Where the world comes to study the Bible

Psalm 74

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
An Appeal Against the Devastation of the Land by the Enemy
MT Intro
A Psalm of Asaph
A Plea for Relief From Oppressors Prayer for Deliverance from National Enemies A Prayer for National Deliverance Lament on the Sack of the Temple
74:1-11 74:1-8 74:1-3 74:1-3 74:1-2
        74:3-5a
    74:4-8 74:4-8  
        74:5b-7
        74:8-9
  74:9-17 74:9-11 74:9-11  
        74:10-11
74:12-17   74:12-17 74:12-17 74:12-13
        74:14-15
        74:16-17
74:18-21 74:18-21 74:18-19 74:18-19 74:18-19
    74:20-23 74:20-21 74:20-21
74:22-23 74:22-23   74:22-23 74:22-23

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm is an appeal to the Covenant God to remember (cf. Ps. 74:1,18,22) His people in a time when the Promised Land (cf. Gen. 12:1-3) has been invaded and occupied by pagans (cf. Ps. 74:4-8).

Note the contextual flow of the imperatives (i.e., prayer requests).

1. remember Your congregation, Ps. 74:2

2. turn (i.e., lift up your feet), Ps. 74:3

3. destroy them, Ps. 74:11

4. remember this, Ps. 74:18

5. consider the covenant, Ps. 74:20

6. arise, Ps. 74:22

7. plead Your own cause, Ps. 74:22

8. remember the reproaches of the foolish, Ps. 74:22

B. Notice the different phrases which describe the covenant people.

1. the sheep of Your pasture, Ps. 74:1

2. the tribe of Your inheritance, Ps. 74:2

3. Your turtledove, Ps. 74:19

4. the afflicted and needy, Ps. 74:19,21

C. Notice the different phrases used to designate the temple.

1. Mount Zion, Ps. 74:2

2. the perpetual ruins, Ps. 74:3

3. Your sanctuary, Ps. 74:3, 7

4. Your meeting place, Ps. 74:4

5. the dwelling place of Your name, Ps. 74:7

D. Notice the strophe (Ps 74:12-17, mostly perfects) which describes God as King of creation, using images from Genesis 1 (cf. Psalm 104) and Ugaritic poetry.

E. It is surprising that the covenant people do not know why YHWH has abandoned them (i.e., for their covenant faithlessness). They do not offer any hint of repentance but assert God's faithfulness to His promises (note how different in Psalm 79).

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 74:1-11
 1O God, why have You rejected us forever?
 Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
 2Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,
 Which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your inheritance;
 And this Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.
 3Turn Your footsteps toward the perpetual ruins;
 The enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary.
 4Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place;
 They have set up their own standards for signs.
 5It seems as if one had lifted up
 His axe in a forest of trees.
 6And now all its carved work
 They smash with hatchet and hammers.
 7They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground;
 They have defiled the dwelling place of Your name.
 8They said in their heart, "Let us completely subdue them."
 They have burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
 9We do not see our signs;
 There is no longer any prophet,
 Nor is there any among us who knows how long.
 10How long, O God, will the adversary revile,
 And the enemy spurn Your name forever?
 11Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?
 From within Your bosom, destroy them!

74:1 The defeat and occupation of the Promised Land (cf. Gen. 1:1-3) was so shocking to the psalmist that he asked the question all the covenant people were thinking. They felt themselves "special" (cf. Exod. 19:5-6, but forgot that God's promises were conditional on their faithful obedience (cf. Exod. 19:5; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30). Abundant blessing and protection from God were God's part but His people also had a responsibility (i.e., obedience, cf. Deut. 10:12-13).

The psalmist presents his prayer by asking questions (NASB).

1. Psalm 74:1 - two questions

2. Psalm 74:10 - one question

3. Psalm 74:11 - one question

 

▣ "Your anger smoke" This is literally "your nostrils smolder." It is an anthropomorphic idiom (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM)) of God's judgment (see Special Topic: Fire).

74:2 "Remember" This is the first of three uses of the term (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 74:1,18,22). The psalmist is asking God to remember His covenant (cf. Ps. 74:20, "consider the covenant," BDB 613, KB 661, Hiphil imperative, cf. Ps. 106:45; Lev. 26:42).

OT leaders often prayed this prayer. They wanted God to remember His promises and forget their sins! In essence they were praying for the merciful character of God to overlook their covenant violations. This does illustrate the weakness of human performance as the way to approach Deity! It does, however, point toward the need of a "new covenant" (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38), based on YHWH's mercy as the basis of acceptance and gratitude as the call to godly living.

