call of Abram. His sovereignty over us began with the beginning of our being, and is coextensive with our being. Earthly monarchs pride themselves upon the antiquity of their dynasties. Here is a dynasty which no beginning knew. "Thy kingdom is established of old; Thou art from everlasting."

III. As beneficent in operation. "Working salvation." God's sovereignty is,—

1. Operative. God works. "He is not sitting down in what men call everlasting repose, calmly or indifferently marking the operations of the universe, and luxuriating in a peace which no storm can invade. That is not the kind of God which guilty, weary, broken-hearted man requires." He works in nature, in history, in redemption.

2. Operates beneficently. The King works salvation. God's sovereignty has been grievously misinterpreted. Human notions of favouritism have been set down to God's sovereignty. Men have formulated a doctrine of reprobation, and have had the audacity to call it God's sovereignty. Most firmly do we believe in His sovereignty, but we believe in it as "working salvation." Of the King it was predicted, "He is just and having salvation." God rules to bless. He works to save men, not to destroy them.

But is it really so? Does God's government work beneficently? At this time, as the Psalm indicates, His people were in a most desolate and afflicted state. Was the King working for their salvation? Their misery arose from their sin, from their rebellion against His government. At present darkness, suffering, and sorrow are here; but they are here because sin is here. God rules to bless.

IV. As a plea for His help. So the Psalmist uses it on this occasion. He mentions what God had done for them in olden time, and pleads that as their King He would interpose for them again. As their King,—

1. He would possess sovereign authority. None could stay His hand or say unto Him, what doest Thou? He could smite down their foes, and set them free and prosper them.

2. He would be faithful to His sovereign obligations. He would keep His promises and "respect the covenant," as they entreated Him to do (Psa ).

3. He was immutable. He was the same when this Psalm was written as when He divided the Red Sea. He changes not. And still He has sovereign power to save, and is faithful and unchangeable; and still we may urge His sovereignty as a reason why He should help us. A powerful reason it is. It appeals to His honour, acknowledges His beneficence, &c. This plea may be used by us,—

(1) As communities forming part of His Church. When any portion of His Church languishes, or is afflicted, or is in difficulty, it may plead with the King for help.

(2) As individuals on our own behalf. In our times of perplexity and distress let us go to our King, and plead with Him for guidance and deliverance.

GOD IN NATURE

(Psa .)

The poet was neither,

1. An atheist. He believed in God. Nor,

2. A pantheist. He believed in God as distinct from nature. Nor,

3. A mere naturalist, seeing nothing in nature higher than order, and law, and development. He recognised God in nature. He regards God as—

I. The Creator of nature. "Thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth. Thou hast made summer and winter." God being the Creator of nature, nature is a revelation of God, and as such should be studied by us. He is a superficial or partial student who has not advanced beyond the discovery of laws. Nature reveals the Divine,

1. Power in her stupendous forces.

2. Unchangeableness in the regularity and order of her revolutions.

3. Wisdom in her marvellous and beautiful adaptations of means to ends.

4. Goodness in her ample provisions for the needs of both man and beast

5. Delight in beauty in the countless forms of loveliness, sublimity, and grandeur in earth and sea and sky.

"These are Thy glorious works, Parent of good,

Almighty, Thine this universal frame,

Thus wondrous fair; Thyself how wondrous then!

Unspeakable, who sitt'st above these heavens

To us invisible, or dimly seen

In these Thy lowest works; yet these declare

Thy goodness beyond thought, and power Divine,"—Milton.

II. The Proprietor of nature. "The day is Thine, the night also is Thine." He who created has the most indubitable right to His own creations. God being Proprietor of nature, it follows:

1. That we are but stewards. The wealthiest man cannot call an acre absolutely his own.

2. Large possessions involve large responsibilities. We hold our possessions in trust for Him. He who holds most has most accountability.

