Matthew Poole's Commentary
Maschil of Asaph. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?i.e. Composed by Asaph; either,
1. By that famous Asaph who flourished in David’s time, and by the Spirit of God foresaw and foretold the things here mentioned. But the clear, and exact, and particular, and most pathetical description of the thing here expressed, looks much more like a narrative of what is past than a prophecy of what is to come; which usually is delivered marc darkly. Besides, such a prophecy of the destruction of the temple before it was built would have been a great discouragement to the building of it, and would probably have been taken notice of by Solomon in his prayer for it, when it was newly built. Or,
2. By some of his posterity, who is called by their father’s name, Asaph, as the children Of Israel are frequently called Jacob, or Israel, and David’s successors David; as hath been noted. Or,
3. By some other person of that name, though of another family; who then was a man of renown, though now his memory be lost. Or this may be rendered for Asaph, i.e. for his posterity; and it might be said by some other holy man of God. But the former seems more probable. This is evident, that this Psalm speaks of the destruction of the temple, and of Jerusalem, and of God’s people, by the Chaldeans; though some think it. looks further, even to the pollution of the temple by Antiochus; although the things said to be done, Psalm 74:6-8, agree much better to the former, and were not done by Antiochus.
The church complaineth of the desolation which the enemies had made in the temple and synagogue, Psalm 74:1-9; prayeth God to help by his great power, Psalm 74:10-17, against the reproach and blasphemy of the enemies, Psalm 74:18. He prayeth for God’s beloved and covenanted ones, Psalm 74:19-23.
Why hast thou cast us of for ever, so as to leave us no visible hopes of restitution?
Thine anger; or, thy nose; a metaphor from a man who in a great rage sends forth fumes out of his nostrils.
Against the sheep of thy pasture; against thy chosen and peculiar people.
Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.Remember; show by thine actions that thou hast not utterly forgotten and forsaken them.
Thy congregation; thy church or people. Purchased; or, redeemed, as it follows; or, bought, as it is Deu 32:6; or, procured, though without price, as this word is used, Ruth 4:9,10.
Of old; when thou broughtest them out of Egypt, and formedst them into a commonwealth, and gavest them laws, and didst enter into covenant with them at Sinai.
The rod of thine inheritance; that people which thou hast measured out as it were by rod, to be thy portion or inheritance, as they are called also Deu 32:6 See also Psalm 16:5,6 Jer 10:16. Or, the tribe (as this word commonly signifies)
of thine inheritance, i.e. the tribe of Judah, which thou hast in a special manner chosen for thine inheritance, and for the seat of the kingdom, and for the birth of the Messiah. And thus here is an elegant gradation from the general to particulars; first the congregation, consisting of all the tribes; then the tribe of Judah; and lastly,
Mount Zion. Nor is it strange that he mentions this tribe particularly, because the calamity and captivity here remembered did principally befall this tribe and Benjamin, which was united with it and subject to it, and the most that returned were of this tribe; for the generality of the other tubes were long before dispersed into other lands, and continue in their captivity to this day. Mount Zion; which is oft put for the temple, or the hill of Moriah, on which it was built.
Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.Lift up thy feet, i.e. come speedily for our rescue, and do not sit or stand still, as hitherto thou seemest to do.
Unto the perpetual desolations; or rather, because of (as this prefix oft signifies) the perpetual desolations. So it is a powerful motive to God, to come to their help, because otherwise our destruction is everlasting and irrecoverable.
In the sanctuary; or, against thy sanctuary; of which see Psalm 74:7.
Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs.Roar, i.e. make loud outcries; either from their rage and fury against the conquered and captivated Israelites now in their power; or rather, in way of triumph for their success and victory.
In the midst of thy congregations; in the places where thy people used to assemble together for thy worship; whereby they designed to insult not only over us, but over thee also, as if their gods had been too strong for thee.
Signs; or, trophies, or monuments of their victories obtained over God, and over his people, as conquerors used to do in like cases.
A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees.So the meaning is this, The temple was so noble a structure, that it was a great honour to any man to be employed in the meanest part of the work, though it were but in cutting down the trees of Lebanon. And this translation may seem to be favoured by the opposition in the next verse, But now, &c. But others understand the words thus translated in another sense, that every one of the enemies got renown accordingly as they showed most barbarous rage in destroying the thick wood work (which in the next verse is called the carved work) of the temple. But this seems not to suit well with the opposition between this work and that of the next verse, which is ushered in by but now. The words therefore may be (and in part are by some) rendered thus, It is known, (or manifest, Heb. It will be known; it will be published to all posterity, as matter of astonishment and admiration,) that, as one lifteth up his axe (Heb. axes, the plural number for the singular, as it is elsewhere)
upon thick trees, to cut them down. This is the first part of the similitude, called the protasis; then follows the latter part of it, called the apodosis, in the next verse. (Heb. and; which is sometimes put for a note of similitude, as in that passage of the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:10, as it is in heaven; and oft in the book of the Proverbs) now (for though this Psalm was composed after the thing was done, yet he speaks of it as if it were now in doing, as the manner of the sacred writers frequently is, that it may be more livelily represented to men’s minds) they break down the carved works, &c. The meaning is, they neither regard the sacredness of the place, nor the exquisite curiosity and art of the work, but cut it down as indifferently and rashly as men cut down the thick and entangled boughs of the trees of the forest.
