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Psalm 74:1-8

1. O God! why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thy anger smoke against the flock of thy pastures? 2. Remember thy congregation, which thou hast possessed of old, the rod of thy inheritance which thou hast redeemed, this mount Zion on which thou hast dwelt. 3. Lift up thy strokes to destroy for ever every enemy that worketh mischief to thy sanctuary. 4. Thy adversaries have roared 213213     “Ont rugi comme lions.” — Fr. “Have roared like lions.” in the midst of thy sanctuaries; they have set up their signs for signs. 5. He who lifted up the axes upon the thick trees was renowned as doing an excellent work. 6. And now they break in pieces the carved work thereof with axes and hammers together. 7. They have set on fire thy sanctuaries; they have polluted the dwelling-place of thy name, levelling it with the ground. 8. They have said in their heart, Let us destroy them all together: they have burned all the tabernacles of God in the land.

 

1. O God! why hast thou east us off for ever? If this complaint was written when the people were captives in Babylon, although Jeremiah had assigned the 70th year of their captivity as the period of their deliverance, it is not wonderful that waiting so long was to them a very bitter affliction, that they daily groaned under it, and that so protracted a period seemed to them like an eternity. As to those who were persecuted by the cruelty of Antiochus, they might, not without reason, complain of the wrath of God being perpetual, from their want of information as to any definite time when this persecution would terminate; and especially when they saw the cruelty of their enemies daily increasing without any hope of relief, and that their condition was constantly proceeding from bad to worse. Having been before this greatly reduced by the many disastrous wars, which their neighbors one after another had waged against them, they were now brought almost to the brink of utter destruction. It is to be observed, that the faithful, when persecuted by the heathen nations, lifted up their eyes to God, as if all the evils which they suffered had been inflicted by his hand alone. They were convinced, that had not God been angry with them, the heathen nations would not have been permitted to take such license in injuring them. Being persuaded, then, that they were not encountering merely the opposition of flesh and blood, but that they were afflicted by the just judgment of God, they direct their thoughts to the true cause of all their calamities, which was, that God, under whose favor they had formerly lived prosperous and happy, had cast them off, and deigned no longer to account them as his flock. The verb זנה, zanach, signifies to reject and detest, and sometimes also to withdraw one’s self to a distance. It is of no great moment in which of these senses it is here taken. We may consider the amount of what is stated as simply this, that whenever we are visited with adversities, these are not the arrows of fortune thrown against us at a venture, but the scourges or rods of God which, in his secret and mysterious providence, he prepares and makes use of for chastising our sins. Casting off and anger must here be referred to the apprehension or judgment of the flesh. Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines; but as the chastisements which we experience powerfully tend to produce in our minds apprehensions of his wrath, the Holy Spirit, by the word anger, admonishes the faithful to acknowledge their guilt in the presence of infinite purity. When, therefore, God executes his vengeance upon us, it is our duty seriously to reflect on what we have deserved, and to consider, that although He is not subject to the emotions of anger, yet it is not owing to us, who have grievously offended him by our sins, that his anger is not kindled against us. Moreover, his people, as a plea for obtaining mercy, flee to the remembrance of the covenant by which they were adopted to be his children. In calling themselves the flock of God’s pastures, they magnify his free choice of them by which they were separated from the Gentiles. This they express more plainly in the following verse.

2. Remember thy congregation, which thou hast possessed of old. 214214     Archbishop Secker thinks that this verse may be read thus: “Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased, hast redeemed of old; the tribe of thine inheritance; this mount Zion,” etc. Here they boast of having been the peculiar people of God, not on account of any merit of their own, but by the grace of adoption. They boast in like manner of their antiquity, — that they are not subjects who have come under the government of God only within a few months ago, but such as had fallen to him by right of inheritance. The longer the period during which he had continued his love towards the seed of Abraham, the more fully was their faith confirmed. They declare, therefore, that they had been God’s people from the beginning, that is, ever since he had entered into an inviolable covenant with Abraham. There is also added the redemption by which the adoption was ratified; for God did not only signify by word, but also showed by deed at the time when this redemption was effected, that he was their King and Protector. These benefits which they had received from God they set before themselves as an encouragement to their trusting in him, and they recount them before him, the benefactor who bestowed them, as an argument with him not to forsake the work of his own hands. Inspired with confidence by the same benefits, they call themselves the rod of his inheritance; that is to say, the heritage which he had measured out for himself. The allusion is to the custom which then prevailed of measuring or marking out the boundaries of grounds with poles as with cords or lines. Some would rather translate the word שבט, shebet, which we have rendered rod, by tribe; but I prefer the other translation, taking the meaning to be, that God separated Israel from the other nations to be his own proper ground, by the secret pre-ordination which originated in his own good pleasure, as by a measuring rod. In the last place, the temple in which God had promised to dwell is mentioned; not that his essence was enclosed in that place, — an observation which has already been frequently made, — but because his people experienced that there he was near at hand, and present with them by his power and grace. We now clearly perceive whence the people derived confidence in prayer; it was from God’s free election and promises, and from the sacred worship which had been set up among them.

