Psalm 74#sn Psalm 74. The psalmist, who has just experienced the devastation of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 586 b.c., asks God to consider Israel’s sufferings and intervene on behalf of his people. He describes the ruined temple, recalls God’s mighty deeds in the past, begs for mercy, and calls for judgment upon God’s enemies.
A well-written song#tn The meaning of the Hebrew term מַשְׂכִּיל (maskil) is uncertain. The word is derived from a verb meaning “to be prudent; to be wise.” Various options are: “a contemplative song,” “a song imparting moral wisdom,” or “a skillful [i.e., well-written] song.” The term occurs in the superscriptions of Pss 32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, and 142, as well as in Ps 47:7. by Asaph.
1 Why, O God, have you permanently rejected us?#sn The psalmist does not really believe God has permanently rejected his people or he would not pray as he does in this psalm. But this initial question reflects his emotional response to what he sees and is overstated for the sake of emphasis. The severity of divine judgment gives the appearance that God has permanently abandoned his people.
Why does your anger burn#tn Heb “smoke.” The picture is that of a fire that continues to smolder. against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your people#tn Heb “your assembly,” which pictures God’s people as an assembled community. whom you acquired in ancient times,
whom you rescued#tn Heb “redeemed.” The verb “redeem” casts God in the role of a leader who protects members of his extended family in times of need and crisis (see Ps 19:14). so they could be your very own nation,#tn Heb “the tribe of your inheritance” (see Jer 10:16; 51:19).
as well as Mount Zion, where you dwell!
3 Hurry and look#tn Heb “lift up your steps to,” which may mean “run, hurry.” at the permanent ruins,
and all the damage the enemy has done to the temple!#tn Heb “everything [the] enemy has damaged in the holy place.”
4 Your enemies roar#tn This verb is often used of a lion’s roar, so the psalmist may be comparing the enemy to a raging, devouring lion. in the middle of your sanctuary;#tn Heb “your meeting place.”
they set up their battle flags.#tn Heb “they set up their banners [as] banners.” The Hebrew noun אוֹת (’ot, “sign”) here refers to the enemy army’s battle flags and banners (see Num 2:12).
5 They invade like lumberjacks
swinging their axes in a thick forest.#tn Heb “it is known like one bringing upwards, in a thicket of wood, axes.” The Babylonian invaders destroyed the woodwork in the temple.
6 And now#tn This is the reading of the Qere (marginal reading). The Kethib (consonantal text) has “and a time.” they are tearing down#tn The imperfect verbal form vividly describes the act as underway. all its engravings#tn Heb “its engravings together.”
with axes#tn This Hebrew noun occurs only here in the OT (see H. R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena [SBLDS], 49-50). and crowbars.#tn This Hebrew noun occurs only here in the OT. An Akkadian cognate refers to a “pickaxe” (cf. NEB “hatchet and pick”; NIV “axes and hatchets”; NRSV “hatchets and hammers”).
7 They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrate your dwelling place by knocking it to the ground.#tn Heb “to the ground they desecrate the dwelling place of your name.”
8 They say to themselves,#tn Heb “in their heart.”
“We will oppress all of them.”#tc Heb “[?] altogether.” The Hebrew form נִינָם (ninam) is problematic. It could be understood as the noun נִין (nin, “offspring”) but the statement “their offspring altogether” would make no sense here. C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs (Psalms [ICC], 2:159) emends יָחַד (yakhad, “altogether”) to יָחִיד (yakhid, “alone”) and translate “let their offspring be solitary” (i.e., exiled). Another option is to understand the form as a Qal imperfect first common plural from יָנָה (yanah, “to oppress”) with a third masculine plural pronominal suffix, “we will oppress them.” However, this verb, when used in the finite form, always appears in the Hiphil. Therefore, it is preferable to emend the form to the Hiphil נוֹנֵם (nonem, “we will oppress them”).
They burn down all the places where people worship God in the land.#tn Heb “they burn down all the meeting places of God in the land.”
9 We do not see any signs of God’s presence;#tn Heb “our signs we do not see.” Because of the reference to a prophet in the next line, it is likely that the “signs” in view here include the evidence of God’s presence as typically revealed through the prophets. These could include miraculous acts performed by the prophets (see, for example, Isa 38:7-8) or object lessons which they acted out (see, for example, Isa 20:3).
there are no longer any prophets#tn Heb “there is not still a prophet.”
and we have no one to tell us how long this will last.#tn Heb “and [there is] not with us one who knows how long.”
10 How long, O God, will the adversary hurl insults?
Will the enemy blaspheme your name forever?
11 Why do you remain inactive?
Intervene and destroy him!#tn Heb “Why do you draw back your hand, even your right hand? From the midst of your chest, destroy!” The psalmist pictures God as having placed his right hand (symbolic of activity and strength) inside his robe against his chest. He prays that God would pull his hand out from under his robe and use it to destroy the enemy.
12 But God has been my#tn The psalmist speaks as Israel’s representative here. king from ancient times,
performing acts of deliverance on the earth.#tn Heb “in the midst of the earth.”
