This psalm is entitled "Maschil of Asaph." On the word Maschil - meaning "didactic," or adapted "to give instruction" - see the notes at the title to Psalm 32:1-11. On the phrase "of Asaph," see the notes at the title to Psalm 73. It may mean either "for" Asaph, or ""of" Asaph; that is, it may either mean that it was composed "by" him, or that it was composed "for" him, to be used by him as the leader of music in public worship. The former is the most common, and the most probable opinion. The title, however, "may" mean that the psalm was dedicated or composed for one of the descendants of this Musician, among whom the office of their ancestor Asaph was hereditary. Thus understood, it might denote simply that the psalm belonged to that class of psalms which were composed for the one who, at the time, presided over the music.
If this is the meaning, there would be no impropriety in supposing that this psalm was composed near the time of the captivity, and had reference to the struction of the temple by the Chaldeans, to which the language seems "naturally" to refer. Yet the occasion on which it was composed is not certainly known, and cannot be ascertained from the psalm. All that is manifest is, that it was at a time when the land was invaded; when great ravages were committed; and when a work of desolation was perpetrated on the edifices upon Mount Zion, and particularly on the temple. The "language" could be applied either to the destruction of the temple in the time of the Babylonian invasion; or to the times of the Maccabees, and to the desolations brought upon the land Antiochus Epiphanes; or to some desolation before the temple was built. Rosenmuller, Venema, DeWette, some others, suppose that the reference is to the time of the Maccabees. The reason alleged for this opinion is founded on what is said in Psalm 74:4, Psalm 74:9, particularly Psalm 74:9, where it is asserted that "there is no more any prophet;" that is, no one to instruct the people, or to declare what the result or the issue will be.
It is alleged by them that at the time of the invasion by the Chaldeans there were prophets in the land, and particularly that Jeremiah was then living, who distinctly predicted what the result of it would be. But this is not a conclusive objection to the idea that the reference is to the destruction of the city and the temple by the Chaldees. The meaning of Psalm 74:9 may be that there was no divine teacher who could "save" the people, or who could "prevent" those desolations; the matter had gone so far that all divine interference and protection appeared to be withdrawn, and the nation seemed to be abandoned to its fate. Still there can now be no certainty as to the time or the occasion when the psalm was composed; though the most probable reference of the psalm is to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
The psalm consists essentially of two parts: a prayer; and the reasons why the prayer is urged, and should be answered.
I. The prayer, Psalm 74:1-3. It is a prayer that God would remember Mount Zion, now made desolate, or in ruins.
II. The reasons why the prayer is urged, Psalm 74:4-23.
(1) the desolations which had come upon the city and upon the edifices devoted to religion, Psalm 74:4-8.
(2) the fact that there was among the people, in those times of calamity, no prophet - no messenger of God - no one to show them how long this would continue, or to give them assurance that these desolations would cease, Psalm 74:9-11.
(3) a reference to what God had done for his people in former times when he interposed to save them from their enemies, Psalm 74:12-15.
(4) the fact that God rules over the earth, and has control of all things; that day and night, light and darkness, summer and winter, are all under him, and are directed and controlled by him, Psalm 74:16-17.
(5) a prayer that God would not forget his own cause; that he would remember that these reproaches were reproaches of his own name; that he would call to mind his own solemn covenant; and that he would pity and relieve the people that loved him, now poor and oppressed - the people that desired to serve and praise him, Psalm 74:18-23.
Maschil of Asaph. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? - Thou seemest to have cast us off forever, or finally. Compare Psalm 44:9, note; Psalm 13:1, note. "Why doth thine anger smoke." See Deuteronomy 29:20. The presence of smoke indicates fire, and the language here is such as often occurs in the Scriptures, when anger or wrath is compared with fire. See Deuteronomy 32:22; Jeremiah 15:14.
Against the sheep of thy pasture - Thy people, represented as a flock. See Psalm 79:13; Psalm 95:7. This increases the tenderness of the appeal. The wrath of God seemed to be enkindled against his own people, helpless and defenseless, who needed his care, and who might naturally look for it - as a flock needs the care of a shepherd, and as the care of the shepherd might be expected. He seemed to be angry with his people, and to have cast them off, when they had every reason to anticipate his protection.