3. Lift up thy strokes. Here the people of God, on the other hand, beseech him to inflict a deadly wound upon their enemies, corresponding to the cruelty with which they had raged against his sanctuary. They would intimate, that a moderate degree of punishment was not sufficient for such impious and sacrilegious fury; and that, therefore, those who had shown themselves such violent enemies of the temple and of the worshippers of God should be completely destroyed, their impiety being altogether desperate. As the Holy Spirit has dictated this form of prayer, we may infer from it, in the first place, the infinite love which God bears towards us, when he is pleased to punish so severely the wrongs inflicted upon us; and, in the second place, the high estimation in which he holds the worship yielded to his Divine majesty, when he pursues with such rigour those who have violated it. With respect to the words, some translate פעמים, pheamim, which we have rendered strokes, by feet or steps, 215215     “That פעמים means feet or steps is evident from Psalms 17:5 57:6; and 58:10 Lift up thy feet, advance not slowly or by stealth, but with large and stately steps, full in the view of all; come to thy sanctuary, so long suffered to lie waste; examine what has been done there, and let thy grace and aid, hitherto so much withheld, be extended to us.” — Gejer To lift up the feet is a Hebraism for “to put one’s self in motion;” “to set out on a journey,” as may be learned from Genesis 29:1, where of Jacob it is said, “He lifted up his feet, and went into the east country.” Lifting up the feet is used for going, in the same way as opening the mouth is for speaking. and understand the Church as praying that the Lord would lift up his feet, and run swiftly to strike her enemies. Others translate it hammers, 216216     “There is another notion of פעם, for a mallet or hammer, Isaiah 41:7 and Kimchi would have that to be the meaning here,הורם פעם, ‘lift up thy mallet,’ in opposition to the ‘axes and hammers,’ verse 6; and thus also Abu Walid, ‘lift up thy dashing instruments.’ And the LXX., who read, ἔπαρον τάς χεῖρας, ‘lift up thy hands,’ come near this.” — Hammond which suits very well. I have, however, no hesitation in following the opinion of those who consider the reference to be to the act of striking, and that the strokes themselves are denoted. The last clause of the verse is explained by some as meaning that the enemy had corrupted all things in the sanctuary. 217217     This is the sense put upon the words by some Jewish interpreters. Thus Abu Walid reads, “Lift up thy dashing instruments, because of the utter destructions which the enemy hath made, and because of all the evil that he hath done in or on the sanctuary.” Aben Ezra has, “because of the perpetual desolations,” that is, because of thy inheritance which is laid waste. Piscator takes the same view: “Betake thyself to Jerusalem, that thou mayest see these perpetual desolations which the Babylonians have wrought.” In like manner, Gejer, who observes that this sense is preferable to that which considers the words as a prayer, that God would lift up his feet for the perpetual ruin of the enemy, because the Psalmist has been hitherto occupied with a mere description of misery, and has used nothing of the language of imprecation. But the Chaldee has, “Lift up thy goings or footsteps, to make desolate the nations for ever;” that is, Come and spread desolation among those enemies who have invaded and so cruelly reduced thy sanctuary to ruins. But as this construction is not to be found elsewhere, I would not depart from the received and approved reading.

