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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 74

 

 

Verses 1-23

Psalms 74:1-23

O God, why hast Thou cast us off for ever?
why doth Thine anger smoke against the sheep of Thy pasture?

The wail and prayer of a true patriot

I. The wail (Psalms 74:1-17).

1. Some communities of men are far more favoured of Heaven than others. The Jews were (Psalms 74:1-2). In this diversity of endowment--

2. The most favoured communities are not exempted from terrible calamities (Psalms 74:7-9).

3. These terrible calamities are often inflicted by wicked men.

4. The wicked men who inflict these calamities are ever under the control of God.

II. The prayer (Psalms 74:18-23).

1. The enemies of God are the enemies both of themselves and of their country (Psalms 74:18). A bad man cannot be a good citizen, but must be more or less a curse to his country. An ungodly man can never be a true patriot.

2. The interposition of God is necessary to deliver a country from the pernicious influence of wicked men (Psalms 74:22).

Hence the prayer, “Arise, O God, plead Thine own cause.” In this prayer two things are to be noted--

(i.) The anthropomorphic tendency of the soul.

(ii.) A good man’s conscious need of God.

How deeply did this godly patriot feel the necessity of God’s interposition. In the midst of his country’s distress he looked around, but there was help to be found nowhere but in heaven. (Homilist.)


Verses 1-23

Psalms 74:1-23

O God, why hast Thou cast us off for ever?
why doth Thine anger smoke against the sheep of Thy pasture?

The wail and prayer of a true patriot

I. The wail (Psalms 74:1-17).

1. Some communities of men are far more favoured of Heaven than others. The Jews were (Psalms 74:1-2). In this diversity of endowment--

2. The most favoured communities are not exempted from terrible calamities (Psalms 74:7-9).

3. These terrible calamities are often inflicted by wicked men.

4. The wicked men who inflict these calamities are ever under the control of God.

II. The prayer (Psalms 74:18-23).

1. The enemies of God are the enemies both of themselves and of their country (Psalms 74:18). A bad man cannot be a good citizen, but must be more or less a curse to his country. An ungodly man can never be a true patriot.

2. The interposition of God is necessary to deliver a country from the pernicious influence of wicked men (Psalms 74:22).

Hence the prayer, “Arise, O God, plead Thine own cause.” In this prayer two things are to be noted--

(i.) The anthropomorphic tendency of the soul.

(ii.) A good man’s conscious need of God.

How deeply did this godly patriot feel the necessity of God’s interposition. In the midst of his country’s distress he looked around, but there was help to be found nowhere but in heaven. (Homilist.)


Verse 5

Psalms 74:5

A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees.

The axe and the altar

Shall we regard the text as an epitaph on the headstone of some worker for God and the good of man, long, long ago? If so, we shall find but the merest fragment of a sentence, which you have to complete by supplying the first two words, as our translators did, when they bent over it, as it were, on hands and knees, to read it. They found no name, and, in order to make sense of the broken record, they had to prefix two words--“a man”; for his name, whatever it was, has been lost to us, but not to God, in the dim shadows of the past.

I. His work. We must throw our minds back to the time when the temple was in course of building. This man had no gold, or silver, or precious stones to bring: it may have been that he had little or nothing of material substance at his command; but he had strength in his brawny arm, and he gave himself, his time and his labour, and all the ardour of a loving heart to the good cause. Now he is on his way to the stately cedars with a fixed purpose clearly set in his face; he selects those that are best fitted for the roof, or for beams, or pillars, or for the doors, or other finer parts of the work that must be carved with great taste and care; and if he can do nothing else for the national undertaking, he can at least do the rough work of felling trees.

II. His motive. Nothing is said about this in the text, but we may rest assured that his work would never have found a place in the sacred minstrelsy of the ancient Church, had there not been underlying it all a noble motive. It was the cause of God in the land that made him stand forth, and which brought him out of obscurity, just as it has done with many others in seasons of religious awakening, when the peasant and the artisan have come nobly forward to fight side by side, and generously to give of their substance for what was dearer to them than life itself. If the common people are not roused to action in the interests of true godliness, the heart of the nation will never be stirred to that combined effort, which must ever be put forth to secure any permanent good, and to give vitality and stability to any great religious movement. It is, therefore, a pleasing picture to us, to see “our man” with his axe, which he consecrates most heartily to the cause of righteousness and truth. The work he does with it is not for personal or selfish ends, but for the nation; yea, for the world--for God Himself. It is this that gives surpassing dignity to every stroke, and makes him stand out on the page of the sacred record as a striking example of unselfish service, and true, honest work.

III. His reward.

1. This he received, in the noble enthusiasm with which he inspired others. Such a man could not but have a large following. He was from the people, and many of his comrades, animated by a similar spirit, went forth with him to do valiant things. The man who can move others for good has received a great gift, and when he makes use of it he has his reward in the number of enthusiastic followers he draws into the same path.

2. In the consciousness that he was doing good. The commendation of one’s own conscience, and the sunshine of God’s approving smile, are no small part of the reward connected with any work of faith or labour of love.

3. In the sacred memorial of the text. Rough as the work of the man referred to appears to be, in the mere felling of trees, it reached the very depths, and at the same time rose to the sublimest heights of man’s spiritual nature, for it was inseparably bound up with the glorious future that lies before the cause of God, in its fullest development in earth or in heaven. The marble may be broken up and crumble into dust, and every feature that genius has impressed upon it may pass away, but the influence and the record of true worth are eternal as the spirit of goodness itself, and like the word of the Lord must endure for ever. So shall it be with the memorial of this man.

4. In the “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” He did his work for God in a loving spirit, and was called home when it was done to enter into his rest, and to receive his reward.

IV. His life-lessons.

1. It matters not whether we work with the axe or the pen, with hand or with brain; given but the power of true faith, there will be work done, and that of a kind to an extent that will surprise ourselves and others. We have all our daily tasks, and in doing them honestly and thoroughly well, we are doing nobly for ourselves, for others, and for God, and thus the toils of every day may be pervaded by the Master’s spirit, and lifted up to a higher level, far above the mere drudgery of life.