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.Remember thy congregation - The word rendered "congregation" means properly an "assembly," a "community," and it is frequently applied to the Israelites, or the Jewish people, considered as a body or a community associated for the service of God. Exodus 12:3; Exodus 16:1-2, Exodus 16:9; Leviticus 4:15; Numbers 27:17. The word used by the Septuagint is συναγωγή sunagōgē - synagogue - but refers here to the whole Jewish people, not to a particular synagogue or congregation.
Which thou hast purchased of old - In ancient times; in a former age. That is, Thou hast "purchased" them to thyself, or as thine own, by redeeming them from bondage, thus securing to thyself the right to them, as one does who redeems or purchases a thing. See the notes at Isaiah 43:3.
The rod of thine inheritance - Margin, as in Hebrew, "tribe." The Hebrew word - שׁבט shêbet - means properly "a staff," stick, rod; then, a shepherd's staff, a crook; then, a scepter; and then it is used to denote a "tribe," so called from the staff or scepter which the chief of the tribe carried as the symbol of authority. Exodus 28:21; Judges 20:2. The word "inheritance" is frequently applied to the children of Israel considered as belonging to God, as property inherited belongs to him who owns it - perhaps suggesting the idea that the right to them had come down, as inherited property does, from age to age. It was a right over them acquired long before, in the days of the patriarchs.
Which thou hast redeemed - By delivering them out of Egyptian bondage. So the church is now redeemed, and, as such, it belongs to God.
This mount Zion - Jerusalem - the seat of government, and of public worship - the capital of the nation.
Wherein thou last dwelt - By the visible symbol of thy presence and power. - On all these considerations the psalmist prays that God would not forget Jerusalem in the present time of desolation and trouble.
Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.Lift up thy feet - That is, Advance, or draw near. Come and look directly and personally on the desolations which now exist in the holy city.
Unto the perpetual desolations - Hebrew, "the ruins of perpetuity," or eternity; that is, such as have been long continued, and threaten to continue forever. The ruin had not suddenly come, and it did not seem likely soon to pass away, but appeared to be entire and permanent. The destruction of the city seemed to be complete and final.
Even all that the enemy hath done wickedly - That is, with wicked intent and purpose. The reference seems to be to the Chaldeans, and to the ruin which they had brought upon the temple and city.
In the sanctuary - That is, either Jerusalem, considered as a holy place; or the temple, the place of the public worship of God.
Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs.Thine enemies roar - This refers to the shout and tumult of war. They raised up the war-cry even in the very place where the congregations had been assembled; where God had been worshipped. The word rendered "roar" properly has reference to wild beasts; and the meaning is, that their war-cry resembled the howling of beasts of prey.
In the midst of thy congregations - literally, "in the midst of thine assembly." This is a different word from that which is rendered "congregation" in Psalm 74:2. This word - מועד mô‛êd - means a meeting together by mutual appointment, and is often applied to the meeting of God with his people at the tabernacle, which was therefore called "the tent of the congregation," or, more properly, "the tent of meeting," as the place where God met with his people, Exodus 29:10, Exodus 29:44; Exodus 33:7; Leviticus 3:8, Leviticus 3:13; Leviticus 10:7, Leviticus 10:9; "et saepe." The meaning here is, that they roared like wild beasts in the very place which God had appointed as the place where he would meet with his people.
They set up their ensigns for signs - That is, they set up "their" banners or standards, as "the" standards of the place; as that which indicated sovereignty over the place. They proclaimed thus that it was a conquered place, and they set up their own standards as denoting their title to it, or as declaring that they ruled there. It was no longer a place sacred to God; it was publicly seen to belong to a foreign power.
A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees.A man was famous - literally, "He is known;" or, shall be known. That is, he was or shall be celebrated.
According as he had lifted up axes - literally, "As one raising on high axes;" that is, as one lifts up his axe high in the air in order to strike an effectual stroke.
Upon the thick trees - The clumps of trees; the trees standing thick together. That is, As he showed skill and ability in cutting these down, and laying them low. His celebrity was founded on the rapidity with which the strokes of the axe fell on the trees, and his success in laying low the pride of the forest. According to our common translation the meaning is, that "formerly" a man derived his fame from his skill and success in wielding his axe so as to lay the forest low, but that "now" his fame was to be derived from another source, namely, the skill and power with which he cut down the elaborately-carved work of the sanctuary, despoiled the columns of their ornaments, and demolished the columns themselves. But another interpretation may be given to this, as has been suggested by Prof. Alexander. It is, that "the ruthless enemy is known or recognized as dealing with the sanctuary no more tenderly than a woodman with the forest which he fells." The former, however, is the more natural, as well as the more common interpretation. Luther renders it, "One sees the axe glitter on high, as one cuts wood in the forest." The Vulgate, and the Septuagint, "The signs pointing to the entrance above that they did not know." What idea was attached to this rendering, it is impossible to determine.
