Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 74
on the Whole Bible
This psalm does so particularly describe the destruction of Jerusalem
and the temple, by Nebuchadnezzar and the army of the Chaldeans, and
can so ill be applied to any other event we meet with in the Jewish
history, that interpreters incline to think that either it was penned
by David, or Asaph in David's time, with a prophetical reference to
that sad event (which yet is not so probable), or that it was penned by
another Asaph, who lived at the time of the captivity, or by Jeremiah
(for it is of a piece with his Lamentations,) or some other prophet,
and, after the return out of captivity, was delivered to the sons of
Asaph, who were called by his name, for the public service of the
church. That was the most eminent family of the singers in Ezra's time.
Neh. xi. 17, 22; xii. 35, 46.
The deplorable case of the people of God at that time is here spread
before the Lord, and left with him. The prophet, in the name of the
I. Puts in complaining pleas of the miseries they suffered, for the
quickening of their desires in prayer,
II. He puts in comfortable pleas for the encouraging of their faith in
III. He concludes with divers petitions to God for deliverances,
In singing it we must be affected with the former desolations of the
church, for we are members of the same body, and may apply it to any
present distresses or desolations of any part of the Christian
Maschil of Asaph.
1 O God, why hast thou cast us off for
ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy
2 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.
3 Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all
that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.
4 Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they
set up their ensigns for signs.
5 A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon
the thick trees.
6 But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with
axes and hammers.
7 They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by
casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.
8 They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they
have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.
9 We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither
is there among us any that knoweth how long.
10 O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the
enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?
11 Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck
it out of thy bosom.
This psalm is entitled Maschil--a psalm to give instruction, for
it was penned in a day of affliction, which is intended for
instruction; and this instruction in general it gives us, That when we
are, upon any account, in distress, it is our wisdom and duty to apply
to God by faithful and fervent prayer, and we shall not find it in vain
to do so. Three things the people of God here complain of:--
I. The displeasure of God against them, as that which was the cause and
bitterness of all their calamities. They look above the instruments of
their trouble, who, they knew, could have no power against them unless
it were given them from above, and keep their eye upon God, by whose
determined counsel they were delivered up into the hands of wicked and
unreasonable men. Observe the liberty they take to expostulate with God
we hope not too great a liberty, for Christ himself, upon the cross,
cried out, My God my God, why hast thou forsaken me? So the
church here, O God! why hast thou forsaken us for ever? Here
they speak according to their present dark and melancholy
apprehensions; for otherwise, Has God cast away his people? God
The people of God must not think that because they are cast down they
are therefore cast off, that because men cast them off therefore God
does, and that because he seems to cast them off for a time therefore
they are really cast off for ever: yet this expostulation intimates
that they dreaded God's casting them off more than any thing, that they
desired to be owned of him, whatever they suffered from men, and were
desirous to know wherefore he thus contended with them: Why does thy
anger smoke? that is, why does it rise up to such a degree that all
about us take notice of it, and ask, What means the heat of this
where the anger of the Lord and his jealousy are said to smoke against
sinners. Observe what they plead with God, now that they lay under the
tokens and apprehensions of his wrath.
1. They plead their relation to him: "We are the sheep of thy
pasture, the sheep wherewith thou hast been pleased to stock the
pasture, thy peculiar people whom thou art pleased to set apart for
thyself and design for thy own glory. That the wolves worry the sheep
is not strange; but was ever any shepherd thus displeased at his own
sheep? Remember, we are thy congregation
incorporated by thee and for thee, and devoted to thy praise; we are
the rod, or tribe, of thy inheritance, whom thou hast
been pleased to claim a special property in above other people
Deut. xxxii. 9),
and from whom thou hast received the rents and issues of praise and
worship more than from the neighbouring nations. Nay, a man's
inheritance may lie at a great distance, but we are pleading for
Mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt, which has been the place of
thy peculiar delight and residence, thy demesne and mansion."