2. Passing from this personal view of the work for Christ in our own hearts and in connection with His Church, let me remind you that you are all members of the general community, and as such should be deeply interested in its welfare, and ready to do your part in securing this. (A. Wallace, D. D.)


Verse 8

Psalms 74:8

They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.

The synagogues of God

We do not know the precise circumstances under which this psalm was written. But we thank God our synagogues are not destroyed as were those of the Jews.

I. Let us glance at the synagogues of Judaea and in the ancient world. And we note--

1. That they express one of the greatest marvels of Providence. They were to be the places where, and by means of which, the message of the Gospel was to be delivered. The Jews had synagogues everywhere, and thus God by His providence had prepared the field in which first the Gospel seed was sown.

2. They were intimately connected with our Lord’s work.

3. And with the ministry of the apostles.

II. At the synagogues of God to-day. The word means a coming together, and it expresses an essential idea of Christian worship. And they are synagogues of God. This the main thing. There God works and blesses souls. And think of them all, and of those especially in our own land. May God’s power be manifested in them more and more. (J. Aldis.)

The synagogue a post-exilian institution

Dr. Prideux affirms that the Jews had no synagogues before the Babylonish captivity; for the main service of the synagogue being the reading of the law unto the people, where there was no book of the law to be read, there certainly would be no synagogue. How rare the book of the law was through all Judaea before the captivity, many texts of Scripture tell us. Dr. Fairbairn, in support of the same view, says, “There is every reason to think that this psalm was composed during the Babylonish captivity, and was intended to describe the desolation which had been brought by the Chaldeans upon all the sacred spots of Palestine. The word for synagogue in the original, however, properly expresses the places of the revelation of God, and can refer only to the temple, that one place on which God had chosen to put His name.”


Verse 9

Psalms 74:9

We see not our signs.

Signs of life

This psalm is clearly not one written by David. Verses 6, 7 prove that; but it is one of the psalms of the Exile. The signs here meant, which the writer mourns that he did not see, were certain outward marks of God’s special favour. 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; the spirit of prophecy, for that spirit ceased with Malachi, and did not reappear until John the Baptist. Now, on this groundwork we may build up a spiritual interpretation. We may not always do this, but only where there is, as here, a real groundwork for it, and where there is a response to it in the heart. The Church of to-day often has to lament that she sees not her signs. In considering this, note--

I. The nature of their signs. They are marks of God’s favour, and there appear to be two classes of them.

1. Those which, if removed, would not remove the thing itself which they signify. The crown of a monarch, you may take that away, but he remains a monarch still. Remove the milestones on a road, but you do not remove the distances which they indicate. Banknotes also. But--

2. There are other signs which are constituent parts of the thing itself, so that the taking away of the sign is a taking away of the thing. For example, the lengthening days are a sign of spring; but if there be not this sign there is no spring. Now, of this sort of sign are those which the text tells of. Not, however, entirely. For good works may be absent, partly and for a time, but the life of grace may yet be present. And when good works are present they are not infallible signs of grace.

3. But for the most part the sign and the thing it indicates go together. As, the fear of the Lord; the spirit of grace and of supplication; repentance; faith in Christ; love to the Lord’s people and to Christ; the witness of the Spirit; a life consistent with the Gospel.

II. The seeing of these signs. What does this mean? It is implied that there are times when the signs can be seen, as well as when they cannot. Now, what is requisite to see them? Those that travel along the heavenward way have certain landmarks--Ebenezers, stones of help. But in order to see them there must be light, that told of in Psalms 36:9; not the pale moonlight of speculation, nor the frosty northern light of cold doctrine, nor the meteor light--the “ignis fatuus “ of delusion; not the mere phosphoric light, which dimly gleams by rubbing together rotten evidences; not the sparks of their own kindling, elicited by the collision of flinty hearts and steeled consciences; we want no light such as we can make, but the Lord’s light.

III. Why it is that we see not our signs. Some people say they can always see them. This is not true, and the belief of it full of evil. But the causes of our not seeing them are various: the smoke of infidelity; the fogs of unbelief; the valley of trouble; the sun may go down by the Lord’s bidding. But all this will be a source of sorrow and lamentation, for such things are no signs of grace, though not inconsistent with it. But you must have seen the signs before you can lament that you see them not. (J. C. Philpot.)

The prospects of the age

If it were suggested that there could be any parallel between our own prosperous, progressive, enlightened age, and those melancholy days to which the psalm relates, the supposition might at once be scouted as absurdity. Yet I am not so sure but that in respect at least of the one particular referred to in the text--the dearth of the greater order of men--some degree of parallel might not very fairly be argued.

I. First, then, as to the fact--how far this description of the text answers to anything that exists in our own times. I have in view chiefly the bearings of this subject on religion, but it is not in religion only, but in all the spheres of our thought and life that I think this falling off of the greater order of minds can be detected. We had a series of great poets in the early part and middle of last century. Where is the poet of the present day whose works are likely to live like theirs? We have had a succession of great writers of fiction--their books are on every one’s shelves--but where is the writer of to-day whose books we would put in the same rank? We have had great musicians--Mozart, Handel, Beethoven, Haydn, and the like. Their compositions live. Who are producing pieces of the same grandeur? We have had a century of great statesmen. It is no disparagement of the men of the younger generation to say that they are not men of the calibre of those who have led the country for the last fifty or eighty years. We had a generation or two of great preachers--men like Chalmers, Guthrie, MacLeod. Once more the piety and teaching of the past generation gave us Christians, whose weight of religious character it was a pleasure to acknowledge--men reverent, sober-minded, deeply instructed in God’s Word, massive in Christian substance, matured and real in Christian experience; is the newer type of religious character--brighter and more attractive as it is in some of its aspects--characterized by anything like the same depth, solidity, and durableness?

II. THE causes of this apparent absence, in all spheres of life, of the greater order of men in our midst, and what are the possible remedies.

1. One thing which should give us hope is the fact that after every great and creative epoch in history, there comes necessarily a period of pause. The human mind cannot always be at its highest stretch. History does not flow on evenly, but in great ebbs and flows--in grand creative epochs, followed by long-breathing spaces, in times when the strongest call is made for great men, and they are drawn out and developed by the very magnitude of the crisis that calls for them, and quieter times, when people rejoice in the possessions they have won, and do not feel impelled to great efforts.

