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Psalm 74:18-23

18. Remember this: the adversary hath blasphemed Jehovah: and a worthless people hath done despite to thy name. 19. Give not to the beast the soul of thy turtle dove: forget not the congregation of thy poor ones for ever. 20. Have regard to thy covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of violence. 21. Let not him who is oppressed [or afflicted] return ashamed: let the poor and needy one praise thy name. 22. Arise, O God! Plead thy cause: remember thy reproach, which is done to thee by the foolish man daily. 23. Forget not the voice of thy adversaries: the tumult of those who rise up against thee ascendeth continually.

 

18. Remember this. The prophet having encouraged the hearts of the godly by magnifying the divine power and goodness, now returns to the prosecution of his prayer. He first complains that the enemies of his people revile God, and yet continue unpunished. When he says, Remember this, the manner of expression is emphatic; and the occasion demanded it, for it is not a crime of small magnitude to treat with contumely the sacred name of God. For the sake of contrast, he states that it was a worthless or foolish people who thus presumed insolently to pour forth their reproaches against God. The Hebrew word נבל, nabal, denotes not only a foolish man, but also a wicked and infamous person. The prophet, therefore, justly describes the despisers of God as people who are vile and worthless.

19. Give not to the beast the soul of thy turtle dove. The Hebrew word חית, chayath, which we translate beast, signifies sometimes the soul or life, and so some explain it in the second clause of this verse, where it again occurs. But it is here unquestionably to be taken either for a wild beast or for a multitude. Understood in either of these ways, this form of expression will contain a very apposite comparison between the life of a weak and timorous bird, and a powerful army of men, or a cruel beast. The Church is compared to a turtle dove 243243     As none of the ancient versions have “turtle dove,” and as the reading of the LXX. is, ἐξομολογουμένην σοι, confessing thee, it has been thought by some in a high degree probable that the word תורך, torecha, thy turtle dove in our present Hebrew copies, should be תודך, todecha, confessing thee; an error which transcribers might easily have committed, by writing ר, resh, instead of ד, daleth Houbigant, who approves of this opinion, boldly pronounces the other, which represents the people of God under the figure of a turtle dove, to be “putidum et aliunde conquisitum.” But, says Archbishop Secker, “Turtle dove, which Houbigant calls putidum, should not be called so, considering that, יונתי, Cant. 2, 14, is the same thing.” The passage, as it now stands, agrees with other texts of Scripture which represent the people of God under the image of a bird, Numbers 24:21; Jeremiah 22:23; 48:28. The turtle dove is a defenceless, solitary, timid, and mournful creature, equally destitute of skill and courage to defend itself from the rapacious birds of prey which thirst for its blood. And this gives a very apt and affecting representation of the state of the Church when this psalm was written. She was in a weak, helpless, and sorrowful condition, in danger of being speedily devoured by the inveterate and implacable enemies, who, like birds of prey, were besetting her on all sides, eagerly intent upon her destruction. “With the most plaintive earnestness she pleads her cause with the Almighty, through this and the following verses; continually growing more importunate in her petitions as the danger increases. While speaking, she seems in the last verse to hear the tumultuous clamours of the approaching enemy growing every minute louder as they advance; and we leave the ‘turtle dove’ without the Divine assistance, ready to sink under the talons of the rapacious eagle.” — Mant
   “The Psalmist’s expression, thy turtle dove, may perhaps be farther illustrated from the custom, ancient and modern, of keeping doves as favourite birds, (see Theocritus, 5. 96; and Virgil, Eclog. 3, 5, 68, 69,) and from the care taken to secure them from such animals as are dangerous to them.” — Merricks Annotations.
for, although the faithful consisted of a considerable number, yet so far were they from matching their enemies, that, on the contrary, they were exposed to them as a prey. It is next added, Forget not the soul or congregation of thy poor ones The Hebrew word חית, chayath, is again employed, and there is an elegance when, on account of its ambiguity, it is used twice in the same verse, but in different senses. I have preferred translating it congregation, rather than soul, because the passage seems to be a prayer that it would please God to watch over and defend his own small flock from the mighty hosts of their enemies.

20. Have regard to thy covenant. That God may be the more inclined to show mercy, the prophet brings to his remembrance the Divine covenant; even as the refuge of the saints, when they have found themselves involved in extreme dangers, has always been to hope for deliverance, because God had promised, in the covenant which he made with them, to be a father to then, From this we learn, that the only firm support on which our prayers can rest is, that God has adopted us to be his people by his free choice. Whence, also, it appears how devilish was the phrensy of that filthy dog Servetus, who was not ashamed to affirm that it is foolish, and gross mockery, to lay before God his own promises when we are engaged in prayer. Farther, the godly Jews again show us how severely they were afflicted, when they declare that violence and oppression were everywhere prevalent; as if all places were the haunts of cut-throats and the dens of robbers. 244244     “The caves, dens, woods, etc., of the land, are full of robbers, cut-throats, and murderers, who are continually destroying thy people; so that the holy seed seems as if it would be entirely cut off, and the covenant promise thus rendered void.” — Dr Adam Clarke. “For the dark places of the earth, i.e., the caverns of Judea, are full of the habitations of violence, i.e., of men who live by rapine. Some, however, by the dark places of the earth, understand the seat of the captivity of the Jews.” — Cresswell. It is said the dark places of the earth; for, whenever God seems to hide his face, the wicked imagine that whatever wickedness they may commit, they will find, wherever they may be, hiding-places by which to cover it all.

21. Let not him who is oppressed return with shame. The word return, as it has a reference to God, is equivalent to the expression, to go away empty. The faithful, then, beseech Him that they may not be put to shame by suffering a repulse at his hands. They call themselves afflicted, poor, and needy, as an argument to obtain the Divine favor and mercy. It is, however, to be observed, that they do not speak insincerely, nor give an exaggerated representation of their distresses, but intimate, that by so many calamities they were brought to such a low condition, that there no longer remained for them any quarter in the world from which they could expect any help. By this example, we are taught that when we are reduced to the greatest extremity, there is a remedy always ready for our misery, in calling upon God.

22. Arise, O God! plead thy cause. The pious Jews again supplicate God to ascend into his judgment-seat. He is then said to arise, when, after having long exercised forbearance, he shows, in very deed, that he has not forgotten his office as judge. To induce him to undertake this cause the more readily, they call upon him to maintain his own right. Lord, as if they had said, since the matter in hand is what peculiarly concerns thyself; it is not time for thee to remain inactive. They declare, at the same time, how this was, in a special sense, the cause of God. It was so, because the foolish people daily cast reproaches upon him. We may here again translate the word נבל, nabal, the worthless people, instead of the foolish people. The wickedness charged against the persons spoken of is aggravated from the circumstance, that, not content with reproaching God on one occasion, they continued their derision and mockery without intermission. For this reason, the faithful conclude by invoking God that he would not forget such heaven-daring conduct in men who not only had the audacity to reproach his majesty, but who fiercely and outrageously poured forth their blasphemies against him. They seemed, it is true, to do this indirectly; but, as they despised God, it is asserted that they rose up against him with reckless and infatuated presumption, after the manner of the Giants of old, and that their haughtiness was carried to the greatest excess.


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