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Psalm 76

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

You are more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.

The stout-hearted 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.

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

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.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary[1] suggests that Psalm 76 was written at the time of the Sennacherib defeat, when Hezekiah was king. This suggestion is echoed by other commentators that I looked at. On that basis let us read this incident in brief, in Kings, then the poetry found in Isaiah about the same event.

2 Kings 19:35 And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty- five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh (feel free to read the entire story that starts in chapter 18).

And in Isaiah 37: 20: The Word of the Lord Concerning Sennacherib.

Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word which the Lord has spoken concerning him:

"The virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised you, laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head behind your back!

"Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? against whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high? Against the Holy One of Israel. By your servants you have reproached the Lord, and said, 'By the multitude of my chariots I have come up to the height of the mountains,

To the limits of Lebanon; I will cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypress trees;

I will enter its farthest height, to its fruitful forest.

I have dug and drunk water, and with the soles of my feet I have dried up all the brooks of defense. '

'Did you not hear long ago how I made it, from ancient times that I formed it?

Now I have brought it to pass, that you should be for crushing fortified cities into heaps of ruins.

Therefore their inhabitants had little power; they were dismayed and confounded; they were as the grass of the field and the green herb, as the grass on the housetops and grain blighted before it is grown.

But I know your dwelling place, your going out and your coming in, and your rage against Me.

Because your rage against Me and your tumult have come up to My ears, therefore I will put My hook in your nose and My bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came."

"This shall be a sign to you: you shall eat this year such as grows of itself, and the second year what springs from the same; also in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them and the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.

For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and those who escape from Mount Zion. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

"Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: 'He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor build a siege mound against it.

By the way that he came, by the same shall he return; and he shall not come into this city,' says the Lord.

'For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake. '"

Sennacherib's Defeat and Death

Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty- five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead.

We see here in these descriptions, God at work, for God won the battle without any help from anyone (apart from his angel). Our Psalm today therefore, is connected to this great victory by God alone. What is quite exciting, and the first thing to comment on, is that at the time of this victory through the supporting Scripture we can see that God was not that happy with Israel at the time, yet, he still went out and ensured that His people were saved. In this synopsis we will explore the greatness of God, as explained by God himself, as well as his judgement, and the justice God provides, as well as His grace, in particular, how people undeserved still receive this Grace.

The Psalm opens with a statement of fact, indicating the geography of the time when the Psalm being written. Note the two references, the firstly Judah, secondly Israel. Despite a divided nation, despite Israel no longer worshipping at the temple, and worshiping false gods, the Psalm notes that God's name is great in Israel, and that He still had In Salem.. His tabernacle and His dwelling place in Zion.

This statement of fact at the beginning of the Psalm should surely give us a hope and encouragement in our own lives. Nothing in my life is particularly perfect, the golden calves come out for worship (symbolically) far too often, be it food, speed (car), self-importance, pride or a myriad of other self-indulgences. One finds one worshipping as it were, yet in the wrong place, to the wrong god. It is so easy to be religious, yet not godly, Christian in name, but not in deed, theologically sound, but empty inside, singing praise here with all of you, yet the heart not clean before God, repentance is not real; there is a lack of brokenness. Does this not sound like Judah and Israel? Why else were they in so much trouble? Just read any of the prophets - for an example, listen to Jeremiah:

Judah has gone into captivity…
All her gates are desolate...
For the Lord has afflicted her
Because of the multitude of her transgressions Lamentations 1:3-5

A multitude of transgressions, not one or two, a whole multitude! However, despite all of this, not only does God destroy 185,000 enemy soldiers, breaking their bows, shields and swords of verse 3, there can be no mistake amongst the people of either Israel or Judah, they know who did this mighty deed. Do we remember God in this same way; do we acknowledge His intercessions in our lives, especially when we do not deserve them? Are we willing to write an opening line to our own Psalm of praise acknowledging God as Asaph has?

Asaph then opens his heart wide with the next verse: You are more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. This is a praise point indeed, and a great line in this Psalm. I was, however, curious about the last three words, mountains of prey, and what this was in relation to, considering the words more glorious and excellent. One would always find God more glorious and excellent that anyone or anything else, so would one try and give a definition to this. One finds in Zechariah 4:7 the following words: 'Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! Other Scripture verses talk of the lion who have no strength against God. Here the words are aimed at the enemies of Israel and Judah, that of the moment being Assyria. We know that God used Assyria to remove Israel completely, so that it no longer remained as a nation later on. However, what these verses show us, when we have the background knowledge that God removed the majority of the people of Israel forever rom their lands with the same nation, yet destroyed those 185,000 Assyrians here, is that no matter what, or who the enemy are, God is in complete control. They may think that they are either winning or losing, but God will use whomever He will for His own purposes. The same happens in our lives today. God will ensure that we get back to Him, whether it takes a day, or takes 50 years, if we are His children despite our backsliding. We see this promise in Revelation in God's letter to the church at Sardis: You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Revelation 3:4-5. Note the promise - I will not blot his name from the Book of Life. Our Psalm is praising God for the victory he won for a people who only had a remnant still faithful.

