Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Commentary  Index 
Psalms Index
  Previous  Next 

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 74


psa 74:0

Appeal to God against Religious Persecution, in Which the Temple Is Violated

The מזמור 73 is here followed by a Maskı̂l (vid., Psa 32:1) which, in common with the former, has the prominent, rare word משּׁוּאות (Psa 74:3; Psa 73:18), but also the old Asaphic impress. We here meet with the favourite Asaphic contemplation of Israel as a flock, and the predilection of the Asaphic Psalms for retrospective references to Israel's early history (Psa 74:13-15). We also find the former of these two characteristic features in Psa 79:1-13, which reflects the same circumstances of the times. Moreover Jeremiah stands in the same relationship to both Psalms. In Jer 10:25; Psa 79:6. is repeated almost word for word. And one is reminded of Psalms 74 by Lam 2:2 (cf. Psa 74:7), Psa 2:7 (cf. Psa 74:4), and other passages. The lament "there is no prophet any more" (Psa 74:9) sounds very much like Lam 2:9. In connection with Jeremiah's reproductive manner, and his habit of allowing himself to be prompted to new thoughts by the original passages by means of the association of ideas (cf. כּיום מועד, Lam 2:7, with בּקרב מועדך of the Psalm), it is natural to assign the priority in age to the two Asaphic national lamentation Psalms.

But the substance of both Psalms, which apparently brings us down not merely into the Chaldaean, but even into the Maccabaean age, rises up in opposition to it. After his return from the second Egyptian expedition (170 b.c.) Antiochus Epiphanes chastised Jerusalem, which had been led into revolt by Jason, in the most cruel manner, entered the Temple accompanied by the court high priest Menalaus, and carried away the most costly vessels, and even the gold of the walls and doors, with him. Myriads of the Jews were at that time massacred or sold as slaves. Then during the fourth Egyptian expedition (168) of Antiochus, when a party favourably disposed towards the Ptolemies again arose in Jerusalem, he sent Apollonius to punish the offenders (167), and his troops laid the city waste with fire and sword, destroyed houses and walls, burnt down several of the Temple-gates and razed many of its apartments. Also on this occasion thousands were slain and led away captive. Then began the attempt of Antiochus to Hellenize the Jewish nation. An aged Athenian was entrusted with the carrying out of this measure. Force was used to compel the Jews to accept the heathen religion, and in fact to serve Olympian Zeus (Jupiter): on the 15th of Chislev a smaller altar was erected upon the altar of burnt-offering in the Temple, and on the 25th of Chislev the first sacrifice was offered to Olympian Zeus in the Temple of Jahve, now dedicated to him. Such was the position of affairs when a band of faithful confessors rallied around the Asmonaean (Hasmonaean) priest Mattathias.

How strikingly does much in both Psalms, more particularly in Ps 74, harmonize with this position of affairs! At that time it was felt more painfully than ever that prophecy had become dumb, 1 Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41. The confessors and martyrs who bravely declared themselves were called, as in Psa 79:2, חסידים, Ἀσιδαῖοι. At that time "they saw," as 1 Macc. 4:38 says, "the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burnt up, and shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest, or as in one of the mountains, yea, and the priests' chambers pulled down." the doors of the Temple-gates were burned to ashes (cf. 2 Macc. 8:33; 1:8). The religious אותות (Psa 74:4) of the heathen filled the place where Jahve was wont to reveal Himself. Upon the altar of the court stood the βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως; in the courts they had planted trees, and likewise the "signs" of heathendom; and the לשׁכות (παστοφόρια) lay in ruins. When later on, under Demetrius Stoer (161), Alcimus (an apostate whom Antiochus had appointed high priest) and Bacchides advanced with promises of peace, but with an army at the same time, a band of scribes, the foremost of the Asidai'oi of Israel, went forth to meet them to intercede for their nation. Alcimus, however, seized sixty of them, slaughtered them in one day, and that, as it is added in 1 Macc. 7:16f., "according to the word which he wrote: The flesh of Thy saints and their blood have they shed round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them." The formula of citation κατὰ τὸν λόγον ὃν (τοὺς λόγου οὓς) ἔγραψε, and more particularly the ἔγραψε - which as being the aorist cannot have the Scripture (ἡ γραφή), and, since the citation is a prayer to god, not God, but only the anonymous psalmist, as its subject (vid., however, the various readings in Grimm on this passage) - sounds as though the historian were himself conscious that he was quoting a portion of Scripture that had taken its rise among the calamities of that time. In fact, no age could be regarded as better warranted in incorporating some of its songs in the Psalter than the Maccabaean, the sixty-third week predicted by Daniel, the week of suffering bearing in itself the character of the time of the end, this strictly martyr age of the Old Covenant, to which the Book of Daniel awards a high typical significance in relation to the history of redemption.