4. Thy adversaries have roared in the midst of thy sanctuaries. Here the people of God compare their enemies to lions, (Amos 3:8,) to point out the cruelty which they exercised even in the very sanctuaries of God. 218218     Instead of songs of praise and other acts of devotion, nothing was now heard in the Jewish places of worship but profane vociferation, and the tumultuous noise of a heathen army. This is with great beauty and effect compared to the roaring of a lion. In this passage we are to understand the temple of Jerusalem as spoken of rather than the Jewish synagogues; nor is it any objection to this interpretation that the temple is here called in the plural number sanctuaries, as is frequently the case in other places, it being so called because it was divided into three parts. If any, however, think it preferable to consider synagogues as intended, I would not dispute the point. Yea, without any impropriety, it may be extended to the whole land, which God had consecrated to himself. But the language is much more emphatic when we consider the temple as meant. It thus intimates, that the rage of the enemy was so unbounded and indiscriminate that they did not even spare the temple of God. When it is said, They have set up their signs, 219219     Hammond reads, “They set up their ensigns for trophies.” The original word both for ensigns and trophies is אות, oth But he observes that it requires here to be differently translated. אות, oth, signifies a sign, and thence a military standard or ensign The setting up of this in any place which has been taken by arms, is a token or sign of the victory achieved; and, accordingly, an ensign or standard thus set up becomes a trophy To convey, therefore, the distinctive meaning, he contends that it is necessary in this passage to give different renderings to the same word. this serves to show their insulting and contemptuous conduct, that in erecting their standards they proudly triumphed even over God himself. Some explain this of magical divinations, 220220     That is, they understand signs to mean such signs as diviners or soothsayers were wont to give, by which to foretell things to come. Jarchi, who adopts this interpretation, gives this sense: That the enemies of God’s people having completed their conquest according to the auspices or signs of soothsayers, were fully convinced that these signs were real signs; in other words, that the art of divination was true. even as Ezekiel testifies, (Ezekiel 21:21, 22,) that Nebuchadnezzar sought counsel from the flight and the voice of birds; but this sense is too restricted. The explanation which I have given may be viewed as very suitable. Whoever entered into the Holy Land knew that the worship of God which flourished there was of a special character, and different from that which was performed in any other part of the world: 221221     “Qu’il y avoit un service divine special et different de ce qui se faisoit ailleurs.” — Fr. the temple was a token of the presence of God, and by it he seemed, as if with banners displayed, to hold that people under his authority and dominion. With these symbols, which distinguished the chosen tribes from the heathen nations, the prophet here contrasts the sacrilegious standards which their enemies had brought into the temple. 222222     “Their own symbols they have set for signs. Profane representations, no doubt, agreeable to their own worship. See 1 Maccabees 1:47.” — Dr Geddes. By repeating the word signs twice, he means to aggravate the abominable nature of their act; for having thrown down the tokens and ensigns of the true service of God, they set up in their stead strange symbols.

5. He who lifted up the axe upon the thick trees was renowned. The prophet again aggravates still more the barbarous and brutal cruelty of the enemies of his countrymen, from the circumstance, that they savagely demolished an edifice which had been built at such vast expense, which was embellished with such beauty and magnificence, and finished with so great labor and art. There is some obscurity in the words; but the sense in which they are almost universally understood is, that when the temple was about to be built, those who cut and prepared the wood required for it were in great reputation and renown. Some take the verb מביא, mebi, in an active sense, and explain the words as meaning that the persons spoken of were illustrious and well known, as if they had offered sacrifices to God. The thickness of the trees is set in opposition to the polished beams, to show the more clearly with what exquisite art the rough and unwrought timber was brought into a form of the greatest beauty and magnificence. Or the prophet means, what I am inclined to think is the more correct interpretation, that in the thick forests, where there was vast abundance of wood, great care was taken in the selection of the trees, that none might be cut down but such as were of the very best quality. May it not perhaps be understood in this sense, That in these thick forests the trees to which the axe was to be applied were well known and marked, as being already of great height, and exposed to the view of beholders? Whatever may be as to this, the prophet, there is no doubt, in this verse commends the excellence of the material which was selected with such care, and was so exquisite, that it attracted the gaze and excited the admiration of all who saw it; even as in the following verse, by the carved or graven work is meant the beauty of the building, which was finished with unequalled art, But now it is declared, that the Chaldeans, with utter recklessness, made havoc with their axes upon this splendid edifice, as if it had been their object to tread under foot the glory of God by destroying so magnificent a structure. 223223     In the English Common Prayer-Book the 5th and 6th verses are translated thus: — “He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees was known to bring it to an excellent work. But now they break down all the carved work thereof with axes and hammers.” Dr Nicholls’ paraphrase of this is as follows: “It is well known from the sacred records of our nation to what admirable beauty the skillful hand of the artificers brought the rough cedar trees, which were cut down by the hatchets of Hiram’s woodmen in the thick Tyrian forests. But now they tear down all the curious carvings, that cost so much time and exquisite labor, with axes and hammers, and other rude instruments of iron.” “This is a clear and consistent sense of the passages” says Mant, “and affords a striking and well imagined contrast.”