13 You destroyed#tn The derivation and meaning of the Polel verb form פּוֹרַרְתָּ (porarta) are uncertain. The form may be related to an Akkadian cognate meaning “break, shatter,” though the biblical Hebrew cognate of this verb always appears in the Hiphil or Hophal stem. BDB 830 s.v. II פָּרַר suggests a homonym here, meaning “to split; to divide.” A Hitpolel form of a root פָּרַר (parar) appears in Isa 24:19 with the meaning “to shake violently.” the sea by your strength;
you shattered the heads of the sea monster#tn The Hebrew text has the plural form, “sea monsters” (cf. NRSV “dragons”), but it is likely that an original enclitic mem has been misunderstood as a plural ending. The imagery of the mythological sea monster is utilized here. See the note on “Leviathan” in v. 14. in the water.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;#sn You crushed the heads of Leviathan. The imagery of vv. 13-14 originates in West Semitic mythology. The description of Leviathan should be compared with the following excerpts from Ugaritic mythological texts: (1) “Was not the dragon [Ugaritic tnn, cognate with Hebrew תַּנִין (tanin), translated “sea monster” in v. 13] vanquished and captured? I did destroy the wriggling [Ugaritic ’qltn, cognate to Hebrew עֲקַלָּתוֹן (’aqallaton), translated “squirming” in Isa 27:1] serpent, the tyrant with seven heads” (note the use of the plural “heads” here and in v. 13). (See CTA 3.iii.38-39 in G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 50.) (2) “For all that you smote Leviathan the slippery [Ugaritic brh, cognate to Hebrew בָּרִחַ (bariakh), translated “fast moving” in Isa 27:1] serpent, [and] made an end of the wriggling serpent, the tyrant with seven heads” (See CTA 5.i.1-3 in G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 68.) In the myths Leviathan is a sea creature that symbolizes the destructive water of the sea and, in turn, the forces of chaos that threaten the established order. In the OT, the battle with the sea motif is applied to Yahweh’s victories over the forces of chaos at creation and in history (see Pss 74:13-14; 77:16-20; 89:9-10; Isa 51:9-10). Yahweh’s subjugation of the waters of chaos is related to his kingship (see Pss 29:3, 10; 93:3-4). Isa 27:1 applies imagery from Canaanite mythology to Yahweh’s eschatological victory over his enemies. Apocalyptic literature employs the imagery as well. The beasts of Dan 7 emerge from the sea, while Rev 13 speaks of a seven-headed beast coming from the sea. Here in Ps 74:13-14 the primary referent is unclear. The psalmist may be describing God’s creation of the world (note vv. 16-17 and see Ps 89:9-12), when he brought order out of a watery mass, or the exodus (see Isa 51:9-10), when he created Israel by destroying the Egyptians in the waters of the sea.
you fed#tn The prefixed verbal form is understood as a preterite in this narrational context. him to the people who live along the coast.#sn You fed him to the people. This pictures the fragments of Leviathan’s dead corpse washing up on shore and being devoured by those who find them. If the exodus is in view, then it may allude to the bodies of the dead Egyptians which washed up on the shore of the Red Sea (see Exod 14:30).
15 You broke open the spring and the stream;#sn You broke open the spring and the stream. Perhaps this alludes to the way in which God provided water for the Israelites as they traveled in the wilderness following the exodus (see Ps 78:15-16, 20; 105:41).
you dried up perpetually flowing rivers.#sn Perpetually flowing rivers are rivers that contain water year round, unlike the seasonal streams that flow only during the rainy season. Perhaps the psalmist here alludes to the drying up of the Jordan River when the Israelites entered the land of Canaan under Joshua (see Josh 3-4).
16 You established the cycle of day and night;#tn Heb “To you [is] day, also to you [is] night.”
you put the moon#tn Heb “[the] light.” Following the reference to “day and night” and in combination with “sun,” it is likely that the Hebrew term מָאוֹר (ma’or, “light”) refers here to the moon. and sun in place.#tn Heb “you established [the] light and [the] sun.”
17 You set up all the boundaries#tn This would appear to refer to geographical boundaries, such as mountains, rivers, and seacoasts. However, since the day-night cycle has just been mentioned (v. 16) and the next line speaks of the seasons, it is possible that “boundaries” here refers to the divisions of the seasons. See C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs, Psalms (ICC), 2:156. of the earth;
you created the cycle of summer and winter.#tn Heb “summer and winter, you, you formed them.”
18 Remember how#tn Heb “remember this.” the enemy hurls insults, O Lord,#tn Or “[how] the enemy insults the Lord.”
and how a foolish nation blasphemes your name!
19 Do not hand the life of your dove#sn Your dove. The psalmist compares weak and vulnerable Israel to a helpless dove. over to a wild animal!
Do not continue to disregard#tn Heb “do not forget forever.” the lives of your oppressed people!
20 Remember your covenant promises,#tc Heb “look at the covenant.” The LXX reads “your covenant,” which seems to assume a second person pronominal suffix. The suffix may have been accidentally omitted by haplography. Note that the following word (כִּי) begins with kaf (כ).
for the dark regions of the earth are full of places where violence rules.#tn Heb “for the dark places of the earth are full of dwelling places of violence.” The “dark regions” are probably the lands where the people have been exiled (see C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs, Psalms [ICC], 2:157). In some contexts “dark regions” refers to Sheol (Ps 88:6) or to hiding places likened to Sheol (Ps 143:3; Lam 3:6).
21 Do not let the afflicted be turned back in shame!
Let the oppressed and poor praise your name!#sn Let the oppressed and poor praise your name! The statement is metonymic. The point is this: May the oppressed be delivered from their enemies! Then they will have ample reason to praise God’s name.
22 Rise up, O God! Defend your honor!#tn Or “defend your cause.”
Remember how fools insult you all day long!#tn Heb “remember your reproach from a fool all the day.”
23 Do not disregard#tn Or “forget.” what your enemies say,#tn Heb “the voice of your enemies.”
or the unceasing shouts of those who defy you.#tn Heb “the roar of those who rise up against you, which ascends continually.”