2. They plead the great things God had done for them and the vast
expense he had been at upon them: "It is thy congregation, which
thou hast not only made with a word's speaking, but purchased of
old by many miracles of mercy when they were first formed into a
people; it is thy inheritance, which thou hast redeemed when
they were sold into servitude." God gave Egypt to ruin for
their ransom, gave men for them, and people for their life,
"Now, Lord, wilt thou now abandon a people that cost thee so dear, and
has been so dear to thee?" And, if the redemption of Israel out of
Egypt was an encouragement to hope that he would not cast them off,
much more reason have we to hope that God will not cast off any whom
Christ has redeemed with his own blood; but the people of his purchase
shall be for ever the people of his praise.
3. They plead the calamitous state that they were in
"Lift up thy feet; that is, come with speed to repair the
desolations that are made in thy sanctuary, which otherwise will be
perpetual an irreparable." It has been sometimes said that the divine
vengeance strikes with iron hands, yet it comes with leaden feet; and
then those who wait for the day of the Lord, cry, Lord, lift up thy
feet; exalt thy steps; magnify thyself in the outgoing of thy
providence. When the desolations of the sanctuary have continued long
we are tempted to think they will be perpetual; but it isa temptation;
for God will avenge his own elect, will avenge them speedily, though he
bear long with their oppressors and persecutors.
II. They complain of the outrage and cruelty of their enemies, not so
much, no, not at all, of what they had done to the prejudice of their
secular interests; here are no complaints of the burning of their
cities and ravaging of their country, but only what they had done
against the sanctuary and the synagogue. The concerns of religion
should lie nearer our hearts and affect us more than any worldly
concern whatsoever. The desolation of God's house should grieve us more
than the desolation of our own houses; for the matter is not great what
becomes of us and our families in this world provided God's name may be
sanctified, his kingdom may come, and his will be done.
1. The psalmist complains of the desolations of the sanctuary, as
The temple at Jerusalem was the dwelling-place of God's name,
and therefore the sanctuary, or holy place,
In this the enemies did wickedly
for they destroyed it in downright contempt of God and affront to him.
(1.) They roared in the midst of God's congregations,
There where God's faithful people attended on him with a humble
reverent silence, or softly speaking, they roared in a riotous
revelling manner, being elated with having made themselves masters of
that sanctuary of which they had sometimes heard formidable things.
(2.) They set up their ensigns for signs. The banners of their
army they set up in the temple (Israel's strongest castle, as long as
they kept closely to God) as trophies of their victory. There, where
the signs of God's presence used to be, now the enemy had set up their
ensigns. This daring defiance of God and his power touched his people
in a tender part.
(3.) They took a pride in destroying the carved work of the
temple. As much as formerly men thought it an honour to lend a hand to
the building of the temple, and he was thought famous that helped to
fell timber for that work, so much now they valued themselves upon
their agency in destroying it,
Thus, as formerly those were celebrated for wise men that did service
to religion, so now those are applauded as wits that help to run it
down. Some read it thus: They show themselves, as one that lifts up
axes on high in a thicket of trees, for so do they break down the
carved work of the temple they make no more scruple of breaking down
the rich wainscot of the temple than woodcutters do of hewing trees in
the forest; such indignation have they at the sanctuary that the most
curious carving that ever was seen is beaten down by the common
soldiers without any regard had to it, either as a dedicated thing or
as a piece of exquisite art.
(4.) They set fire to it, and so violated or destroyed it to the
The Chaldeans burnt the house of God, that stately costly fabric,
2 Chronicles 36:19.
And the Romans left not there one stone upon another
rasing it, rasing it, even to the foundations, till Zion, the holy
mountain, was, by Titus Vespasian, ploughed as a field.
2. He complains of the desolations of the synagogues, or schools of the
prophets, which, before the captivity, were in use, though much more
afterwards. There God's word was read and expounded, and his name
praised and called upon, without altars or sacrifices. These also they
had a spite to
Let us destroy them together; not only the temple, but all the
places of religious worship and the worshippers with them. Let us
destroy them together; let them be consumed in the same flame.