But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers.But now they break down the carved work thereof ... - literally, "But now the carvings of it together, at once, with sledge and hammers they beat down." The carved work refers evidently to the ornaments of the temple. The word used here - פתוח pittûach - is rendered engraving, carved work, or carving; Exodus 28:11, Exodus 28:21, Exodus 28:36; Exodus 39:6, Exodus 39:14, Exodus 39:30; Zechariah 3:9; 2 Chronicles 2:14. It is the very word which in 1 Kings 6:29 is applied to the ornaments around the walls of the temple - the "carved figures of cherubim, and palm trees, and open flowers," and there can be no doubt that the allusion here is to those ornaments. These were rudely cut down, or knocked off, with axes and hammers, as a man lays low the trees of the wood. The phrase "at once" means that they drove forward the work with all despatch. They spared none of them. They treated them all alike as an axeman does the trees of a forest when his object is to clear the land.
They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.They have cast fire into thy sanctuary - Into the temple to destroy it. Literally, "They have cast thy sanctuary into the fire." The meaning is, that they had burned it down. This was actually done by the Chaldeans, 2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chronicles 36:19.
They have defiled by casting down the dwelling-place of thy name to the ground - The place where thy name dwelt or was recorded Exodus 20:24; that is, the place where God's name was known, or where he was worshipped. The literal meaning is, "To the earth they have defiled the dwelling of thy name?" The idea is, that they had defiled or polluted the temple by throwing it to the ground; by making it a heap of ruins; by making it undistinguishable from common earth.
They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.They said in their hearts - They purposed; they designed it.
Let us destroy them together - Let us destroy all these buildings, temples, towers, and walls at the same time; let us make an entire destruction of them all.
They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land - The phrase "they have burned up" must refer to the places or edifices where assemblies for public worship were held, since it cannot be supposed that the idea is that they had burned up the assemblies of worshippers themselves. The word rendered "synagogues" is the same in the Hebrew that is used in Psalm 74:4, and is there rendered "congregations." It means "assemblies," persons collected together for public worship. See the notes at that verse. It is not used in the Bible to denote "places" for the meetings of such assemblies, nor is it elsewhere rendered "synagogues." It is translated by the word "seasons," Genesis 1:14; Exodus 13:10, "et al.; set time," Genesis 17:21; Exodus 9:5, "et al.; time appointed," Exodus 23:15; 2 Samuel 24:15, "et al.; congregation," Leviticus 1:1, Leviticus 1:3,Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 3:2, Leviticus 3:8,Leviticus 3:13, "and very often; feasts," Leviticus 23:2, Leviticus 23:4,Leviticus 23:37, "et al.; - solemnity," Deuteronomy 31:10; Isaiah 33:20; - and so also, set feasts, solemn feasts, appointed feasts, etc.
But in no instance does it necessarily refer to an edifice, unless it is in the place before us. There is no reason, however, for doubting that, from the necessity of the case, in the course of events, there would be other places for assembling for the worship of God than the temple, and that in different cities, villages, towns, and neighborhoods, persons would be collected together for some form of social religious service. Buildings or tents would be necessary for the accommodation of such assemblages; and this, in time, might be developed into a system, until in this way the whole arrangement for "synagogues" might have grown up in the land. The exact origin of synagogues is not indeed known. Jahn ('Biblical Archaeology,' Section 344) supposes that they sprang up during the Babylonian captivity, and that they had their origin in the fact that the people, when deprived of their customary religious privileges, would collect around some prophet, or other pious man, who would teach them and their children the duties of religion, exhort them to good conduct, and read to them out of the sacred books.
Compare Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1; Daniel 6:11; Nehemiah 8:18. There seems, however, no good reason for doubting that synagogues may have existed before the time of the captivity, and may have sprung up in the manner suggested above from the necessities of the people, probably at first without any fixed rule or law on the subject, but as convenience suggested, and that they may at last, by custom and law, have grown into the regular form which they assumed as a part of the national worship. Compare Kitto's Encyc. Art. 'synagogue.' I see no improbability, therefore, in supposing that the word here may refer to such edifices at the time when this psalm was composed. These, if they existed, would naturally be destroyed by the Chaldeans, as well as the temple itself.
