Psalm 74:20
Have respect to the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.
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(20) Habitations.—The word thus rendered is so consistently used of the “quiet resting-places” of God’s people that it seems quite impossible that the psalmist should have used the expression, “resting- places of cruelty.” A slight change in the text gives, “Look upon the covenant, for they have filled (Thy) land with darkness, Thy quiet dwelling with violence” (Burgess, Notes on the Hebrew Psalms.)

Psalm 74:20. Have respect unto the covenant — Made with Abraham, whereby thou didst give the land of Canaan to him, and to his seed for ever; and thou didst further promise, that if thy people were carried away captive into a strange land, and did there humble themselves and pray, and turn unto thee, thou wouldst mercifully restore them, 1 Kings 8:46-50. Do thou, therefore, now restore us to that pleasant land which thou hast given us. For the dark places of the earth — That is, this dark and dismal land in which we live, wherein there is nothing but ignorance and confusion, and all the works of darkness; are full of the habitations of cruelty — Here are nothing but injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, under which we groan, in all the parts of this great empire, where we have our abode.74:18-23 The psalmist begs that God would appear for the church against their enemies. The folly of such as revile his gospel and his servants will be plain to all. Let us call upon our God to enlighten the dark nations of the earth; and to rescue his people, that the poor and needy may praise his name. Blessed Saviour, thou art the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Make thy people more than conquerors. Be thou, Lord, all in all to them in every situation and circumstances; for then thy poor and needy people will praise thy name.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.

20. And the prevalence of injustice in heathen lands is a reason for invoking God's regard to His promise (compare Nu 14:21; Ps 7:16; 18:48). Have respect unto the covenant made with Abraham, whereby thou didst give the land of Canaan to him, and to his seed for ever; and thou didst further promise, that if thy people were carried captive into strange lands and did there humble themselves, and pray and turn unto thee, thou wouldst mercifully restore them, 1 Kings 8:46-50: do thou therefore now restore us to that pleasant and lightsome land which thou hast given to us.

The dark places of the earth, i.e. this dark and dismal land in which we live, wherein there is nothing but ignorance and confusion, and all the works of darkness; of which the psalmist speaks in general terms, out of a principle of prudence, because the particular designation of the place was unnecessary, and might have been of ill consequence.

Are full of the habitations of cruelty; here is nothing but injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, under which we groan in all the parts of this great empire, where we have our abode. Have respect unto the covenant,.... The Targum adds,

"which thou hast made with our fathers;''

meaning not the covenant of works, which being broken, no good thing was to be expected from it, not liberty, life, nor eternal salvation, but all the reverse; but the covenant of grace, made with Christ before the world was, and made manifest to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David, and others: this God has a respect unto, and does look unto it; he looks to the surety and Mediator of it, which is Christ, for the fulfilment of all conditions in it; to the promises of it, that they may be made good; to the blessings of it, that they be bestowed upon the persons to whom they belong; to the blood of it, for the delivering of the church's prisoners, and the salvation of them from wrath to come; and to the persons interested in it, that they be all called and brought safe to glory; and particularly to the things in it, respecting the glory of the church in the latter day, and increase of its members, and of its light, which seem chiefly designed here; and therefore it follows:

for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty; many places of the earth are in gross darkness as to the knowledge of spiritual and divine things; even all those places which are inhabited by Pagans, Mahometans, and Papists, which make a great part of the globe; and in these dark places cruelty reigns, and especially in the antichristian states; wherefore the church pleads the covenant of God and his promises, that he would send forth his light and his truth, and cover the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, which is now covered with gross darkness, and under the tyranny and oppression of the man of sin.

Have respect unto the covenant: for {o} the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.

(o) That is, all places where your word does not shine, there reigns tyranny and ambition.

