The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 74

Psa 74:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "A MASKIL OF DAVID". See Lesson, Psalms, "Maschil".

HISTORICAL SETTING: The Assyrian invasion in the time of Hezekiah, and esp the propaganda campaign by Sennacherib and Rabshakeh. Note esp v 10, repeated in vv 18 and 22 (cp Psa 89:46; 90:13; 94:3; Dan 12:6; Rev 6:10; 13:10; Isa 6:11). This war was not merely another chapter in Assyrian imperial expansion; it was also a challenge made on behalf of Ashur, the god of Nineveh, against Israel's Jehovah -- see the details in Isa 36:7,15,18; 37:4,6,10,16,17,20,23,24,28,35. The word "reproach", which occurs three times in this psalm, is used of Rabshakeh and his reviling nine times in Isaiah 36; 37 (or their parallel passages).

MESSIANIC FULFILLMENT: The background situation of the orig psalm will be reproduced in the Land of Israel in the LD: (a) The entire Land will be overrun by enemies (see, ie, Psa 83); (b) The people of God will be reduced to impotence and desperation; (c) A special campaign will be waged against all Jewish religion (vv 4-8), bearing with special severity upon the faithful remnant in Israel; (d) There will be no sign of relief; (e) There will be no open revelation or guidance from God (v 9), but (f) Instead, there will be only an almost hopeless misery. "O Lord, how long?" To this last desperate question the answer is three-fold: (1) First will come a period of 3 1/2 years (see Lesson, 1,260 / 1,290 / 1,335 days); (2) Then will appear an "Elijah" prophet (Mal 3:1; 4:5,6), the counterpart to Isaiah's reassurance in Hezekiah's time; and (3) And, finally, there will be the sudden manifestation of the Messiah "in power and great glory" to save the covenant people.

V 1: Cp Psa 44:9,23; this psalm has exactly the same historical setting.

WHY HAVE YOU REJECTED US FOREVER, O GOD?: Paul's phrase, used with great force in Rom 11:1-27, where he argues that God has never truly cast off His own people.

WHY DOES YOUR ANGER SMOLDER?: Recalling Deu 29:20; Exo 19:20; 20:18 -- where the same words occur. " 'Smoke' when considered as proceeding from fire, sig punishment and war" (Eur 2:456), citing Rev 9:18; 14:11; 15:8. Poss the actual smoke of the burning villages of Judah could be seen from the walls of the besieged Jerusalem.

THE SHEEP OF YOUR PASTURE: Recalls and quotes Num 27:17,18.

Psa 74:2

THE PEOPLE YOU PURCHASED OF OLD: Cp Exo 15:16. Cited in Act 20:28 -- the church of God (or "of the Lord", as some texts), purchased with blood (cp 1Pe 1:18,19).

TRIBE: Rod (shebet) also means "scepter". A Messianic reference.

MOUNT ZION, WHERE YOU DWELT: Jerusalem was the only fortified city of Hezekiah which had not fallen to the invader.

Psa 74:3

TURN YOUR STEPS: Ct the Assyrian boast, that rivers had proved no hindrance to the tramping feet of his armies (Isa 37:25).

THESE EVERLASTING RUINS: The Land had been ravaged by the invader, apparently beyond all recovery.

Psa 74:4

YOUR FOES ROARED: Like a lion; see Isa 5:29 -- a prophecy of the Assyrian invasion.

IN THE PLACE WHERE YOU MET WITH US: This Heb word (moed) always refs to the Feasts of the Lord. Several allusions in Isa show that the siege of Jerusalem took place at Passover: Isa 26:20,21; 30:29; 31:5; 33:19,20. The plural here (moedim) prob sig 'Your great Feast' (ie Passover).

THEY SET UP THEIR STANDARDS AS SIGNS: Military standards were erected around the city, as signs of impending attack. Ct with v 9 (sw). (This proves that Sennacherib's army was destroyed very near Jerusalem, and not -- as some suggest -- a considerable distance away.)

Psa 74:5

"A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees" (AV). See Isa 37:24. Prob also an allusion to "the house of the forest of Lebanon" (1Ki 7:1-5; 10:17,21; Isa 22:8), which was the arsenal of the kings of Judah. (Assyria is also symbolized by an ax, wielded by the Lord, in Isa 10:15.)