▣ "You have purchased" This is OT imagery using a commercial term ("purchase," BDB 888, KB 1111, Qal perfect) to describe YHWH's covenant (cf. Exod. 15:13,16; Deut. 32:6). They were His by His choice and His actions, not their merit (cf. Deut. 9:4-6).

▣ "of old" This phrase points to an act of God in the past. In Ps. 74:12-17 it refers to creation; here it refers to the Exodus.

In this Psalm the acts of God in both creation and the Exodus are merged. It is difficult to be specific on which idiom, verb, or verse this refers.

The current state of the covenant people is tragic (cf. Ps. 74:3). The psalmist alludes to God's past acts of salvation/deliverance (i.e., either initial chaos or Egyptian bondage).

▣ "redeemed" The verb (BDB 145, KB 169, Qal perfect) is a central concept in (1) the Exodus (cf. Exod. 6:6; 15:13) and (2) the theological purpose of the sacrificial system of Israel. See SPECIAL TOPIC: RANSOM/REDEEM.

▣ "the tribe of Your inheritance" This phrase does not refer to one of the thirteen tribes from Jacob, but to all of them (cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19). In Isa. 63:17 "tribe" is plural but also refers to the seed of Jacob/Israel and the initial promises to Abram (cf. Genesis 12; 15; 17).

▣ "Mount Zion" See notes at Ps. 2:6; 9:11; and 20:2. See Special Topic: Zion.

74:3 The Hiphil imperative ("lift up") is another prayer request asking God to return to the place of the temple where He has dwelt (cf. Ps. 74:2c, "has dwelt," BDB 1014, KB 1496, Qal perfect).

His sanctuary has been overrun, damaged, and occupied by pagan invaders (cf. Ps. 74:3-4).

▣ "the enemy" Notice the different ways the pagan invaders are characterized.

1. enemies - Ps. 74:3,10,18

2. adversaries - Ps. 74:4,10,23

3. a foolish people, Ps. 74:18,22

4. the wild beast, Ps. 74:19

There have been two suggestions about the historical setting that called forth this national lament.

1. the Neo-Babylonian invasion of 586 b.c., where the temple was burned (cf. Psalm 137)

2. the invasion of Edom in 485 b.c., where the temple was defiled and damaged

 

74:4-8 Note the obvious parallelism using, "they. . ." (NASB). These verses describe what the pagan invaders have done that should cause YHWH to act on Israel's behalf.

1. they have damaged the temple, Ps. 74:3a (cf. Lam. 2:6)

2. they have roared (i.e., symbol of victory, cf. Lam. 2:7) in the temple, Ps. 74:4a

3. the have set up their pagan signs (i.e., flags, carvings, altar), Ps. 74:4b

4. they destroyed the art work of YHWH's dwelling place, Ps. 74:5-6

5. they destroyed the temple with fire, Ps. 74:7a (i.e., 2 Kgs. 25:9; 2 Chr. 36:19)

6. they defiled the temple, Ps. 74:7b

7. they desired to completely destroy God's inheritance, Ps. 74:8a

8. they burned all the local YHWHistic shrines, Ps. 74:8b

 

74:4 "Your adversaries" If the burning of the temple mentioned in Ps. 74:7 is the same as 2 Kgs. 25:9, then the adversaries are the Babylonians (cf. Lamentations 2).

▣ "have roared in the midst of Your meeting place" This imagery describes the pagan occupation of the temple area. The verb "roared" (BDB 980, KB 1367, Qal perfect) denotes the vicious and victorious demise of God's special dwelling place. This verb is used of lions, which denotes the voracity and power of the pagan invaders (cf. Isa. 5:29; Jer. 2:15).

74:5-6 Dahood, in The Anchor Bible (vol. 17b, p. 202), says "Verses 5 and 6 are among the most obscure and difficult of the entire Psalter." In context it must describe something the pagan invaders did to the temple before they burned it. It denotes the anger of the invaders against YHWH's special worship place. They wanted to totally humiliate the God of Israel.

74:5 The LXX has the opening line as "as though into the entrance above" (i.e., the upper entrance of the temple). The Hebrew root, עלה (BDB 750-751) can mean

1. leaf, foliage

2. whole burnt offering

3. ascent, stairway

In this verse I assume it refers to an entrance to the temple or temple area.

74:6 "hatchet. . .hammers" These two terms (BDB 506 and BDB 476) occur only here in the OT. This Psalm has many rare and unique terms.

The imagery of "axes" and "hatchets" may reflect Jeremiah's description of the Babylonian army (cf. Jer. 46:22-23).