But unbiassed as we are in the presence of the question whether there are Maccabaean Psalms, still there is, on the other hand, much, too, that is against the referring of the two Psalms to the Maccabaean age. In Psa 79:1-13 there is nothing that militates against referring it to the Chaldaean age, and Psa 79:11 (cf. Psa 102:21; Psa 69:34) is even favourable to this. And in Psalms 74, in which Psa 74:4, Psa 74:8, Psa 74:9 are the most satisfactorily explained from the Maccabaean age, there are, again, other parts which are better explained from the Chaldaean. For what is said in Psa 74:7, "they have set Thy Temple on fire," applies just as unconditionally as it runs to the Chaldaeans, but not to the Syrians. And the cry of prayer, Psa 74:3, "lift up Thy footsteps to the eternal ruins," appears to assume a laying waste that has taken place within the last few years at least, such as the Maccabaean age cannot exhibit, although at the exaltation of the Maccabees Jerusalem was ἀοίκητος ὡς ἔρημος (1 Macc. 3:45). Hitzig, it is true, renders: raise Thy footsteps for sudden attacks without end; but both the passages in which משּׁוּאות occurs mutually secure to this word the signification "desolations" (Targum, Symmachus, Jerome, and Saadia). If, however, the Chaldaean catastrophe were meant, then the author of both Psalms, on the ground of Ezr 2:41; Neh 7:44 (cf. Neh 11:22), might be regarded as an Asaphite of the time of the Exile, although they might also be composed by any one in the Asaphic style. And as regards their relation to Jeremiah, we ought to be contented with the fact that Jeremiah, whose peculiarity as a writer is otherwise so thoroughly reproductive, is, notwithstanding, also reproduced by later writers, and in this instance by the psalmist.

Nothing is more certain than that the physiognomy of these Psalms does not correspond to any national misfortune prior to the Chaldaean catastrophe. Vaihinger's attempt to comprehend them from the time of Athaliah's reign of terror, is at issue with itself. In the history of Israel instances of the sacking of Jerusalem and of the Temple are not unknown even prior to the time of Zedekiah, as in the reign of Jehoram, but there is no instance of the city being reduced to ashes. Since even the profanation of the Temple by the Persian general Bagoses (Josephus, Ant. xi. 7), to which Ewald formerly referred this Psalm, was not accompanied by any injury of the building itself, much less its reduction to ashes, there remains only the choice between the laying waste of Jerusalem and of the Temple in the year 588 and in the year 167. We have reserved to ourselves the liberty of acknowledging some insertions from the time of the Maccabees in the Psalter; supra, pp. 6-8. Now since in both Psalms, apart from the משׁאות נצח, everything accords with the Maccabaean age, whilst when we refer them to the Chaldaean period the scientific conscience is oppressed by many difficulties (more especially in connection with Psa 74:4, Psa 74:8-9; Psa 79:2-3), we yield to the force of the impression and base both Psalms upon the situation of the Jewish nation under Antiochus and Demetrius. Their contents coincide with the prayer of Judas Maccabaeus in 2 Macc. 8:1-4.