But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers.See Poole "Psalm 74:5".
Axes and hammers: it hath been ingeniously observed that these two words are not Hebrew, but Chaldee or Syriac words, to point out the time when this was done, even when the Chaldeans brought in their language together with their arms among the Israelites.
They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.First they polluted it, and then they burnt it, and broke it in pieces.
They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.Destroy them together, root and branch, one as well as another, or all at once. So they desired, and many of them intended, although afterwards, it seems, they changed their counsel, and carried some away captives, and left others to manage the land.
All the synagogues of God in the land, i.e. all the public places wherein the Jews used to meet together to worship God every sabbath day, as is noted, Acts 13:27, and upon other occasions. That the Jews had such synagogues is manifest, both from these and other places of Scripture; and from the testimony of the Hebrew doctors, and other ancient and learned writers, who affirm it, and particularly of Jerusalem, in which they say there were above four hundred synagogues; and from the nature and necessity of the thing; for seeing it is undeniable that they did worship God publicly, in every sabbath, and other holy times, even then when they neither did nor could go up to Jerusalem, both conscience and prudence must needs direct them to appoint convenient places for that purpose.
We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.Our signs, i.e. those tokens of God’s gracious presence which we and our ancestors formerly used to enjoy; either,
1. Miracles wrought for us, which are called
signs, Psalm 78:43 135:9. Or,
2. The ordinances of God, the temple, and ark, and sacrifices, and solemn feasts, all which were signs between God and his people.
Any prophet: either,
1. Any teacher. We have few or no teachers left to us. Or,
2. Any extraordinary prophet, who can foretell things to come, as the next words explain it. For as for Ezekiel and Jeremiah, they might be dead when this Psalm was composed; and Daniel was involved in civil affairs, and did not teach the people as a prophet; and the prophetical Spirit which sometimes came upon him, and made those great discoveries to him which we read in his book, might possibly at this time suspend his influences. Besides, it is not unusual in Scripture, to say that there is none of a sort of persons or things, when there is a very great scarcity of them. But others make this their great argument, that this Psalm speaks of that persecution in the time of Antiochus, when indeed there was no prophet at all.
How long; either,
1. How long their captivity should continue; for though seventy years were determined, yet there might arise doubts among them, as there now are among us, whence they were to be computed, which might make their end uncertain. Or,
2. How long they should lie under reproach, as it follows, Psalm 74:10, which they really did, and might foresee that they should, even after the expiration of their captivity, Nehemiah 1:3.
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?Reproach; understand here thy name, which is expressed in the next clause of the verse, by saying that thou art either unkind to thy people, or unfaithful in thy covenant, or unable to deliver thine out of their miseries.
Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.Why withdrawest thou thy hand? why dost thou suspend or forbear the exercise of that power, which thou hast so oft put forth on the behalf of thy people?
Pluck it out of thy bosom, in which thou now seemest to hide it, as idle persons use to do, Proverbs 19:24 26:15. Bestir thyself on the behalf of thy people.
For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.My King, in a singular manner: it belongs therefore to thine office to protect and save me.
In the midst of the earth; in the view of the world; so saving thy people so eminently and gloriously, that all people round about them observed and admired it.
Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.The dragons; or, the crocodiles. He means Pharaoh and all his mighty men, who were like these beasts in strength and cruelty.
The waters, to wit, of the sea, where they were drowned.
Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.The heads, i.e. the head; called heads, partly for the greatness of this beast, as that great monster is called beasts, Job 40:20, for the same reason; and partly for the several heads or princes who were and acted under his influence.
To the people inhabiting the wilderness, Heb. to the people in or of the desert; either,
1. To the Israelites then in the wilderness, to whom the destruction of Pharaoh and his host was meat, i.e. matter of great support and refreshment. Or,
2. To those savage people to whom they were meat, because they lived upon fishes, and might eat those very fishes which had devoured Pharaoh’s host in the bottom of the sea. Or rather,
3. To those ravenous birds and beasts of the desert, which after their manner fed and feasted themselves upon the carcasses of the Egyptians, who were cast upon the sea-shore, Exodus 14:30, which were properly and immediately meat unto them. And when words can be taken properly, we ought to prefer that before the metaphorical sense, as is agreed by interpreters. And this was a very suitable punishment for this proud and insolent people, that they who were so haughty, that they would not own nor submit to the Lord himself, Exodus 5:2, should be devoured by these contemptible creatures, which was a great reproach, 1 Samuel 17:44,46, and oft threatened by God as a grievous curse, as Deu 28:26 Jeremiah 7:33 16:4, &c. Neither let any think it strange that the name of
people is given to these creatures, for it is given to conies, grasshoppers, pismires, &c., both in Scripture, as Proverbs 30:25,26 Joe 1:6, and in Homer, and other ancient profane writers. Nay, here is an elegancy in the expression; for these creatures are significantly called the people of the wilderness, because they are the only people that inhabited it, this being a wilderness wherein was no man, as is said, Job 38:26.
Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood, i.e. thou didst by cleaving the rock make a fountain in it, and a flood or stream to flow from it, for the refreshment of thy people in those dry deserts. The phrase is like that Isaiah 47:2, grind meal, i.e. by grinding the corn make meal.
Mighty rivers; either,
1. Jordan, which was then more mighty than ordinarily, as having overflowed all his banks, and therefore may be called rivers, because it was now equivalent to two or three such rivers; or it is only an ensilage of the plural number for the singular, whereof I have given many instances formerly. Or rather,
2. Both Jordan and the Red Sea; for the sea itself, yea, a greater sea than that, is called a river, Jonah 2:3; for the Hebrew word is the same which is here used, though there it be rendered floods. And the same title is expressly given to the sea by Homer and other ancient writers. To these the ancient Chaldee interpreter addeth the rivers of Amen and Jabbok, in or about which some extraordinary work was wrought, yea, something which was like God’s work at the Red Sea, as may seem by the conjunction of these together, Numbers 21:14.
The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.It is not strange nor incredible that thou hast done these great and wonderful works, for thou hast made the heavenly bodies, and the vicissitudes of day and night, depending upon them, which is a far greater work.
Prepared; or rather, established, as this word oft signifies; not only created, but settled in a constant and orderly course.
The light; either,
1. That primitive light, Genesis 1:3, which afterwards was condensed and gathered into the sun. Or rather,
2. The moon, as divers, both ancient and modern, interpreters understand it, called here the light, to wit, the lesser luminary or light; wherein there is either a synecdoche of the general for the particular, or an ellipsis of the adjective, both which figures are very usual. And that the lesser light is here meant, may seem probable, both because it is opposed to the greater light, the sun here following; and because this is to rule the night, as the sun is to rule the day, Genesis 1:16; and so this clause answereth to and explains the former, wherein both day and night are mentioned.
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast fixed the bounds, both of the habitable world in general; so as the seas, though they do encompass and assault them, yet they shall never be able to remove them; and of all the countries and people upon earth, whom thou hast confined to such bounds as thou seest fit. And as this clause of the verse showeth God’s power and government over all places, so the next clause displays his dominion over all times and seasons; and both together are, fitly alleged as a motive to God, that he would at this time take care of his poor people, and restore them to their ancient land and borders, in which he had been pleased to set them.
Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.Though we deserve to be forgotten and destroyed, yet remember thyself, and do not suffer thine and our enemies to reproach and blaspheme the name of that great and glorious God, the Creator and sovereign Lord of the whole world, whom they ought always to reverence and adore.
The foolish people; who, though they think themselves and are thought by others to be wise, yet in truth are fools, and herein show their stupendous folly, that they vilify and provoke that God whose powerful anger they can neither resist, nor escape, nor endure.
O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever.The soul, i.e. the life. Thou hast delivered thy people into captivity; do not deliver them to death, nor suffer their enemies utterly to destroy them.
Of thy turtle-dove, i.e. of thy church, which is fitly compared to a turtle-dove, because of the great resemblance of their dispositions and conditions, being simple, and harmless, and meek, and faithful, and mournful, and exposed to manifold injuries, and unable to defend itself from them.
Unto the multitude of the wicked; or, to the wild beast, as this word oft signifies; or, to the troop, to wit, of her enemies.
Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.Have respect unto the covenant made with Abraham, whereby thou didst give the land of Canaan to him, and to his seed for ever; and thou didst further promise, that if thy people were carried captive into strange lands and did there humble themselves, and pray and turn unto thee, thou wouldst mercifully restore them, 1 Kings 8:46-50: do thou therefore now restore us to that pleasant and lightsome land which thou hast given to us.
The dark places of the earth, i.e. this dark and dismal land in which we live, wherein there is nothing but ignorance and confusion, and all the works of darkness; of which the psalmist speaks in general terms, out of a principle of prudence, because the particular designation of the place was unnecessary, and might have been of ill consequence.
Are full of the habitations of cruelty; here is nothing but injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, under which we groan in all the parts of this great empire, where we have our abode.
O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.Return ashamed from thee, and from the throne of thy grace, to which they make their resort in this their distressed condition.
Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily.Plead thine own cause; maintain thy honour, and worship, and service against those that reproach thee, as it here follows, and was noted before, Psalm 74:10,18. As we are reviled and persecuted for thy sake, so thou art injured in all our wrongs.
Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.The voice; their insulting and reproachful expressions against time, as well as against us.
The tumult, i.e. the tumultuous noise of the loud clamours.
Increaseth, Heb. ascendeth, to wit, into heaven, being either directed thither by them; their mouth being set against heaven, as theirs was, Psalm 73:9; or at least being perceived there by God, whose ears were pierced with the loud cry of their sins. See Genesis 4:10 18:20. Or ascending may be here put for increasing, as it is Isaiah 55:13 Jeremiah 46:7. So the sense is, They grow worse and worse, encouraging and hardening themselves in their wicked courses by their continual success and prosperity, and by thy patience extended to them.