2. Again, it is to be remembered that after every great creative period which men live through, there comes a time when the results of that creative activity have to be gathered up; and this very process puts of necessity a check, for the time being, on further production. This, indeed, is how history proceeds--there is first a great burst of creative genius under the influence of some new idea or impulse; then, when the wealth of that new movement has been poured into the lap of the age, men have the new task laid upon them of sitting down and looking carefully into the nature of their treasure, taking stock of it, as it were, seeing what it really amounts to; getting to understand it, and working it out to its practical results. This is the labour of industry more than of creation, but it is equally essential to the world’s progress. There is another part of this task which is of great importance. With every great advance of thought or discovery--with every burst of new truth into the world--there is laid on those who receive it, the duty of adjusting it to the truth they already possess.

3. There are, however, special causes which do belong to the character of the present age which tend, I think, to explain more particularly the dearth of the greatest type of minds in our midst.

Faith in signs and without them

The Israelites had formed a certain conception of God, and of His relation to them. They thought themselves to be His own peculiar people, and thought, therefore, that for them there would be a peculiar place among the nations of the earth. When they triumphed over their enemies, they regarded it as a sign of God’s presence with them. National supremacy was one of the signs of God. At the time of this psalm that sign was not to be seen. National supremacy there was none. What was the truth behind that dogma? What was it that was struggling for utterance in it? That truth, I believe, was this: that through them the world was to receive a universal religion. They mistook their true spiritual significance for a prophecy of national dominion over the world. And, therefore, they were looking for victories as signs of the Divine Presence. In times of defeat they had to say, “We see not our signs.” Again, they connected the Divine Presence specially with certain places. The sanctuaries were the peculiar dwelling-abodes of God--His places of revelation. But here are the enemies roaring in the midst of the congregation, and breaking down the carved work with axes and hammers; burning up all the synagogues of God in the land. No wonder they cry, “We see not our signs.” This disposition to fix upon certain signs of God is still with us, and it is the prolific source of religious despondency and of partial temporary eclipses of religious faith. Some, when their undertakings do not succeed, cry dolefully, “We see not our signs.” Others of us can maintain our spirit bravely enough until our sanctuaries are touched. One man’s sanctuary is the Church. Another man’s sanctuary is a theory about the Bible. The Bible is an infallible book, a Word of God indisputable. Question that theory, and they say they have no sign left, they can’t be sure of God. Now, what are we doing when we thus choose signs of God? We are creating for ourselves the possibility, often the certainty, of overwhelming disappointments. We are liable to come to crises where such signs will fail us. In reality we have been setting up a little god of our own make as truly as if we had made an image of wood or stone, and the idol may be destroyed. I am glad to think that there is a faith without signs, and a faith that persists when things are apparently against us. And it is this faith which lies deepest in the human soul. This, I think, is evident even in the history of those who have looked for signs. When the signs do not appear, they are disappointed, they cry bitterly; but even then, as a rule, they pray! Their eclipses are only temporary. Indeed, nothing is more remarkable than the way in which religious faith, that apparently rests on some supposed evidences, can still live when those evidences are taken from it. This shows that the real root of faith was not in such evidences at all, but deeper in the soul of man. The sense of God belongs to us. And like this psalm, even when we have been expecting signs, and cannot see them, we pray to a God above the clouds, whose face is light and whose favour is life. Like the man in the Gospels we say, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief.” We may doubt all the arguments for God’s existence, declare this unsatisfactory and that untenable, and when every argument fails we find we believe in God still. We feel and know that He is here. “Eternal Father, strong to save,” Thy child lives in Thee. (T. R. Williams.)


Verse 10-11

Psalms 74:10-11

O God, how long shall the adversary reproach?
shall the enemy blaspheme Thy name for ever?

The long forbearance of God

1. Men’s patience is much short of God’s longsuffering and forbearance; for here it is the speech of a suffering people: “O God, how long shall the adversary reproach?” when with God it is not yet time to fall upon them.

2. The Lord’s longsuffering patience doth greatly harden the adversaries in their insolent mocking of God’s people; for instead of saying, Lord, how long wilt Thou bear with them? he saith, “O God, how long shall the adversaries reproach?”

3. The truly godly can endure their own troubles better than they can bear the open dishonouring and blaspheming of God by occasion of their trouble. Therefore this expression, from the deepest sense of his heart, doth break forth, “Shall the enemy blaspheme Thy name for ever?”

4. Albeit tentations from carnal sense do represent God as if He were idle when He suffers His enemies to trample on His people, and on His glorious Name; yet faith will not admit of such a thought, but dealeth with God by prayer, to let His strength and power be so manifest, that the world may not think His hand is in His bosom; “Why withdrawest thou thy hand?” etc. This he believeth the Lord shall do, and giveth reasons for his hope, in that which followeth. (D. Dickson.)


Verse 12

Psalms 74:12

For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.

The sovereignty of God

I. Loyally acknowledged. “My King.”

II. Of ancient date. “Of old.”

III. Beneficent in operation. “Working salvation.” 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 authority and govern-mont. 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. 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.

2. He would be faithful to His sovereign obligations.

3. He was immutable. This plea may be used by us--


Verse 14

Psalms 74:14

Thou brakest the heads Of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

Leviathan

We cannot certainly tell what animal is meant by leviathan, but whatever be intended, it is here used to represent Pharaoh with all his policy and power. Who were the people inhabiting the wilderness?

I. The birds and beasts of the desert. The carcases of the Egyptians became their prey.

II. The Jews themselves. For literally, Pharaoh and his hosts became meat for them by the spoils they took from them. And morally, because they gained from the event food for their faith, gratitude, and hope.

III. Christians to-day. For they are such a people: the world is a wilderness to them, not their rest. And for them many leviathans have been destroyed. Satan’s power: the curse and condemnation of our natural state. And the remembrance will feed our humility, gratitude and trust. And there have been providential interpositions also. Take note of these things. (W. Jay.)


Verse 16

Psalms 74:16

The day is Thine, the night also is Thine.