We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.We see not our signs - The emblems of worship, or the national emblems or banners, which we have been accustomed to see. There are no signals or tokens of our nationality in the land. All have been removed by the invaders, and we see everywhere evidences of the presence of a foreign power. The marks of our own independency are gone. The nation is subdued and conquered.
There is no more any prophet - No one is raised up as the special messenger of God to assure us of his favor, or to take the lead in the national troubles. In times of danger God had been accustomed to send to them some special teacher who would declare his will, direct the nation what to do, and give encouraging assurances that the national troubles would cease, and that deliverance would come. They saw no such messengers of God now. This is not inconsistent with the supposition that this psalm was written before the captivity, and in the time of the Chaldean invasion, or with the supposition that Jeremiah was then alive, for the meaning may be, not that literally there was no prophet in the land, but that there was no one who had come from God as a special messenger of comfort and deliverance. Ruin had come upon them, and there were no indications of divine interposition in their behalf.
Neither is there among us any that knoweth how long - How long these calamities are to continue. No one can tell when they are to end. The prophetic office seemed to have ceased among them. It was renewed, however, after the captivity, in the case of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Malachi.
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?O God, how long shall the adversary reproach?... - How long shall this state of things be allowed to continue? Is there to be no end to it? Are these desolations never to be repaired - these ruins never to be rebuilt? It "seemed" so; and hence, this earnest appeal. So to us it often appears as if our trials were never to come to an end. One calamity succeeds another; and there comes no relief. Yet there is relief. Deliverance may come, and soon come, in the present life; or if not in the present life, yet to all those who are the children of God it will soon come by their removal to a world where trial will be forever unknown.
Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? - Why dost thou not stretch forth thy hand for our deliverance? The hand, especially the right hand, is the instrument by which we wield a sword, or strike a blow; and the expression here is equivalent to asking why God did not interfere and save them.
Pluck it out of thy bosom - As if God had hidden his hand beneath the folds of his garment, or had wrapped his robe tightly around him. It "seemed" as if he had done this, as if he looked calmly on, and saw the temple fired, the synagogues burned up, the land laid waste, and the people slaughtered, without an attempt to interpose. How often are we constrained to use similar language - to ask a similar question - when iniquity abounds, when crime prevails, when sinners are perishing, when the church mourns - for God seems to have withdrawn his hand, and to be looking on with unconcern! No one can tell why this is so; and, without irreverence, or a spirit of complaining, but deeply affected with the mystery of the fact, we may ask "Why" this is so.
For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.For God is my King of old - That is, the king, or ruler of his people. The people had acknowledged him as their king and ruler, and he had showed himself to be such. This is given as a reason why he should now interpose in their behalf. It is an argument, proper always to be urged, drawn from the faithfulness and unchangeableness of God.
Working salvation in the midst of the earth - Salvation for his people. The reference here particularly is to what he had done for his people in delivering them from bondage in Egypt, and conducting them to the promised land, as is stated in the following verses.
Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength - Margin, as in Hebrew, "break." That is, he had by his power "broken up" the strength of the sea so that it offered no resistance to their passing through it. The allusion is evidently to the passage through the Red Sea, Exodus 14:21.
Thou brakest the heads of the dragons - Margin, "whales." On the meaning of the word used here - תנין tannı̂yn - see the notes at Isaiah 13:22; notes at Job 30:29. It refers here, undoubtedly, to crocodiles or sea monsters. The language here is used to denote the absolute power of God as manifested over the sea when the people of Israel passed through it. It was as if by slaying all the mighty monsters of the deep that would have resisted their passage, he had made their transit entirely safe.
In the waters - That reside in the waters of the sea.
Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces - On the meaning of the word "leviathan," see the notes at Job 41:1. The word is used here as descriptive of sea monsters.
And gavest him to be meat - Gavest him for "food."
To the people inhabiting the wilderness - That is, the sea monsters were killed, and, being thrown on shore, were gathered for food. The "inhabitants of the wilderness" or the desert, may refer either to the wild and savage tribes of men that lived on the shores of the sea, and that subsisted mainly on fish, or it may refer to the wild animals of the desert that consumed such sea monsters as they were cast up on the shore. There is no allusion to the Israelites considered as passing through the desert, as if they had fed on these sea monsters. The essential idea is, that these monsters were put to death, or were so removed but of the way as to offer no obstruction to the passage of the Israelites through the sea. It was as if they had been killed. The image is entirely poetic, and there is no necessity for supposing that such a thing literally occurred.
Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood - That is, the source of the streams and the streams themselves. The main allusion is probably to the Jordan, and the idea is, that God had, as it were, divided all the waters, or prevented any obstruction to his people from the river in any respect; as if the waters in the very springs and fountains, and the waters in the channel of the river flowing from those springs and fountains, had been so restrained and divided that there was a safe passage through them. Joshua 3:14-17.
Thou driedst up mighty rivers - Margin, "rivers of strength." The Hebrew - איתן 'êythân - (compare Deuteronomy 21:4; Amos 5:24; 1 Kings 8:2) - means rather perennial, constant, ever-flowing. The allusion is to rivers or streams that flow constantly, or that do not dry up. It was this which made the miracle so apparent. It could not be pretended that they had gone over the bed of a stream which was accustomed to be dry at certain seasons of the year. They passed over rivers that never dried up; and, therefore, it could have been only by miracle. The main allusion is undoubtedly to the passage of the Jordan.
The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.The day is thine, the night also is thine - Thou hast universal dominion. All things are under thy control. Thou hast power, therefore, to grant what we desire of thee.
Thou hast prepared the light and the sun - He who has made the sun - that greatest and noblest object of creation to the view of man - must have almighty power, and must be able to give what we need.
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.Thou hast set all the borders of the earth - Thou hast established all the boundaries of the world; that is, the boundaries of the earth itself; or the natural bonndaries of nations and people, made by seas, mountains, rivers, and deserts. The language in regard to the first of these - the earth itself - would be derived from the prevalent mode of speaking, as if the earth were a plane, and had limits - a common mode of expression in the Scriptures, as it is in all ancient writings, and in the common language of men, even of philosophers. In regard to the latter idea, the language would imply that God had fixed, by his own power and will, all the natural boundaries of nations, or that his dominion is over all the earth. There are natural boundaries, or arrangements in nature, which tend to break up the one great family of man into separate nations, and which seem to have been designed for that. Compare Acts 17:26. Over all these God presides, and he has his own great plans to accomplish by the arrangement.
Thou hast made summer and winter - literally, as in the margin, "Summer and winter, thou hast made them." That is, he has so made the earth that these various seasons will occur. The fact that there are different seasons of the year, or that the year is divided into seasons, is to be traced to the agency of God. He has so made the world that these changes will take place. Nothing is the result of chance; all things in the arrangements of nature are by his design.
Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached - Has used opprobrious and abusive words in regard to thee, and to thy people. The idea is, that religion - the true religion - had been reproached by the foe. They had treated that religion as if it were false; they had reproached God as if he were a false God, and as if he were unable to defend his people. Compare Isaiah 36:4-10, Isaiah 36:13-20; Isaiah 37:10-13, Isaiah 37:23. The prayer here is, that God would remember that these words of reproach were against himself, and that he would regard them as such.
And that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name - Have blasphemed thee - the name often being put for the person himself. The word "foolish" here may refer to them as "wicked" as well as foolish. Wickedness and folly are so connected - they are so commonly combined, that the word may be used to describe the enemies of God in either sense - characterising their conduct as either the one or the other. Compare the notes at Psalm 14:1.
O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever.O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove - The "life" of thy turtle-dove; or, thy turtle-dove itself. The turtle-dove is a name of endearment for one beloved, in Sol 2:12, and is thus applied here to the people of Israel. The leading idea in such an application of the word is that of innocence, harmlessness, timidity, gentleness. The thought here is that of a people dear to God, now timid and alarmed. It is the prayer of a people beloved by God that he would not deliver them to their enemies. The prayer may be regarded as one which was used on the occasion referred to in the psalm; or, as a general prayer for the people of God, considered as exposed to ravening enemies.
Unto the multitude of the wicked - The words "of the wicked" are not in the original. The word rendered "multitude" - חיה chayâh - (compare the notes at Psalm 68:10) - is the same which in the other member of the sentence is rendered "congregation." It may be applied to a herd of cattle, tame or wild; and then to a "people" - a band, a troop, a host - whether of orderly and civilized, or of wild and savage people. It seems to be used in this double sense in the verse before us; in the first member of the verse, "deliver not thy turtle-dove "to the multitude" - to the wild beast, or to the savage hosts; in the latter, "forget not the congregation of thy poor" - thy flock - thy people - considered as timid or alarmed. Save the timid and trembling flock from beasts of prey.
Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.Have respect unto the covenant - The covenant which thou hast made with thy people, promising, on thy part, to protect them, and to be their God. Compare Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 26:18-19. The prayer here is, that God would remember, in the day of national calamity, the solemn promise implied in that covenant, and that he would interpose to save his people. Compare Genesis 9:15; Leviticus 26:42; Ezekiel 16:60; Luke 1:72. This may be regarded as the language which the people did use when these calamities were about to come upon them.
For the dark places of the earth - The allusion here is to the lands from whence came the armies that had invaded Judea, and that threatened desolation. They were dark regions of paganism and idolatry.
Are full of the habitations of cruelty - The abodes of violence, or of violent and cruel men. They had sent forth their armies from such places for purposes of conquest and rapine, and no compassion could be expected from them. Their numbers were so great, and their character was so fierce and warlike, that the people of Israel could find defense and security only in God; and they, therefore, plead with him that he would interpose in their behalf. The prayer in this passage may with propriety be used by the people of God now. It is still true that "the dark parts of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty;" and in view of this fact, and of the utter hopelessness of the renovation of the world by any human means, or by any progress which society can make of itself, it is proper to seek God's interposition. And it is proper in such prayers to him now, as in ancient times, to make the ground of our appeal to him his own gracious covenant; his promises made to his church; his solemn assurances that this state of things shall not always continue, but that the time will arrive when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.O let not the oppressed return ashamed - Ashamed by being disappointed, as if they had trusted in that which had no claims to confidence. Compare the notes at Job 6:20. The word rendered "oppressed," means "trodden down, crushed, broken, afflicted." It refers to the people as attacked by foreign armies, or as crushed by those who had gained power over them. The word "return" refers to their coining back from God - from the throne of mercy. Let them not come back from thee with no assurance of thy favor; with no evidence that their prayers have been heard; let them not come back, subject to the reproach that they had made their appeal to thee in vain.
Let the poor and needy praise thy name - The people who are oppressed and helpless. Let them have occasion to praise thee because their prayer has been heard, and because thou dost save them.
Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily.Arise, O God - As if God were now insensible to the wrongs and sufferings of his people; as if he were inattentive and indisposed to come to their help. See the notes at Psalm 3:7.
Plead thine own cause - literally, "Contend thine own contention." That is, Maintain a cause which is really thine own. Thine own honor is concerned; thine own law and authority are assailed; the war is really made on "thee." This is always the true idea in the prayers which are offered for the conversion of sinners, for the establishment of truth, and for the spread of the Gospel in the world. It is not originally the cause of the church; it is the cause of God. Everything in regard to truth, to justice, to humanity, to temperance, to liberty, to religion, is the cause of God. All the assaults made on these, are assaults made on God.
Remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily - Constantly. He does not cease. The word "foolish" refers to the wicked. The idea is, that the wicked constantly reproach God - either by their language or their conduct; and this is a reason for calling on him to interpose. No better reason for asking his interposition can be given, than that such conduct is a real reproach to God, and reflects on his honor in the world.
Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.Forget not the voice of thine enemies - The voice of thine enemies clamoring for the destruction of thy people. Compare Psalm 137:7. The prayer is, that God would bring deserved chastisement upon them for their purposes and their aims against his people. It is not necessarily a prayer for vengeance; it is a prayer for just retribution.
The tumult of those that rise up against thee - Of those that make war on thee, and on thy people. The word ""tumult" here means clamor or shout - as the shout of battle. The reference is to the movement of a host pressing on to conquest, encouraging and exciting each other, and endeavoring to intimidate their enemies by the loud clamor of the war-cry. It is a description of what had occurred among the main events referred to in the psalm, when the enemy came in to lay waste the capital, and to spread desolation throughout the land.
Increaseth continually - Margin, as in Hebrew, "Ascendeth." That is, it seems to go up; it is the swelling clamor of a great multitude of warriors intent on conquest. A cry or clamor thus seems to swell or rise on the air, and (as it were) to ascend to God. The prayer here is, that God would regard that cry, not in the sense that he would grant them the fulfillment of their wishes, but in the sense that he would recompense them as they deserved. It is in this sense that the clamors of the wicked ascend to heaven - in this sense that God will regard them, as if they were a prayer for just retribution.