Pursuant to this impious resolve they burnt up all the synagogues of
God in the land and laid them all waste. So great was their rage
against religion that the religious houses, because religious, were all
levelled with the ground, that God's worshippers might not glorify God,
and edify one another, by meeting in solemn assemblies.
III. The great aggravation of all these calamities was that they had no
prospect at all of relief, nor could they foresee an end of them
"We see our enemy's sign set up in the sanctuary, but we see not our
signs, none of the tokens of God's presence, no hopeful indications
of approaching deliverance. There is no more any prophet to tell
us how long the trouble will last and when things concerning us shall
have an end, that the hope of an issue at last may support us under our
troubles." In the captivity in Babylon they had prophets, and had been
told how long the captivity should continue, but the day was cloudy and
and they had not as yet the comfort of these gracious discoveries. God
spoke once, yea, twice, good words and comfortable words, but they
perceived them not. Observe, They do not complain, "We see not our
armies; there are no men of war to command our forces, nor any to go
forth with our hosts;" but, "no prophets, none to tell us how long."
This puts them upon expostulating with God, as delaying,
1. To assert his honour
How long shall the adversary reproach and blaspheme thy name? In
the desolations of the sanctuary our chief concern should be for the
glory of God, that it may not be injured by the blasphemies of those
who persecute his people for his sake, because they are his; and
therefore our enquiry should be, not "How long shall we be troubled?"
but "How long shall God be blasphemed?"
2. To exert his power
"Why withdrawest thou thy hand, and dost not stretch it out, to
deliver thy people and destroy thy enemies? Pluck it out of thy
bosom, and be not as a man astonished, as a mighty man that
cannot save, or will not,"
When the power of enemies is most threatening it is comfortable to fly
to the power of God.
|Acknowledgments of Divine Power.
12 For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst
of the earth.
13 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the
heads of the dragons in the waters.
14 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest
him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
15 Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst
up mighty rivers.
16 The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast
prepared the light and the sun.
17 Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made
summer and winter.
The lamenting church fastens upon something here which she calls to
mind, and therefore hath she hope (as
with which she encourages herself and silences her own complaints. Two
things quiet the minds of those that are here sorrowing for the solemn
I. That God is the God of Israel, a God in covenant with his people
God is my King of old. This comes in both as a plea in prayer to
thou art my King, O God!) and as a prop to their own faith and
hope, to encourage themselves to expect deliverance, considering the
days of old,
The church speaks as a complex body, the same in every age, and
therefore calls God, "My King, my King of old," or, "from antiquity;"
he of old put himself into that relation to them and appeared and acted
for them in that relation. As Israel's King, he wrought salvation in
the midst of the nations of the earth; for what he did, in the
government of the world, tended towards the salvation of his church.
Several things are here mentioned which God had done for his people as
their King of old, which encouraged them to commit themselves to him
and depend upon him.
1. He had divided the sea before them when they came out of Egypt, not
by the strength of Moses or his rod, but by his own strength; and he
that could do that could do any thing.
2. He had destroyed Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Pharaoh was the
leviathan; the Egyptians were the dragons, fierce and
(1.) The victory obtained over these enemies. God broke their heads,
baffled their politics, as when Israel, the more they were afflicted by
them, multiplied the more. God crushed their powers, though
complicated, ruined their country by ten plagues, and at last drowned
them all in the Red Sea. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude,
It was the Lord's doing; none besides could do it, and he did it with a
strong hand and an outstretched arm. This was typical of Christ's
victory over Satan and his kingdom, pursuant to the first promise, that
the seed of the woman should break the serpent's head.