The day and the night

I. God’s ordinances.

1. Day is a Divine institution, and is strongly characterized by that wisdom and goodness which are over all God’s works. In its principal feature--light--light over all, filling the heavens, flushing the earth, mantling over hill and valley, meadow and plain, kindling the great face of the ocean into a mirror, till it reflects on its bosom all that is above it, and repeats in shadow all that is upon it--it may even be regarded as the similitude of God, for “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”

2. But if the day is God’s institution, so also is the night, which is not less closely written over with the characters of His wisdom and goodness. If day unto day uttereth speech, night unto night showeth knowledge. They are parts and counterparts of each other. The day makes us ready to welcome the night, and the night furnishes us with a standard by which to measure and estimate the splendours of the day.

II. God’s servants. Neither of these two servants of God ever rests. There is always day somewhere, and there is always night somewhere. Continually the night is laying down one half the world to repose, and continually the day is leading forth the other half of the world to work. The night receives the world weary from the hands of the day, and puts it to rest; and the day receives the world refreshed from the hands of the night, and lights it to action. And all the time also they are otherwise doing for man what man cannot do for himself. They are growing his food. They are weaving his raiment. They are enriching his dwelling-place with beauty and verdure. And in all this multiform kindness to us they are serving God, fulfilling His pleasure, doing what He meant them to do, when He set them in the heavens to be for signs and for seasons, for days and for years. So that, in point of fact, this manifold service of nature is just God’s kindness to us through the ministry of His two great servants, the day and the night.

III. God’s absolute possession. That is to say, we are not at liberty to do what we choose with them. For the manner in which we deal, with the possibilities of good which they contain, we are strictly and constantly under law to God. In ministering to us as He has ordained, they are serving Him. But in the use we make of them we must serve Him too. What they do unconsciously we must do consciously, in the exercise of those higher faculties which render us capable of a higher service. God has always been jealous of the treatment His servants have received at the hands of those whom He has appointed them to serve. “Touch not Mine anointed, nor do My prophets any harm.” And even these unconscious and inanimate servants, the Day and the Night, have a voice in His ears which He does not disregard, calling for judgment on those who treat them ill, who turn them to purposes of selfishness and sin; who degrade them to be the ministers of unworthy pleasures, or even slothful ease, and who do not rather send them back to their Proprietor laden with the fruits of righteousness unto life everlasting. (A. L. Simpson, D. D.)

Disorder in the Church

We have lost that immediate vision which is the peculiar privilege and gift of those religious Easterns, who see God in the undeviating realities of experience. The Jew sees God with the seeing of the eye, sees Him in the mighty activities of nature, sees Him in the concrete facts of experience. God is present to him there, attesting His validity, disclosed as the supreme and only actuality. In the roar of the storm, in the rush of the rain, in the splendour of the sun, in the obedience of the moon, in the steady fixities of rock and tree and cliff, he and his God come face to face and commune together. There is the dominion where his God never fails him. Tossed and afflicted as he may be in his spiritual experiences, he still holds fast to this abiding consolation. Anyhow “the day is Thine, the night also is Thine: Thou hast prepared the light and the sun.” We have to learn to see with his eyes. That is what we mean by taking the Bible as our authority in revelation. And then we have one other lesson to learn from him. Not only did he find absolute certainty of evidence of God in nature, but he was also prepared to be loyal to a revelation which for long dark periods may fail to accord him that clear security of God’s close presence, that regularity of order and seemliness in God’s workmanship which he found so constant in the natural world, It is his revelation which is disturbed by such strange perplexities. It is his special privileges, sealed to him by God, which is open to such terrible insecurities. It is the holy Church which seems to be emptied of God, deserted, forgotten, left to the scorn of adversaries who make havoc of its fair delights. Outside there the great order of nature proclaims aloud God’s mighty name, “The day is thine; the night is thine.” They never languish or grow troubled. But inside the Church he cannot understand what God is about; and yet it is His congregation. It is His inheritance. Nothing shakes the Jew’s loyal belief in the peculiar favours which were shown to him. He never dreams of arguing, “If it is a revelation it is bound to be clear, decided, protected against all possible doubts and uncertainties. God would never give a revelation and then leave it open to perplexities.” The Jew answers, “That is just what God has done. It is a revelation which He gives. We are His flock, His inheritance, His Church. That is certain, and yet look at our actual situation, how we are troubled, and tossed, and agonized, not knowing which way to turn. Nature is calm, but we are disturbed. And yet we will not fail the word given us, for all that. We are the Divine society, the holy congregation, even though God seems absent from us so long.” And we must possess ourselves of a like loyalty to his. The extraordinary assumption that a revelation, if it be a revelation, must be free from difficulties, must be clear-cut, logical, complete, must leave no problem unsolved, must secure itself against every possible misunderstanding, is flatly contradicted by everything that we know of the only revelation of which we have any experience at all. It is the mark of heresy--it was always the mark in old years--to aim at logical completeness, at clear-cut consistency. Surely we will take courage from this Israelite in our psalm. We may desire, as he did, that God’s revelation in Jesus Christ might work with the even, smooth, unbroken regularity of natural law. We may painfully contrast, as he did, the comfortable certainty of the one with the perplexity of the other. But God will not have it so. And we know too little of the end He has in view to criticize or complain. Therefore, as the Jew of old, so we at all costs will surrender ourselves to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, however strange its adverse fortunes, however belated its victory. (Canon Scott Holland.)

The night also is Thine.

The God of the night

Regard night--

I. As a division of time. And as such it is--

1. The first.

2. Natural.

3. Universal.

4. Beneficent. “The dews of the night heal the wounds of the day.”

II. As the product and possession of God. Of storm as well as of calm, of night as well as of day. God is at once the Source and Sovereign. Therefore--

III. Learn.

1. A lesson for the regulation of conduct. Take care to wisely and rightly use the night time.

2. A message for the consolation of human sorrows. For our nights of pain and sorrow are ordained, relieved and terminated by God. (Wingate Thomas.)


Verse 17

Psalms 74:17

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: Thou hast made summer and winter.

