O God, why have you cast us off for ever? why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Why hast . . .—Better, why hast thou never ceased abandoning us?
Anger.—Literally, nostril, as in Psalm 18:8, “there went a smoke from his nostril.”
The sheep of thy pasture.—An expression peculiar to the Asaphic psalms and Jeremiah 23:1.Psalm 74:1. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever — So as to leave us no visible hopes of restitution? Why doth thine anger smoke? — That is, why doth it rise to such a degree, that all about us take notice of it, and ask, What meaneth the heat of this great anger? Deuteronomy 29:24. Compare Psalm 74:20, where the anger of the Lord and his jealousy are said to smoke against sinners. Against the sheep of thy pasture — Against thy chosen people.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.
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.
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.
continued...i.e. Composed by Asaph; either,
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.<
(a) The Church of God is oppressed by the tyranny, either of the Babylonians or of Antiochus, and prays to God by whose hand the yoke was laid on them for their sins.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1. for ever] God’s rejection of His people seems to have become permanent. The same thought recurs in Psalm 74:3; Psalm 74:10; Psalm 74:19, Psalm 79:5. Cp. Lamentations 5:20; Psalm 44:23; Lamentations 3:31.
smoke] A metaphor for the outward signs of the fire of wrath. Cp. Psalm 18:8; Psalm 80:4; Lamentations 2:3-4.
the sheep of thy pasture] The exact phrase recurs only in Psalm 79:13; Psalm 100:3; Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 34:31; but cp. Psalm 95:7. The title implies that Israel has a right to claim God’s loving care in virtue of His relation to it: a relation which Psalm 74:2 points out was initiated by God Himself. The representation of God as Israel’s shepherd is common. See Psalm 80:1; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 78:52; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:11 ff.
1–3. An appeal to God, Who seems to have abandoned and forgotten the people and city of His choice.
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). Psalm 73:2), he clings all the more firmly to Him, and will not suffer his perpetual fellowship with Him to be again broken through by such seizures which estrange him from God. confidently does he yield up himself to the divine guidance, though he may not see through the mystery of the plan (עצה) of this guidance. He knows that afterwards (אחר with Mugrash: adverb as in Psalm 68:26), i.e., after this dark way of faith, God will כבוד receive him, i.e., take him to Himself, and take him from all suffering (לקח as in Psalm 49:16, and of Enoch, Genesis 5:24). The comparison of Zechariah 2:12  is misleading; there אחר is rightly accented as a preposition: after glory hath He sent me forth (vid., Kצhler), and here as an adverb; for although the adverbial sense of אחר would more readily lead one to look for the arrangement of the words ואחר תקחני כבוד, still "to receive after glory" (cf. the reverse Isaiah 58:8) is an awkward thought. כבוד, which as an adjective "glorious" (Hofmann) is alien to the language, is either accusative of the goal (Hupfeld), or, which yields a form of expression that is more like the style of the Old Testament, accusative of the manner (Luther, "with honour"). In אחר the poet comprehends in one summary view what he looks for at the goal of the present divine guidance. The future is dark to him, but lighted up by the one hope that the end of his earthly existence will be a glorious solution of the riddle. Here, as elsewhere, it is faith which breaks through not only the darkness of this present life, but also the night of Hades. At that time there was as yet no divine utterance concerning any heavenly triumph of the church, militant in the present world, but to faith the Jahve-Name had already a transparent depth which penetrated beyond Hades into an eternal life. The heaven of blessedness and glory also is nothing without God; but he who can in love call God his, possesses heaven upon earth, and he who cannot in love call God his, would possess not heaven, but hell, in the midst of heaven. In this sense the poet says in Psalm 73:25 : whom have I in heaven? i.e., who there without Thee would be the object of my desire, the stilling of my longing? without Thee heaven with all its glory is a vast waste and void, which makes me indifferent to everything, and with Thee, i.e., possessing Thee, I have no delight in the earth, because to call Thee mine infinitely surpasses every possession and every desire of earth. If we take בּארץ still more exactly as parallel to בּשּׁמים, without making it dependent upon חפצתּי: and possessing Thee I have no desire upon the earth, then the sense remains essentially the same; but if we allow בארץ to be governed by חפצתי in accordance with the general usage of the language, we arrive at this meaning by the most natural way. Heaven and earth, together with angels and men, afford him no satisfaction - his only friend, his sole desire and love, is God. The love for God which David expresses in Psalm 16:2 in the brief utterance, "Thou art my Lord, Thou art my highest good," is here expanded with incomparable mystical profoundness and beauty. Luther's version shows his master-hand. The church follows it in its "Herzlich lieb hab' ich dich" when it sings -
"The whole wide world delights me not,
For heaven and earth, Lord, care Inot,
If I may but have Thee;"
and following it, goes on in perfect harmony with the text of our Psalm -
"Yea, though my heart be like to break,
Thou art my trust that nought can shake;"
(Note: Miss Winkworth's translation.)
or with Paul Gerhard, [in his Passion-hymn "Ein Lmmlein geht und trgt die Schuld der Welt und ihrer Kinder,"
"Light of my heart, that shalt Thou be;
And when my heart in pieces breaks,
Thou shalt my heart remain."
For the hypothetical perfect כּלה expresses something in spite of which he upon whom it may come calls God his God: licet defecerit. Though his outward and inward man perish, nevertheless God remains ever the rock of his heart as the firm ground upon which he, with his ego, remains standing when everything else totters; He remains his portion, i.e., the possession that cannot be taken from him, if he loses all, even his spirit-life pertaining to the body, - and God remains to him this portion לעולם, he survives with the life which he has in God the death of the old life. The poet supposes an extreme case, - one, that is, it is true, impossible, but yet conceivable, - that his outward and inward being should sink away; even then with the merus actus of his ego he will continue to cling to God. In the midst of the natural life of perishableness and of sin, a new, individual life which is resigned to God has begun within him, and in this he has the pledge that he cannot perish, so truly as God, with whom it is closely united, cannot perish. It is just this that is also the nerve of the proof of the resurrection of the dead which Jesus advances in opposition to the Sadducees (Matthew 22:32).
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