Psalms 74:1

psa 74:1

The 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 (Psa 74:10, Psa 79:5; Psa 89:47, cf. Psa 13:2)? is equivalent to, why so continually and, as it seems, without end? The preterite denotes the act of casting off, the future, Psa 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, Gen 12:19; Gen 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 Psa 10:1. Concerning the smoking of anger, vid., Psa 18:9. The characteristically Asaphic expression צאן מרעיתו is not less Jeremianic, Jer 23:1. In Psa 74:2 God is reminded of what He has once done for the congregation of His people. קדם, as in Psa 44:2, points back into the Mosaic time of old, to the redemption out of Egypt, which is represented in קנה (Exo 15:17) as a purchasing, and in גאל (Psa 77:15; Psa 78:35, Exo 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 Jer 10:16; Jer 51:19, cf. Isa 63:17. זה (Psa 74:2) is rightly separated from הר־ציון (Mugrash); it stands directly for אשׁר, as in Psa 104:8, Psa 104:26; Pro 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., Psa 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), Isa 63:12; Psa 61:4, looks backwards. May God then lift His feet up high (פּעמים poetical for רגלים, cf. Psa 58:11 with Psa 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 Psa 44:3) everything (כּל, as in Psa 8:7, Zep 1:2, for חכּל or את־כּל) in the sanctuary - how is it possible that this sacrilegious vandalism should remain unpunished!

Psalms 74:4

psa 74:4

The poet now more minutely describes how the enemy has gone on. Since קדשׁ in Psa 74:3 is the Temple, מועדיך in Psa 74:4 ought likewise to mean the Temple with reference to the several courts; but the plural would here (cf. Psa 74:8) be misleading, and is, too, only a various reading. Baer has rightly decided in favour of מועדך;

(Note: The reading מעודיך is received, e.g., by Elias Hutter and Nissel; the Targum translates it, Kimchi follows it in his interpretation, and Abraham of Zante follows it in his paraphrase; it is tolerably widely known, but, according to the lxx and Syriac versions and MSS, it is to be rejected.)

מועד, as in Lam 2:6., is the instituted (Num 17:1-13 :19 [4]) place of God's intercourse with His congregation (cf. Arab. mı̂‛âd, a rendezvous). What Jeremiah says in Lam 2:7 (cf. שׁאג, Jer 2:15) is here more briefly expressed. By אותתם (Psa 74:4) we must not understand military insignia; the scene of the Temple and the supplanting of the Israelitish national insignia to be found there, by the substitution of other insignia, requires that the word should have the religious reference in which it is used of circumcision and of the Sabbath (Exo 31:13); such heathen אתות, which were thrust upon the Temple and the congregation of Jahve as henceforth the lawful ones, were those which are set forth in 1 Macc. 1:45-49, and more particularly the so-called abomination of desolation mentioned in v. 54 of the same chapter. With יוּדע (Psa 74:5) the terrible scene which was at that time taking place before their eyes (Psa 79:10) is introduced. כּמביא is the subject; it became visible, tangible, noticeable, i.e., it looked, and one experienced it, as if a man caused the axe to enter into the thicket of the wood, i.e., struck into or at it right and left. The plural קדּמּות forces itself into the simile because it is the many heathen warriors who are, as in Jer 46:22., likened to these hewers of wood. Norzi calls the Kametz of בסבך־עץ Kametz chatuph; the combining form would then be a contraction of סבך (Ewald, Olshausen), for the long ā of סבך does not admit of any contraction. According to another view it is to be read bi-sbāch-etz, as in Est 4:8 kethāb-hadāth with counter-tone Metheg beside the long vowel, as e.g., עץ־הגּן, Gen 2:16). The poet follows the work of destruction up to the destroying stroke, which is introduced by the ועת (perhaps ועת, Ker ועתּה), which arrests one's attention. In Psa 74:5 the usual, unbroken quiet is depicted, as is the heavy Cyclopean labour in the Virgilian illi inter sese, etc.; in jahalomûn, Psa 74:6 (now and then pointed jahlomûn), we hear the stroke of the uplifted axes, which break in pieces the costly carved work of the Temple. The suffix of פּתּוּחיה (the carved works thereof) refers, according to the sense, to מועדך. The lxx, favouring the Maccabaean interpretation, renders: ἐξέκοψαν τάς θύρας αὐτῆς (פּתחיה). This shattering of the panelling is followed in Psa 74:7 by the burning, first of all, as we may suppose, of this panelling itself so far as it consists of wood. The guaranteed reading here is מקדשׁך, not מקדשׁיך. שׁלּח בּאשׁ signifies to set on fire, immittere igni, differing from שׁלּח אשׁ בּ, to set fire to, immittere ignem. On לארץ חלּלוּ, cf. Lam 2:2; Jer 19:13. Hitzig, following the lxx, Targum, and Jerome, derives the exclamation of the enemies נינם from נין: their whole generation (viz., we will root out)! But נין is posterity, descendants; why therefore only the young and not the aged? And why is it an expression of the object and not rather of the action, the object of which would be self-evident? נינם is fut. Kal of ינה, here = Hiph. הונה, to force, oppress, tyrannize over, and like אנס, to compel by violence, in later Hebrew. נינם (from יינה, like ייפה) is changed in pause into נינם; cf. the future forms in Num 21:30; Exo 34:19, and also in Psa 118:10-12. Now, after mention has been made of the burning of the Temple framework, מועדי־אל cannot denote the place of the divine manifestation after its divisions (Hengstenberg), still less the festive assemblies (Bttcher), which the enemy could only have burnt up by setting fire to the Temple over their heads, and כל does not at all suit this. The expression apparently has reference to synagogues (and this ought not to be disputed), as Aquila and Symmachus render the word. For there is no room for thinking of the separate services conducted by the prophets in the northern kingdom (Kg2 4:23), because this kingdom no longer existed at the time this Psalm was written; nor of the בּמות, the burning down of which no pious Israelite would have bewailed; nor of the sacred places memorable from the early history of Israel, which are nowhere called מועדים, and after the founding of the central sanctuary appear only as the seats of false religious rites. The expression points (like בּית ועד, Sota ix. 15) to places of assembly for religious purposes, to houses for prayer and teaching, that is to say, to synagogues - a weighty instance in favour of the Maccabaean origin of the Psalm.

