Psalm 74:8
They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.
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(8) All the synagogues of God in the land.—This expression excludes from moed either of the meanings possible for it in Psalm 74:4, “the Temple” or “the assembly.” Buildings, and these places of worship, must be meant, and it is implied that they are scattered over the land, and can therefore mean nothing but synagogues. The “high places” would’ not be called God’s, nor would Bethel and Dan have been so called, being connected with irregular and unorthodox worship. Thus we have a clear note of time, indicating a period not only later than the rise of the synagogue in Ezra’s time, but much later, since it takes time for a new institution to spread over a country. Aquila and Symmachus actually render “synagogues.” Possibly the LXX. are right in putting the latter clause into the mouth of the enemies, “let us burn,” &c

74:1-11 This psalm appears to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Chaldeans. The deplorable case of the people of God, at the time, is spread before the Lord, and left with him. They plead the great things God had done for them. If the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt was encouragement to hope that he would not cast them off, much more reason have we to believe, that God will not cast off any whom Christ has redeemed with his own blood. Infidels and persecutors may silence faithful ministers, and shut up places of worship, and say they will destroy the people of God and their religion together. For a long time they may prosper in these attempts, and God's oppressed servants may see no prospect of deliverance; but there is a remnant of believers, the seed of a future harvest, and the despised church has survived those who once triumphed over her. When the power of enemies is most threatening, it is comfortable to flee to the power of God by earnest prayer.They said in their hearts - They purposed; they designed it.

Let us destroy them together - Let us destroy all these buildings, temples, towers, and walls at the same time; let us make an entire destruction of them all.

They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land - The phrase "they have burned up" must refer to the places or edifices where assemblies for public worship were held, since it cannot be supposed that the idea is that they had burned up the assemblies of worshippers themselves. The word rendered "synagogues" is the same in the Hebrew that is used in Psalm 74:4, and is there rendered "congregations." It means "assemblies," persons collected together for public worship. See the notes at that verse. It is not used in the Bible to denote "places" for the meetings of such assemblies, nor is it elsewhere rendered "synagogues." It is translated by the word "seasons," Genesis 1:14; Exodus 13:10, "et al.; set time," Genesis 17:21; Exodus 9:5, "et al.; time appointed," Exodus 23:15; 2 Samuel 24:15, "et al.; congregation," Leviticus 1:1, Leviticus 1:3,Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 3:2, Leviticus 3:8,Leviticus 3:13, "and very often; feasts," Leviticus 23:2, Leviticus 23:4,Leviticus 23:37, "et al.; - solemnity," Deuteronomy 31:10; Isaiah 33:20; - and so also, set feasts, solemn feasts, appointed feasts, etc.

But in no instance does it necessarily refer to an edifice, unless it is in the place before us. There is no reason, however, for doubting that, from the necessity of the case, in the course of events, there would be other places for assembling for the worship of God than the temple, and that in different cities, villages, towns, and neighborhoods, persons would be collected together for some form of social religious service. Buildings or tents would be necessary for the accommodation of such assemblages; and this, in time, might be developed into a system, until in this way the whole arrangement for "synagogues" might have grown up in the land. The exact origin of synagogues is not indeed known. Jahn ('Biblical Archaeology,' Section 344) supposes that they sprang up during the Babylonian captivity, and that they had their origin in the fact that the people, when deprived of their customary religious privileges, would collect around some prophet, or other pious man, who would teach them and their children the duties of religion, exhort them to good conduct, and read to them out of the sacred books.

Compare Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1; Daniel 6:11; Nehemiah 8:18. There seems, however, no good reason for doubting that synagogues may have existed before the time of the captivity, and may have sprung up in the manner suggested above from the necessities of the people, probably at first without any fixed rule or law on the subject, but as convenience suggested, and that they may at last, by custom and law, have grown into the regular form which they assumed as a part of the national worship. Compare Kitto's Encyc. Art. 'synagogue.' I see no improbability, therefore, in supposing that the word here may refer to such edifices at the time when this psalm was composed. These, if they existed, would naturally be destroyed by the Chaldeans, as well as the temple itself.

8. together—at once, all alike.

synagogues—literally, "assemblies," for places of assembly, whether such as schools of the prophets (2Ki 4:23), or "synagogues" in the usual sense, there is much doubt.

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. They said in their hearts, let us destroy them together,.... The Targum is,

"their children, are together;''

or "their kindred", as the Septuagint Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, taking the word to be of which signifies a "son"; and the sense to be, that seeing they were all together, as the Jews were at the taking of Jerusalem, they might be cut off at once. Jarchi explains it of their rulers; Marinus, as Aben Ezra observes, derives it from a word which signifies to afflict and oppress, to which he agrees; see Psalm 83:3,

they have burnt up all the synagogues of God in the land; not only in Jerusalem, where there were, the Jewish (q) writers say, four hundred and sixty, and others four hundred and eighty of them, but also in all the land of Judea; of these synagogues there is much mention made in the New Testament; they were places for public worship, in which, prayer was made, and the Scriptures were read and explained; see Matthew 6:5, but it may be doubted whether they are meant here, since it does not appear that there were any until after the return of the Jews from Babylon (r); the temple, and the parts of it, may be meant, as Jarchi and Aben Ezra; or the schools of the prophets; though the psalm may refer to times after the Babylonish captivity, and so may design Jewish synagogues, and even take in places of worship among Christians.

(q) T. Hieros. Cetubot, fol. 35. 3. & Megillah, fol. 73. 4. (r) Vid. Vitringam de Synagog. Vet. l. 1. par. 2. c. 9. Reland. Antiqu. Heb. par. 1. c. 16. sect. 3. Burmannum de Synagogis disp. I. sect. 9.