Psa 74:6

Vv 6,7: These vv have led most commentators to place this psalm in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. They overlook v 8: "They said in their hearts", which expresses a malevolent intention (never fulfilled) to wreak this destruction. Just as God's prophecies are very often expressed in the past tense, so also the same idiom appears here. (For the same idea, see Isa 64:6,11.) If these past tenses ref to some actual accomplishment, then 2Ch 28:21 and 2Ki 16:8,18 tell, amazingly, of part of the temple itself given over by Hezekiah's father Ahaz to an Assyrian garrison (cp also Isa 52:1; 63:18; 64:11; Mic 5:5; Psa 79:1). When Hezekiah forced them to leave, would they not, out of spite, do as much damage as possible?

A ref to Assyrian soldiers garrisoned in the Temple area: "Ahaz took some of the things from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace and from the princes and presented them to the king of Assyria, but that did not help him" (2Ch 28:21). 2Ch 28:21. Lit, "divided up a portion of the temple" -- giving it to the Assyrian soldiers as a place to rest and reside. Cp 2Ki 16:18. (A similar policy was followed by the Assyrians with other vassal nations; cp also the Roman garrison next to the Temple in NT times). Cp idea, Isa 63:18; 64:11; Psa 74:3-8; 79:1; Isa 7:13; 11:9; 52:1; Mic 5:5.

THE CARVED PANELING: Overlaid with gold: 1Ki 6:18,20,21,28,30.

Psa 74:8

THEY BURNED EVERY PLACE WHERE GOD WAS WORSHIPED: The "high places" -- local centers of worship up and down the land (WJR 196-205). Many of these were not wrong in themselves, but only insofar as they seduced people away from loyalty to the temple in Jerusalem (eg 2Ch 20:33). Alternatively, this word "moedim" (v 4, sw) normally refs to one of the holy feasts. In that case, this may mean that the invasion began at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people were making their annual holiday and "Bible School" in booths. What a bonfire there would be!

Psa 74:9

WE ARE GIVEN NO MIRACULOUS SIGNS: Until the healing of Hezekiah (at the time of the siege of the city: Isa 38:5,6), no sign was to be seen of the mighty deliverances soon to be given (Isa 37:35-37).

NO PROPHETS ARE LEFT: Lit not true, for besides Isaiah and Micah (for certain) there were (prob) Joel, Nah, and Hab also. This means "no delivering prophet like Moses". Lam 2:9 and Eze 7:26 show that this means no relevant prophetic message. So it seemed, for a while, in Hezekiah's day. And so it will seem, for a while again, when Israel faces its last great tribulation.

Psa 74:10

THE ENEMY... THE FOE: Rabshakeh.

Psa 74:11

YOUR RIGHT HAND... TAKE IT FROM THE FOLDS OF YOUR GARMENT: Allusion to the sign given to Moses (Exo 4:8,9) and by Moses to Israel -- a leader become leprous and then healed again. This is precisely what happened to Hezekiah!

Psa 74:12

YOU, O GOD, ARE MY KING: This is Exo 15:18; hence "of old". Hezekiah humbly acknowledges that Yahweh (and not himself) is King. (This is the central phrase of the whole psalm, and central also to the development of its ideas.)

UPON THE EARTH: "In the midst of the earth" (AV). In ancient times Jerusalem was viewed, by a succession of rabbis, as the "navel" -- that is, the absolute center of the earth (Baly, Geog of Bible 3).

Psa 74:13

Vv 13-17: The point of these allusions is easy to see: 'Lord, You delivered a faithful remnant in Noah's day, and You swept away the wicked. You delivered Your chosen people Israel by Moses, and swept away the oppressor. Please intervene to save us, Your faithful remnant, in like manner.' And God did! Note the force of the repetition of emphatic pronouns "Thy... thine" -- nine times in vv 11-19. "Israel" may always claim deliverance from God, not by its own righteousness, but because it belongs to Him.


MONSTER: The crocodile (tannin) is a figure of Egypt: Isa 27:1; 51:9,10; Eze 29:3; 32:2.

Psa 74:14

LEVIATHAN: Another name for Egypt: Job 41 (entire ch); cp Job 26:12,13. Ref an ancient mythological 7-headed sea monster, or dragon; used of Babylon and Egypt (Job 3:8; 41:1; Psa 74:14; 104:26; Isa 27:1): Yahweh's victory over the "sea", is compared to Canaanite sea myths: see Lesson, Leviathan, esp the "Creation" myth.

