Psalm 74

A Contemplation of Asaph.

1 O God, why have You cast us off forever?
Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?

2 Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,
The tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed—
This Mount Zion where You have dwelt.

3 Lift up Your feet to the perpetual desolations.
The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary.

4 Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place;
They set up their banners for signs.

5 They seem like men who lift up
Axes among the thick trees.

6 And now they break down its carved work, all at once,
With axes and hammers.

7 They have set fire to Your sanctuary;
They have defiled the dwelling place of Your name to the ground.

8 They said in their hearts,
“Let us destroy them altogether.”
They have burned up all the meeting places of God in the land.

We do not see our signs;
There is no longer any prophet;
Nor is there any among us who knows how long.

10 O God, how long will the adversary reproach?
Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?

11 Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?
Take it out of Your bosom and destroy them.

12 For God is my King from of old,
Working salvation in the midst of the earth.

13 You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.

14 You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces,
And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

15 You broke open the fountain and the flood;
You dried up mighty rivers.

16 The day is Yours, the night also is Yours;
You have prepared the light and the sun.

17 You have set all the borders of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.

18 Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O Lord,
And that a foolish people has blasphemed Your name.

19 Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast!
Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.

20 Have respect to the covenant;
For the dark places of the earth are full of the haunts of cruelty.

21 Oh, do not let the oppressed return ashamed!
Let the poor and needy praise Your name.

22 Arise, O God, plead Your own cause;
Remember how the foolish man reproaches You daily.

23 Do not forget the voice of Your enemies;
The tumult of those who rise up against You increases continually.

contemplation (intro) — see comments on Psalm 32.

Asaph (intro) — see comments on Psalm 73. Ryrie says, “Asaph, a contemporary of David, lived long before this psalm was written; thus the reference here is either to one of his descendants or to a choir guild that bore his name.” Or, which I think is a possibility, Asaph wrote it as prophecy, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This is one of several poignant lamentations which found utterance at the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of exile in Babylon (cf. Lamentations and Psalm 79). The tragedy was not merely that the center of religious life, the Temple, had been destroyed: that which cut the cord of hope and overwhelmed the nation with moral dismay was the inference that God had forsaken them. Where was God’s faithfulness to the covenant? — Guthrie, page 497.

This Psalm may have been composed when the Chaldeans destroyed the temple and city (compare v.8 with Jeremiah 52:13-17).

Verses 1-11—By the opening expression, “Why have you cast us off,” the psalmist does not intend that God has in fact truly forsaken His people; rather, he is describing his feelings at that time, in the midst of Israel’s affliction at the hands of their enemies—just as the same expression is intended by the sons of Korah in Psalm 44:9 and David in Psalm 60:1. Indeed, just as in these latter two instances, a careful look at what the psalmist goes on to say—in this case, what he says in the very next verse—reveals the unshakable conviction that Israel still is and always will be God’s people, for he employs the same terminology used by Moses in Exodus 15:13-16 to describe God’s relationally-motivated “purchase” and “redemption” of His people  Israel from Egypt—not because of their merit, but because of His unconditional covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:14). To further underscore their unchanged status the psalmist refers to Israel of his day as God’s congregation—a term typically applied to Israel in that period of the exodus—and His inheritance. More than just expressing the psalmist’s personal feelings at the time, the psalmist’s phraseology in these opening verses implies the recognition of God’s chastisement, which is ipso facto evidence of relationship (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-8). — Wechsler, pages 187-188.


The anomaly is that God’s hot anger is directed against those who are His own flock (v.2), against His own purchase, and the tribe of His own inheritance (cf. Exodus 15:16-17). His wrath is directed even against Mount Zion, His own habitation. In other words, the people’s distress and disgrace were a dilemma because God seemed to be ruing His own work and breaking His own word. — Guthrie, page 497.

They set up their banners for signs (v.4) — The battle standards of the enemy replace the signs of God’s presence, such as the items in the Ark of the Covenant.

Verses 12-17—As a basis of relief even in the midst of his own and his people’s affliction, the psalmist next focuses on God’s absolute sovereignty as epitomized both on Israel’s behalf, at the exodus, as well as on behalf of humanity in general, at creation. In v.13, accordingly, after referring to God’s division of the sea (see Exodus 14:21), the psalmist refers to Pharaoh and his forces as tanninim (signifying real reptiles and amphibians, not “sea monsters”), as they are elsewhere figuratively described (see Ezekiel 29:2), and which to the Egyptians was a symbol of diving power—that God judged and defeated (see Exodus 7:8-12, where “serpent” translates tannin). Likewise, the reference to the heads of Leviathan in v.14 is intended as a figurative description of the manifold forces (Pharaoh and his military forces) that came against Israel at the exodus, just as Leviathan is also used as a figurative epithet for all the world’s forces that will one day array themselves against Israel before God’s final judgment (Isaiah 27:1). — Wechsler, page 188.

Verse 15 refers to when God had … brought water out of the rock (Exodus 17:1-7) and dried up the Jordan River (Joshua 3).

Verses 18-23—The psalmist ends by affirming his motivation for imploring God’s deliverance—to with: God’s glory and honor, for it is not ultimately Israel, but the God of Israel whom the enemy has reviled and whose name they have spurned (cf. 1 Samuel 17:45). It is for this reason—not for any innate lack of “intelligence”—that the enemy is called “foolish.” It is not Israel’s cause that the psalmist asks God to champion, but His own cause—i.e., to “defend” His reputation by acting upon His covenant with Abraham, which entails the survival and, ultimately, the blessing of Israel. — Wechsler, pages 188-189.

Williams’ take:

The enemy in the Sanctuary is the theme of the Psalm. It predicts the destruction of the first Temple by the Chaldeans, of the second Temple by the Romans, and possibly, of the future third Temple by the Ten Kings. — Williams, page 358.

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