New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Psa 74:1

A contemplation by Asaph-
This "Asaph" could be the Asaph of Hezekiah's time (Is. 36:3) who used the Psalms in the context of the events of the Assyrian invasion. The Asaph Psalms all have parts in them relevant to that context (Ps. 50, 73-83). Or the "Asaph" may have been the singers who were relatives of Asaph, prominent at the restoration (Neh. 7:44; 11:17,22). It could mean that the psalms were a part of a collection from the Asaphites, and the name "Asaph" was therefore simply used to identify the temple singers. And again, parts of the Asaph psalms also have relevance to the restoration. The fact the Asaph Psalms speak of elohim rather than Yahweh would support the idea that they were used in the exilic / restoration period. But Asaph was the "chief" of the Levites to whom David assigned the ministry of praise before the ark (1 Chron. 16:4,5). It seems he did compose his own Psalms, which were used by Hezekiah at his time (2 Chron. 29:30). So I would again suggest that all the Asaph Psalms were composed originally by David "for" [not necessarily "by"] Asaph, but were rewritten and edited for later occasions.

God, why have You rejected us forever?
It was inappropriate to claim that God was going to reject His people forever (also in Ps. 44:23). The prophets had made it abundantly plain that God would not reject forever. Israel had "the hope of Israel" as surely as the planets are in the sky. 

Why does Your anger smoulder against the sheep of Your pasture?-
The answer was 'Because they sinned'. But as David struggled to accept the consequences of his sins, so did the exiles.

Psa 74:2

Remember Your congregation which You purchased of old, which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your inheritance-
This appeal to believe they were already "redeemed" is similar to how David asks for redemption (e.g. Ps. 69:18) when in fact he has already been redeemed. God had already forgiven David, ransoming and redeeming him. But he was left to suffer the consequences of those sins, and because of that, in crisis he starts to wonder whether he has indeed been forgiven. And we can do the same so easily. The consequence of sin is death, and we can squirm against this when we or others face it... forgetting the wonder of the fact that we are indeed redeemed and ransomed from the power of the grave, although we must still take the consequences. The exiles likewise had to understand that they had been redeemed (s.w. Ps. 74:2) but were suffering the consequence of sin. God was indeed their redeemer (Is. 41:14; 43:1 s.w.). At the very end of his life, David realized that he had in fact been redeemed (s.w. 1 Kings 1:29). He could give up his spirit to God in death, knowing that He was redeemed from the power of the grave (s.w. Ps. 31:5; 49:15). His sure hope in the resurrection of the body looked ahead to the attitude with which the Lord Jesus died.

The Psalm however clearly applies to the exile, when Judah, the singular tribe, was sent into captivity; the ten tribe kingdom had already gone to Assyria.

Mount Zion, in which You have lived-
Relevant to the exiles, in that Yahweh was no longer living in Zion, the cherubim of glory had departed, as Ezekiel had seen in vision.

Psa 74:3 Lift up Your feet on the perpetual ruins-
LXX "Lift up thine hands against their pride continually", which connects better with the second half of the verse. 

See all the evil that the enemy has done in the sanctuary-
The evil done in the sanctuary had been done by God; this evil was ultimately from God, although the exiles struggled to believe that (Is. 45:5-7). Therefore He was obviously aware of it. It was their refusal to accept that God had been their enemy and had done the "evil" which led them to later feel He was somehow unaware of it.

Psa 74:4

Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your assembly. They have set up their standards as signs-
This speaks of the Babylonian military standards raised in the temple as glory to their idols, repeated by the Romans in AD70. Israel's enemies are likened to wild beasts roaring; and indeed "the beast" is Israel's neighbours, throughout scripture. But the psalmist appears to ignore the repeated prophetic declaration that this would happen because Judah worshipped idols within the sanctuary, as Ezekiel saw in vision. The psalmist sees only one side of the story- the suffering. The reason for it, and the hope of restoration predicated upon repentance, plays no part in his thinking at this point. And we see that attitude all around us, complaints at Divine judgment and the results of human sin, rather than seeing that suffering in wider spiritual and ethical context. 

Psa 74:5

They behaved like men wielding axes, cutting through a thicket of trees-
The idea is that there was absolutely no reverence for the sanctity of the temple. And yet Judah had likewise paid no reverence to that, and so they received an appropriate judgment.

Psa 74:6

Now they break all its carved work down with hatchet and hammers-
LXX "stonecutters". There was a wilful and intentional destruction of the temple. The "carved work" is that of the cherubim and palm trees (s.w. 1 Kings 6:29), broken down because it was overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:22,32,35).   

Psa 74:7

They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground, they have profaned the dwelling place of Your Name-
This burning of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar is recorded in 2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chron. 36:19. The psalmist complains that "they" had done this, whereas the more spiritual perspective was that God had done these things (Lam. 2:6; 4:1) as judgment for Judah's sins. All that is said is true, but lacks humility and spiritual perspective.

Psa 74:8

They said in their heart, We will crush them completely. They have burned up all the places in the land where God was worshiped-
But Yahweh was to be worshipped in Zion. It was the "high places" built ostensibly to worship Him, which had become the places of idolatry for which God's anger came upon His people This is quite overlooked by the writer. But LXX has "They have said in their heart, even all their kindred together, Come, let us abolish the feasts of the Lord from the earth".

