George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 74

1. Title

Maschil (Instruction) refers to the constantly implied exhortation to recall God’s mighty acts in former days (see Par. 4) and thus to learn the lesson to rely on Him.

Asaph. Experience suggests that all these Asaph psalms belong to the reign of Hezekiah, rather than to David’s Asaph (see notes, Psalm 73).

The subscription is Al-taschith (as in 56, 57, and 58), which signifies: “Destroy not” — in this case, ‘Destroy not Your people and Your city and Your house.’

2. Structure

How long, O Lord? A moving lamentation at helplessness before the ravages of the enemy, and especially that the Sanctuary of the Lord suffers

The mighty power of God recalled

A sustained prayer for God to assert His authority and protection once again

3. Links with other passages

Psalm 74

Psalm 79
Sheep of thy pasture
Thy inheritance
Thy name
How long?

The sheep of thy pasture is a distinctively Asaphian figure: Psa. 77:20; 78:52,71; 79:13; 80:1.

Allusions to the Exodus and the man of thy right hand are to be found in Psalm 80:8-15,17; and to the Exodus also in Psalms 77,78, and 81.

Consider also the links with the Lamentations of Jeremiah:

Psalm 74

O God, why hast thou cast us off forever?
3:31; 5:20,22

Why doth thine anger smoke...?
2:1,3; 4:16
1:9,11,12,20; 2:20; 5:1

This mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt
2:1,15; 5:18
The perpetual desolations

All that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary
1:10; 4:12
Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations
They have cast fire into thy sanctuary
1:13; 2:3; 4:11
There is no more any prophet
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach?
Thy right hand

4. Historical allusions

The Exodus:

Why doth thine anger smoke? Recalling Deut. 29:20; Exod. 19:20; 20:18 — where the same words occur.

The sheep of thy pasture recalls and quotes Num. 27:17,18.
Remember the congregation which thou hast purchased of old: Exod. 15:18.

Purchased is s.w. Exod. 15:16.
RSV: Why dost thou hold back thy hand?

Pluck (thy right hand) out of thy bosom. Allusion to Moses and his leprous hand — a sign that he was the divine deliverer (Exod. 4:6,8).
My king... in the midst of the earth (eretz = Land) quotes Exod. 8:22.
Thou didst divide the sea; thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. The crocodile (tannin) is a figure of Egypt: Isa. 27:1; 51:9,10; Ezek. 29:3; 32:2.
Leviathan. Another name for Egypt: Job 41 (the entire chapter); 26:12,13.

Thou gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness (i.e., “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 (Exod. 14:30). (If read still as “people”, then this may refer to the booty which the Israelites took — not “borrowed”! — from the Egyptian “carcass” when they departed the land: Exod. 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, i.e., destroy, the armies of God’s enemies (cp. 19:17,18; Ezek. 39:18,20; and see Eureka, vol. 3, p. 59.)
Thou didst cleave the fountain. The smitten rock: Psa. 78:15; Exod. 17:1-7.

And the flood. The parting of the Red Sea.

Thou driedst up mighty rivers. The Jordan: Josh. 2:10; 4:23.

There are also echoes of the Creation and the Flood:

Day... and night... the Light and the Sun.
Summer and winter. Gen. 8:22.
Remember is another allusion to Gen. 9:15: “I will remember my covenant.”
The covenant. Gen. 9:12,13; see Isa. 54:9.

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

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11, s.w.).

5. Historical setting

The psalm has to do with the Assyrian invasion in the time of Hezekiah, and especially the propaganda campaign by Sennacherib and Rabshakeh. Note especially v. 10, repeated in vv. 18 and 22:

“O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?” (compare 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 Isaiah 36:7,15,18; 37:4,6,10,16,17,20,23,24,28,35. The word “reproach”, which comes three times in this psalm, is used of Rabshakeh and his reviling nine times in Isaiah 36 and 37 (or their parallel passages).

6. Details

O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger (Hebrew “nostril”) smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Compare Psa. 44:9,23; this psalm has exactly the same historical setting. John Thomas writes: “ ‘Smoke’ when considered as proceeding from fire, signifies punishment and war” (Eureka, vol. 2, p. 456), citing Rev. 9:18; 14:11; and 15:8. It is just possible that the actual smoke of the burning villages of Judah could be seen from the walls of the besieged Jerusalem.
This mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt. Jerusalem was the only fortified city of Hezekiah which had not fallen to the invader.
Lift up thy feet unto. “Turn your steps toward” (NIV). Contrast the Assyrian boast, that rivers had proved no hindrance to the tramping feet of his armies (Isa. 37:25).

Unto the perpetual desolations. The Land had been ravaged by the invader, apparently beyond all recovery.
Thine enemies roar like a lion; Isa. 5:29 — a prophecy of the Assyrian invasion — reads:

“Their roaring shall be like a young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.”

In the midst of thy congregations. This Hebrew word (moed) always refers to the Feasts of the Lord. Several allusions in Isaiah show that the siege of Jerusalem took place at Passover: 26:20,21; 30:29; 31:5; 33:19,20. The plural here (moedim) probably signifies ‘Thy great Feast’ (i.e., Passover).

