This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. On stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song. Asaph was the great singer and musician of David and Solomon’s era (1 Chronicles 15:17-19, 16:5-7; 2 Chronicles 29:13). 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 add that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions.
This psalm celebrates a great victory of God on behalf of His people, and those who connect it with the defeat of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:36) attribute Psalm 76 to a later Asaph, or to someone who was the literal or spiritual descendant of the Asaph of David and Solomon’s time.
A. God’s might shown in Zion.
1. (1-3) The greatness of God in Zion.
In Judah God is known;
His name is great in Israel.
In Salem also is His tabernacle,
And His dwelling place in Zion.
There He broke the arrows of the bow,
The shield and sword of battle. Selah
a. In Judah God is known: Asaph happily proclaimed that God was known in Judah and that His name is great in Israel. God would get the praise due to Him among His people.
i. We notice that God is known, that He has revealed Himself. God is knowable, and our knowledge of God is not only subjective. We do not worship an unknown god as the ancient Athenians did (Acts 17:23).
ii. We notice that in Judah God is known. The nations had their ideas of deity, but the true revelation of God came through the Jewish people – the covenant descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “In those days, if you wanted to know who God was and what he was like, you had to turn to the Jews and their Bible.” (Boice)
b. In Salem also is His tabernacle: God has a further connection with Israel; it is in their land that He chose to make His dwelling place and to establish His tabernacle.
i. Asaph’s mention of the tabernacle might be a reference to history, or perhaps it is poetic. Yet it is more likely that the tabernacle was brought to Salem, to the city of Zion, when David brought the ark of the covenant there (2 Samuel 6).
ii. It seems that Salem was the ancient name for Jerusalem (Genesis 14:18, Hebrew 7:1-2).
iii. “The Pilgrims also loved this psalm, and it was from verse 2 that they derived the name of one of the very first settlements in the New World: Salem, Massachusetts.” (Boice)
iv. The phrase His dwelling place in Zion uses an interesting word. “Not His ‘abode’ but His ‘covert’ or ‘lair’ is the bold expression here, with its tacit comparison of the Lord to a lion (cf. Jeremiah 25:38, and see Psalm 27:5).” (Kidner)
v. “This means that the picture of God in stanza one is of a lion crouching on Mount Zion, ready to pounce. In other words, he is to be reckoned with, to be feared.” (Boice)
c. There He broke the arrows of the bow: Jerusalem became the center of Israel when David conquered the city and brought peace to the city of peace (2 Samuel 5:6-10). In many ways before and after, God breaks the weapons of those set against Him and His people.
i. Asaph spoke of a fearsome weapon, the arrows of the bow: “The fiery arrows. Arrows, round the heads of which inflammable matter was rolled, and then ignited, were used by the ancients, and shot into towns to set them on fire; and were discharged among the towers and wooden works of besiegers.” (Clarke)
ii. God’s ability to fight on behalf of His people “made the queen-mother of Scotland say, that she more feared the prayers of John Knox than an army of thirty thousand fighting soldiers. The king of Sweden, as soon as he set foot in Germany, fell down to prayer, and what great things did he in a little time!” (Trapp)
iii. “Like many of the fighting psalms, this too has been a favorite of Christians during religious warfare. The embattled Huguenots sang it as they marched into battle at Cloigny. The Covenanters sang it at Drumclog in 1679 when they defeated the government troops of ‘Bloody Claverhouse’…. Psalm 76 was sung in thanksgiving services marking the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.” (Boice)
iv. “While the weapons of our warfare are spiritual, God is the same in might; and while He is in the midst our defense is sure. No weapon formed against the trusting people can prosper.” (Morgan)
2. (4-6) Praise to the triumphant God.
You are more glorious and excellent
Than the mountains of prey.
The stouthearted were plundered;
They have sunk into their sleep;
And none of the mighty men have found the use of their hands.
At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
Both the chariot and horse were cast into a dead sleep.
a. You are more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey: Asaph thought of the beauty and the bounty of the mountains of prey, the places remote and wild enough to be home to wild animals. He knew that the Lord God was more glorious and excellent than these beautiful places.
i. We imagine Asaph hiking in the high mountains where the goats and ibex and other wild animals live. He is stunned by their beauty, but goes on to think: Our God is more glorious and excellent than even these mountains.
ii. “Thou art more illustrious and excellent than all the mountains of prey, i.e., where wild beasts wander, and prey on those that are more helpless than themselves.” (Clarke)
iii. The Septuagint gives an alternative reading of mountains of prey. “The everlasting mountains is a reading borrowed from the Septuagint, probably rightly, in place of the somewhat obscure ‘mountains of prey’ (King James Version, Revised Version).” (Kidner)
b. None of the mighty men have found the use of their hands: The God who is greater than the mountains also helped His people in battle. He helped them by confounding their enemies who were sunk into their sleep.
i. “The occasion that springs to mind here is the elimination of Sennacherib’s army overnight by the angel of the Lord (Isaiah 37:36). The Septuagint brings in an allusion to it in its version of the title.” (Kidner)
ii. The stouthearted were plundered: “They came to spoil, and lo! they are spoiled themselves. Their stout hearts are cold in death, the angel of the pestilence has dried up their life-blood, their very heart is taken from them.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Both the chariot and horse were cast into a dead sleep: “The Israelites always had a special fear of horses and scythed chariots; and, therefore, the sudden stillness of the entire force of the enemy in this department is made the theme of special rejoicing.” (Spurgeon)
B. Giving honor to the great God.
1. (7-9) The fear of the LORD.