Psalms 74:9

psa 74:9

The worst thing the poet has to complain of is that God has not acknowledged His people during this time of suffering as at other times. "Our signs" is the direct antithesis to "their sings" (Psa 74:4), hence they are not to be understood, after Psa 86:17, as signs which God works. The suffix demands, besides, something of a perpetual character; they are the instituted ordinances of divine worship by means of which God is pleased to stand in fellowship with His people, and which are now no longer to be seen because the enemies have set them aside. The complaint "there is not prophet any more" would seem strange in the period immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem, for Jeremiah's term of active service lasted beyond this. Moreover, a year before (in the tenth year of Zedekiah's reign) he had predicted that the Babylonian domination, and relatively the Exile, would last seventy years; besides, six years before the destruction Ezekiel appeared, who was in communication with those who remained behind in the land. The reference to Lam 2:9 (cf. Eze 7:26) does not satisfy one; for there it is assumed that there were prophets, a fact which is here denied. Only perhaps as a voice coming out of the Exile, the middle of which (cf. Hos 3:4; Ch2 15:3, and besides Canticum trium puerorum, Psa 74:14 : καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῳ ἄρχων καὶ προφήτης καὶ ἡγούμενος) was truly thus devoid of signs or miracles, and devoid of the prophetic word of consolation, can Psa 74:9 be comprehended. The seventy years of Jeremiah were then still a riddle without any generally known solution (Dan. 9). If, however, synagogues are meant in Psa 74:8, Psa 74:9 now too accords with the like-sounding lament in the calamitous times of Antiochus (1 Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41). In Psa 74:10 the poet turns to God Himself with the question "How long?" how long is this (apparently) endless blaspheming of the enemy to last? Why dost Thou draw back (viz., ממּנוּ, from us, not עלינוּ, Psa 81:15) Thy hand and Thy right hand? The conjunction of synonyms "Thy hand and Thy right hand" is, as in Psa 44:4, Sirach 33:7, a fuller expression for God's omnipotent energy. This is now at rest; Psa 74:11 calls upon it to give help by an act of judgment. "Out of the midst of Thy bosom, destroy," is a pregnant expression for, "drawing forth out of Thy bosom the hand that rests inactive there, do Thou destroy." The Chethb חוקך has perhaps the same meaning; for חוק, Arab. ḥawq, signifies, like חיק, Arab. ḥayq, the act of encompassing, then that which encompasses. Instead of מחיקך (Exo 4:7) the expression is מקּרב חיקך, because there, within the realm of the bosom, the punitive justice of God for a time as it were slumbers. On the כלּה, which outwardly is without any object, cf. Psa 59:14.