GAVE HIM AS FOOD TO THE CREATURES OF THE DESERT: Or "creatures of the wilderness": RSV. The wild animals of the desert feed on the Egyptian bodies cast up on the shores of the Red Sea (Exo 14:30; cp idea, Num 14:9). (If read still as "people", then this may refer to the booty which the Israelites took -- not "borrowed"! -- from the Egyptian "carcase" when they departed the land: Exo 12:35,36. Furthermore, this would also be prophetic of Christ and his saints, who come out of the "wilderness" -- cp Rev 12:6,14 -- to devour, ie destroy, the armies of God's enemies (cp Rev 19:17,18; Eze 39:18,20; Eur 3:59.)

Psa 74:15

SPRINGS AND STREAMS: The smitten rock: Psa 78:15; Exo 17:1-7.

YOU DRIED UP THE EVER FLOWING RIVERS: The parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan: Jos 2:10; 4:23.

Psa 74:16

YOURS ALSO THE NIGHT: "The night of affliction is as much under the arrangement and control of the Lord of Love as the bright summer days when all is bliss... His love wraps the night about itself as a mantle, but to the eye of faith the sable robe is scarce a disguise. From the first watch of the night even unto the break of day the eternal Watcher observes His saints, and overrules the shades and dews of midnight for His people's highest good. We believe in no rival deities of good and evil contending for the mastery, but we hear the voice of Jehovah saying, 'I create light and I create darkness; I, the Lord, do all these things.' [Isa 45:7]

"Gloomy seasons of religious indifference and social sin are not exempted from the divine purpose. When the altars of truth are defiled, and the ways of God forsaken, the Lord's servants weep with bitter sorrow, but they may not despair, for the darkest eras are governed by the Lord, and shall come to their end at His bidding. What may seem defeat to us may be victory to Him" (CHS).

Psa 74:17

IT WAS YOU WHO SET ALL THE BOUNDARIES OF THE EARTH: God orders and oversees all the boundaries of the earth -- and the activities of its peoples -- with ref to His purpose with His nation Israel (see Act 17:26; Deu 32:8). Thus Assyria, and the Arab nations and Russia for that matter, are all held in check by the Almighty hand: "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further!"

WINTER: " 'Winter' in one's life is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: He casteth forth His ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, He is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills are of the Lord's sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soul. O that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!" (CHS).

Psa 74:18

REMEMBER: Comes naturally in conjunction with Jehovah/Yahweh, the Memorial Name. And so also in many other places, "remember" and "memorial" and related terms are used in conjunction with His Name.

FOOLISH PEOPLE: As in v 22, a Jewish name for Gentiles, because -- though wise in a "worldly" sense -- they are religiously foolish: cp Deu 32:21.

Psa 74:19

DOVE: (a) This was the offering of the poorest of the poor (Lev 12:8; 1:14; cp Joseph and Mary in Luk 2:24); the // of this very v supports this idea (cp also Psa 68:13). (b) This is a Heb word of double meaning: also sig (with a slight change) "the one who seeks Thee" (NEB: "the soul that confesses thee"). Note also Gen 8:11: it was the dove which sought -- and found -- the safety of the Ark of the Lord.

Psa 74:20

HAVE REGARD FOR YOUR COVENANT: The covenant which God made with the fathers of Israel (Deu 4:31) and which was renewed by Hezekiah in the reorganization of the Temple worship (2Ch 29:10).

THE DARK PLACES OF THE LAND: Full of the "habitations" of violence. A picture of the shady valleys around Jerusalem filled with Assyrian tents?

Psa 74:23

DO NOT IGNORE THE CLAMOR OF YOUR ADVERSARIES: "The tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually" (AV). The very words of Isa 37:29.

CONTINUALLY: A word commonly associated with the daily sacrifice. Thus the psalmist declares: 'This violence is their offering of worship!'

SUBSCRIPTION: "FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. TO THE TUNE OF 'DO NOT DESTROY' ": "Al taschith" (AV). The subscription of Psa 56, 57, 58, 74. In each case the psalmist is in a tight corner and is praying for his life. This exact phrase comes in 1Sa 26:9, and tempts the expositor to read the psalm against that background. (Cp also Deu 9:26: "Destroy not thy people"; and Isa 65:8: "Destroy it -- ie the cluster of grapes, or the remnant of Israel -- not.") But, beyond question, the entire tone of it fits 1Sa 21:10-15 much better.

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