They set up their ensigns for signs. Military standards were erected around the city, as signs of impending attack. Contrast with v. 9 (s.w.). (This proves that Sennacherib’s army was destroyed very near Jerusalem, and not — as some suggest — a considerable distance away.)
A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees. “I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel” (Isa. 37:24). This is probably also an allusion to “the house of the forest of Lebanon” (1 Kings 7:1-5; 10:17,21; Isa. 22:8), which was the arsenal of the kings of Judah. (Assyria is also symbolized by an axe, wielded by the Lord, in Isa. 10:15.)
But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers. They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground. These verses 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 are insisted on as referring to some actual accomplishment, then 2 Chron. 28:21 and 2 Kings 16:8,18 tell, amazingly, of part of the temple itself given over by Hezekiah’s father Ahaz to an Assyrian garrison (consider also Isa. 52:1; 63:18; 64:11; Mic. 5:5; Psa. 79:1). When Hezekiah forced them to leave, would they not, in spite, do as much damage as possible?

The carved work was overlaid with gold: 1 Kings 6:18,20,21,28,30.
They have burned up all the synagogues of God. These were the “high places” — local centers of worship up and down the land (H.A. Whittaker, Judges and Ruth, pp. 196-205). Many of these were not wrong in themselves, but only insofar as they beguiled people away from loyalty to the temple in Jerusalem (e.g. 2 Chron. 20:33).

Alternatively, this word moedim (v. 4, s.w.) normally refers 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!
We see not our 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).

There is no more any prophet. Literally, not true, for besides Isaiah and Micah (for certain) there were (probably) Joel, Nahum, and Habakkuk also. This means “no delivering prophet like Moses” (see on v. 11, Par. 4 — the context shows this; cp. Lam. 2:9; Ezek. 7:26).
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever? Reference is, of course, to the masterful and insidious work of Rabshakeh.
Allusion to the sign given to Moses (Exod. 4:8,9) and by Moses to Israel — a leader become leprous and then healed again. This is precisely what happened to Hezekiah!
God is my king. This is Exod. 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.)
See various details in Par. 4. 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.
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.

The foolish people, as in v. 22, is a Jewish name for Gentiles, because — though wise in a “worldly” sense — they are religiously foolish: cp. Deut. 32:21.

Reproached... blasphemed. See on v. 10.
Turtledove sounds strange to modern ears. But (a) this was the offering of the poorest of the poor (Lev. 12:8; 1:14; cp. Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:24); the parallelism of this very verse supports this idea (cp. also Psa. 68:13); and (b) this is a Hebrew word of double meaning: it also signifies (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.
Have respect unto the covenant, the covenant which God made with the fathers of Israel (Deut. 4:31) and which was renewed by Hezekiah in the reorganization of the Temple worship (2 Chron. 29:10).

For the dark places of the earth (i.e., Land) are full of the habi-tations of violence. A picture of the shady valleys around Jerusa-lem filled with Assyrian tents?
Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually. These are the very words of Isa. 37:29:

“Thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears.”

Increaseth probably means “ascend” (as incense).

And continually is a word commonly associated with the daily sacrifice. Thus the psalmist declares: ‘This violence is their offering of worship!’

7. Messianic fulfillment

This is not easy. But it may be assumed that the situation behind the original writing of this psalm will be reproduced in the Land of Israel in the Last Days:

The entire Land will be overrun by enemies (see, for example, Psalm 83);
The people of God will be reduced to impotence and desperation;
A special campaign will be waged against all Jewish religion (vv. 4-8), bearing with special severity upon the faithful remnant in Israel;
There will be no sign of relief;
There will be no open revelation or guidance from God (v. 9), but
Instead, there will be only an almost hopeless misery. “O Lord, how long?”

To this last desperate question the answer is three-fold:

First will come a period of 3 1/2 years (intimated in several familiar places in Daniel and Revelation);
Then will appear an “Elijah” prophet (Mal. 3:1; 4:5,6), the counterpart to Isaiah’s reassurance in Hezekiah’s time; and
And, finally, there will be the sudden manifestation of the Messiah “in power and great glory” to save the covenant people.

Noah’s Flood and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (vv. 12-17) will pale into insignificance by comparison with this deliverance. It will be brought by “the man of God’s right hand” (Psa. 80:15-17) who is plucked out of the bosom of God, “leprous” like his fellows, and yet cleansed for an even greater work (v. 11 here). All the scorning and blasphemy of the false religion of Islam will receive its drastic divine rebuke (vv. 10,18,22). (This will be the first, but by no means the only divine rebuke of the false “gods” of modern man.) God will have respect unto His covenant (v. 20) at a time when all is darkness and cruelty. There will be a great salvation. The answer to the prayer of v. 23, which came so dramatically in Isaiah 37:29, will get an even more dramatic response.

8. Further details

Here and in vv. 10, 11 there is what Kidner calls “a shower of questions” aimed at the only One who can provide answers.

Cast us off. This is 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.
Thy congregation, which thou hast purchased. This is cited in Acts 20:28 — the church of God (or of the Lord, as some texts), purchased with blood (cp. 1 Pet. 1:18,19).

Rod (shebet) also means “scepter”. A Messianic reference.
There is no more any prophet. Lam. 2:9 and Ezek. 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.
Pluck it out of thy bosom. William Kay, seeking to give full value to the Hebrew verb, translates: ‘Forth from thy bosom deal the final stroke!’
God... [worketh] salvation in the midst of the earth. In ancient times Jerusalem was viewed, by a succession of rabbis, as the “navel” — that is, the absolute center of the earth (Baly, The Geography of the Bible, p. 3).
Light = “Luminaries” (RSV) — i.e., moon and stars.
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth. God orders and oversees all the boundaries of the earth — and the activities of its peoples — with reference to His purpose with His nation Israel (see Acts 17:26; Deut. 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!”
Forget not follows on impressively after “Remember” (vv. 18,23); cp. Deut. 4:31.
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