A Study in Wisdom

Psalm 75

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A Study by Scott Sperling

 

Psalm 75 –

Thanksgiving for God’s

Justice and Salvation

 

To the choirmaster. According to Do Not Destroy. A psalm of Asaph. A song.

 

1 We give thanks to you, O God;

         we give thanks, for your name is near.

   We recount your wondrous deeds.

 

2 “At the set time that I appoint

         I will judge with equity.

3 When the earth totters,

         and all its inhabitants,

               it is I who keep steady its pillars.       Selah

 

4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’

         and to the wicked,

   ‘Do not lift up your horn;

       5 do not lift up your horn on high,

               or speak with haughty neck.’”

6 For not from the east or from the west

         and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,

7 but it is God who executes judgment,

         putting down one and lifting up another.

 

 

8 For in the hand of the Lord

         there is a cup with foaming wine,

   well mixed, and he pours out from it,

         and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it

               down to the dregs.

 

9 But I will declare it forever;

         I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

 

10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,

         but the horns of the righteous

             shall be lifted up.  (ESV)

 

This is a psalm of thanksgiving to God, by his people, for his righteous judgment.  In this case, the thanksgiving is in anticipation that God will deliver his people.  The faith that God will deliver is based on knowledge of God’s character:  he is a righteous and just God who works on behalf of his people. 

The theme of God as savior for his people is a common one in the psalms, as well as in the rest of the Old Testament (in fact, this psalm is very similar to Hannah’s song, found in I Sam. 2:1-11).  In the Old Testament, the salvation of God is sought out against the physical enemies of God’s people.  This salvation prefigures the salvation that Jesus brought, salvation from sin.  And the battles with the physical enemies of the Psalmists prefigure the spiritual battles that we face.  As Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).  God is one God, and the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is one book which speaks of God’s dealings with his people.  His people ever and always seek his deliverance and his salvation.  And God is ever and always ready to deliver his people, and lead them to the way of salvation.

The Psalmist begins:  “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.  We recount your wondrous deeds” (vs. 1).  Thanksgiving to God should be a constant, oft-performed activity of his people.  We have so much to be thankful for.  This psalm is, as the inscription implies, a “song” for the congregation of his people, to give thanks collectively (the Psalmist wrote We give thanks”). 

The Psalmist specifically cites the “near”ness of God, and his past “wondrous deeds,” as reasons for thanksgiving.  “The reason forlies in the manifest presence of God proclaimed and celebrated in the stories of God’sacts. In the remembrance and retelling of the history of salvation lies the comfortingof God’s closeness to his people” [VanGemeren].  The righteous delight, and give thanks, that God is “near.”  The nearness of God is a comfort to his people.  Only his enemies flee God.

God is known by “name” to his people.  This suggests familiarity, to know by “name.” In the original Hebrew, it suggests even more.  One’s “name” in that culture represented his entire character.  So the Psalmist is giving thanks that God himself is “near”, as well as his attributes of providence, care, wisdom, righteousness and love. 

The impetus for thanksgiving is the “recount”ing of God’s “wondrous deeds” (vs. 1).  It is a good thing to reflect and recount how God has worked in our lives.  Such reflection will lead to thanksgiving.  I write this, appropriately, during Thanksgiving week in America, a holiday where families gather to give thanks to God.  But the giving of thanks, based on the reflection and the recounting of God’s wondrous deeds, should be an oft-performed activity, not just an annual one.  “We should praise God again and again. Stinted gratitude is ingratitude. For infinite goodness there should be measureless thanks” [Spurgeon, 293].  “Giving thanks in the Bible is not simply saying ‘thank you,’ but rather publicizing the divine benefit so that others may know and acknowledge the excellence of the benefactor… The entire assembly is invited to ‘give thanks,’ that is, to proclaim publicly what God has done. Such proclamations widen the circle of God’s admirers. By giving praise one returns the gracious act that God has done” [Clifford]

In verse 2 of the psalm, the speaker changes.  God himself speaks to his people:  “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.  When the earth totters and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars” (vs. 2-3).  In the original Hebrew, there is no direct indication that it is God who speaks in verse 2.  There is no, “And God said…”, nor is there even quotation marks, denoting a change of voice (the quotation marks in the above translation, the ESV, were added by the translator).  This lack of indication of who the speaker is, is not unusual in Hebrew poetry.  However, we can infer that it is God speaking by what is said:  “At the set time that I appoint, I will judge with equity,” and then, “When the earth totters and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.”  It is God who is ultimately the judge of all; and it is God who steadies the earth’s foundations. 

Note that, God’s judgment will occur “at the set time.”  “God is ever the righteous judge, but He executes his sentence, not according to man’s impatient expectations, but at the exact instant which He has Himself chosen” [Perowne, 350].  God is in control.  His judgment will come on his timeline, not ours.

The “tottering” earth and the “tottering” inhabitants of the earth speak figuratively of how messed up this world is, due to the sin of man.  If God did not “steady its pillars”, the world would completely fall apart.  At this point in the psalm, there is a “Selah”, which indicates a pause.  We should reflect on these words of God.

I think the “Selah” also indicates a change back in speaker to the Psalmist (the translation here does not agree with me, though, for it has God’s quote extending through verse 5).  It seems to me that verses 4 and 5 are connected with verse 6 and 7, because of the “For…” in verse 6.  Verse 7 is spoken by the Psalmist, because of the reference to “God”.  And so, with my interpretation, the Psalmist encourages humility (verses 4 and 5), because it is God who will “execute judgement” and exalt those who deserve exalting, by “putting down one and lifting up another” (vs. 7). 

