PSALM 74 OVERVIEW
Title. Maschil of Asaph. An instructive Psalm by Asaph. The history of the suffering church is always edifying; when we see how the faithful trusted and wrestled with their God in times of dire distress, we are thereby taught how to behave ourselves under similar circumstances; we learn moreover, that when fiery trial befalls us, no strange thing happened unto us, we are following the trail of the host of God.
Division. From Psalms 74:1-11 the poet pleads the sorrows of the nation, and the despite done to the assemblies of the Lord; then he urges former displays of divine power as a reason for present deliverance ( Psalms 74:12-23 ). Whether it is a prophetic Psalm, intended for use in troubles foreseen, or whether it was written by a later Asaph, after the invasion by Sennacherib or during the Maccabean wars, it would be very hard to determine, but we see no difficulty in the first supposition.
Verse 1. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? To cast us off at all were hard, but when thou dost for so long a time desert they people it is an evil beyond all endurance -- the very chief of woes and abyss of misery. It is our wisdom when under chastisement to enquire, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me?" and if the affliction be a protracted one, we should more eagerly enquire the purport of it. Sin is usually at the bottom of all the hiding of the Lord's face; let us ask the Lord to reveal the special form of it to us, that we may repent of it, overcome it, and henceforth forsake it. When a church is in a forsaken condition it must not sit still in apathy, but turn to the hand which smiteth it, and humbly enquire the reason why. At the same time, the enquiry of the text is a faulty one, for it implies two mistakes. There are two questions, which only admit of negative replies. "Hath God cast away his people?" ( Romans 11:1 ); and the other, "Will the Lord cast off for ever?" ( Psalms 77:7 ). God is never weary of his people so as to abhor them, and even when his anger is turned against them, it is but for a small moment, and with a view to their eternal good. Grief in its distraction asks strange questions and surmises impossible terrors. It is a wonder of grace that the Lord has not long ago put us away as men lay aside cast off garments, but he hateth putting away, and will still be patient with his chosen.
Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? They are thine, they are the objects of thy care, they are poor, silly, and defenceless things: pity them, forgive them, and come to their rescue. They are but sheep, do not continue to be wroth with them. It is a terrible thing when the anger of God smokes, but it is an infinite mercy that it does not break into a devouring flame. It is meet to pray the Lord to remove every sign of his wrath, for it is to those who are truly the Lord's sheep a most painful thing to be the objects of his displeasure. To vex the Holy Spirit is no mean sin, and yet how frequently are we guilty of it; hence it is no marvel that we are often under a cloud.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. There is one singularity in this Psalm which reminds one strongly of Psalm 44: there is not one mention of national or personal sin throughout, no allusion to the Lord's righteous dealing in their punishment, no supplication for pardon and forgiveness; and yet one can hardly doubt that the writer of the Psalm, be he who he may, must have felt as keenly as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, or any other prophet of the captivity, the sins and iniquities which had brought all this sore evil upon them. But still, though there be expostulations, there is no complaint; though there be mourning, there is no murmuring; there is far more the cry of a smitten child, wondering why, and grieving that his father's face is so turned away from him in displeasure, and a father's hand so heavy on the child of his love. Or, as we might almost say, it is like the cry of one of those martyred ones beneath the altar, wondering at the marauder and oppressor, and exclaiming, "How long, O Lord, how long?" And yet it is the appeal of one who was still a sufferer, still groaning under the pressure of his calamities, "Why has thou cast us off for ever? We see not our signs, there is no more any prophet among us." Barton Bouchier.
Verse 1. This Psalm, and particularly these words, do contain the church's sad lamentation over her deep affliction, together with her earnest expostulations with God about the cause. Two things there are that the church in these words doth plead with God. First, The greatness of her affliction: secondly, the nearness of he relation.
- The greatness of her affliction. And there were three things in her affliction that did make it lie very heavy upon her. First, the root of this affliction; and that was God's anger: Why doth thine anger smoke, etc. Secondly, the height of this affliction; God was not only angry, but he did smoke in his anger. Thirdly, the length of this affliction: it was so long that God did seem to cast them off for ever.
- The nearness of her relation: Against the sheep of thy pasture; as if they should have said, Lord, if thou hadst done this against thine enemies, it had been no wonder; if thou hadst poured out thy wrath against the vessels of wrath, it had not been so much. But what! wilt thou draw out thy sword against the sheep of thy pasture? It were no wonder that thou shouldest take the fat and the strong, and pour out thy judgments upon them; but wilt thou do it to thy sheep?
There be several doctrines that I may raise from these words; as,
First doctrine: That God's people are his sheep.
Second doctrine: That God may be sorely angry with his own people, with his own sheep.
Third doctrine: That when God is angry with his people, it becomes them carefully to enquire into the cause.
Fourth doctrine: That when God's people are under afflictions, they ought to take notice of, and be much affected with, his anger, from which they do proceed.
Fifth doctrine: That God's people under affliction are, or should be, more affected with his anger than with their smart. This is that which the church doth complain of, not that the church did so smart, but that God was displeased and angry; that did most affect them.
Sixth doctrine: That God's people are apt to have misgiving thoughts of God when they are in sore afflictions. God was angry with his people, and their hearts did misgive them, as if God did cast off his people.
Seventh doctrine: That God may be angry with his people, so sore, and so long, that in the judgment of sense it may seem that they are for ever cast off. Eighth doctrine: That though the people of God may not murmur against his proceedings, yet they may humbly expostulate with him about the cause. Joseph Alleine. 1633-1668.
Verse 1. Why doth thine anger smoke, etc. Anger is a fire; and in men, and other creatures enraged, a smoke seemeth to go out of their nostrils. Xenophon saith of the Thebans, when they are angry they breathe fire. This then is spoken of God, after the manner of men. John Trapp.
Verse 1. The sheep of thy pasture. There is nothing more imbecile than a sheep: simple, frugal, gentle, tame, patient, prolific, timid, domesticated, stupid, useful. Therefore, while the name of sheep is here used, it is suggested how pressing the necessity is for divine assistance, and how well befitting the Most High it would be to make their cause his own. Lorinus.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The divine displeasure a fact.
- It is but in measure, and we are very liable to
- Even while it lasts our relation to him is
unaffected: Sheep of thy pasture.
- Our business is to enquire the reason of it, and act
Verse 1. (second clause). The Lord's anger with his people compared to smoke.
- It is not a consuming fire.
- It suggests fear of the fire.
- It darkens the light of joy.
- It blinds the eyes of faith.
- It checks the breath of life.
- It blackens the beauty of our worldly comforts.