|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
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.
THE misery of the Jews is here at its deepest (Four Friends, p. 291). The psalmist describes Jerusalem as fallen into "perpetual ruins" (ver. 3). The temple is violated (ver. 3); its carved work is ruthlessly cut down (ver. 6); the aid of fire has been called in to destroy it, and its walls are cast down to the ground (ver. 7). Nor has Jerusalem alone suffered. The object has been to "make havoc" of Israel "altogether;" and the enemy have spread themselves, and "burnt up all the houses of God in the land" (ver. 8). The prophets have succumbed; their voices are heard no more (ver. 9). A blasphemous enemy lords it over the entire country (vers. 10, 23), and sets up its banners as signs of its dominion (ver. 4). Three periods have been assigned for the composition of the psalm:
(1) the time of the invasion of Shishak;
(2) that of the Babylonian conquest; and
(3) the early Maceabean period, or the reign of Judas Maccabaens.
In favour of the first is the ascription of the psalm in the "title" to Asaph. But all other considerations are against it. There is no evidence that Shishak ever entered Jerusalem. He certainly did not break down the carved work of the temple, or set the temple on fire, much less "cast it down to the ground." His invasion was a mere raid, and Rehoboam seems to have bought his retreat by the sacrifice of the temple treasury (2 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chronicles 12:2-12). The circumstances described in the psalm are also unsuitable to the reign of Judas Maccabaeus, in whose time the temple suffered desecration at the hands of the Syrians, but was not seriously damaged, much less demolished. Thus the only date suitable for the composition of the psalm is that immediately following the capture of the city under Nebuchadnezzar. We must explain the "title" by the consideration that Asaph, like Jeduthun and Heman, became a tribe name, attaching to all the descendants of the original Asaph, and was equivalent to "sou of Asaph" (see Ezra 2:41; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 11:22). The psalm consists of three portions:
1. A complaint to God, including a description of all the horrors of the situation (vers. 1-11).
2. An enumeration of God's mercies in the olden time, as a foundation for hope that he will yet rescue Israel (vers. 12-17).
3. An earnest prayer for relief and restoration, and the re-establishment of the covenant (vers. 18-23). Verse 1. - O God, why hast thou cast us off forever? It could only have been in the extremity of distress that a devout Israelite believed, even for a time, that Israel was "cast off forever" (comp. Psalm 79:5, which must have been written nearly at the same period as this). Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? God's anger "smokes" when it is hot and furious (see Psalm 18:8; Psalm 104:32; Psalm 44:5). It is now smoking "against the sheep of his pasture" - his own flock (Psalm 78:53), his peculiar people (comp. Jeremiah 23:4; Jeremiah 50:6, 17; and Psalm 79:13). Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever?..... This the church supposed because of the prevalence, oppression, and triumph of the enemy, because of the hardships and afflictions she laboured under, and because of the hidings of the face of God from her, which unbelief interpreted of a casting off; see Psalm 77:7 when in reality it was not so, only in appearance, and according to a wrong judgment made of things; for God never did nor never will cast off, nor cast away, his people whom he foreknew, Romans 11:1,
why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? the people of God are called "sheep", because subject to go astray, not only before conversion, but after; and because harmless and inoffensive in their lives and conversations; and because, though exposed to the insults and persecutions of men, and their butcheries and barbarities, and therefore called "the flock of slaughter", Zechariah 11:4, yet bear all patiently, as the sheep before her shearers is dumb; and because like sheep they are weak and timorous, unable to defend themselves; are clean, and so distinguished from dogs and swine; and are profitable, though not to God, yet to men, and one another; and like sheep are sociable, and love to be together: and they are called the sheep of the Lord's pasture; because he provides good pasture for them, leads them into it, and feeds them himself with Christ, the bread of life, the tree of life, and hidden manna; with covenant grace and promises, even the sure mercies of David; with discoveries of his love and grace, and with his word and ordinances; and yet these, when under afflictions and desertions, are ready to conclude that God is angry with them, yea, is very angry; that his anger burns against them, and his fierce wrath goes over them, signified by smoking; see Deuteronomy 19:20, alluding to men, who, when they are angry, become hot, as Kimchi observes, and their breath like smoke comes out of their nostrils.
(k) Bochart. Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 3. c. 29. col. 984. (l) Vid. T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 56. 2.
The Treasury of David
1 O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?
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.
"O God, why hast thou east us off for ever?" To cast Us off at all were hard, but when thou dost for so long a time desert thy people it is an evil beyond all endurance - the very chief of woes and abyss of misery. It is our wisdom when under chastisement to enquire, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me?" and if the affliction be a protracted one, we should the more eagerly enquire the purport of it. Sin is usually at the bottom of all the hidings of the Lord's face; let us ask the Lord to reveal the special form of it to us, that we may repent of it, overcome it, and henceforth forsake It. When a church is in a forsaken condition it must not sit still in apathy, but turn to the hand which smiteth it, and humbly enquire the reason why. At the same time, the enquiry of the text is a faulty one for it implies two mistakes. There are two questions, which only admit of negative replies. "Hath God cast away his people?" (Romans 11:1); and the other, "Will the Lord cast off for ever?" (Psalm 77:7). God is never weary of his people so as to abhor them, and even when his anger is turned against them, it is but for a small moment, and with a view to their eternal good. Grief in its distraction asks strange questions and surmises impossible terrors. It is a wonder of grace that the Lord has not long ago put us away as men lay aside cast-off garments, but he hateth putting away, and will still be patient with his chosen. "Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?" They are thine, they are the objects of thy care, they are poor, silly, and defenceless things: pity them, forgive them, and come to their rescue. They are but sheep, do not continue to be wroth with them. It is a terrible thing when the anger of God smokes, but it is an infinite mercy that it does not break into a devouring flame. It is meet to pray the Lord to remove every sign of his wrath, for it is to those who are truly the Lord's sheep a most painful thing to be the objects of his displeasure. To vex the Holy Spirit is no mean sin, and yet how frequently are we guilty of it; hence it is no marvel that we are often under a cloud.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ps 74:1-23. If the historical allusions of Ps 74:6-8, &c., be referred, as is probable, to the period of the captivity, the author was probably a descendant and namesake of Asaph, David's contemporary and singer (compare 2Ch 35:15; Ezr 2:41). He complains of God's desertion of His Church, and appeals for aid, encouraging himself by recounting some of God's mighty deeds, and urges his prayer on the ground of God's covenant relation to His people, and the wickedness of His and their common enemy.
1. cast … off—with abhorrence (compare Ps 43:2; 44:9). There is no disavowal of guilt implied. The figure of fire to denote God's anger is often used; and here, and in De 29:20, by the word "smoke," suggests its continuance.
sheep … pasture—(Compare Ps 80:1; 95:7).
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