Psalms 74:12

psa 74:12

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 (Exo 8:18-22). The poet has Egypt directly in his mind, for there now follows first of all a glance at the historical (Psa 74:13-15), and then at the natural displays of God's power (Psa 74:16, Psa 74:17). Hengstenberg is of opinion that Psa 74:13-15 also are to be understood in the latter sense, and appeals to Job 26:11-13. But just as Isaiah (Isa 51:9, cf. Psa 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 Psa 74:13-15. The תּנּיּן (the extended saurian) is in Isaiah, as in Ezekiel (התּנּים, Psa 29:3; Psa 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 (Exo 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 Pro 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. Psa 74:15 also still refers not to miracles of creation, but to miracles wrought in the course of the history of redemption; Psa 74:15 refers to the giving of water out of the rock (Psa 78:15), and Psa 74:15 to the passage through the Jordan, which was miraculously dried up (הובשׁתּ, as in Jos 2:10; Jos 4:23; Jos 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. Psa 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, Jer 5:22, but, according to Deu 32:8; Act 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.

Psalms 74:18

psa 74:18

The poet, after he has thus consoled himself by the contemplation of the power of God which He has displayed for His people's good as their Redeemer, and for the good of the whole of mankind as the Creator, rises anew to prayer, but all the more cheerfully and boldly. Since ever present facts of creation have been referred to just now, and the historical mighty deeds of God only further back, זאת refers rather forwards to the blaspheming of the enemies which He suffers now to go on unpunished, as though He took no cognizance of it. חרף has Pasek after it in order to separate the word, which signifies reviling, from the most holy Name. The epithet עם־נבל reminds one of Deu 32:21. In Psa 74:19 according to the accents חיּת is the absolute state (the primary form of חיּה, vid., on Psa 61:1): give not over, abandon not to the wild beast (beasts), the soul of Thy turtle-dove. This is probably correct, since לחיּת נפשׁ, "to the eager wild beast," this inversion of the well-known expression נפשׁ חיּה, which on the contrary yields the sense of vita animae, is an improbable and exampleless expression. If נפשׁ were intended to be thus understood, the poet might have written אל־תתן לנפשׁ חיּה תורך, "give not Thy turtle-dove over to the desire of the wild beast." Hupfeld thinks that the "old, stupid reading" may be set right at one stroke, inasmuch as he reads אל תתן לנפש חית תורך, and renders it "give not to rage the life Thy turtle-dove;" but where is any support to be found for this לנפשׁ, "to rage," or rather (Psychology, S. 202; tr. p. 239) "to eager desire?" The word cannot signify this in such an isolated position. Israel, which is also compared to a dove in Psa 68:14, is called a turtle-dove (תּור). In Psa 74:19 חיּת has the same signification as in Psa 74:19, and the same sense as Psa 68:11 (cf. Ps 69:37): the creatures of Thy miserable ones, i.e., Thy poor, miserable creatures - a figurative designation of the ecclesia pressa. The church, which it is the custom of the Asaphic Psalms to designate with emblematical names taken from the animal world, finds itself now like sheep among wolves, and seems to itself as if it were forgotten by God. The cry of prayer הבּט לבּרית comes forth out of circumstances such as were those of the Maccabaean age. בּרית is the covenant of circumcision (Gen. 17); the persecution of the age of the Seleucidae put faith to the severe test, that circumcision, this sign which was the pledge to Israel of God's gracious protection, became just the sign by which the Syrians knew their victims. In the Book of Daniel, Dan 11:28, Dan 11:30, cf. Ps. 22:32, ברית is used directly of the religion of Israel and its band of confessors. The confirmatory clause Psa 74:20 also corresponds to the Maccabaean age, when the persecuted confessors hid themselves far away in the mountains (1 Macc. 2:26ff., 2 Macc. 6:11), but were tracked by the enemy and slain, - at that time the hiding-places (κρύφοι, 1 Macc. 1:53) of the land were in reality full of the habitations of violence. The combination נאות חמס is like נאות השׁלום, Jer 25:37, cf. Gen 6:11. From this point the Psalm draws to a close in more familiar Psalm - strains. אל־ישׁב, Psa 74:21, viz., from drawing near to Thee with their supplications. "The reproach of the foolish all the day" is that which incessantly goes forth from them. עלה תּמיד, "going up (Sa1 5:12, not: increasing, Kg1 22:35) perpetually," although without the article, is not a predicate, but attributive (vid., on Psa 57:3). The tone of the prayer is throughout temperate; this the ground upon which it bases itself is therefore all the more forcible.

Next: Psalms Chapter 75