Psalm 74
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This is what is portrayed to us in these lamentations over the desecrations and destructions wreaked upon the temple at Jerusalem, probably at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion (see 2 Chronicles 36:17, etc.). As the destroyer acted then, so he acts now when the like work is on hand of profaning God's sanctuary. What the ancient temple was, the Church of God is - the sanctuary of God. And it has once and again come under the destroyer's power.


1. That at Jerusalem was. The sacred service had come to an end; the throng of worshippers were driven away: the ministers of the temple no longer served at the altar; there was desolation everywhere. "The holy and beautiful house wherein the fathers of Israel had worshipped has been plundered and desecrated by a heathen soldiery. Instead of the psalms and hymns and sacred anthems which once echoed within those walls, has been heard the brutal shout of the fierce invaders, roaring like lions over their prey."

2. And there have been similar desecrations. Our own land, and other's, are sprinkled over with the ruins of desecrated shrines. They are beautiful even now in their decay, and suggest to us how glorious they must have been when they stood erect and complete in all their grandeur; when, instead of being given over, as now, to mouldering ruin, they were thronged with devout worshippers, and the sublime music of the praises of God reverberated through their high-roofed naves and choirs, and down the long vistas of their vaulted aisles. One can, even now, scarce keep back the bitter curse upon those brutal iconoclasts who in these once magnificent houses of God have wrought such cruel havoc and desolation, and the effects of whose blind fanaticism or wanton wickedness and greed can now never be repaired. The sacred rage which breathes in this psalm finds place yet in many hearts against those detestable destroyers of the most beautiful products of God-inspired genius and devotion that the world has ever seen or will see.

3. But the desolation of the spiritual temple is worse still, and what most concerns us all. And the wasters of that are not wicked men who assail us from without, but spiritual foes whom we have sheltered within. It is unbelief which lays waste the spiritual temple. Worse than fire, or axe, or sword, it makes havoc of the soul. And wickedness following hard on its footsteps completes the work which it has begun. Then comes -

II. THE EXULTATION OF THE ADVERSARY. (Ver. 4.) No doubt this literally occurred at Jerusalem, as it has in many another sanctuary of God which has been brought to ruin. But most assuredly that "roar" has been heard when the Church of God - his temple in the soul - has been laid waste. The adversaries of God point the finger of scorn; they scoff and jibe and mock; they never weary of holding up to contempt the loud, lofty pretensions and vast claims of the Christian Church, as they bid all men see what a wretched fraud she has at last proved to be. They contrast what she said and what she is, and the roar of execration and exultation over her is heard far and wide as that contrast is seen. Let none of us by our infidelities add to that bitter shame.

III. THEY SET UP THEIR STANDARDS AS TRUE. (Ver. 4.) In the temple at Jerusalem the invaders, no doubt, piled their military trophies, banners, and ensigns; or the "signs" spoken of may mean religious emblems, heathen rites and ceremonies (cf. 1 Macc. 1:54, 59 1 Macc. 3:48). But both meanings may be combined, as the temple may have been turned both into a barrack and heathen altar at the same time. The incident, however, suggests what is so continually seen when the spiritual temple of God is laid waste. Then men take their standards of truth for those of God; they assert their miserable theories of things for the verities which the Holy Scriptures have taught us; they bid us welcome some age of reason instead of the time-honoured truths on which the Church is founded. Their ensigns for signs, man's speculations for God's revelations.

IV. THE BEAUTY AND GRACE OF THE TEMPLE THEY BREAK DOWN. (Ver. 6.) So has it been with material sanctuaries of God, and the like has been done in those which are spiritual. For a while the unbeliever filches from the fair fabric of Christian truth those gracious and winsome doctrines which have ever commended the faith of Christ to men, and he claims them as the mere product of reason, as evolved by the processes of human thought. But when his work of destruction is complete, and the spiritual sanctuary of God is all laid waste, faith utterly gone, then it will be found that this "carved work of the sanctuary" will be broken down, and the love and care of men will depart with the love and faith of God.

