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Psalm 74[a]

A well-written song[b] by Asaph.

74 Why, O God, have you permanently rejected us?[c]
Why does your anger burn[d] against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your people[e] whom you acquired in ancient times,
whom you rescued[f] so they could be your very own nation,[g]
as well as Mount Zion, where you dwell.
Hurry[h] to the permanent ruins,
and to all the damage the enemy has done to the temple.[i]
Your enemies roar[j] in the middle of your sanctuary;[k]
they set up their battle flags.[l]
They invade like lumberjacks
swinging their axes in a thick forest.[m]
And now[n] they are tearing down[o] all its engravings[p]
with axes[q] and crowbars.[r]
They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrate your dwelling place by knocking it to the ground.[s]
They say to themselves,[t]
“We will oppress all of them.”[u]
They burn down all the places in the land where people worship God.[v]
We do not see any signs of God’s presence;[w]
there are no longer any prophets,[x]
and we have no one to tell us how long this will last.[y]
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.[z]
12 But God has been my[aa] king from ancient times,
performing acts of deliverance on the earth.[ab]
13 You destroyed[ac] the sea by your strength;
you shattered the heads of the sea monster[ad] in the water.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;[ae]
you fed[af] him to the people who live along the coast.[ag]
15 You broke open the spring and the stream;[ah]
you dried up perpetually flowing rivers.[ai]
16 You established the cycle of day and night;[aj]
you put the moon[ak] and sun in place.[al]
17 You set up all the boundaries[am] of the earth;
you created the cycle of summer and winter.[an]
18 Remember how[ao] the enemy hurls insults, O Lord,[ap]
and how a foolish nation blasphemes your name.
19 Do not hand the life of your dove[aq] over to a wild animal.
Do not continue to disregard[ar] the lives of your oppressed people.
20 Remember your covenant promises,[as]
for the dark regions of the earth are full of places where violence rules.[at]
21 Do not let the afflicted be turned back in shame.
Let the oppressed and poor praise your name.[au]
22 Rise up, O God. Defend your honor.[av]
Remember how fools insult you all day long.[aw]
23 Do not disregard[ax] what your enemies say,[ay]
or the unceasing shouts of those who defy you.[az]


  1. Psalm 74:1 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.
  2. Psalm 74:1 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.
  3. Psalm 74:1 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.
  4. Psalm 74:1 tn Heb “smoke.” The picture is that of a fire that continues to smolder.
  5. Psalm 74:2 tn Heb “your assembly,” which pictures God’s people as an assembled community.
  6. Psalm 74:2 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).
  7. Psalm 74:2 tn Heb “the tribe of your inheritance” (see Jer 10:16; 51:19).
  8. Psalm 74:3 tn Heb “lift up your steps to,” which may mean “run, hurry.”
  9. Psalm 74:3 tn Heb “everything [the] enemy has damaged in the holy place.”
  10. Psalm 74:4 tn This verb is often used of a lion’s roar, so the psalmist may be comparing the enemy to a raging, devouring lion.
  11. Psalm 74:4 tn Heb “your meeting place.”
  12. Psalm 74:4 tn Heb “they set up their banners [as] banners.” The Hebrew noun אוֹת (ʾot, “sign”) here refers to the enemy army’s battle flags and banners (see Num 2:12).
  13. Psalm 74:5 tn Heb “it is known like one bringing upwards, in a thicket of wood, axes.” The Babylonian invaders destroyed the woodwork in the temple.
  14. Psalm 74:6 tn This is the reading of the Qere (marginal reading). The Kethib (consonantal text) has “and a time.”
  15. Psalm 74:6 tn The imperfect verbal form vividly describes the act as underway.
  16. Psalm 74:6 tn Heb “its engravings together.”
  17. Psalm 74:6 tn This Hebrew noun occurs only here in the OT (see H. R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena [SBLDS], 49-50).
  18. Psalm 74:6 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”).
  19. Psalm 74:7 tn Heb “to the ground they desecrate the dwelling place of your name.”
  20. Psalm 74:8 tn Heb “in their heart.”
  21. Psalm 74:8 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”).
  22. Psalm 74:8 tn Heb “they burn down all the meeting places of God in the land.”
  23. Psalm 74:9 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).
  24. Psalm 74:9 tn Heb “there is not still a prophet.”
  25. Psalm 74:9 tn Heb “and [there is] not with us one who knows how long.”
  26. Psalm 74:11 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.
  27. Psalm 74:12 tn The psalmist speaks as Israel’s representative here.
  28. Psalm 74:12 tn Heb “in the midst of the earth.”
  29. Psalm 74:13 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.”
  30. Psalm 74:13 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.
  31. Psalm 74:14 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 ʿqltn, cognate to Hebrew עֲקַלָּתוֹן (ʿaqallaton), 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 brḥ, 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.
  32. Psalm 74:14 tn The prefixed verbal form is understood as a preterite in this narrational context.
  33. Psalm 74:14 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).
  34. Psalm 74:15 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).
  35. Psalm 74:15 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).
  36. Psalm 74:16 tn Heb “To you [is] day, also to you [is] night.”
  37. Psalm 74:16 tn Heb “[the] light.” Following the reference to “day and night” and in combination with “sun,” it is likely that the Hebrew term מָאוֹר (maʾor, “light”) refers here to the moon.
  38. Psalm 74:16 tn Heb “you established [the] light and [the] sun.”
  39. Psalm 74:17 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.
  40. Psalm 74:17 tn Heb “summer and winter, you, you formed them.”
  41. Psalm 74:18 tn Heb “remember this.”
  42. Psalm 74:18 tn Or “[how] the enemy insults the Lord.”
  43. Psalm 74:19 sn Your dove. The psalmist compares weak and vulnerable Israel to a helpless dove.
  44. Psalm 74:19 tn Heb “do not forget forever.”
  45. Psalm 74:20 tc Heb “look at the covenant.” The LXX reads “your covenant,” which seems to assume a second person pronominal suffix, which would be written with ך (kaf). The suffix may have been accidentally omitted by haplography. Note that the following word, כִּי (ki), begins with כ (kaf) .
  46. Psalm 74:20 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).
  47. Psalm 74:21 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.
  48. Psalm 74:22 tn Or “defend your cause.”
  49. Psalm 74:22 tn Heb “remember your reproach from a fool all the day.”
  50. Psalm 74:23 tn Or “forget.”
  51. Psalm 74:23 tn Heb “the voice of your enemies.”
  52. Psalm 74:23 tn Heb “the roar of those who rise up against you, which ascends continually.”