74:8 "Let us completely subdue them" There is uncertainty in the MT. The line may refer to

1. the complete annihilation of the covenant people

2. the destruction of the temple and the local worship sites

 

74:9-11 The covenant people could not comprehend YHWH's apparent absence and silence. He had chosen not to act and had even taken away His prophetic speakers. They implored Him to act, to defend His name and temple and people!

The problem has several aspects.

1. If the invader is Babylon then YHWH is fighting on their side.

2. Israel is the object of His wrath for their idolatry and faithlessness.

3. However, YHWH has an eternal redemptive plan which involves the seed of Abraham (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

4. He will both judge and deliver Israel!

 

74:9 "prophet" See a parallel in Lam. 2:9.

SPECIAL TOPIC: OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY

74:10 YHWH used pagans to judge His people but they will eventually be judged also because

1. they revile - BDB 357, KB 355, Piel imperfect, cf. Ps. 74:18 (another example: Zeph. 2:8,10)

2. they spurn His name - BDB 610, KB 658, Piel imperfect

The imperfect denotes an ongoing action and attitude.

▣ "How long" This is a recurrent question in the Psalms (cf. Ps. 6:3; 13:1; 44:23-24; 79:5; 80:4; 85:5; 89:46; 90:13; 94:3). This information had to come from a priest or prophet.

1. the temple was destroyed (no priests)

2. there were no prophets (Ps. 74:9)

This is a question all suffering faithful followers ask in a fallen, imperfect world. The world may be fallen, but God is still in control (cf. Ps. 74:12-17).

▣ "Your name" See Special Topic: "The Name" of YHWH.

74:11 YHWH's lack of support for Israel sends the wrong message to the world (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38). He must act to show the world who He is and His greater purpose (cf. Ps. 59:13-15).

▣ "Your right hand" See Special Topic: God Described as Human (anthropomorphism).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 74:12-17
 12Yet God is my king from of old,
 Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth.
 13You divided the sea by Your strength;
 You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
 14You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
 You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
 15You broke open springs and torrents;
 You dried up ever-flowing streams.
 16Yours is the day, Yours also is the night;
 You have prepared the light and the sun.
 17You have established all the boundaries of the earth;
 You have made summer and winter.

74:12-17 This strophe was the psalmist's way of focusing on God's wonderful, creative acts (i.e., Genesis 1 or the Exodus). He was the God of creation! He brought this world into being for a purpose. Israel was a crucial part of that purpose (i.e., Ps. 74:12, see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

Notice the parallelism (i.e., "You. . .," BDB 61 used seven times with perfect tenses), which could refer to the initial creation of Genesis 1 or the defeat of Egypt and the Exodus.

1. divided (this Hebrew word is uncertain, it follows BDB 830 II, but KB 978 does not affirm this usage) the sea

2. broke the heads of the sea monsters (possibly singular and, therefore, parallel to Leviathan)

3. crushed the heads of Leviathan

4. provided food for the creatures/people of the wilderness (in context "creatures" seems best, cf. Isa. 13:21-22; 23:13; 34:14; Jer. 50:39, NRSV, TEV, NJB)

5. broke open springs of water

6. dried up ever-flowing streams

7. prepared light and night

8. established all boundaries of the earth (i.e., seas, seasons, night and day)

9. formed the seasons (i.e., agriculture)

 

74:12 "my King" I think the concept of YHWH as "King" has two possible references.

1. He was the true leader/sovereign of the covenant people (cf. Ps. 89:1-4, see note at Ps. 44:4)

2. He is given this title because of this action as creator in His defeat of watery chaos (i.e., Rahab/Leviathan [Canaanite chaos monsters], cf. Job 26:12; Ps. 89:5-10; 93:1-5; Isa. 51:9)

The OT presents two models of creation.

a. Genesis 1-2 (speaking into existence)

b. Psalm 89; 96 (defeat of chaos, using mythological images from Sumer, Babylon, and Canaan. This is not intended to give reality to these pagan ANE worldviews but to help relate YHWH's message to the people of those cultures, see NIDOTTE, vol 4, p. 548, #7)

 

74:14 "Leviathan" This term was common in Ugaritic mythology (cf. Isa. 27:1). See below my note from Isaiah 27:1:

▣ "Leviathan the fleeing serpent" Leviathan (BDB 531) seems to be a Ugaritic mythological sea animal (i.e., Job 41:19-21) mentioned in Job 3:8; Ps. 104:26; Amos 9:3. However, sometimes it is used as a symbol for an evil nation (cf. Ps. 74:13-14, possibly Egypt). It resembles a river snaking through their land. Sometimes this term is linked specifically to "Rahab," which is a way of referring to Egypt (cf. Ps. 87:4; 89:9-10; and Isa. 30:7). It seems to me that, in context, we are talking about a river symbolizing a national enemy, either Egypt or Assyria (cf. Ps. 74:12). The reason this term can be used symbolically so easily is that it was previously used in some of the mythological literature of Canaan (cf. Ps. 74:12-17; see G. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 239-240).