V. THE WORK GOES ON UNTIL ALL IS DESTROYED. (Ver. 7.) It was so with the material temple; but, thank God, all is not lost in the spiritual There may be, however, individuals and groups of men in which the dread work is complete, and "God is not in all their thoughts."

VI. EVERY RELIC AND TRACE OF THE WORSHIP OF GOD IS GOT RID OF. (Ver. 8.) Besides the temple, there were, doubtless, synagogues, places of assembly, where religious men met for worship, though we do not meet with the actual mention of synagogues until the times of the New Testament. And when the first temple was destroyed, we may reasonably believe that such places existed, as we know they did afterwards. But there are, alas! places and human hearts where every relic and trace of God's worship have been swept utterly away, as if burned with fire. So long as any place where the soul can meet with God is left, the great enemy's triumph is not complete; he is not satisfied till what is said in ver. 8 has been done. But from this may God keep us all! - S.C.

The prayer in vers. 1, 2, to help the people sunk in the deepest misery, is followed by its basis or ground, which consists of a picture of this misery (vers. 3-9); the sanctuary is destroyed, and all traces of the presence of God among his people have disappeared. The short prayer in vers. 10, 11 seeks support and stay in the thought of the omnipotence of the God of Israel (vers. 12-17). The prayer is renewed at the close in an expanded form (Genesis 17:7, 8). It shows how the Church of God and individual believers are to conduct themselves in times when everything appears to be lost and to lie in ruins. The whole psalm may suggest two general points for consideration - the destructive work of man, and the constructive work of God.

I. THE DESTRUCTIVE WORK OF MAN. (Vers. 3-9.) The enemy had destroyed everything in the sanctuary, and burnt up the holy place itself. Look at some destructive work in our day.

1. The material tendencies of physical science. Leading to a denial of God and immortality, and striking at the foundation of morals by denying the freedom of man's nature. Ideas destructive, as well as conduct.

2. The critical spirit which is abroad. A spirit of denial, almost universally pulling down, and not building up. This and that not true - in history and creed.

3. The selfish spirit, wherever it rules, is destructive. In politics and commerce, and in our social relations - tending to antagonism and separation, and breaking all law - moral, Divine, and social.

4. The absence of true prophets - inspired men - is also a sign of the destructive process. (Ver. 9.) The true prophet is the constructor, and not the destroyer; the inspirer, and not the critic.


1. God's greatest work of old was redemptive. (Vers. 12-15.) "For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." His work in Christ is reconstructive, building men up after the highest pattern. Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil.

2. His work in the physical creation is constructive. (Vers. 16, 17.) He prepared the light and the sun, made summer and winter. The same mind ordained and continues the precious seasons as ordained the laws and works of redemption.

3. God's covenant is a covenant of salvation. (Ver. 20.) And the world is still in urgent need of redemption. "The dark places," etc.

4. The work of redemption is God's own - "his own cause. (Ver. 22). And therefore he will not abandon it. We can therefore pray as the psalmist did. - S.

It is said that there were five signs in the first temple which the second had not - the ark of the covenant, the fire from heaven, the Shechinah, the Urim and Thummim, and the spirit of prophecy. So in the Church of Christ there are signs which are very blessed for us to see.

I. SIGNS OF WHAT? it will be asked. Of the presence, the power, the love of the Lord in our midst. This was what the signs in the first temple told of.


1. The attention of men around.

2. The work of conversion going on.

3. Witness of believers.

4. Their love to one another and to their fellow men, because of their love to God.

5. Their peace and joy in God.


1. There tray be neither. It is better there should be no fancied seeing, if the reality be not there. For:

2. There may be the seeing, and not the signs.

3. There may be the signs, and yet not the seeing.

4. There may be both. This is most blessed of all. - S.C.

The four seasons, it has been well said, are God's four evangelists of the natural world. The sternness of winter; the hopefulness of spring; the richness of summer; the bounty of autumn; - each season has its own message from God to our souls. Note -

I. THE NATURAL SUMMER. This is what is referred to in our text: the psalmist appeals to it as a plea for God's much-needed help. His infinite power, which had made summer and winter, and had been manifested in so many marvellous ways, was able to help Israel in their great distress, and their trust was that he would.