(2.) The improvement of this victory for the encouragement of the
church: Thou gavest him to be meat to the people of Israel, now
going to inhabit the wilderness. The spoil of the Egyptians
enriched them; they stripped their slain, and so got the Egyptians'
arms and weapons, as before they had got their jewels. Or, rather, this
providence was meat to their faith and hope, to support and encourage
them in reference to the other difficulties they were likely to meet
with in the wilderness. It was part of the spiritual meat which they
were all made to eat of. Note, The breaking of the heads of the
church's enemies is the joy and strength of the hearts of the church's
friends. Thus the companions make a banquet even of leviathan,
3. God had both ways altered the course of nature, both in fetching
streams out of the rock and turning streams into rock,
(1.) He had dissolved the rock into waters: Thou didst bring out the
fountain and the flood (so some read it); and every one knows
whence it was brought, out of the rock, out of the flinty rock. Let
this never be forgotten, but let it especially be remembered that the
rock was Christ, and the waters out of it were spiritual drink.
(2.) He had congealed the waters into rock: Thou driedst up
mighty rapid rivers, Jordan particularly at the time when it
overflowed all its banks. He that did these things could now deliver
his oppressed people, and break the yoke of the oppressors, as he had
done formerly; nay, he would do it, for his justice and goodness, his
wisdom and truth, are still the same, as well as his power.
II. That the God of Israel is the God of nature,
It is he that orders the regular successions and revolutions,
1. Of day and night. He is the Lord of all time. The evening and the
morning are of his ordaining. It is he that opens the eyelids of the
morning light, and draws the curtains of the evening shadow. He has
prepared the moon and the sun (so some read it), the two great
lights, to rule by day and by night alternately. The preparing of them
denotes their constant readiness and exact observance of their time,
which they never miss a moment.
2. Of summer and winter: "Thou hast appointed all the bounds of the
earth, and the different climates of its several regions, for
thou hast made summer and winter, the frigid and the torrid
zones; or, rather, the constant revolutions of the year and its several
seasons." Herein we are to acknowledge God, from whom all the laws and
powers of nature are derived; but how does this come in here?
(1.) He that had power at first to settle, and still to preserve, this
course of nature by the diurnal and annual motions of the heavenly
bodies, has certainly all power both to save and to destroy, and with
him nothing is impossible, nor are any difficulties or oppositions
(2.) He that is faithful to his covenant with the day and with the
night, and preserves the ordinances of heaven inviolable will certainly
make good his promise to his people and never cast off those whom he
His covenant with Abraham and his seed is as firm as that with Noah and
(3.) Day and night, summer and winter, being counterchanged in the
course of nature, throughout all the borders of the earth, we can
expect no other than that trouble and peace, prosperity and adversity,
should be, in like manner, counterchanged in all the borders of the
church. We have as much reason to expect affliction as to expect night
and winter. But we have then no more reason to despair of the return of
comfort than we have to despair of day and summer.
|Earnest Supplications; Pleading with God.
18 Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and
that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.
19 O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude
of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for
20 Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the
earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.
21 O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and
needy praise thy name.
22 Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the
foolish man reproacheth thee daily.
23 Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those
that rise up against thee increaseth continually.
The psalmist here, in the name of the church, most earnestly begs that
God would appear fro them against their enemies, and put an end to
their present troubles. To encourage his own faith, he interests God in
Arise, O God! plead thy own cause. This we may be sure he will
do, for he is jealous for his own honour; whatever is his own cause he
will plead it with a strong hand, will appear against those that oppose
it and with and for those that cordially espouse it. He will arise and
plead it, though for a time he seems to neglect it; he will stir up
himself, will manifest himself, will do his own work in his own time.
Note, The cause of religion is God's own cause and he will certainly
plead it. Now, to make it out that the cause is God's, he pleads,
I. That the persecutors are God's sworn enemies: "Lord, they have not
only abused us, but they have been, and are, abusive to thee; what is
done against us, for thy sake, does, by consequence, reflect upon thee.