More specifically, the Psalmist exhorts:  “I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck’” (vss. 4-5).  “Lifting its horn is the means by which an animal expresses its will and its power, of which its horn is thus a symbol, and the image becomes a metaphor for the assertion of human power” [Goldingay, 296].  “The ‘horn’ is the organ and symbol of power and also of pride. Horned animals when high-spirited and half furious throw high the horn” [Cowles, 310].  To exalt oneself is to implicitly deny God the credit he deserves for his great work.  “The higher a man holds himself, the further is he from God” [Guenther, in Lange’s, 428].  As Peter tells us:  “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (I Pet. 5:5-6). 

The Psalmist gives the reason that we have no right to exalt ourselves:  “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (vss. 6-7).  We may get help from others; we may find allies in looking to “the east” and to “the west”, but ultimately, it is God who delivers us, whether directly, or using human agents.  “The world is full of practical atheism. Few men really believe that Jehovah governs this world, that everything happens by his ordering, and that all causes, agents and means are nothing without him. Forgetfulness of God is as common as it is dreadful” [Plumer, 732].

The Psalmist metaphorically of God’s coming judgment:  “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (vs. 8).  The “foaming wine” is the cup of God’s wrath.  This is a metaphor that is commonly used in the Bible (see Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; 49:12; Hab 2:15-16; Jer 51:7; Ezek 23:31–33; Zech 12:2; Rev 14:10; 16:19; 17:4; 18:6).  This cup of wrath is prepared beforehand by God.  It is “well-mixed,” suggesting that it is mixed with spices, to improve the taste, and the make it more intoxicating.  A “foaming wine, well mixed” sounds enticing, and so the recipients of God’s wrath drink it willingly, “down to the dregs.”  The “dregs” of a spiced wine are typically extremely bitter, and so certainly, the end of God’s wrath is a “bitter” poison.  “At first it may seem to be a cup for a festival crowd, ready to celebrate and enjoy blessings received. But it is not. It is the cup of the wrath of God… Yahweh holding a great cup in his hand is ready to pour out its foaming wine of judgment ―into the throats of all the world’s boastful till the last dregs are downed” [Tate, 342-343].  “Calamity and sorrow, fear and trembling, infatuation and despair, the evils of the present life, and of that which is to come, are the bitter ingredients which compose this most horrible cup of mixture. It is entirely in the hand and disposal of God, who, through every age, has been pouring out, and administering of its contents, more or less, in proportion to the sins of men. But much of the strength and power of the liquor still remains behind, until the day of final vengeance” [Horne, 267].

The Psalmist responds to God’s coming righteous judgment:  “But I will declare forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob” (vs. 9).  “Thus will the saints occupy themselves with rehearsing Jehovah’s praises, while their foes are drunken with the wrath-wine.” [Spurgeon, 295].

I believe the final verse of the psalm is again spoken by God, a concluding statement of his righteousness and justice:  “All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up” (vs. 10).  We often think of God’s righteous judgment negatively, and only destructive.  But there is a positive aspect of God’s righteous judgment:   “The horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.”  For us who rest in righteousness, imputed to us through Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear from God’s righteous judgment.

 

 

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

 

Alexander, Joseph Addison. The Psalms Translated and Explained.  Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1864. 

Barnes, Albert.  Notes on the Book of Psalms.  New York:  Harper & Brothers Publishing, 1871.

Bonar, Andrew. Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms.  New York:  Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860.

Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible with a Commentary and Critical Notes.  Vol. III.  London:  William Tegg & Co., 1854.  (Originally published in 1831). 

Clifford, Richard.  Psalms 73-150.  Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, 2003.

Cowles, Henry.  The Psalms with Notes, Critical, Explanatory and Practical.  New York:  D. Appleton & Co., 1872.

Darby, John Nelson.  Practical Reflections on the Psalms.  London:  Robert L. Allan, 1870.

DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy L., Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth Laneel Tanner. The Book of Psalms – The New International Commentary on the Old Testament [NICOT].  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing, 2014.

Delitzsch, Franz.  Biblical Commentary on the Psalms. Edinburgh:  T & T Clark, 1892. (Originally published in 1860).

Dickson, David. An Explication of the Other Fifty Psalms, from Ps. 50 to Ps. 100. Cornhill, U.K.:  Ralph Smith, 1653. 

Exell, Joseph S. and Henry Donald Spence-Jones, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. Vols. 17, 18, & 19. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1884. 

Goldingay, John.  Psalms.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2007.

Henry, Matthew.  An Exposition of All the Books of the Old and New Testament.  Vol. II.  London: W. Baynes, 1806. (Originally published in 1710).

Horne, George. A Commentary on the Book of Psalms.  New York:  Robert Carter & Brothers, 1854.

Lange, John Peter, ed. and Philip Schaff, trans.  A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical.  New York:  Charles Scribner & Co., 1865. 

Perowne, J. J. Stewart.  The Book of Psalms:  A New Translation with Explanatory Notes.  London:  George Bell & Sons, 1880.

Plumer, William S.  Studies in the Book of Psalms.  Philadelphia:  J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1872.

Spurgeon, Charles.  The Treasury of David.  6 Vols.  London: Marshall Brothers, Ltd., 1885.

Tate, Marvin E.  Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 20 – Psalms 51-100.  Dallas:  Word Books Publisher, 1990.

VanGemeren, Willem A. “Psalms” from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII, ed. by Frank Gaebelein.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1984.

 

Many of these books can be downloaded free of charge from: 

           http://www.ClassicChristianLibrary.com