20. the covenant] With the patriarchs, Genesis 9:9 ff; Genesis 17:2 ff.; with the nation at the Exodus, Exodus 24:8; with David, Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:39.

the dark places of the earth] The heathen lands where Israel was in exile. We might also render, the dark places of the land, i.e. the caves and hiding-places where the persecuted Israelites took refuge, and where they were tracked out and butchered (1Ma 1:53; 1Ma 2:27 ff.).

are full of the habitations of cruelty] R.V. violence. If the text is right, the sense seems to be ‘places where violence makes its home.’ But the expression is a strange one, and the emendation are full of insolence and violence, adopted by many commentators, which requires a very slight change in the consonants of the text, is plausible. Cp. Psalm 73:6; Genesis 6:11; Genesis 6:13.Verse 20. - Have respect unto the covenant. The "covenant" intended is probably that made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whereby Canaan was assured to their descendants, as "the lot of their inheritance." Israel is being deprived of its inheritance, and dragged off into "dark places." Will not "respect for his covenant" induce God to interpose, and even now at the last gasp deliver his afflicted ones? For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. Israel is being dragged into "dark places of the earth" - benighted lands, where there is no glimmer of the light of God's truth - and lands, moreover, which are "full of habitations of cruelty," abodes, i.e., where captives taken in war are treated with harshness and violence. With this prayer for the destruction of the enemies by God's interposition closes the first half of the Psalm, which has for its subject-matter the crying contradiction between the present state of things and God's relationship to Israel. The poet now draws comfort by looking back into the time when God as Israel's King unfolded the rich fulness of His salvation everywhere upon the earth, where Israel's existence was imperilled. בּקרב הארץ, not only within the circumference of the Holy Land, but, e.g., also within that of Egypt (Exodus 8:18-22). The poet has Egypt directly in his mind, for there now follows first of all a glance at the historical (Psalm 74:13-15), and then at the natural displays of God's power (Psalm 74:16, Psalm 74:17). Hengstenberg is of opinion that Psalm 74:13-15 also are to be understood in the latter sense, and appeals to Job 26:11-13. But just as Isaiah (Isaiah 51:9, cf. Psalm 27:1) transfers these emblems of the omnipotence of God in the natural world to His proofs of power in connection with the history of redemption which were exhibited in the case of a worldly power, so does the poet here also in Psalm 74:13-15. The תּנּיּן (the extended saurian) is in Isaiah, as in Ezekiel (התּנּים, Psalm 29:3; Psalm 32:2), an emblem of Pharaoh and of his kingdom; in like manner here the leviathan is the proper natural wonder of Egypt. As a water-snake or a crocodile, when it comes up with its head above the water, is killed by a powerful stroke, did God break the heads of the Egyptians, so that the sea cast up their dead bodies (Exodus 14:30). The ציּים, the dwellers in the steppe, to whom these became food, are not the Aethiopians (lxx, Jerome), or rather the Ichthyophagi (Bocahrt, Hengstenberg), who according to Agatharcides fed ἐκ τῶν ἐκριπτομένων εἰς τὴν χέρσον κητῶν, but were no cannibals, but the wild beasts of the desert, which are called עם, as in Proverbs 30:25. the ants and the rock-badgers. לציים is a permutative of the notion לעם, which was not completed: to a (singular) people, viz., to the wild animals of the steppe. Psalm 74:15 also still refers not to miracles of creation, but to miracles wrought in the course of the history of redemption; Psalm 74:15 refers to the giving of water out of the rock (Psalm 78:15), and Psalm 74:15 to the passage through the Jordan, which was miraculously dried up (הובשׁתּ, as in Joshua 2:10; Joshua 4:23; Joshua 5:1). The object מעין ונחל is intended as referring to the result: so that the water flowed out of the cleft after the manner of a fountain and a brook. נהרות are the several streams of the one Jordan; the attributive genitive איתן describe them as streams having an abundance that does not dry up, streams of perennial fulness. The God of Israel who has thus marvellously made Himself known in history is, however, the Creator and Lord of all created things. Day and night and the stars alike are His creatures. In close connection with the night, which is mentioned second, the moon, the מאור of the night, precedes the sun; cf. Psalm 8:4, where כּונן is the same as הכין in this passage. It is an error to render thus: bodies of light, and more particularly the sun; which would have made one expect מאורות before the specializing Waw. גּבוּלות are not merely the bounds of the land towards the sea, Jeremiah 5:22, but, according to Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26, even the boundaries of the land in themselves, that is to say, the natural boundaries of the inland country. קיץ וחרף are the two halves of the year: summer including spring (אביב), which begins in Nisan, the spring-month, about the time of the vernal equinox, and autumn including winter (צתו), after the termination of which the strictly spring vegetation begins (Sol 2:11). The seasons are personified, and are called God's formations or works, as it were the angels of summer and of winter.
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