Psalms 74

PSALM LXXIV

The psalmist complains of the desolations of the sanctuary,

and pleads with God, 1-3;

shows the insolence and wickedness of their enemies, 4-8;

prays to God to act for them as he had done for their fathers,

whom, by his miraculous power, he had saved, 9-17;

begs God to arise, and vindicate his own honour against his

enemies, and the enemies of his people, 18-23.

NOTES ON PSALM LXXIV

The title is, Maschil of Asaph, or, "A Psalm of Asaph, to give

instruction." That this Psalm was written at a time when the

temple was ruined, Jerusalem burnt, and the prophets scattered

or destroyed, is evident. But it is not so clear whether the

desolations here refer to the days of Nebuchadnezzar, or to the

desolation that took place under the Romans about the seventieth

year of the Christian era. Calmet inclines to the former opinion;

and supposes the Psalm to be a lamentation over the temple

destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Verse 1. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever?] Hast thou

determined that we shall never more be thy people? Are we never to

see an end to our calamities?

Verse 2. Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of

old] We are the descendants of that people whom thou didst take

unto thyself; the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Wilt thou

never more be reconciled to us?

Verse 3. Lift up thy feet] Arise, and return to us, our

desolations still continue. Thy sanctuary is profaned by thine and

our enemies.

Verse 4. Thine enemies roar] Thy people, who were formerly a

distinct and separate people, and who would not even touch a

Gentile, are now obliged to mingle with the most profane. Their

boisterous mirth, their cruel mockings, their insulting commands,

are heard every where in all our assemblies.

They set up their ensigns for signs.] samu

othotham othoth, they set up their standards in the place of ours.

All the ensigns and trophies were those of our enemies; our own

were no longer to be seen.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh verses give a correct historical

account of the ravages committed by the Babylonians, as we may see

from 2Ki 25:4, 7-9, and Jer 52:7, 18, 19: "And the city was

broken up, and all the men fled by night by the way of the gate.

They took Zedekiah, and slew his sons before his eyes; and put out

his eyes, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to

Babylon. And on the second day of the fifth month of the

nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan, the captain of

the guard, came unto Jerusalem; and he burnt the house of the

Lord, and the king's house, and every great man's house; and all

the houses of Jerusalem burnt he with fire. And they broke down

the walls of Jerusalem round about. And the pillars of brass, and

the bases, and the brazen sea, they broke in pieces, and carried

the brass to Babylon. And the pots, shovels, snuffers and spoons,

and the fire pans and bowls, and such things as were of gold and

silver, they took away." Thus they broke down, and carried away,

and destroyed this beautiful house; and in the true barbarian

spirit, neither sanctity, beauty, symmetry, nor elegance of

workmanship, was any thing in their eyes. What hammers and axes

could ruin, was ruined; Jerusalem was totally destroyed, and its

walls laid level with the ground. Well might the psalmist sigh

over such a desolation.

Verse 8. Let us destroy them] Their object was totally to

annihilate the political existence of the Jewish people.

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

is supposed that there were no synagogues in the land till after

the Babylonish captivity. How then could the Chaldeans burn up any

in Judea? The word moadey, which we translate synagogues,

may be taken in a more general sense, and mean any places where

religious assemblies were held: and that such places and

assemblies did exist long before the Babylonish captivity, is

pretty evident from different parts of Scripture. It appears that

Elisha kept such at his house on the sabbaths and new moons. See

2Ki 4:23. And perhaps to such St. James may refer, Ac 15:23, a

species of synagogues, where the law was read of old, in every

city of the land. And it appears that such religious meetings were

held at the house of the Prophet Ezekiel, Eze 33:31. And perhaps

every prophet's house was such. This is the only place in the Old

Testament where we have the word synagogue. Indeed, wherever there

was a place in which God met with patriarch or prophet, and any

memorial of it was preserved, there was a moed, or place of

religious meeting; and all such places the Chaldeans would

destroy, pursuant to their design to extinguish the Jewish

religion, and blot out all its memorials from the earth. And this

was certainly the most likely means to effect their purpose. How

soon would Christianity be destroyed in England if all the

churches, chapels, and places of worship were destroyed, and only

the poor of the people left in the land; who, from their

circumstances, could not build a place for the worship of God!