There is a parallelism between

1.the fleeing serpent (BDB 638 I) or sea monster (NASB footnote)

2.the twisted sea monster

3.the dragon who lives in the sea

This same allusion is found in (1) Ugaritic poems and (2) Isa. 51:9, using "Rahab," who is also identified by the term "dragon" (BDB 1072).

The only apparent connection between this verse and the context is Isa. 27:11-12.

1. YHWH as creator, Ps. 74:11

2. flowing streams of the Euphrates and the brook of Egypt in Ps. 74:12

3. the end of time is like the beginning of time (i.e., Genesis 1-2; Revelation 21-22)

Apparently Isaiah is a compilation of his writings over many years and compiled on the basis of word plays or themes, not history.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 74:18-21
 18Remember this, O Lord, that the enemy has reviled,
 And a foolish people has spurned Your name.
 19Do not deliver the soul of Your turtledove to the wild beast;
 Do not forget the life of Your afflicted forever.
 20Consider the covenant;
 For the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
 21Let not the oppressed return dishonored;
 Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name.

74:18-21 This strophe alludes to the initial prayer of Ps. 74:1-11. YHWH needs to act in deliverance

1. because the enemy has reviled and spurned His name (cf. Ps. 74:10)

2. because Israel is His special people (cf. Exod. 19:5-6)

3. because of His promises to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3)

4. because His actions will send the right message to the nations whom He desires that they know and acknowledge Him

There are four jussives and two imperatives.

1. imperatives

a. remember - BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 74:1,18,22

b. consider - BDB 613, KB 661, Hiphil imperative

2. jussives

a. do not deliver - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, Ps. 74:19

b. do not forget - BDB 1013, KB 1489, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, Ps. 74:19b

c. let not the oppressed return dishonored - BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal jussive , Ps. 74:21a

d. let the afflicted and needy praise Your name - BDB 237, KB 248, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense, Ps. 74:21b

 

74:19 "turtledove" This word (BDB 1076 II) is used

1. of a sacrificial animal, cf. Gen. 15:9; Lev. 1:14; 5:7,11; 12:6,8; 14:23,30; 15:14,29; Num. 6:10

2. of a migratory bird, cf. Sol. 2:12; Jer. 8:7

3. as a symbol of the covenant people, cf. Ps. 74:19

There is another, more common, word for "dove" (BDB 401) also used in the above ways (i.e., Sol. 2:14; 5:2; 6:9). The term in Psalm 74 could denote

1. helplessness

2. YHWH sacrificed His people in judgment

3. a love word showing His love for Israel (Hos. 7:11; 11:11)

Both lines of Ps. 74:19 refer to the same thing, so #1 may be correct.

The NEB, following the LXX, suggests an emendation of "of your dove," תורך, to "which praise you," תודך. The UBS Text Project (p. 325) gives option #1 a "C" rating (considerable doubt).

74:20 This is a difficult verse to interpret. Does it refer to

1. the violence of the invaders

2. the place of exile of God's people

3. a veiled reference to Sheol, the nether realm (i.e., as in Sheol, so on the earth, even the Promised Land)

It seems best to me to view Ps. 74:20 and 21 together as the oppression being suffered by the covenant people. If the historical setting is Babylon, then exile; if Edom, then in the land of Canaan.

74:21 "the afflicted and needy" This does not refer specifically to the poor but to the suffering, covenant people (i.e., the faithful remnant, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 459).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 74:22-23
 22Arise, O God, and plead Your own cause;
 Remember how the foolish man reproaches You all day long.
 23Do not forget the voice of Your adversaries,
 The uproar of those who rise against You which ascends continually.

74:22-23 This is a final prayer for YHWH to act.

1. arise - BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperative

2. plead Your own cause - BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal imperative (face-to-face judicial encounter with those who revile His name and people, cf. Ps. 74:3-11)

3. remember the reproaches of the foolish - BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperative

YHWH, please act! Act so the world may know (cf. Ps. 55:13; 83:18; Ezek. 36:22-38).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. This Psalm is about the invasion and occupation of the Promised Land. It asks God to remember (cf. Ps. 74: 2,18,22) His covenant promises but never mentions why God allowed Israel/Judah to be defeated. Why did He?

2. Who are the invaders?

3. Does the Hebrew Bible use mythological imagery from the ANE? What? Why?

4. Why are Ps. 74:5-6 and 74:20 so difficult to understand?

5. Who does "the afflicted" of Ps. 74:21 refer to?