You, Yourself, are to be feared;
And who may stand in Your presence
When once You are angry?
You caused judgment to be heard from heaven;
The earth feared and was still,
When God arose to judgment,
To deliver all the oppressed of the earth. Selah
a. You, Yourself, are to be feared: Asaph thought of the importance of giving honor and reverence – a healthy fear – to the great God. He emphasized the personal aspect of it – that God Himself is to be feared, more than the things He may do.
i. You, Yourself are to be feared: “The Hebrew is simple, but very emphatic: attah nora attah, ‘Thou art terrible; thou art.’ The repetition of the pronoun deepens the sense.” (Clarke)
b. Who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry: Our respect and reverence for God goes beyond admiration of His greatness. It is also connected to our knowledge of His righteousness, His power, and His authority as Judge. We understand that God is the best friend and the worst enemy.
c. When God arose to judgment, to deliver all the oppressed of the earth: God uses His righteous might not primarily to defend Himself, but to deliver all the oppressed. He cares about the poor and needy, and every wrong will be set right or recompensed when God rises to judgment.
i. “Note the purpose of judgment, which is to save those who commit their cause to God. This is the chief aspect of justice in the Psalms, where the plight of those who either cannot or will not hit back at the ruthless is a constant concern.” (Kidner)
2. (10-12) Honoring the God who rules over all.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise You;
With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.
Make vows to the LORD your God, and pay them;
Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared.
He shall cut off the spirit of princes;
He is awesome to the kings of the earth.
a. Surely the wrath of man shall praise You: Asaph considered the judgments of God and how God uses His judgment to deliver the oppressed (verse 9). In this the psalmist sees the matchless wisdom and providence of God, who can work all things together so marvelously that He will make the wrath of man bring Him praise.
i. “Even the most hostile acts against his rule will bring him ‘praise’ (cf. Acts 2:23; Romans 8:28).” (VanGemeren)
ii. The Bible and history are filled with the fulfillment of this promise and principle. Haman was filled with wrath against Mordecai; God used the wrath of Haman to bring Himself praise. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were filled with wrath against God’s own Son; God used the wrath of the religious leaders to bring Himself praise. We can see this principle fulfilled in history; by faith we should believe it to be so today when men show their wrath against God and His people.
iii. The wrath of man “shall not only be overcome but rendered subservient to thy glory. Man with his breath of threatening is but blowing the trumpet of the Lord’s eternal fame.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “This singer of the olden time had seen the wrath of man working havoc in human affairs, as we also have seen it. But he watched it closely, and he had seen God, surrounding all its activity by His own presence and holding it within His Own grasp, and so compelling it at last to work towards His praise.” (Morgan)
b. With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself: God will even adorn Himself with the “leftovers” of man’s wrath against Him and His people. This in no way justifies the wrath of man, but it does show the surpassing greatness of God.
i. Other translations give a different sense of this difficult Hebrew phrase.
· And the survivors of your wrath are restrained (NIV).
· The residue of wrath thou wilt gird upon thee (RSV).
ii. If the Hebrew text is to be understood in this sense, then the idea is that God promises to restrain the wrath of man. First comes the promise to bring good out of even the wrath of man, and then the promise is to restrain that wrath.
iii. “Then he had seen God, when the limit was reached, restrain this wrath, in the pictorial language of the singer, girding it upon Himself, and so preventing its further action under the will of man.” (Morgan)
iv. “The wrath of man had been allowed up to a certain point, to bring into clear evidence the greater power of God; and then He had quietly put a term to its further manifestation.” (Meyer)
c. Make vows to the LORD your God, and pay them: Asaph brought a logical conclusion to the facts presented. If God is this great, then we owe our vows to Him, and vows made should be paid.
i. “To vow or not is a matter of choice, but to discharge our vows is our bounden duty. He who would defraud God, his own God, is a wretch indeed.” (Spurgeon)
d. Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him: We can and should honor God with more than our vows. In humble submission we should bring presents to Him, giving to Him our first and our best.
i. “If such should have been the gratitude and devotion of Israelites, for a temporary deliverance from the fury of an earthly tyrant, how much higher ought that of Christians to rise, for eternal redemption from the great oppressor!” (Horne)
e. He is awesome to the kings of the earth: Even the princes and the kings of the earth can and should see the awe of this great God. They should keep their vows to Him and bring presents to honor Him. No one is excluded from the reverence and praise of the great God and King.
i. “None are great in his hand. Caesars and Napoleons fall under his power as the boughs of the tree beneath the woodman’s axe.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com