The main part of this verse - You are more glorious and excellent… extols the greatness of God. He has more glory and excellence that any enemy, even if they be like a ravaging pride of lions, or even a mountain. Praise like this takes me to people like Job, who after God has declared Himself, recognises God as Asaph has in this Psalm. We can read in chapter 42 of Job:

Chapter 42

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
"I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge? 'Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know
Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me. '
"I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."

Do we have the same view and knowledge of our God learning from what we find in Scripture?

Back to our text, looking at the word glorious - a characteristic that Asaph is describing about God, I found that the commentator Barnes[2] notes that: The word rendered glorious - נאור na'ôr - is from the verb which means "to shine," to give light, and the word would properly refer to a luminous or "shining" object - as the sun, the source of light. Hence, it means "shining," splendid, glorious; and it is thus applied to the Divine Being with reference to his perfections, being like light.  Walking in the light applies to us today, for to be within His glorious power, means that we are within the light that that His great glory produces. 1 John 1:5 tells us: This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

You may be thinking, these John verses are a bit of a jump from discussion of God being both glorious and excellent, however, I have found that we can marry the reference in Psalm 76 and these words in 1 John. The marriage was suggested in the references of linking verses and I found that Psalm 76 is about the deliverance of a nation, 1 John is about our own deliverance. Both speak of the light. Psalm 76 notes that God is more glorious than his enemies, using the Hebrew word to shine, and here linked to God, what a shining (as it were) that is. 1 John takes this same light that is greater than anything else, and tells us that God has no darkness, and if we are in darkness, as were the Israelites and Jews, we are not allowing the glorious light of God to show us the way, we are not allowing God the victory in our lives, and we are not confessing sin as we ought. Throughout the Bible are these amazing links, that show us the truly awesomeness of God, in this section, the light that shines from Him, and what we can physically experience through His Word. We see this if we read more of John, this time the gospel chapter 1, and jumping through the verses we read the following: …the Word was God. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Though I have skipped bits, note the sequence. First John writes of the Word being God, then God being life, and that life being the light, and that light becoming a characteristic of Jesus Christ, in that he had glory which links us directly into our Psalm, where that same glory is mentioned, as being far greater than any mountain of prey. That is our promise as well, if we follow the wisdom we find consistently within Scripture, allowing Scripture to show us the way, and as written in the same section of John's gospel, we are the children of God.

I may be deviating a little from just the Psalm, but Scripture tends to do this, if we take a portion, utilise a few good commentaries and cross references, add prayer, and meditation, and a whole new world opens up. However moving forward, this section of the Psalm also describes the actions of God against the enemy. The stout-hearted 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. Note again, that the enemy is being described as some of the best. This victory was not against some mountain bandits, or knife carrying youths. These were stout-hearted, mighty men, using chariots, the most powerful means of war of the times. It also notes how God does battle. It does not mention any weapons at all, there isn't fire from heaven, though we know that God has used this, and promises to use it again, he does not use another army as in other times of Israel's history, rather, he rebuked them, and they died. A word is spoken, and those attacking God's special people die. Amazing, but really, it should not amaze us about the power of God and how He works.

Let us back up a moment, a change of topic, to the events of this Psalm. It started off with a move by Sennacherib against Jerusalem. Sennacherib had already taken all the walled cities of Judah. He had been victorious. 2 Kings 18:14-16 tells us what Hezekiah did next: Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay." And the king of Assyria assessed Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king's house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria. Notwithstanding, Hezekiah had a deal going with Egypt that was not working so well, and here as well we might add that Hezekiah was one of the few good and godly kings who worshipped the LORD. But we find him here stripping the gold and silver from God's own temple to pay off the enemy. Hezekiah then has some of his advisers meet with a representative of the Assyrians - it did not go well!

2 Kings 18:28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out with a loud voice in Hebrew, and spoke, saying, "Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: 'Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you from his hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, "The Lord will surely deliver us; this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria." ' Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: 'Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, "The Lord will deliver us." Has any of the gods of the nations at all delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim and Hena and Ivah? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand? 'Bold but very foolish words from a heathen enemy. But its effect was one that God actually wanted. Hezekiah then went into a bit of a panic mode, and he did one final step, he prayed. So we see if we read back through the events, he first made a pact with the enemy, then paid the enemy in God's gold, then prayed. God then spoke a rebuke and 185,000 died. What might have happened if Hezekiah had prayed first?

