Maschil of Asaph. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?
This Psalm contains (1) a complaint; (2) a prayer; (3) several pleas for that prayer.
I. The complaint. It was a complaint of desolation and oppression. God's temple was lying waste; God had departed from it, and there was as yet no sign of His return. There was also a positive oppression, an enemy who had done wickedly in the sanctuary, and into whose hand the soul of God's people was all but utterly and for ever delivered. (1) The language in which the psalmist complains of the desolate condition of God's sanctuary at Jerusalem should become on our lips a confession of separation from God through sin. (2) No man in this world can be the enemy against whom we are to pray. Our foes are invisible and inward. Sins are the enemies for whose discomfiture God and Christ would teach us to pray.
II. The prayer: "Lift up Thy feet unto the perpetual desolations." It is Christ's promise that God will do so: "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you."
III. The pleas by which the psalmist enforces his prayer. (1) God is a God of power. If He will save, at least He can. (2) The psalmist draws comfort from the remembrance of that which God had already done for Israel: "God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." (3) The psalmist could appeal to an express word of promise: "Have respect unto Thy covenant, and let not the oppressed return ashamed."
C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 1st series, pp. 37, 50.
Reference: Psalm 74:3.—E. A. Abbott, Cambridge Sermons, p. 121.
Psalm 74:17I. One of the chiefest charms of summer is its fulness. And in this fulness is its peace. Summer has the deep consciousness of fruitfulness. It knows it has done its work; it rejoices in its own fulness and wealth. Man's content is in looking back and seeing that his beginning of things has now been led on to some fulfilment, however small, in having accomplished something of his aspiration, in producing some fruit.
II. The real looking forward we should have, the real aspiration, is that which the summer has; and it is one of content, not of discontent. It is the looking forward to harvest, and it is founded on faith, which has its root in the fact that work has been already done. We believe in a harvest of our life, because the fields we have sown are whitening already for harvest.
III. There is another contentment that summer images; it is the contentment of rest. The earth rests from her labour, and her works do follow her. There is no flower, tree, mountain, or lake but seems to half slumber in the humming heat. They know their own beauty, and abide in it as in a shell. There is only one way to win something of God's peace. It is to learn the lesson nature gives us of daily self-forgetfulness. Content is its reward. It is the lesson summer gives and the reward she wins.
IV. You are God's unquiet child, and He desires you to rest, but as yet you will not learn to love, the highest things well enough to win your rest. You must first take His yoke of sacrifice upon you. Faith and love will hush your discontent with partial knowledge and partial truth, for you shall know that God will complete at last that which is in part. The knowledge that God loves you will lessen the discontent of trial. Fruitfulness will follow on faith and love, and with fruitfulness there will be content: the deep content of duties fulfilled, of aspirations growing into fulfilment, of moral power secured. That is the summer life of the soul.
S. A. Brooke, The Fight of Faith, p. 351.
Psalm 74:17What are the winter hopes and joys, what the faith of the winter of old age? They are born out of the natural array of things in wintertide; they are pictured in the winter's landscape.
I. Winter drives us to our home. We make oar life warm and gay within our walls. We forget the bitter days, save when we remember to give of our plenty to the poor and sorrowful. There are no times that may be happier than winter, if we will. And when age has come, we are also driven home. Our life is naturally made an inner life, and work without is changed for musing memory within.
II. We see in the frost-bound world the picture of death. Is there nothing but death there? Look beneath the surface of the earth, under the shroud of snow. Beneath the winding-sheet is, not death, but life in preparation, hidden, but in slow activity. The forces are being laid up which will be the green leaves of a thousand woods, the roses and lilies of a thousand gardens, the fountain rush of spring. That is what winter tells the man who knows. It is the story it tells also to the Christian, who has found and known the fatherhood of God. He has an inward life that refuses death. In the patient waiting and repose of a faithful age the spiritual forces which will make the form, and colour, and power, and work of his coming life are gathering together into a store that waits but the touch of death to break into immortal energy. He will sleep beneath the snow, but it will be to awaken.
S. A. Brooke, The Fight of Faith, p. 385.
I. The winter illustrates to us the beneficent principle of distribution acted upon by the Divine providence. We must have our winter, in order that the inhabitants of another part of the world may have their summer. The winter therefore seems to inculcate upon us a great lesson of equity and charity—that we should be willing to share the benefits of the system with the distant portions of our great, widespread family, willing to part with a pleasing possession for a season for their sakes, even if we could retain it.
II. Again, the winter should, by the very circumstance of its unproductiveness, remind us of the care and bounty of Divine providence, in that other seasons are granted us which furnish supplies for this, and for the whole year.
III. The winter has a character of inclemency and rigour, has ideas and feelings associated with it of hardship, infelicity, suffering. In this it should be adapted to excite thoughtful and compassionate sentiments respecting the distress and suffering that are in the world.
IV. Winter shows the transitory quality of the beauty, variety, magnificence, and riches which had been spread over the natural world. This consideration easily carries our thoughts to parallel things in human life.
V. There may be a resemblance to winter in the state of the mind in respect to its best interests. And truly the winter in the soul is worse than any season and aspect of external nature. Observe here one striking point of difference: the natural winter will certainly and necessarily, from a regular and absolute cause, pass away after a while; not so the spiritual winter. It does not belong to the constitution of the human nature that the spiritual warmth and animation must come, must have a season.
VI. Note the resemblance of winter to old age. The old age of the wise and good resembles the winter in one of its most favourable circumstances: that the former seasons improved have laid in a valuable store; and they have to bless God that disposed and enabled them to do so. But the most striking point in the comparison is one of unlikeness. Their winter has no spring to follow it—in this world. But the servants of God say, "That is well!" There is eternal spring before them. What will they not be contemplating of beauty and glory while those who have yet many years on earth are seeing returning springs and summers?
J. Foster, Lectures, 1st series, p. 278.
References: Psalm 74:17.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 336. Psalm 74:18.—E. V. Hall, Sermons in Worcester Cathedral, p. 66. Psalm 74:20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1451. Psalm 75:6, Psalm 75:7.—A. K. H. B., From a Quiet Place, p. 64. Psalm 76:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 791. Psalm 76:5.—S. Baring-Gould, The Preacher's Pocket, p. 119.
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.
Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.
Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs.
A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees.
But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers.
They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.
They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.
We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?
Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.
For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.
The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.
Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.
O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever.
Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.
O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.
Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily.
Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.