Summer

This season so changes the whole of life, so intensifies and blesses it, that we begin to think of summer as a personal friend. One of its chiefest charms is its fulness. And this fulness is its peace. And with the peace is welfare, welfare in the world. For the perfect health of things makes us most happy. The air seems fondly to caress our cheek, the tree to give us its love in its shade, the stream to rejoice for our sakes in its own music. Summer has the deep consciousness of fruitfulness, it rejoices in its own fulness and wealth. Few things are more full of teaching than the beautiful endurance and quiet resolution of Nature during its stormy spring. It has so much to make grow, so much to perfect. Though all the aspirations of spring are not fulfilled, yet more than enough are, to give to summer satisfied content. Have we the like content in regard to our past year’s life? Life is in fruitfulness, not in looking on to immortality, discontented with the present. Life is in fruitfulness which brings content to others, and which brings content to us. The real looking forward we should have is that which the summer has--to the harvest, and it is founded on the faith of work already done. That is the image of a true human aspiration. But we are not to be so content as to desire no better things and be without the mighty impulse of far-off ideals. Only remember, it is so easy to speak beautiful words and to do nothing--to have a fair show of leaves and no fruit. Better to have no ideals than this, and to be doing just what lies before us day by day. Repelled by mere talk of ideals, many men are saying now, “We will have no future: we will be content to do the common work of daily life as it comes hour by hour to the hand.” And summer teaches also the contentment of rest. A time of quiet has come: it is no longer hard to live. But to many this is not true; summer is the contrast, not the image of their life. Things seem to have gone all wrong with them. But the cure is to learn the lesson which Nature gives us day by day--self-forgetfulness. Or we may win peace by daily self-surrender, doing good to others. Oh, seek the summer life of the soul--the rest of the Lord. (Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

The Gospel of the summer

I. It reminds us of God’s existence. The glory of the world declares that the living God stands behind the world; for if He did not stand behind it and pervade it with His gracious energy, there could be none of this beauty. Beauty is always the outward and visible sign of indwelling mind. Mere paint does not make a picture, no matter how fine you may grind the colours; mere stone does not make an Athenian Parthenon, or a Doge’s palace, or a Giotto’s tower; mere wind and reeds do not make grand music; it is the soul of the artist that gives grace and grandeur to the things which delight the world. Objects of art are beautiful as they express great thoughts; the final secret is always intellectual.

II. It reminds us of God’s beauty. To the Jew God was full of wisdom, and justice, and patience, and tenderness, and benevolence, and this was the supreme primal glory which lights up with splendour both heaven and earth. “How great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!” And the New Testament fully recognizes this glorious truth. “The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory,” etc. The Deity was made known to us as the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley--the most delicate and majestic beauty of character and action were revealed in Him. He was strong, wise, pure, gentle, longsuffering, just, true, and full of infinite love and grace. This is the beauty of God, the beauty of holiness, and all other beauty is but a broken gleam of this.

III. It reminds us of God’s love. In the day of creation, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” And blighted as creation has been by sin and wrath, we still know that the essentim plan is good, the deepest facts and laws are the best. Evil is on the surface; it is the accident, not the fundamental fact of the world and life. Philosophy and science tell us that all beauty is organic, that it always springs from the depths of a thing; and so let us be sure that, where there is so much beauty in the form of things, there must be love at the heart of things.

IV. It reminds us of God’s blessedness. “He hath made summer.” He must be happy; it is the entrancing expression of His deep happiness. What a joy to know that the omnipotent One is the blessed One--a great bright ocean of sunshine and music! And does not the summer remind us that God wishes us to share His gladness? And many of us, perhaps, are full of darkness and distress. What we want is the summer putting into us. We want the tender blue sky putting into our mind; we want all the flowers that grow about our feet to spring in our heart; we want to hear in our spirit the music of the world; we want to get the rainbow into our conscience; we want all the fruits of light to enrich and adorn our life. This is what we want most of all. Well, is not God waiting to do this very thing for us? (W. L. Watkinson.)

Summer

Summer illustrates--

I. Some aspects of the Divine character.

1. God’s love of beauty.

2. God’s wonderful wisdom.

3. God’s infinite benevolence.

II. Some aspects of human life.

1. The imperceptible progress of the spring into summer is a representation of the gradual advance of the mind in knowledge.

2. The gladsomeness of summer is an emblem of the temporal prosperity of man.

3. The luxuriance and loveliness of the summer is an emblem of the progress of the soul in the Divine life. There was as violent a struggle in nature between winter and spring as there was in the soul between sin and holiness; but the latter gained the victory, and it expands with life under the influences of the Holy Spirit and the Sun of Righteousness, as the fields and woods under the heat of the sun. And as the life of nature depends on the bounty of God, so does the life of the soul. And as the scenes of nature excite our admiration and love, souls Consecrated to His service in the dawn of manhood will kindle emotions of gratitude in our hearts too deep for utterance. (Homilist.)

Lessons of summer

It may be well enough, perhaps, to show one’s acquaintance with nature, by talking learnedly of climate as affected by the sun’s rays; the elevation of different regions above the level of the sea; the influence of mountains and currents; but, after all, we must discover in these several agencies the Hand of the Great and Good God. “Thou hast made summer.” The constant repetition of this mercy should teach us--

I. That God’s power is never diminished, nor His resources exhausted.

II. Again: The text reminds us how patiently the good Lord bears with the ingratitude of man. The slightest disappointment of our unimportant plans by a shower of rain will be met by complaints and murmurings, as if we were the only beings to be thought of, and our convenience to be consulted before that of all others. “All weather is good; sunshine is good; rain is good. One may see in Europe artificial waterworks, cascades constructed by the skill of man, at enormous expense--at Chatsworth, at Hesse Cassel--and the remains of magnificent waterworks at Marly, where Louis XIV. lavished uncounted millions of gold . . . The traveller thinks it a great thing to see a little water thus pumped up by creaking machinery or a panting steam-engine, to be scattered in frothy spray; and do we talk of its not being a good day when God’s great engine is exhibited to us, His imperial waterwork sending up the mists and vapours to the clouds, to be rained down again in comfort, and beauty, and plenty?”

