Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm, like the two previous psalms, is ascribed to Asaph (see Introduction to Ps. 73), and there is no reason to doubt that it is correctly attributed to him. On the phrase in the title, "To the chief Musician," see Introduction to Psa 4:1-8. On the phrase "Al-taschith," see the notes on the title to Psa 57:1-11. The phrase "A Psalm or Song" (in Hebrew, "a psalm - a song"), occurs also in the title, to other psalms, as Psa 30:1-12; Psa 65:1-13, etc.
It is not possible now to determine the occasion on which this psalm was composed, as it is not indicated in the title, and there are no historical references in the psalm itself which would enable us to ascertain it. The general purpose is indicated in Psa 75:1, which is to ascribe praise to God for some particular manifestation of his favor. So far as can be conjectured from the psalm, there are two things which may have been referred to.
(I) The first is, that it was composed by someone - or for some one, in his name, as expressing his feelings - who was about to enter on the administration of the affairs of the nation, apparently a young prince soon to ascend the throne. See Psa 75:2, "When I shall receive the congregation," etc.
(II) The second is, that it would seem to have been a time of national danger; a time when there may have been other aspirants for the throne; a time when wicked and powerful men had combined for the purpose of usurping the authority, and setting aside the legitimate claimant to power, or when there seemed to have been a universal dissolution of authority, or general anarchy. See Psa 75:3, "The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved." Compare Psa 75:4-5.
In these circumstances, in this general rebellion, in this time of resistance to lawful authority, and of combination and conspiracy against right, the speaker in the psalm expresses confidence in God as the source of all authority Psa 75:6; as the "Judge" Psa 75:7; as a God in whose hand is a cup of punishment which he will administer to all wicked people, Psa 75:8. "The psalm, therefore, expresses confidence in God in the endeavor to assert the claims of legitimate authority."
Another, and a more common view, however, has been taken of the psalm, which is, that it refers to God as the Ruler among the nations, and as asserting that he will in due time take vengeance on those who are in rebellion against him. This is the view of DeWette, Prof. Alexander, Luther, and others. It was also the view taken by the translators of the Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate. Compare, however, the notes at Psa 75:2.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
(1) A purpose of the author of the psalm to praise God for the manifestation of his wondrous works, Psa 75:1.
(2) his purpose when he should "receive the congregation," or should be invested with authority, to judge uprightly, or to discharge his duties with fidelity, Psa 75:2.
(3) a statement of the existing disorder and confusion, as if the very structure of society was broken up, Psa 75:3.
(4) advice addressed to the authors of the prevailing disorder not to pursue their plans of evil Psa 75:4-8, for two reasons:
(a) Promotion or success must come from God, or from his counsels, and not by chance, or by any laws of nature Psa 75:6-7; and
(b) because God is a righteous Judge, and the wicked can expect nothing but punishment at his hand, Psa 75:8.
(5) a purpose to praise God, in view of the fact that all the power of the wicked would be broken, but the power of the righteous would be maintained and exalted, Psa 75:9-10.
Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks - We, the people; language which would be appropriate to public thanksgiving - showing that the psalm was designed for public use. The reasons for this public thanksgiving are stated in the subsequent part of the psalm.
Do we give thanks - The repetition is emphatic. The idea is, that the occasion was one for special thanksgiving.
For that thy name is near - literally, "and near is thy name." The word name is often used to designate the person himself; and the idea here is, that God was near; that he had manifested himself to them in some special manner, and that for this there was occasion of praise. Compare Jer 23:23.
Thy wondrous works declare - Or, "They declare thy wondrous works." The Septuagint renders it, "I will declare all thy wondrous works." The Latin Vulgate, "We will declare thy wonders." Luther, "We will declare thy wonders, that thy name is so near." Prof. Alexander, "They recount thy wonders." The meaning seems to be, "They," that is, the people, "declare thy wondrous works." Thy marvelous doings constitute the foundation for praise - for the praise now offered.