1. Israel had to maintain stoutly the truth that God made all things. A whole mob of idol gods was put forward and worshipped by the heathen as the authors and creators of the powers of nature.

2. And our missionaries to the heathen have to maintain the same truth of God the Creator of all. It is by no means universally or generally believed even yet.

3. And in our day and in our own land, professedly Christian as it is, we may not slacken our testimony to this truth. It is not that we have to contend with rival gods, as Israel had, and the missionary still has, but the existence of any God at all is either openly questioned or flatly denied. It is not polytheism, but atheism, that confronts and opposes the Christian advocate today and here at home. Natural law is everything; as if a law could do anything without an executive to put it in force. The ancient Greeks were pantheists, but our men of science have, too many of them, sunk down to a lower depth than that. The Greek saw gods everywhere and in all things; we see God nowhere. Shall we give in to this proud yet miserable atheism? God forbid! Let us still maintain with the psalmist, "Thou hast made summer." As we look round on all the rich glories of the season, let us confess, with our great Puritan poet -

"These are thy works, Parent of good," etc.

II. THE SUMMER OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. How many are enjoying this! God's daily gifts of life, health, and joy are lavished upon them. They bask in the sunshine of his love. Everything bids them rejoice. But forget not the Giver of your joy - him who made the summer. That holy memory will be to you like the string attached to the child's kite, which is soaring away up in the blue heavens to the child's exuberant delight. But let that string be broken which now steadies and sustains, it, not hindering but aiding it in its upward way through the sunlit air, and then you know that at once it will come tumbling ignominiously to the ground. So if we let ourselves forget our God, and we be in thought and affection separated from him, then our poor joy, like that child's kite, will soon fall to the ground, and our gladness will soon be at an end. It is the remembrance," Thou hast made summer," which does not hinder but help our joy, steadying and sustaining it as did that cord the child's toy. Let us not forget this. And we would bid you remember God, because, else, the summer of God's providence, like the natural summer, is apt to breed many forms of evil life, like those many creeping, noisome, and miserably destructive insects, etc., which the summer sun calls forth, and which in our fields and gardens we are ever seeking to be rid of. How full the Bible is of records of the ill that the summer of God's providence has occasioned to many unwatchful and God-forgetting souls! Remember, too, that such seasons let that live which is not really strong, and which the first frost of winter will speedily kill. So is it easy, when no trial or persecution arises because of Christ, to appear as if we were really his. But when they do arise, what then?


1. This may be in us - is so when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. It is very delightful; is independent of every other summer; comes by degrees; is the result of conflict; unlike the natural summer, it never ends, though it may be interrupted. And:

2. It is above us, waiting for us in the future world. There is the "land of pure delight." The lovely scenes of earth are reminders of it. It is the true, real, most blessed, because unending, summer of the soul. - S.C.