III. If we are bringing forth the fruits of the spirit, no doubt the Holy Ghost has visited and blessed us. There is a delightful period of the year, known as Indian summer, and, in some parts of Europe, as St. Martin’s summer. The woods put on their most brilliant colouring, the waters of the lakes are smooth and unruffled, and the red man of the forest are wont to welcome it as the special gift of their most honoured Deity, to whom they believe their souls go after death. As in nature, so in grace also do we find a pleasant illustration here: “In the life of the good man there is an Indian summer more beautiful than that of the season--richer, sunnier, and more sublime than the world has ever known--it is the Indian summer of the soul. When the glow of youth has departed, when the warmth of middle age is gone, then the mind of the good man, still ripe and vigorous, relaxes its labours, and the memories of a well-spent life gush forth from their secret fountains, enriching, rejoicing, fertilizing; and the soul, assuming a heavenly lustre, is no longer shut up within the narrow confines of business, but dwells happily upon the summer which awaits it within the gates of Paradise.” Does not the same gracious God who makes summer in the physical, make it also in the spiritual world? And if the summer of the one be glorious, must not the summer of the other be even more glorious? Surely the joyful song of the ransomed ones, during the days of millennial glory, will be, “Thou hast made summer.” (J. N. Norton.)

Winter.

Winter

God has made the winter. It now claims our thought, and has as much happiness as gloom. Week by week we have watched decay doing its work on earth. The harvest was gathered in and the fruits of the earth, and then came the wind and the rain to gather the harvest of the leaves and flowers. And gradually all around winter has deepened, and there is no light in the sun nor heat in the bones of the earth. We strive to create joy and brightness at home to balance the mourning of the world. By the fireside when the light is low, we re-create the year, and recall its varied changes. And we see the image of what is when the winter of life comes chill on us in age. We had our spring and summer, and our days were warm with glowing love and happy friendship. Now these things have grown cold around us. Love remains, but the heart does not beat as heretofore. And in the dim firelight, as We sit silently, it is not living presences that haunt the room, but the ghosts of men and women long loved, long dead, and unforgotten. It is winter, not Summer. We had our harvest time, but we can only look back upon it. Such is our retrospect in the first days of gloom. What kind of prospect have we then? It also is imaged in the world of winter. The earth after the frost is bound in iron bands. The waters of the land are hushed, frost has chained their rippling light. The flowers, the trees, the birds and beasts, all suffer in their own way. The patient earth is dead; over its dark face the pitying heaven draws the winding sheet of snow, and the grey and bitter fog hangs over it the funeral pall. It is death we see, and death we look forward to, and death only in this first hour of wretchedness. And it is well to look straight into the gloomy eyes of the worst fate, and look into it however hard it be, without fear, and know it to its depths. For only so can we wring out of it its secret, and then, as is our way, when we have once seen the worst, we invent the better. We find we can rise above the evil and despise it, and we think we have power to create the good. And we do so by the aid of memories of the past. As the winter drives us to our homes and to life indoors, so the winter of age drives a man home to himself, and our life becomes an inner life. But our heart’s happiness will depend on how we have lived our past life, if it has been truly and lovingly human, if it has been kind, and true, and good. For on that all will depend whether we can summon any and what guests to our hearts. And not only the memory of past love but the sweetness of love present, will make glad the winter of age. Love is not lost, nor beauty, nor all we mixed with love. Age may possess both a noble and a beautiful life. Only you must make ready for it. Keep your soul healthy, your heart and brain awake to noble thoughts. And there is far more than death in winter. See the life hidden away in every root, in every seed. Not death but life in preparation--hidden, but in slow activity, is what we see.:Faith arises for ourselves, and we forget the winter of age to realize the enchanted youth of the life to come. “It was the winter wild,” when our Saviour came at His first advent, as if to tell us of the immortal spring that lies hidden in the winter of humanity. By His eternal life in us we conquer the decay of winter and the frost of death. (Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

Winter

I. The beauties of winter.

II. The wonders of winter. One of the greatest wonders of winter is its most common product, ice. Had water followed the general law, and contracted and become specifically heavier in the act Of freezing, how terrible would have been the consequences to our comforts and perhaps our lives! Whenever the atmosphere had reached the freezing point, the water on the surface of lakes and rivers would, in the act of freezing, sink and form a layer of ice on the bottom. Another layer would immediately follow from the same cause, and this process going on through the several months of winter, would solidify all the water available for the use of man so thoroughly, that the heat of summer could never melt it, and after a time, the springs of water in the earth would cease to flow except in the tropical regions. How fully does the existing order of nature obviate all such difficulties and dangers, since the ice remains on the surface, and prevents the cold from solidifying the water to any great depth, and then is exposed to the direct rays of the sun and the warmth of the atmosphere, which liquefy it, whenever the season of cold is past. What a continued and apparent evidence have we thus furnished us during the winter, of the wonderful wisdom of God, and His wonderful care for the welfare of man. Another wonder of even greater value to us is, that the atmosphere we breathe is not capable of being congealed. If it were otherwise, life would speedily come to an end in the arctic and temperate zones. That it is not so, is an evidence of the kindness and wisdom of Him who is “wonderful in counsel.”

III. The blessings of winter. Suppose there was no winter, and consequently no cold and no difference in the degrees of temperature on the face of the earth. Many, without reflection, would say that if this monotone of temperature could be such a delightful medium as we sometimes enjoy in spring or autumn, it would be a great blessing to have it perpetuated. But if this state of things should exist, wind which is caused by the air rushing from a colder to a warmer place could not exist, and there could be no stirring of the atmosphere, except on such a limited scale as artificial means could effect. Then the impurities of the air which are now carried away and disinfected by the winds, would remain stationary until the atmosphere became loaded with them; the vapours which arise from the ocean would also remain stationary, and could not be wafted over the land to refresh by their shade, and invigorate by their descent in rain; and the deadly impurities of the air would be supplemented by the deadly drought, and would be aided by the deadly contagion of disease, to sweep the face of the earth with the besom of death, and make the imaginary paradise a perpetual desert. Let us never forget it as one of the chief causes of gratitude for earthly blessings, that we can say to our God, “Thou hast made winter.” (N. D. Williamson.)

