Psalm 74:1
Maschil of Asaph. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?
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(1) 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.

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.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.


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).

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.

Psalm 74:1

"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.

Psalm 74:2

continued...i.e. Composed by Asaph; either,

1. By that famous Asaph who flourished in David’s time, and by the Spirit of God foresaw and foretold the things here mentioned. But the clear, and exact, and particular, and most pathetical description of the thing here expressed, looks much more like a narrative of what is past than a prophecy of what is to come; which usually is delivered marc darkly. Besides, such a prophecy of the destruction of the temple before it was built would have been a great discouragement to the building of it, and would probably have been taken notice of by Solomon in his prayer for it, when it was newly built. Or,

2. By some of his posterity, who is called by their father’s name, Asaph, as the children Of Israel are frequently called Jacob, or Israel, and David’s successors David; as hath been noted. Or,

3. By some other person of that name, though of another family; who then was a man of renown, though now his memory be lost. Or this may be rendered for Asaph, i.e. for his posterity; and it might be said by some other holy man of God. But the former seems more probable. This is evident, that this Psalm speaks of the destruction of the temple, and of Jerusalem, and of God’s people, by the Chaldeans; though some think it. looks further, even to the pollution of the temple by Antiochus; although the things said to be done, Psalm 74:6-8, agree much better to the former, and were not done by Antiochus.

The church complaineth of the desolation which the enemies had made in the temple and synagogue, Psalm 74:1-9; prayeth God to help by his great power, Psalm 74:10-17, against the reproach and blasphemy of the enemies, Psalm 74:18. He prayeth for God’s beloved and covenanted ones, Psalm 74:19-23.

Why hast thou cast us of for ever, so as to leave us no visible hopes of restitution?

Thine anger; or, thy nose; a metaphor from a man who in a great rage sends forth fumes out of his nostrils.

Against the sheep of thy pasture; against thy chosen and peculiar people.

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.

<> O God, {a} why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?

(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.

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 74:1The poet begins with the earnest prayer that God would again have compassion upon His church, upon which His judgment of anger has fallen, and would again set up the ruins of Zion. Why for ever (Psalm 74:10, Psalm 79:5; Psalm 89:47, cf. Psalm 13:2)? is equivalent to, why so continually and, as it seems, without end? The preterite denotes the act of casting off, the future, Psalm 74:1, that lasting condition of this casting off. למה, when the initial of the following word is a guttural, and particularly if it has a merely half-vowel (although in other instances also, Genesis 12:19; Genesis 27:45; Sol 1:7), is deprived of its Dagesh and accented on the ultima, in order (as Mose ha-Nakdan expressly observes) to guard against the swallowing up of the ah; cf. on Psalm 10:1. Concerning the smoking of anger, vid., Psalm 18:9. The characteristically Asaphic expression צאן מרעיתו is not less Jeremianic, Jeremiah 23:1. In Psalm 74:2 God is reminded of what He has once done for the congregation of His people. קדם, as in Psalm 44:2, points back into the Mosaic time of old, to the redemption out of Egypt, which is represented in קנה (Exodus 15:17) as a purchasing, and in גאל (Psalm 77:15; Psalm 78:35, Exodus 15:13) as a ransoming (redemptio). שׁבט נחלתך is a factitive object; שׁבט is the name given to the whole nation in its distinctness of race from other peoples, as in Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 51:19, cf. Isaiah 63:17. זה (Psalm 74:2) is rightly separated from הר־ציון (Mugrash); it stands directly for אשׁר, as in Psalm 104:8, Psalm 104:26; Proverbs 23:22; Job 15:17 (Ges. 122, 2). The congregation of the people and its central abode are, as though forgotten of God, in a condition which sadly contrasts with their election. משּׁאות נצח are ruins (vid., Psalm 73:18) in a state of such total destruction, that all hope of their restoration vanishes before it; נצח here looks forward, just as עולם (חרבות), Isaiah 63:12; Psalm 61:4, looks backwards. May God then lift His feet up high (פּעמים poetical for רגלים, cf. Psalm 58:11 with Psalm 68:24), i.e., with long hurried steps, without stopping, move towards His dwelling - lace that now lies in ruins, that by virtue of His interposition it may rise again. Hath the enemy made merciless havoc - he hath ill-treated (הרע, as in Psalm 44:3) everything (כּל, as in Psalm 8:7, Zephaniah 1:2, for חכּל or את־כּל) in the sanctuary - how is it possible that this sacrilegious vandalism should remain unpunished!
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