3. God will call all men to give an account of their stewardship.

III. The Sustainer of nature. The boundaries of the earth remain. Day and night, summer and winter, still alternate as of old. God's sustenance of nature should inspire man to trust in Him.

THE SUFFERING CHURCH PLEADING THE FAITHFULNESS AND HONOUR OF GOD AS AN ARGUMENT FOR HIS INTERPOSITION

(Psa .)

The sorrowful complaint of the suffering people of God passed into a rehearsal of His former glorious doings on their behalf, which was eminently adapted to inspire and strengthen their faith. And now that rehearsal passes into earnest pleading with God, such pleading that has "power with God and prevails." The Psalmist pleads—

I. The attitude of their enemies to Him.

The enemies of Israel were arrayed in avowed hostility to God, they blasphemed His name daily, they rose tumultuously against Him, therefore His people call upon Him to plead His own cause and subdue His foes and theirs.

1. Their enemies blasphemed Him. "Remember this, the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, and the foolish people have blasphemed Thy name: remember how the foolish man reproacheth Thee daily." What was done against the people of God may in an important sense be said to be a reproach offered to Him. But more than that is meant here. These cruel persecutors were also profane and daring blasphemers. By oppressing and reviling His people they offered insult and hurled reproach to Him. They had also directly and scandalously blasphemed Him. Yet God forbore to smite them. No lightnings strike them. No thunders alarm them. And His people were amazed at this. These blasphemers were foolish people. "The foolish people have blasphemed Thy name, … the foolish man reproacheth Thee daily." Wickedness is essential folly. The sinner is a great fool. He is so because

(1) He is wilfully pursuing a course which is incompatible with his true well-being. The conditions upon which alone the noblest capacities and faculties of his being can be developed he rejects with scorn. The highest and divinest joys of life he is a stranger to.

(2) He is educating himself for a dark and miserable hereafter. He is qualifying himself for hell—the hell of sinful habits, evil and furious passions, accusing and tormenting memories, and black and threatening prospects.

(3) He is contending against irresistible forces. Truth, righteousness, love are against him, and they are eternal and must conquer. God is against him. The sinner is a worm fighting against Almightiness. The enemies of God, unless they submit to Him, must be crushed. No sinners are greater fools than those who ridicule religion and reproach the religious. If religion be true, then the folly of those who ridicule it is utter, egregious, and ruinous. If religion be false, then it becomes the duty of those who have made the discovery to lead the religious to truth and reality, and not to treat them with reproach.

2. Their enemies loudly opposed Him. "Forget not the voice of Thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against Thee increaseth continually." The wicked were clamorous in their fury against Him, and for the destruction of His people. They were making war against Him with loud and defiant cries, like the shouts of battle. They were challenging God to combat.

3. All this is urged by the inspired poet as a reason why God should arise in defence of His own cause and that of His people. These enemies were doing their utmost to tarnish and sully the glory of His name; would He submit to that? They were openly aspersing His honour; would He not appear in self-vindication? Fools were loudly bidding Him defiance; would He not smite them with perpetual dumbness? If He did not care for the sufferings of His people, was He not jealous of His own glory? If He was indifferent as to their cause, was He also indifferent as to His own? "Arise, O God, plead Thine own cause," and so send us deliverance from our enemies, for they are Thy foes. It is well when the suffering Church can plead for deliverance on the ground that her enemies are also the enemies of God, and that His interests and hers are identical. It is also well when the suffering Church, in strong assurance of the identity of her interests and God's, can wait with confident expectation and calm patience for His interposition.

II. Their own relation to Him.

1. They were His turtle-dove. "O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the multitude." By comparing themselves to a turtle-dove they plead

(1) Their helplessness. They were weak and utterly defenceless against the fierce host of their foes, if His protection were withdrawn. This is a plea which moves the heart of God. "When I am weak, then am I strong."