Winter

I. Its lessons.

1. Divine power.

Winter comes like an angel of light on a mission of mercy; epidemics flee before its health-giving presence, the frost prepares the soil, the snow preserves the seeds, shoals of destructive insects are destroyed, the atmosphere is purified, there is a glory sparkles in the very frost, a lustre in the snow, and good in both.

2. Divine equity. As in grace, so in nature; He is no respecter of persons; “He maketh His sun to shine upon the evil and the good,” and though the blessings of nature are infinitely diversified, yet each zone has natural products, wisely adapted to its peoples. God decrees the alternation of winter and summer for the general good. At our summer solstice He says to the north, “Give up I” and winter gradually returns; and at our winter solstice, He says to the south, “Keep not back!” and the south flinging open her sunny gates, permits the return of summer to bless our isle.

3. Divine providence. The preservation of the feathered tribes in this season clearly and pleasingly illustrates this doctrine. You have seen during protracted snow storms, these interesting creatures picking up a precarious meal as best they could. Naturalists tell us considerable numbers necessarily perish; the wonder is all do not die, that any are left to warble the overtime of spring, or swell the chorus of summer. Well, winter teaches us of a great Provider who “opens His hand, and satisfies the desire of every living thing,” and reminds us that He who in summer makes the lily more beautiful “than Solomon in all his glory,” in winter cares for the feathered flocks “which have no storehouse or barn.” If the providence of God respects the less, will it neglect the greater?

II. Its emblems.

1. A barren Church.

2. A backsliding state.

3. Old age.

4. Death.

The teachings of winter

The approach of winter, first of all, may remind us of our own natural life--its progress, its beauty, its close. How short a time does it seem since we were rejoicing in the spring, with all its promises of plenty, all its elements of beauty! yet it has gone. The summer, with all its brightness and enjoyment, has followed; the autumn, with its bounteous stores of food for man and beast, has succeeded and passed; and already are we drawing on to the close of the year, almost before we seem to have realized the fact that those seasons are fled. Even so is it with our life. The springtime of youth, the summertime of manhood, the autumn of maturity, how soon do they pass! and the winter of old age creeps on; and with powers fading, faculties of mind and body weakening, we draw on towards the end. But what lessons of prudence and forethought should this resemblance of our life to the revolving seasons teach us! First, as to the duties of this world. The spring, the summer, and the autumn are the times provided for cultivating the earth, for producing and gathering its fruits. Winter is no time for this; but it is the time for using and enjoying what the other seasons had enabled us to secure. The husbandman that will not plough and till his land in the spring, shall beg in harvest-time, and have nothing. Thus the wise man employs the example even of a mean insect to teach men prudence in the affairs of this life:--“Go to the ant; consider her ways,” etc. This is a lesson that is not confined to the cultivators of the earth. It applies to all kinds of employment, and especially to the employment of mechanics and others of the working classes. The expenses of a household in the genial seasons of the year are less than in the winter. The days, too, are longer, and afford opportunity for greater industry. Work is in general more plentiful. What, then, is the lesson taught by this example, but that every one should strive to lay up during those seasons for the increased expense, the probable deficiency of employment, and the interruption of work, which may be expected in the wintery There are those who act upon this prudent principle, and for them winter has fewer discomforts; they can look forward to it without alarm. But how is it with those who have been living from hand to mouth, spending all as it came, laying up nothing for the approaching period of trial? What but grievous suffering, if left to the consequences of their own imprudence, or painful dependence, or the uncertain benevolence of others? But if this lesson is important with respect to temporal interests, how much more so is it with regard to things spiritual and eternal! Youth, and manhood, and maturity are the seasons in which the seed must be sown, and the work done, which may end in a harvest of everlasting blessedness. It is the time in which treasure must be laid up for eternity. The call to repent, to believe in Christ as our Saviour, and to keep His commands, is too often neglected in those periods of life when it might be obeyed. Youth is too much occupied with enjoyment, manhood is too busy, maturity is too much absorbed with worldly interests; and then wisdom is too often pushed out of life. The call is disobeyed till too late. The winter of life comes on, and finds the worldly still worldly, the impenitent and unbelieving hardened; and they die as fools die. If, in spiritual things, this provision is made during the more vigorous periods of life for the inevitable change that awaits you, then, as it is with those who have laid up for the natural winter,--it has lost its terrors for them,--so will it be in the higher interests of the soul. Old age may be drawing on; death may be approaching; the winter of the tomb may be at hand. But it has nothing in it alarming for the sincere Christian. The seasons of this world teach him a lesson of trust and hope, as well as of prudence and activity. We know, that though at this time of the year all nature seems to die--though the sun loses its power, and storms, and cold, and darkness prevail--yet this state of things is not to continue. The winter’s inaction is but a state of temporary repose: the vegetable world is only preparing to start afresh into renewed life and beauty in the spring. Even so the voice of revelation assures us, in prospect of the weakness and weariness of age, and the approaching darkness and desolation of the cold grave, that another springtime awaits our bodies as well as our spirits. (W. Blatch, M. A.)

Winter

God, who has “made winter,” makes nothing in vain. For--

I. Winter belongs to the plan of heaven, and is a season indispensably necessary. It aids the system of life and vegetation; it kills the seeds of infection, and destroys pestilential damps; it refines the blood; it gives us vigour and courage; it confirms the nerves, and braces up the relaxed solids. Snow is a warm covering for the corn; and while it defends the tender blades from nipping frosts, it also nourishes their growth. Isaiah remarked this. Winter is the needful repose of Nature, after her labours for the welfare of the creation. But even this pause is only to acquire new strength; or rather it is a silent and secret energy of preparation to surprise and charm us again with fresh abundance.

II. Winter is a season which has its pleasures. I love to hear the roaring of the wind. I love to see the figures which the frost has painted on the glass. I love to watch the redbreast with his slender legs, standing at the window and knocking with his bill to ask for the crumbs which fall from the table.

III. Winter is a season in which we should peculiarly feel gratitude for our residence, accommodations, and conveniences. Things strike us more forcibly by comparison. Let us remember how much more temperate our climate is than that of many other countries. Our winter is nothing when we turn to the Frigid Zone. When the French mathematicians wintered at Tornea, in Lapland, the external air suddenly admitted into their rooms, seizing the moisture, became whirls of snow; their breasts were rent when they breathed it; and the contact of it with their bodies was intolerable. We read of seven thousand Swedes who perished at once, in attempting to pass the mountains which divide Norway from Sweden.