But that is not all; they have directly and immediately reproached
thee, and blasphemed thy name,"
This was that which they roared in the sanctuary; they triumphed as if
they had now got the mastery of the God is Israel, of whom they had
heard such great things. As nothing grieves the saints more than to
hear God's name blasphemed, so nothing encourages them more to hope
that God will appear against their enemies than when they have arrived
at such a pitch of wickedness as to reproach God himself; this fills
the measure of their sins apace and hastens their ruin. The psalmist
insists much upon this: "We dare not answer their reproaches; Lord, do
thou answer them. Remember that the foolish people have blasphemed
and that still the foolish man reproaches thee daily." Observe
the character of those that reproach God; they are foolish. As atheism
profaneness and blasphemy are no less so. Perhaps those are cried up as
the wits of the age that ridicule religion and sacred things; but
really they are the greatest fools, and will shortly be made to appear
so before all the world. And yet see their malice--They reproach God
daily, as constantly as his faithful worshippers pray to him and praise
him; see their impudence--They do not hide their blasphemous thoughts
in their own bosoms, but proclaim them with a loud voice (forget not
the voice of thy enemies,
and this with a daring defiance of divine justice; they rise up
against thee, and by their blasphemies even wage war with heaven
and take up arms against the Almighty. Their noise and tumult ascend
continually (so some), as the cry of Sodom came up before God,
calling for vengeance,
It increases continually (so we read it); they grow worse and
worse, and are hardened in their impieties by their successes. Now,
Lord, remember this; do not forget it. God needs not to be put
in remembrance by us of what he has to do, but thus we must show our
concern for his honour and believe that he will vindicate us.
II. That the persecuted are his covenant-people.
1. See what distress they are in. They have fallen into the hands of
the multitude of the wicked,
How are those increased that trouble them! There is no standing
before an enraged multitude, especially like these, armed with power;
and, as they are numerous, so they are barbarous: The dark places of
the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. The land of the
Chaldeans, where there was none of the light of the knowledge of the
true God (though otherwise it was famed for learning and arts), was
indeed a dark place; the inhabitants of it were alienated from the
life of God through the ignorance that was in them, and therefore
they were cruel: where there was no true divinity there was scarcely to
be found common humanity. They were especially cruel to the people of
God; certainly those have no knowledge who eat them up,
They are oppressed
because they are poor and unable to help themselves; they are
oppressed, and so impoverished and made poor.
2. See what reason they had to hope that God would appear for their
relief and not suffer them to be always thus trampled upon. Observe how
the psalmist pleads with God for them.
(1.) "It is thy turtle-dove that is ready to be swallowed up by
the multitude of the wicked,"
The church is a dove for harmlessness and mildness, innocency and
inoffensiveness, purity and fruitfulness, a dove for mournfulness in a
day of distress, a turtle-dove for fidelity and the constancy of love:
turtle-doves and pigeons were the only fowls that were offered in
sacrifice to God. "Shall thy turtle-dove, that is true to thee and
devoted to thy honour, be delivered, its life and soul and all, into
the hand of the multitude of the wicked, to whom it will soon
become an easy and acceptable prey? Lord, it will be thy honour to help
the weak, especially to help thy own."
(2.) "It is the congregation of thy poor, and they are not the
less thine for their being poor (for God has chosen the poor of this
but they have the more reason to expect thou wilt appear for them
because they are many: it is the congregation of thy poor; let
them not be abandoned and forgotten for ever."
(3.) "They are in covenant with thee; and wilt thou not have respect
unto the covenant?
Wilt thou not perform the promises thou hast, in thy covenant, made to
them? Wilt thou not own those whom thou hast brought into the bond of
the covenant?" When God delivers his people it is in remembrance of
"Lord, though we are unworthy to be respected, yet have respect to the
(4.) "They trust in thee, and boast of their relation to thee and
expectations from thee. O let not them return ashamed of their hope
as they will be if they be disappointed."
(5.) "If thou deliver them, they will praise thy name and give thee the
glory of their deliverance. Appear, Lord, for those that will praise
thy name, against those that blaspheme it."