After such desolation, what a miracle was the restoration of the

Jews!

Verse 9. We see not our signs] "They have taken away all our

trophies, and have left us no memorial that God has been among us.

Even thou thyself hast left us destitute of all those supernatural

evidences that have so often convinced us that thou wert among us

of a truth." But we may say that they were not totally destitute

even of these. The preservation of Daniel in the lion's den, and

of the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace; the metamorphosis of

Nebuchadnezzar; the handwriting that appeared to Belshazzar; were

all so many prodigies and evidences that God had not left them

without proofs of his being and his regard.

There is no more any prophet] There was not one among them in

that place that could tell them how long that captivity was yet to

endure. But there were prophets in the captivity. Daniel was one;

but his prophecies were confined to one place. Ezekiel was

another, but he was among those captives who were by the river

Chebar. They had not, as usual, prophets who went to and fro

through the land, preaching repentance and remission of sins.

Verse 11. Why withdrawest thou thy hand] It has been remarked,

that as the outward habit of the easterns had no sleeves, the

hands and arms were frequently covered with the folds of the robe;

and in order to do any thing, the hand must be disentangled and

drawn out. The literal version of the Hebrew is: "To what time

wilt thou draw back thy hand; yea, thy right hand, from within thy

bosom?" Consume; that is, manifest thy power, and destroy thy

adversaries. I have, in the introduction to the book of Psalms,

spoken of the old metrical version by Sternhold and Hopkins, and

have stated that it was formed from the original text. A proof of

this may be seen by the learned reader in this and the preceding

verse; where, though their version is harsh, and some of their

expressions quaint almost to ridicule, yet they have hit the true

meaning which our prose translators have missed:-

Ver. 10. When wilt thou once, Lord, end this shame,

And cease thine en'mies strong?

Shall they always blaspheme thy name,

And rail on thee so long?

Ver. 11. Why dost thou draw thy hand aback,

And hide it in thy lap?

O pluck it out, and be not slack

To give thy foes a rap!

Verse 12. For God is my King of old] We have always acknowledged

thee as our sovereign; and thou hast reigned as a king in the

midst of our land, dispensing salvation and deliverance from the

centre to every part of the circumference.

Verse 13. Thou didst divide the sea] When our fathers came from

Egypt.

Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.] Pharaoh,

his captains, and all his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, when

attempting to pursue them.

Verse 14. The heads of leviathan] Leviathan might be intended

here as a personification of the Egyptian government; and its

heads, Pharaoh and his chief captains.

To the people inhabiting the wilderness.] Probably meaning the

birds and beasts of prey. These were the people of the

wilderness, which fed on the dead bodies of the Egyptians, which

the tides had cast ashore. The Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and

Arabic read, "Thou hast given him for meat to the Ethiopians," or

Abyssinians.

Verse 15. Thou didst cleave the fountain] Thou didst cleave the

rock in the wilderness, of which all the congregation drank.

Thou driedst up mighty rivers.] Does not this refer to the

cutting off the waters of the Jordan, so that the people passed

over dryshod?

Verse 16. The day is thine, the night also is thine] Thou art

the Author of light, and of the sun, which is the means of

dispensing it.

Verse 17. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth] Thou alone

art the Author of all its grand geographical divisions.

Thou hast made summer and winter.] Thou hast appointed that

peculiarity in the poise and rotation of the earth, by which the

seasons are produced.

Verse 18. Remember this] The heathen not only deny these things,

but give the honour of them to their false gods, and thus

blaspheme thy name.

Verse 19. Deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove] Thy people

Israel are helpless, defenceless, miserable, and afflicted: O

deliver them no longer into the power of their brutal adversaries.