They said in their {e} hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.

(e) They encouraged one another to cruelty, that not only God's people might be destroyed, but also his religion utterly in all places suppressed.

8. They said in their heart, Let us crush them altogether:

They burned up all the meeting places of God in the land.

For the form of expression cp. Psalm 83:4.

The interpretation of this verse is specially important in its bearing on the date of the Psalm. It would be a strong argument for the late date if it really contained an allusion to synagogues. Though the origin of these buildings for purposes of worship and instruction is hidden in obscurity, it can hardly have been earlier than the post-exilic period. (See Schürer, Hist. of the Jewish People, Div. ii. § 27, E.T. ii. ii. 54.) But it is doubtful whether there is any such allusion. The word translated synagogues is the same as that used in Psalm 74:4, meaning either place or time of meeting. In the plural it always has the latter meaning. Now if the Psalm were Maccabaean and the passage referred to synagogues, it might be expected that the LXX translators, working no long time afterwards, would have so understood it. But they do not; and apparently they had a different text before them, for they render: Come, let us cause the feasts of the Lord to cease out of the land. Similarly the Syriac. These versions then understand the words to refer to the festivals or solemn assemblies. Now the cessation of the festivals is one of the points mentioned in the Lamentations (Psalm 1:4; Psalm 2:6) as a special calamity; and in Hosea 2:11. the Heb. word presumed by the LXX here is used in the prediction of the cessation of religious festivals in the Captivity. This reading and interpretation suit the context. The stated festivals were among the ‘signs,’ the symbols of God’s presence and favour, of which Psalm 74:9 speaks.Verse 8. - They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them altogether. It was, no doubt, the intention of Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Israel as a nation. Hence the complete destruction of the city and temple (2 Kings 25:9, 10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Lamentations 2:1-9, etc.); hence the deportation of all the strength of the nation (2 Kings 24:14-16; 2 Kings 25:11), and their settlement in the far off region of Babylonia; hence the desolation, not only of Jerusalem, but of "all the habitations of Jacob" (Lamentations 2:2), all the "strongholds of the daughter of Judah" (Lamentations 2:2, 5). They have burnt up all the synagogues of God in the land. The synagogue system was first introduced by Ezra, according to Jewish tradition; and it has been argued that the mention of "synagogues" here - literally, "sacred meeting places" - proves the psalm to be Maccabean. But meeting places for worship, other than the temple, always existed in Palestine, both before and after its erection. Mesha speaks of having plundered a "house of Jehovah" in his war with Ahab ('Records of the Past,' vol. 11:p. 167); and it is plain from 2 Kings 4:23 that religious meetings were held by the prophets, probably in houses devoted to the purpose, during the period of the divided monarchy. Hezekiah's destruction of the high places (2 Kings 18:4) is not likely to have interfered with the use of these buildings, to which no savour of idolatry can have attached in the mind of the most violent iconoclast. I should therefore believe, with Leopold Low, that buildings existed before the Exile, in which religious instruction was given by authorized teachers. The poet begins with the earnest prayer that God would again have compassion upon His church, upon which His judgment of anger has fallen, and would again set up the ruins of Zion. Why for ever (Psalm 74:10, Psalm 79:5; Psalm 89:47, cf. Psalm 13:2)? is equivalent to, why so continually and, as it seems, without end? The preterite denotes the act of casting off, the future, Psalm 74:1, that lasting condition of this casting off. למה, when the initial of the following word is a guttural, and particularly if it has a merely half-vowel (although in other instances also, Genesis 12:19; Genesis 27:45; Sol 1:7), is deprived of its Dagesh and accented on the ultima, in order (as Mose ha-Nakdan expressly observes) to guard against the swallowing up of the ah; cf. on Psalm 10:1. Concerning the smoking of anger, vid., Psalm 18:9. The characteristically Asaphic expression צאן מרעיתו is not less Jeremianic, Jeremiah 23:1. In Psalm 74:2 God is reminded of what He has once done for the congregation of His people. קדם, as in Psalm 44:2, points back into the Mosaic time of old, to the redemption out of Egypt, which is represented in קנה (Exodus 15:17) as a purchasing, and in גאל (Psalm 77:15; Psalm 78:35, Exodus 15:13) as a ransoming (redemptio). שׁבט נחלתך is a factitive object; שׁבט is the name given to the whole nation in its distinctness of race from other peoples, as in Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 51:19, cf. Isaiah 63:17. זה (Psalm 74:2) is rightly separated from הר־ציון (Mugrash); it stands directly for אשׁר, as in Psalm 104:8, Psalm 104:26; Proverbs 23:22; Job 15:17 (Ges. 122, 2). The congregation of the people and its central abode are, as though forgotten of God, in a condition which sadly contrasts with their election. משּׁאות נצח are ruins (vid., Psalm 73:18) in a state of such total destruction, that all hope of their restoration vanishes before it; נצח here looks forward, just as עולם (חרבות), Isaiah 63:12; Psalm 61:4, looks backwards. May God then lift His feet up high (פּעמים poetical for רגלים, cf. Psalm 58:11 with Psalm 68:24), i.e., with long hurried steps, without stopping, move towards His dwelling - lace that now lies in ruins, that by virtue of His interposition it may rise again. Hath the enemy made merciless havoc - he hath ill-treated (הרע, as in Psalm 44:3) everything (כּל, as in Psalm 8:7, Zephaniah 1:2, for חכּל or את־כּל) in the sanctuary - how is it possible that this sacrilegious vandalism should remain unpunished!
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