7. They have set fire to thy sanctuaries. The Psalmist now complains that the temple was burned, and thus completely razed and destroyed, whereas it was only half demolished by the instruments of war. Many have supposed that the order of the words has been here inverted, 224224     The order of the words is this, שלחו באש מקדשך shilchu baesh mikdashecha, literally, “They have sent into fire thy sanctuary.” not being able to perceive how a suitable meaning could be elicited from them, and therefore would resolve them thus, They have put fire into thy sanctuaries. I have, however, no doubt that the sense which I have given, although the accent is against it, is the true and natural one, That the temple was levelled with the ground by being burned. This verse corroborates more fully the statement which I have made, that the temple is called sanctuaries in the plural number, because it consisted of three parts, — the innermost sanctuary, the middle sanctuary, and the outer court; for there immediately follows the expression, The dwelling-place of thy name. The name of God is here employed to teach us that his essence was not confined to or shut up in the temple, but that he dwelt in it by his power and operation, that the people might there call upon him with the greater confidence.

8. They have said in their heart, Let us destroy them all together. To express the more forcibly the atrocious cruelty of the enemies of the Church, the prophet introduces them speaking together, and exciting one another to commit devastation without limit or measure. His language implies, that each of them, as if they had not possessed enough of courage to do mischief, stirred up and stimulated his fellow to waste and destroy the whole of God’s people, without leaving so much as one of them. In the close of the verse he asserts that all the synagogues were burned. I readily take the Hebrew word מועדים, moadim, in the sense of synagogues, 225225     It has been objected, that if this psalm was composed at the time of the captivity of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar, and the desolation of the Holy Land by the Chaldeans, מועדי, moadey, cannot signify synagogues, because the Jews had no synagogues for public worship or public instruction till after the Babylonish captivity. Accordingly, Dr Prideaux thinks that the Proseuchae are meant. These were courts resembling those in which the people prayed at the tabernacle, and afterwards at the temple, built by those who lived at a distance from Jerusalem, and who were unable at all times to resort thither. They were erected as places in which the Jews might offer up their daily prayers. “They differed,” says Prideaux, “from synagogues in several particulars. For, first, In synagogues the prayers were offered up in public forms in common for the whole congregation; but in the Proseuchae they prayed as in the temple, every one apart for himself. Secondly, The synagogues were covered houses; but the Proseuchae were open courts, built in the manner of forums, which were open enclosures. Thirdly, Synagogues were all built within the cities to which they did belong; but the Proseuchae without.” — Connection of the History, etc., Part 1, Book 6, pages 139-141. Synagogues were afterwards used for the same purpose as the Proseuchae, and hence both come to be designated by the same name. The same author supposes that those places in the cities of the Levites, and the schools of the prophets, whither the people resorted for instruction, having been called, as well as the Proseuchae, מועדי-אל, moadey-el, are also here intended. “The word מועדי, moadey,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “which we translate synagogues, may be taken in a more general sense, and mean any places where religious assemblies were held; and that such places and assemblies did exist long before the Babylonish captivity is pretty evident from different parts of Scripture.” See 2 Kings 4:23; Ezekiel 33:31; Acts 15:21. All such places were consumed to ashes by the hostile invaders whose ravages are bewailed, it having been their purpose to extinguish for ever the Jewish religion, and, as the most likely means of effecting their object, to destroy every memorial of it. because he says ALL the sanctuaries, and speaks expressly of the whole land. It is a frigid explanation which is given by some, that these enemies, upon finding that they could not hurt or do violence to the sanctuary of God in heaven, turned their rage against the material temple or synagogues. The prophet simply complains that they were so intent upon blotting out the name of God, that they left not a single corner on which there was not the mark of the hand of violence. The Hebrew word מועדים, moadim, is commonly taken for the sanctuary; but when we consider its etymology, it is not inappropriately applied to those places where the holy assemblies were wont to be held, not only for reading and expounding the prophets, but also for calling upon the name of God. The wicked, as if the prophet had said, have done all in their power to extinguish and annihilate the worship of God in Judea.


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