(2) The plaintiveness and incessancy of their cry to Him. "The turtle pours forth from every garden, grove, and wooded hill its melancholy yet soothing ditty, unceasingly from early dawn till sunset. It is from its plaintive note, doubtless, that the Psalmist, in pouring forth his lament to God, compares himself to a turtle-dove."—Smith's Bible Dict. The cry of God's defenceless people was rising constantly and mournfully to Him for His help. Could He close His ear to such appeals?

(3) Their constancy to Him in the future. "From its habit of pairing for life, and its fidelity for its mate, the turtle was a symbol of purity" and faithfulness of affection. The suffering people could not plead their faithfulness to Him in the past. They had wandered far from Him, and often. "The turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but My people know not the judgment of the Lord." But henceforth, as His turtle-dove, they will be constant in their love to Him. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?" Let Him have mercy upon them, and they would never forsake Him again.

2. They were the congregation of His poor. God had manifested frequently a special interest in the poor. Those who were specially needy were the objects of His special care. He was pre-eminently the Friend of the fatherless and widow, the afflicted and broken in heart. He had issued particular commands for the treatment of the poor. "I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land." Some of the sternest denunciations of the prophets were directed against those who oppressed the poor. "God has chosen the poor of this world." They plead that they were His poor, yet they were sorely distressed, and He seemed as though He had forgotten them. Would He forget them for ever? They were HIS poor, they were HIS turtle-dove; would He not appear on behalf of His own? Was their night of oppression to last for ever? Oh, when would He cause their day to dawn by coming to their help?

3. They were His covenanted people. "Have respect unto Thy covenant." This is the sublimest and most effectual plea of all. Circumstances such as they were now placed in had been described by God through His servant Moses, and He had said, "If then their hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity; then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land" (Lev ). "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said it, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" "My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips (Psa 89:30-34). The appeal is made to the truth and faithfulness of God. "If we believe not, He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself." How much more will He abide faithful if His people, even in darkness and distress, do believe, and plead His promises, and urge Him to fulfil them! Certainly, if their punishment has done its work in them, if they are truly and sufficiently humbled and penitent, He will respect His covenant by delivering them from their distresses. But, if their sufferings have not led them to genuine and thorough repentance of their sins, He will respect His covenant by withholding His help until they turn to Him with all their heart. He cannot forget His covenant. His faithfulness cannot fail. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His words shall not pass away."

CONCLUSION.—Here are, at least, three lessons for suffering Christians or churches in their pleadings with God.

1. Let us urge His mercy towards us rather than the claims of our miseries upon Him. Perhaps our miseries are all deserved.

2. Let us trust His promises rather than the force or fervour of our petitions. The heartiest prayer does not merit any blessing.

3. If we have broken our share of the covenant, let us be thankful that He abideth faithful, and that in His covenant provision is made for the pardon and restoration of transgressors. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.… I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him."

THE CHURCH A TURTLE-DOVE

(Psa .)

I. The church of God is like a turtle-dove.

1. In innocence and inoffensiveness.

2. In defencelessness. We have no defence, but God. Left to ourselves, we are helpless.

3. In purity. "Purifying your hearts by faith."

4. In fidelity of affection. (See Smith's Bible Dict., Art. Turtle-Dove.)

II. The church of God is exposed to enemies.

III. The church of God can suffer no real harm unless God should deliver her to her enemies.

IV. The church of God is dear to Him, therefore He will not abandon her. "Thy turtle-dove."

HINTS FOR A MISSIONARY SERMON

(Psa .)

I. The state of the heathen world.

1. Darkness. Not without the light of nature, reason, or conscience; but without the light of Revelation 2. Cruelty. Missionary records, and the narratives of explorers afford sadly numerous and painful illustrations of this.

II. The covenant of God in relation to the heathen world. That the heathen are included in it is manifest from both prophecies and promises of the Word (Psa ; Psa 72:8-17; Isa 11:9, et al.)

III. The duty of the church in relation to the heathen world.

1. To plead God's covenant on its behalf.

2. To carry out the command of God for the fulfilment of the covenant. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature."

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 74:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/psalms-74.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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