Verse 20. Have respect unto the covenant] habbet

labberith. Pay attention to the covenant sacrifice; to that

offered by Abraham, Ge 15:9, &c., when the contracting parties,

God and Abram, passed through between the separated parts of the

covenant sacrifice. An indisputable type of Jesus Christ; and of

God and man meeting in his sacrificed humanity.

The dark places of the earth] The caves, dens, woods, &c., of

the land are full of robbers, cut-throats, and murderers, who are

continually destroying thy people, so that the holy seed seems as

if it would be entirely cut off and the covenant promise thus be

rendered void.

The words may either apply to Chaldea or Judea. Judea was at

this time little else than a den of robbers, its own natural

inhabitants being removed. Chaldea was infested with hordes of

banditti also.

Verse 21. Let not the oppressed return ashamed] Do not permit

thy people to be so diminished, that when, according to thy

promise, they are restored to their own land, they may appear to

be but a handful of men.

Verse 22. Plead thine own cause] Thy honour is concerned, as

well as our safety and salvation. The fool-the idolater,

reproacheth thee daily-he boasts of the superiority of his

idols, by whose power, he asserts, we are brought under their

domination.

Verse 23. Forget not the voice] While we pray to thee for our

own salvation, we call upon thee to vindicate thy injured honour:

and let all the nations see that thou lovest thy followers, and

hatest those who are thy enemies. Let not man prevail against thee

or thine.

ANALYSIS OF THE SEVENTY-FOURTH PSALM

This Psalm divides itself into two parts:-

I. The Psalmist's complaint, Ps 74:1-10.

II. His prayer, Ps 74:10-23.

Both the complaint and petition are summarily comprised in the

three first verses; and afterwards amplified throughout the

Psalm.

I. He expostulates with God about their calamity.

1. From the author of it: "Thou, O God."

2. From the extremity of it: "Cast us not off."

3. From the duration of it: "For ever."

4. From the cause: "Thy anger smokes against us."

5. From the object of it: "The sheep of thy pasture."

To his complaint he subjoins his petition; in which every word

has the strength of an argument.

1. "Remember thy congregation:" Thy chosen people.

2. "Whom thou hast purchased: " By a mighty hand from Pharaoh.

3. "Of old:" Thy people ever since thy covenant with Abraham.

4. "The rod of thine inheritance;" dwelling in that land which

thou didst measure out to them.

5. "Whom thou hast redeemed:" From the Canaanites, &c.

6. "This Mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt:" Where we gave

thee the worship which belonged to the true God; and thou wert

pleased with our sacrifices and services. Remember this people,

and all these engagements; and "cast us not off for ever."

7. Lift up thy feet:" Consider thy own dishonour; they are thy

enemies as well as ours. See what they have done against thee, thy

temple, thy ordinances. Look at their blasphemies, and avenge

the quarrel of thy covenant, Ps 74:3-11.

Consider what thou hast done for our fore-fathers.

1. Thou hast been long our King and Deliverer. See the proofs,

Ps 74:12-16.

2. Thy general providence respects all men. Thou hast given them

light; the sun and moon, the vicissitude of seasons, &c.,

Ps 74:16, 17.

II. The psalmist's prayer:-

1. That God would remember the reproaches of his enemies,

Ps 74:18.

2. That he would deliver the souls of his children, Ps 74:19.

3. That he would not forget "the congregation of the poor,"

Ps 74:19.

4. That he would remember his covenant with Abram, to make them

an innumerable people, and a blessing to all mankind, Ps 74:20.

5. That, when they did return, they might not be a diminished

people; for their enemies were determined to destroy them,

Ps 74:21.

6. That they might be led from all considerations to praise his

name, Ps 74:21.

At the conclusion he urges his petition:-

1. "Arise,-plead thine own cause."

2. "Remember the foolish."

3. "Forget not thine enemies."

4. They make a tumult, and their partisans daily increase,

Ps 74:22, 23.

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