When I shall receive the congregation - The marginal rendering is, "Take a set time." The phrase is thus rendered in most of the versions. So the Septuagint, "When I take the time" - ὅταν λάβω καιρὸν hotan labō kairon. So the Vulgate, "When I accept the time." So Luther, "When in its own time." So De Wette, "When I take the time." According to this interpretation, this is the language of God, as if implying that, although "the earth" was then "dissolved," or although disorders were allowed to exist, yet he would take a set time, or take the appointed time for judgment, and would pronounce a sentence on the conduct of people, and deal with them in a righteous manner, punishing the rebellious, and vindicating his own cause. The proper interpretation of the passage turns on the meaning of the Hebrew word rendered in the text "congregation" - מועד mô‛êd. See the word explained in the notes at Psa 74:8. It may mean a set time, an appointed season, Sa1 13:8, Sa1 13:11; or a coming together, an assembly, Job 30:23; or a place of assemblage, as the tabernacle, etc.; Exo 27:21; Exo 40:22; Psa 74:8. It may, therefore, be applied to the congregation of the Jewish people - the nation considered as an assemblage for the worship of God; and the idea of taking this, or receiving this, may be applied to the act of assuming authority or sovereignty over the people, and hence, the language may be used to denote the entrance on the discharge of the duties of such sovereignty. The language would be ap plicable to one who had the right of such an elevation to power - a prince - an heir apparent - in a time when his right was disputed; when there was an organized opposition to him; or when the nation was in a state of anarchy and confusion. It seems to me that this supposition best accords with the proper meaning of the language, and with the scope of the psalm.
I will judge uprightly - I will put down all this opposition to law. I will deal with exact justice between man and man. I will restore order, and the supremacy of law, to the state. The language, therefore, according to this interpretation, is not the language of God, but that of a prince having a right to the throne, and about to ascend it in a time of great misrule and disorder.
The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved - The word rendered "dissolved" means properly to melt, to flow down; then, to melt away, to pine away, to perish. Isa 64:7; Job 30:22; Nah 1:5; Psa 107:26. Here it means that there was, as it were, a general breaking up of things; or that none of the institutions of the land seemed to have any stability. There seemed to be no government, but universal anarchy and confusion.
I bear up the pillars of it - Of the earth; of society. The earth here is compared with an edifice supported by pillars. Compare Jdg 16:26; Sa1 2:8; Ti1 3:15. As applied to a prince or ruler, this means that the permanent structure of the state, the welfare of society, depended on his administration. If, according to the view of others, it is applied to God, the meaning is, that as he upholds the world, there cannot be permanent misrule; that amidst all the commotions of earth, and all that seemed to threaten ruin, his hand sustained all, and he would not allow things to proceed to permanent disorder. In the former case, the assertion would be true if a prince felt that he had power to support the government, and to restore order; in the latter case, it must be true, for God sustains the earth, and as he can check disorder when he shall judge it best to interpose, so he will not permit it ultimately to prevail.
Selah - A musical pause. See the notes at Psa 3:2.
I said unto the fools - To the wicked people in rebellion. Folly and wickedness in the Bible are synonymous terms, as they are identical in fact. See the notes at Psa 14:1.
Deal not foolishly - Act not foolishly; carry not out your wicked plans. Do not pursue your schemes of wickedness and folly, for they cannot be successful, and they will only tend to involve you in ruin.
And to the wicked - The wicked people engaged in rebellion - either against a lawful human government, or against God.
Lift not up the horn - The horn is a symbol of strength. Compare Job 16:15; Dan 7:7-8, Dan 7:11, Dan 7:21; Dan 8:5, Dan 8:8-9, Dan 8:21. This is to be understood as the language of the person represented as speaking in the psalm - whether a prince, or whether God himself. It is counsel addressed to the wicked, that they should not attempt to put forth their strength in the accomplishment of their evil purposes. The reason given for this is stated in Psa 75:6, namely, that success does not depend on chance, or on human power, but must come from God.
Lift not up your horn on high - In a proud, self-confident, arrogant manner.
Speak not with a stiff neck - With arrogance and pride; in a haughty, imperious manner. The word rendered "stiff" (literally "a neck of stiffness") - עתק ‛âthâq - means properly bold, impudent, wicked; and the idea is that of speaking as those do who are impudent, shameless, bold, licentious - indicating confidence in themselves, and a reckless disregard of truth and of the rights of others. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it, "And speak not unrighteousness against God."
For promotion - The word used here in the original, and rendered "promotion" - הרים hariym - is susceptible of two quite different significations. According to one - that which is adopted by our translators - it is the infinitive (Hiphil) of רום rûm, "to raise" - the word used in Psa 75:5-6, and there rendered "lift up." Thus it would mean, that to "lift up" is not the work of people, or is not originated by the earth - does not originate from any part of it, east, west, or south, but must come from God alone. According to the other view, this word is the plural of הר har, "mountain," and would mean that something - (something understood - as "judgment") - comes not "from the east, nor the west, nor from the desert of mountains," the mountainous regions of the south, but must come from God. The Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the ancient versions generally, adopt the latter interpretation. De Wette renders it as our translators have done. This interpretation - rendering it promotions - seems to be the true one, for in the two previous verses this was the prominent idea - a caution against attempting to "lift themselves up," or to exalt themselves, and in this and the following verse a reason is given for this caution, to wit, that the whole question about success or prosperity depends not on anything here below; not on any natural advantages of situation, or on any human skill or power; but on God alone. It was in vain, in regard to such an object, to form human alliances, or to depend on natural advantages; and therefore people should not depend on these things, but only on God.