Winter: what has that to say to us of God and of his ways? - Winter, with its cold, chilling breath, compelling even the strong to wrap themselves round with all manner of protection, and making all who can, shelter within their well built homes, and draw close their warm curtains, and heap up the blazing fires. Winter, pinching so cruelly the ill-clad, the ill-fed, the ill-housed, making want more terrible, all sickness more deadly, and all misery more miserable. Winter, grim, gaunt, bearing down in its cruel might all less strong than itself. Winter, with its snowy shroud covering the fields and hills which all lie as silent and as still as if they were laid out for burial, and the snow over them were a real winding sheet instead of only a seeming one. And sometimes it is a real one, when winter bids the snow fall quickly, closely, softly, continuously; then, blinding the eyes of the unfortunate wanderer on the moor, so that he can make out neither road, nor path, nor track, nor waymark; beating persistently against his mouth and nostrils, taking away his breath, numbing all his senses, until the poor lost one staggers on in hopeless search of the way he has lost. "Oh, thou winter snow, who more cruel, deadly, treacherous, than thou? Thou wilt not cease thy work until the poor traveller, weary and heartbroken, falls down exhausted; and then, as he dies, thou wilt smite him in the face, cover him up softly as with kisses, tenderly as with eider down, like a sleek white murderer as thou art!" (Alex. Smith). And not only so is winter terrible; its keen northerly blast, tearing over the seas and lands, driving the ships across the waves, and rendering the mariners all but powerless to struggle against their foe. Their fingers freeze to the rigging, and the stiffened sails refuse to bend to their will, and happy are they if, "amid this howling wintry sea," they find some port of refuge. Shepherds and their flocks in some seeming shelter on Scotch hills are caught by the whirling, blinding, smothering, snow, and all are lost. Oh, the terrible winter, ruthlessly tearing the foliage off the trees, stripping the flowers from all gardens and fields, banishing most of the birds, and silencing all that remain; rejoicing seemingly in darkness and cold, in all that is drear, deadly, desolate; - such is winter, bearable by the rich and strong, but terrible to the poor and weak, and would be terrible to all were it not for the sure hope of the blessed spring. And yet, though we have spoken hardly of it, God made it even as he made the summer. And he has promised that it shall not fail. Certainly, therefore, it must be for other than only evil; it must serve some beneficent purpose. And it does; we have proof upon proof. Winter, as well as the other seasons, is one of the gifts of our Father-God, the gifts of his love. Let us listen a while to some of the voices of the winter - the wise, warning, winning words it utters to those who will hearken. And -

I. IT SEEMS TO US TO SAY, "BE YE ALSO READY." It is certain to come; it is no chance arrangement, and none but a fool would fail to make provision for it. Every one does to the best of his power.

"All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin." Let it be so in regard to the winter that is sure to visit our souls, our circumstances, our lives. Be ready for it when it comes. Let our treasure be where winter cannot come, even in God and the eternal life.

II. TRUST. For the winter is God's ordering: he makes it drear and dark and even dreadful, as it often seems to be. It is the product of no blind fate, no mere soulless relentless law; but it is of God. If we will hold fast to this sure faith, we shall be able to hope and patiently wait for the salvation of our God, and meanwhile even to rejoice.

III. SUBMIT. Winter is irresistible. Everything must bend before it. Who can resist his will? Great is the part that the winter has played in the humiliation of haughty men. As it lays hold even upon the raging seas, and binds them down in motionless silence, hushing their turbulence till they lie still as a stone; so has God, by the same agency, often baffled and destroyed the power of man. See Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. And how easily! The gently, persistingly failing snow did it all. Shall man, then, war against God? Submit.

IV. SING OF MERCY AS WELL AS OF JUDGMENT. See how in the winter these are blessedly mingled. True, God giveth snow, but it is "like wool" (Psalm 147:16, 17). It wraps up warmly the seed sown in the earth.

"His flakes of snow like wool he sends, And thus the springing corn defends." And "he scattereth the hoar frost," but it is "like ashes," cleansing, purifying, making healthful that on which they are cast. And the frost is a cleansing power, ridding gardens and fields of the foul, noxious creatures that swarm and creep and devour. And does not that humiliation and sorrow of which the sprinkled ashes told do the like in the region of the soul? "He casteth forth his ice," but they are "like morsels" - like the crumbs which feed the hungry. So the ice prepares the soil, breaks it up, and fits it for the growth of the seed.

V. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH. Abundant life - see that throng of shouting, laughing boys careering on the ice - heeds not the cold, rather rejoices in it. So let there be in us fuluess of Divine life, the life which Christ gives, and we shall be able to "stand before his cold." - S.C.

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