Psa 74:9

We see no miraculous signs. There is no longer any prophet, neither is there among us anyone who knows how long-
Again this was not quite the case. There was a ministry of the true prophets throughout the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and Ezekiel and others continued the witness afterwards. But this is overlooked in the desire of the author to focus upon the negative and pain as dismal a picture as possible. There were "signs"; for Jeremiah and Ezekiel were men of sign to the Jews. LXX "and God will not know us any more" was a complete denial of the prophetic pleas to know God in repentance, and the clear hope of restoration offered.

Psa 74:10

How long, God, shall the adversary reproach? Shall the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?-
The answer to that question is provided in the prophets. It would be until Judah repented. And yet the psalmist overlooks that dimension completely. Just as we can so easily. 

Psa 74:11

Why do You draw back Your hand, even Your right hand? Take it out of Your pocket and consume them!-
Again as on :10, the answer was that God's hand would again be seen active for His people once they repented. But typical of the secular view, the psalmist expects immediate action from God right now, regardless of any spiritual dimension to the basis of His operations with men.

Psa 74:12

Yet God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth-
The midst of the land was Zion, and there He had done great miracles at the time of Hezekiah- which the psalmist believes can be repeated. The tone of the Psalm changes now. The Psalmist has not made a good case in the preceding verses, as noted above. He is simply demanding immediate release from the exile. Although he is spiritually deficient in failing to factor in Israel's sin and the need for repentance, he all the same has a strong personal faith. Whether or not God comes through for His people on a larger scale, "God is my king". And here we have an example for us all. Our struggle with the problem of evil must not be allowed to take away God's salvation history; His apparent failure to save whom and when and how we think He should must never take away from our personal faith in Him.

We also learn here that a man like this psalmist who may be deficient in attitude and understanding (as witnessed in the notes above on :2-11) may still have genuine faith before God.

Psa 74:13

You divided the sea by Your strength. You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters-
A clear allusion to God's division of the Red Sea and destruction of the "monsters" of Egypt. The chariots of Pharaoh are likened to sea monsters.

Psa 74:14

You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces. You gave him as food to people and desert creatures-
Again the power of Egypt is likened to a mythical creature. People of the time found the sea mysterious, and believed in a vast sea dragon lurking there which was invincible, rather like folks tend to believe in a supernatural devil figure. The simple point was that God has and can destroy such entities at ease, to the point that effectively God's people need not believe in them. LXX "Thou didst give him for meat to the Ethiopian nations" perhaps imagines the local peoples picking up the spoil of the Egyptian chariots after the Red Sea drowned them all.

Psa 74:15

You opened up spring and stream. You dried up mighty rivers-
Alluding to the provision of living water in the wilderness. The same language is used of how God could dry up the rivers around Babylon to destroy her. He did this, through the Medes, but most of Judah preferred to remain in Babylon rather than obey the commands to flee out of her at that point.

Psa 74:16

The day is Yours, the night is also Yours; You have prepared the light and the sun-
This could continue the allusion to God's care for Israel in the wilderness in :15, this time referring to the provision of light by night and protection from the sun in the day time. Or it could be that the Psalmist, struggling with God's apparent injustice and lack of activity, reflects that of course God is active; for the passing of day and night is evidence enough of that.

Psa 74:17

You have set all the boundaries of the earth. You have made summer and winter-
As discussed on :16, any illusion that God is somehow inactive is ended by considering the passage of the seasons, all designed and activated by Him. Judah in exile were at the very boundaries of the eretz / land / earth promised to Abraham, and God had decreed that too.

Psa 74:18

Remember this, that the enemy has mocked You, Yahweh. Foolish people have blasphemed Your name-
Again it is inappropriate to suggest that God has as it were forgotten anything. A more mature perspective would have known that finally "God is not mocked" (Gal. 6:7). But as noted on :12, a man like this psalmist who may be deficient in attitude and understanding (as witnessed in the notes above on :2-11) may still have genuine faith before God. 

Psa 74:19

Don’t deliver the soul of Your dove to wild beasts, don’t forget the life of Your poor forever- Again, Israel's neighbouring enemies are the "wild beasts" of scripture. This imagery is consistent. The argument could be seen as manipulative; for God had taught in His own law that the poor should be cared for and redeemed, yet He appears not to redeem His own "poor". Judah in exile were major sinners, as Ezekiel makes clear. But the psalmist likes to compare them to innocent dove. See on :18.

Psa 74:20

Honour Your covenant, for haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land- This fails to appreciate the clear teaching of Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to the exiles; that they had broken the old covenant, and their only hope was to repent and accept the new covenant which was offered. But this wonderful "hope of Israel" fell on deaf ears, because they were so obsessed with a return to how things had been, under the same covenant which was now broken.

Psa 74:21

Don’t let the oppressed return ashamed; let the poor and needy praise Your name-
David had felt "oppressed" whilst in exile from Saul (s.w. Ps. 9:9; 10:18), and his Psalms show him to have been the "poor and needy" who was ever praising Yahweh's Name (s.w. Ps. 40:17; 70:5). David is set up as the programmatic example for the exiles. But they had to follow his path of humility and repentance.

Psa 74:22

Arise, God! Plead Your own cause. Remember how the foolish man mocks You all day-
The psalmist imagines God as in court, saying nothing and being judged by those who mocked Him. But this again reflects a lack of faith and understanding that God is the ultimate judge, and that finally "God is not mocked" (Gal. 6:7).

Psa 74:23

Don’t forget the voice of Your adversaries; the tumult of those who rise up against You ascends continually-
The language used here (and in Ps. 65:7) is that used of the gathering of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies against Zion (Is. 13:4; 17:12,13; 25:5; Jer. 25:31). But God's word was to calm that, in order to reestablish His Kingdom.