IV. This season calls upon us to exercise benevolence. Sympathy is now more powerfully excited than at any other period; we are enabled more easily to enter into the feelings of others less favoured than ourselves. And while we are enjoying every convenience and comfort which the tenderness of Providence can afford--oh, let us think of the indigent and miserable. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

V. Winter should improve us in knowledge. It affords leisure, and excludes many interruptions--it is, therefore, favourable to application. Let us read, and study, and prepare for action and usefulness in life. And let us not pass heedlessly by those subjects of reflection and improvement which the very season itself yields. How instructive, for instance, is the goodness of God, not only in the preservation of the human race, but in taking care of all the millions of animals during a period which threatens to destroy them! What a number of retreats does He provide for them! Some of them, by a singular instinct, change the places of their residence. Some of them are lulled into a profound sleep for weeks and months. And all this teaches us, first, to resemble Him, and be kind to every being. If we learn of Him, we cannot be cruel to the brute creation. The season is also instructive as an emblem. Here is the picture of life--thy flowery spring, thy summer, thine autumn, and at last thy winter. See to it that thou art possessor of eternal life. (W. Jay.)

The winter and its moral analogies

The winter is generally felt an unpleasing and gloomy season of the year; the more desirable is it to make it yield us some special good, by way of compensation. There are gratifying examples to this purpose. “Thou hast made--winter.” God’s work and wisdom in it are to be regarded. The Almighty Maker has fixed in the order of the world that which is the natural cause of the winter; a most remarkable adjustment of supreme wisdom and power, appearing at first view something like irregularity and disorder--that is, the inclination of the earth’s axis. We may note the signal benefits of this adjustment. We must have our winter in order that others may have their summer. We are to be willing to part with a pleasing possession for a season for their sakes. And the unproductiveness of winter should remind us of the care and bounty of Divine providence, in that other seasons are granted us to make up by their supply for winter’s want. Observe, again, the winter has a character of inclemency and rigour--has ideas and feelings associated with it of hardship, infelicity, suffering. In this, it should be adapted to excite thoughtful and compassionate sentiments respecting the distress and suffering that are in the world. The fair and cheerful aspect of the world is veiled, as if that our thoughts may take another direction. May we not here find an instructive emblem of another order of things? Think of the bloom and vigour, and animated action and expression of the human person, destroyed by sickness or disease! Think of delightful hopes, shedding spring and summer on the heart, suddenly extinguished! Think of a state of exuberant prosperity changed by a rapid reverse to one of difficulty, calamity, or desolation! (Job). There is another thing which the winter may suggest to our thoughts, namely, that resemblance to it which there may be in the state of the mind, in respect to its best interests. Is a man afraid to turn from the gloom and cold without to see what there is within? Would he even rather contemplate and endure the greater rigours of a still more northern climate a while than to take a sojourn in his own soul? Truly the winter in the soul is far worse than any season and aspect of external nature. Suppose a contrary state to be fully prevalent in the soul, how small an evil, comparatively, then, would be all that is inclement and gloomy in the seasons and scenes of nature! Suppose communion with heaven, animated affections, ardent devotion to God and our Redeemer. Why, if such a man were placed in the frozen zone (and could live there), he would be happy! This may suggest a last observation that the gloomy circumstance of winter on our globe points to the desirableness of an abode where there shall be nothing like winter; or of a mode of existence quite superior to all elemental evils. (John Foster.)


Verse 20

Psalms 74:20

Have respect unto the covenant.

The covenant pleaded

It is the covenant of grace, not of works, that we are to plead.

I. What is meant by this plea.

1. Fulfil thy covenant: let it not be a dead letter.

2. Fulfil all its promises.

3. Let nothing hinder or turn them aside.

II. Whence this plea derives its force.

1. From the veracity of God.

2. His jealousy for His honour.

3. The venerable character of She covenant.

4. Its solemn endorsement, God’s Word.

5. Its seal--the blood of Christ.

6. Nothing in it has ever failed.

7. The testimony of God’s dying people.

III. How and when this covenant may be pleaded.

1. Under a sense of sin.

2. Labouring after holiness.

3. When under strong temptation.

4. Or in great distress.

IV. Practical inferences.

1. Have a grateful respect for the covenant to which you pray the Lord to have respect.

2. Have joy in it.

3. Be jealous for it.

4. Practically respect it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Divine covenant steadfast and sure

Rutherford says that unbelief may tear the copies of the covenant of grace given us, but Christ keeps the original in heaven with Himself. Though we believe not, yet He remaineth faithful. He cannot deny Himself.

The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.

The Church’s duty to the heathen

The world wants the Gospel; the Gospel alone meets the world’s necessities.

I. The world’s need of God. “The dark places,” etc.

1. How dark a system is idolatry: see its sin, and misery, and cruelty.

II. God’s provision for the world. The covenant tells of the Gospel with all its abundant provisions. It brings light; it implants love. Christ is offered as food for the hungry, pardon for the guilty, consolation for the mourner, life for the dead.

III. How is this remedy to be applied?

1. God Himself must apply it. But--

2. We must pray for the heathen; pray in public and at home.

3. And we must send messengers to the heathen who shall tell them of Christ. (John Hambleton, M. A.)


Verse 21

Psalms 74:21

Let the poor and needy praise Thy name.

The poor and needy have cause to praise God’s Name

Rev. Mark Guy Pearse relates that he was walking once beside some cliffs, when he saw a father draw near with his children; the two boys were running on in front, and every now and then the father called to them to be careful, and gave them various directions for their safety. But he was leading the little girl slowly and gently, for she was blind. Presently he sat down beside her and told her of all the beauties of the vision, cheering her by many a tender thought. He never let his healthy boys go beyond his sight and care, but the blind child he held continually by the hand. So let the weak ones be cheered and encouraged by the thought that for them there are special promises, special assurances of care: thank God, none of us can drift beyond the reach of His love, but His feeble children He is holding by the hand.

Psalms 75:1-10

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 74:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-74.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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