Neither from the east - literally, from the outgoing; that is, of the sun. The meaning may either be that success would not depend on any natural advantages of country furnished in the East; or that the persons referred to were seeking to form alliances with an Eastern people, and then the statement would be that no such alliances would of themselves secure success.
Nor from the west - The setting; that is, the place where the sun goes down. This also may refer either to the natural advantages of a Western country, or to some alliance which it was intended to form with the people there.
Nor from the south - Margin, as in Hebrew, "desert." The reference is to the rocky and barren regions south of Palestine, and the allusion here also may be either to some natural advantages of those regions, or to some alliance which it was proposed to form.
But God is the judge - All depends on him, not on the natural advantages of a country; not on human strength, human skill, or human prowess. Whatever may be the natural resources of a country; whatever may be the enterprise, the numbers, or the valor of its inhabitants; whatever alliances of peace or war they may form with other nations, yet success depends on God. He presides over all; he can give success when it is least expected; and he also can humble people when they have made the most ample preparations for success, and anticipate it in the most confident manner.
He putteth down one, and setteth up another - Literal y, "This one he humbles, and this he exalts." This is true alike of an individual or a nation. The word rendered "setteth up" is the same which is used in Psa 75:4-6, rendered "Lift up," and "promotion." The idea is, that in the matter of" lifting up," or "promotion," all depends on God. He is a sovereign, and he confers exaltation, whether of an individual or a nation, as he pleases.
For in the hand of the Lord ... - The general idea in this verse is, that God holds in his hand a cup for people to drink; a cup whose contents will tend to prolong life, or to cause death. See the idea in this passage fully explained in Job 21:20, note; Psa 60:3, note; Isa 51:17, note; Rev 14:10, note.
And the wine is red - The word used here - חמר châmar - may mean either to boil up, or to be red - from the idea of boiling, or becoming heated. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it, "And he pours it out from this into that;" that is, he draws it off, as is done with wine. The true idea in the expression is probably that it ferments; and the meaning may be that the wrath of God seems to boil like fermenting liquor.
It is full of mixture - Mixed with spices, in order to increase its strength; or, as we should say, drugged. This was frequently done in order to increase the intoxicating quality of wine. The idea is, that the wrath of God was like wine whose native strength, or power of producing intoxication, was thus increased by drugs. And he poureth out of the same. He pours it out in order that his enemies may drink it; in other words, they reel and stagger under the expressions of his wrath, as men reel and stagger under the influence of spiced or drugged wine.
But the dregs thereof - The "lees" - the settlings - what remains after the wine is racked off. See the notes at Isa 25:6. This would contain the strongest part of the mixture; and the idea is, that they would drink the wrath of God to the utmost.
All the wicked of the earth - Wicked people everywhere. The expression of the wrath of God would not be confined to one nation, or one people; but wherever wicked people are found, he will punish them. He will be just in his dealings with all people.
Shall wring them out - Wine was kept in skins; and the idea here is, that they would wring out these skins so as to get out "all" that there was in them, and leave nothing remaining. The wrath of God would be exhausted in the punishment of wicked people, as if it were all wrung out.
And drink them - Not merely the wine; but the dregs; all that there was. Wicked people will suffer all that there is in the justice of God.
But I will declare for ever - I - the author of the psalm. I will make known at all times the character of God, and will declare the truth respecting his works and ways. The particular mode as referred to here, was praise.
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob - The God whom Jacob worshipped; the God who proved himself to be his Friend, thus showing that he is the Friend of all that trust in him. See the notes at Psa 24:6.
All the horns of the wicked ... - See the notes at Psa 75:4. The meaning is, I will destroy all their power. This, too, may refer to the author of the psalm, supposed to be a prince or ruler about to ascend the throne, and to assert his rightful authority. This indicates his purpose in regard to his administration (compare Psa 75:2); the principles on which he would administer his government. It would be an administration under which the wicked would be punished, and where the righteous would be protected. In this manner it would be an emblem of the administration of God. All just human governments are founded on the same principles as the government of God. People have only to apply to the affairs of civil society the principles on which God governs the universe, to constitute the most perfect human administration. Those which come nearest to that, most nearly approximate perfection; and civil governments will reach their end, and accomplish their design, only when those principles shall be universally applied among people.