We can smile and condemn, we can say how foolish, but, is that not our usual sequence of seeking help from God? Is not Hezekiah, much like the average Christian? He knew the right things, he had acted on the bad stuff his father had done. We find in 2 Chronicles chapter 23 this statement starting at verse 3: In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, and said to them: "Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord, and turned their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity. "Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us. Have we been this close to God? Even if we have, there is no guarantee that we will not fail in our prayer life as we see here in this study, and try to do God's work ourselves. This Psalm and the history behind it, tells us so. Prayer is such a vital component in our relationship with God. If Jesus spent much time in quiet places, usually well before dawn, talking to His Father, we should follow this example. If our enemies are piling up on top of us like mountains, then we need to look first to God, and listen for his voice. He may speak back to us, as he did to Hezekiah via the prophet Isaiah, then speak a word of rebuke to our enemies. How much faith do we have? Next time we feel the pressure of the enemy upon us, let each one of us seek first the Lord, then listen to His voice, and act. Don't forget to sanctify yourself first, as Hezekiah instructed the priests when he had a right relationship with God. Then the strong men will be unable to bring their weapon of war up against us, and God will speak the words of rebuke. After all, these words are not in Scripture for nothing, it shows us how to respond to enemies - on our knees: Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Romans 12:19. See, we are told to let God do the work. It may not say that we just need to pray, but there are many verses in Scripture that highlight this approach.

The Psalm moves to a prayer from Asaph to God about his wrath, the righteous wrath of God. 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. Again we see the awesome power of God being recognised and acknowledged. Again we see that God is not a mere mortal, someone to treat as we treat our fellow humans. Sometimes I think that we get too casual with God. Sure, he is our Father, we may call Him Abba, but with all reverence, fear and respect for the Almighty, the Shining One, the pure light of the world, the great Judge, yet also the God of all grace and mercy, the God who gave us a Saviour so that we do not need to face His wrath as did the Assyrians. Piper[3] said in a sermon on the Romans' verse: Because God so loved the world that he sent his own infinitely valuable Son to absorb the infinite wrath of God against all who take refuge in him. Listen with trembling wonder and gratitude and faith to this precious statement from Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'" Christ bore the curse of God's wrath for all who come to him and believe in him and glory in the shelter of his blood and righteousness.

Moving to verse 10 we find an interesting start to the final part of this Psalm. Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself. I scratched my head and sought a voice that is greater than mine. I found my old friend Spurgeon who wrote on this verse 10. Like me, you too will need to check out the explanation, but it seems to be the best around I could find, and sits with Scripture well. Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee. It 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. Furious winds often drive vessels the more swiftly into port. The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, and then the Lord fashions it for his own purposes. Let men and devils rage as they may, they cannot do otherwise than subserve the divine purposes.

The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Malice is tethered and cannot break its bounds. The fire which cannot be utilised shall be damped. Some read it "thou shalt gird," as if the Lord girded on the wrath of man as a sword to be used for his own designs, and certainly men of the world are often a sword in the hand of God, to scourge others. The verse clearly teaches that even the most rampant evil is under the control of the Lord, and will in the end be overruled for his praise.[4]

Our last two verses in this Psalm are: 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.

Perhaps Ahab here is having a dig at Hezekiah regarding his payment to the Assyrians, and urging people to send the money to the right place, that is God. In modern times this is a reminder to us; that our presents are for God. Our praise and our worship, the fruit of our lips are the presents, or gifts we bring to God. It also reminds us that everything of what we own materially belongs to God. It is the love, respect, and fear of our God that should direct our hearts in our giving, praise along with prayer should be constant and consistent, material possessions, as we have received, so we give back to God, not so that he does stuff for us, this is counteracted in the next line. We don't do anything for, or give anything to God as an incentive for God to do work on our behalf. We do it out of love, fear, and respect for Him. We are reminded that not only is His status awesome as compared to the world's top job, a king, but he rules their very breath.

As this Psalm tells us: He shall cut off the spirit of princes, so too do we find similar sentiment in Daniel 5:23: ‘and you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.' A dire warning for the kings and princes back in Daniel's day and still relevant today. God holds the breath of every person in His hand, it matters not the status. However, it does matter as to what we do whilst we have that breath. It is foolishness to taunt, or behave badly towards someone in our lives who has control over some part of it, for example, our job. One behaves a certain way towards a boss, otherwise we will be boss less, that is; out of a job! If we do this in our secular lives, why would we not do this even more so, in the face of God's control over our very existence. We need to live according to this knowledge, simple truth really, God determines the number of our days, use them for Him.

In conclusion, we have in our lives the most powerful, the most loving, the most awesome God. He is on our side. When we run into trouble, the Assyrians outside our door as it were, we need to first seek the Lord, and what He will have us to do. He may want us to do nothing; He himself may speak the words of rebuke. We know that no matter the outcome, it will be what God wants; therefore, seeking Him first helps us be on the right track and understanding in the scheme of things. Maybe we are destined to die from whatever the illness is, maybe God will heal us, maybe somewhere in between, Seek the will of the Lord, pray, and then let it go, He has heard, He has listened, He will respond sometime - His time, not ours. We also need to respect our God, for He is awesome. If we want to give somebody their dues, give it to God, for no matter our state of spiritual health, we still owe, and Jesus has paid, therefore, the best we can do is maintain a heart of praise, worship, along with a life of serving, of holiness, of humbleness, of meekness, and of godliness, allowing God to defeat the enemies, and allowing God to take vengeance in His own way and His own Time. Let us pray.

Stephen B Simon
January 2013 (CCC)
\Psalms\Psalm 76 (SBS)