Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The LXX. (followed by the Vulgate) have added to the Hebrew inscription of this psalm the words “to the Assyrian,” indicating that at an early period it was, as it is still by many modern scholars, connected with the overthrow of Sennacherib. Certainly the Psalm 76:5-6 are most suitable to that event. On the other hand, the phrase in Psalm 76:9, “all the afflicted of the land,” breathes of a time of national oppression, and suggests a later date. Psalm 76:8-9 compared with Psalm 76:7-8 of Psalms 75 lead to the conclusion that both were inspired by the Song of Hannah and may both refer to the same circumstances. And some critics not only bring it into the Maccabæan age, but fix on the victory of Judas over Seron (1 Maccabees 3) as the actual event celebrated in this poem. The versification is quite regular.
Title.—See title Psalms 4, 50, 65
To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song of Asaph. In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel.(1) Judah . . . Israel.—A comparison with Psalm 114:1-2, leads to the conclusion that these names are introduced here in this order, simply for the rhythm. (Comp. “Salem” and “Sion” in the next verse, and notice that the four names offer an instance of introversion, the more restricted terms, Judah, Sion, occupying the first and last clauses, the more general Israel, Salem, the middle ones.)
In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion.(2) Salem.—The LXX. and Vulgate translate “his place was in peace,” and possibly the poet may use the word Salem with the thought in his mind of the peace won by God for Judah, or, again, it may be only a poet’s preference for an ancient over a modern name; but the identification of the Salem of Genesis 14:18 with Jerusalem is too doubtful to allow much weight to this view. (See the whole question discussed in Sir G. Grove’s article on “Salem,” in Smith’s Bibl. Dict.)
Tabernacle . . . dwelling-place.—These renderings quite obliterate the image, which is that of a beast of prey crouching ready for its spring. Translate,
“In Salem is his covert,
And his lair in Sion.”
There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Selah.(3) There.—This word in Psalm 14:5 does not appear to have a strictly definite local sense; and here may refer to time, possibly to some event, which we are not able with certainty to recover.
Arrows.—Literally, flashes. (See Note, Song of Solomon 8:6.) The image may be derived from the lightning speed of the flight of arrows, or from the custom of shooting bolts tipped with flame (see Note, Psalm 7:13), or the connection may be from the metaphor in Psalm 91:5-6, since the Hebrew word here used denotes pestilence in Habakkuk 3:5.
Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.(4) Thou art . . .—Better, Splendid art thou, glorious one, from the mountains of prey. The construction is somewhat doubtful and favours Hupfeld’s emendation (nora, i.e., to be feared, as in verses 8 and 13, instead of noar, i.e., glorious). Certainly the comparative of the Authorised Version is to be abandoned. The poet’s thought plainly proceeds from the figure of Psalm 76:2. The mountains are the mountains of prey of the Lion of Judah. True, a different image, as so frequently in Hebrew poetry, suddenly interrupts and changes the picture. The hero appears from the battle shining in the spoils taken from the foe.
The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands.(5) Are spoiled.—Literally, have let themselves be spoiled. The picture is of men rendered powerless, at a glance, a word, from God.
Slept their sleep.—Better, have sunk into a deep sleep.
None of the men of might have found their hands.—This expression for powerlessness naturally grew into an idiom in a language that used the word hand as a synonym for strength. (Comp. Joshua 8:20, margin; Exodus 14:31, margin; Deuteronomy 32:36, margin.) Delitzsch quotes a Talmudic phrase, “We did not find our hands and feet in the school house.” We may compare the Virgilian use of manus (Æn. 6:688), and Shakespeare’s “a proper fellow of my hands,” and for the use of “find” compare the common phrase “find one’s tongue.”
At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.(6) Are cast into a deep sleep.—The same Hebrew expression is used of Sisera’s profound slumber (Judges 4:21). Deborah’s Song and Exodus 15 are in the poet’s mind, as they were to the author of Isaiah 43:17, and as they have inspired the well-known lines of Byron’s “Sennacherib.”
When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth. Selah.(9) Of the earth.—Or, of the land.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.(10) Surely.—The text of this verse as it stands is unintelligible—
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee;
The residue of wrath Thou shalt gird Thyself with.”
But the LXX. and Vulg. suggest the necessary emendation—
“ Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee,
And the residue of wraths do Thee honour,”
where the residue of wrath, like Virgil’s reliquiœ Danaum (Æn. 1:30), means those that escape the enemies’ rage, i.e., the Israelites. Possibly we should render, “and those who remain from their wrath shall celebrate a festival,” since the suggested emendation is the word used in that sense. And we must therefore think of the escape of Israel from Egypt (see above), and the festival which was so repeatedly announced to Pharaoh, as the purpose of their exodus. (See Burgess, Notes on the Hebrew Psalms.)
Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.(11) Vow, and pay . . .—This clause seems to be addressed to the Israelites, the next to the heathen.
He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth.(12) He shall cut off . . .—Literally, lop off, as a vinedresser prunes a vine. For the image see Joel 3:13; Isaiah 18:5; Revelation 14:17 seq.
Spirit—i.e., the life.