Psalm 74 studies in content, structure, context, and meaning by

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Richard W. Engle

Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Theology in

Grace Theological Seminary

May 1987

Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt, Gordon College, 2007



Author: Richard W. Engle

Degree: Doctor of Theology

Date: May, 1987

Advisers: Dr. John. Davis (chairman) Dr. John Whitcomb , Dr. George Zemek

Building on the premise that "all scripture is

profitable" and noting that communal lament psalms in gen-

eral and Psalm 74 in particular have had little definitive

treatment by conservatives, this work seeks to identify the

role of Psalm 74 in the community which produced it. This

process is basic for discerning its subsequent usefulness.

The proposition of the study is: the present significance

of Psalm 74 is best articulated on the basis of careful

attention to the content, structure, and function as indi-

cated by its own text and context.

Chapters one and two develop a comprehensive

acquaintance with the vocabulary, syntax, and structure of

the psalm. An initial accusatory "why?" sets the tone.

Freighted imperatives bracketing a "hymn" (vv. 12-17)

indirectly indict God for not intervening against "enemy"

devastation of the temple mount. The psalm closes remind-

ing God of prolonged inaction against His enemies. The

structure reveals that Psalm 74 has used common language and

motifs in an uncommon way, thereby producing a prayer that

reflects a severe disorientation towards God. Chapters

three and four, concerning context, show that Psalm 74

reflects a strikingly more dynamic relationship between God

and community than is the case in polytheistic Sumerian city

laments. Unique features also surfaced in comparing

selected biblical psalms with Psalm 74. While Asaph psalms

generally vindicate God's justice, Psalm 74 raises an

unrelieved question about it. Also, as a maskil psalm,

i.e., instructive (versus skillful) psalm, Psalm 74 suggests

several insights into the spiritual condition of an

individual or community under severe distress. In their

diminishing faith they neither acknowledge personal sin nor

applaud God's mercy.

The study concludes by outlining the community's

views about God and itself as indicated by the psalm's lan-

guage, structure, and tone. It observes that since Psalm 74

ends with no clear anticipation of resolution of its con-

cerns, the interpreter must articulate the enduring values

of Psalm 74 by referring to similar, but resolved, tensions

in other biblical psalms. Finally, Psalm 74 is assessed

from New Testament perspectives (i.e., Heb 4:16; 1 Cor 10-

12-14; Matt 6:9-13).

Accepted by the Faculty of Grace Theological Seminary

in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree
Doctor of Theology
John J. Davis

John C. Whitcomb

George J. Zemek




The Problematic Nature of Psalm 74 2

The Purpose and Proposition of This Study 3

The Need for This Study 4

The Procedure for the Study 6

Chapter one 6

Chapter two 6

Chapter three 6

Chapter four 7

Chapter five and conclusions 7

Introduction to the Chapter 8

Verse 1 10

Verse 2 21

Verse 3 33

Verse 4 43

Verse 5 47

Verse 6 49

Verse 7 51

Verse 8 54

Verse 9 60

Verse 10 67

Verse 11 72

Verse 12 75

Verse 13 80

Verse 14 89

Verse 15 95

Verse 16 99

Verse 17 101

Verse 18 104

Verse 19 107

Verse 20 115


Verse 21 124

Verse 22 136

Verse 23 143

A Summary of findings for Chapter One 148


A Definition of Structure 152

Previous Proposed Definitions 155

Gene Tucker 155

James Muilenburg 157

Claus Westermann 158

Graeme E. Sharrock 158

William A. Young 159

Meir Weiss 160

A Working Definition 161

Past Attempts to Express the Structure of Psalm 74 162

Two or Three Divisions in the Psalm 163

Four Divisions in the Psalm 164

Meir Weiss 164

William A. Young 166

Five Divisions in the Psalm 167

Folker Willesen 167

Claus Westermann 169

J. P. M. van. der Ploeg 170

Graeme E. Sharrock 171

An Analysis of the Structure of Psalm 74 173

A Translation of Psalm 74 173

Verses 1-3: Introduction 175

Structure of verses 1-3 175

A Summary 180

Verses 4-11: The Present Crisis 181

Structure of verses 4-7 181

Structure of verses 8-9 187

Structure of verses 10-11 189

A Summary 191

Verses 12-17: Past Victories 192

Structure of verses 12-17 192

A summary 197

Verses 18-23: Urgent Pleas 199

Structure of verse 18 199

Structure of verses 19-21 200

Structure of verses 22-23 204

A Summary 208

A Summary Concerning the Structure of Psalm 74 209

A Summary of Past Proposals 209

Weiss and Young 209

Sharrock 210

van der Ploeg 210


A Summary of the Present Proposal 211

A working definition 211

A synthesis of findings 212


Purpose and Procedure of Chapter III 214

The Meaning of Context 214

Historical context 214

Biblical context 215

Other contexts 216

Selected Sumerian City Laments as a Context 216

A Sumerian Congregational Lament 217

General Details of Composition 217

Classification of recensions 217

General Themes Common to Texts A and Ea 220

Themes in texts A and Ea 220

Relationships to Psalm 74 221

Comparisons of Texts G and Haa: Evidence of adatation 221

Comparisons Between Psalm 74 and "Oh Angry Sea" 223

Sumerian City Laments up to the Fall of Ur III 224

A Lament Concerning Lagas 224

Content 224

Style 225

Theology 226

From Urukagina of Lagas to Ibbi-Sin of Ur III 226

Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur 228

A Survey of the Poem 228

Comparison of a "Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and

Ur" to Psalm 74 231

Structure 231

Theology 233

A Summary of Contributions of Chapter III to Studies in Psalm 74 236

Contributions from "Oh Angry Sea" 236

Contributions from the "Lamentations over the Destruction of

Sumer and Ur" 236

Introduction 238

Communal Lament Psalms 239

Introduction 239

Occasions which call for public laments 239

1 Chronicles 16:1-5 and lament psalms 240

Characteristics of communal lament psalms 243

Psalm 44 243

Synthesis of content 243


Similarities and differences between Psalm 74 and 44 245

Contributions to an understanding of Psalm 74 246

Psalm 60 247

Synthesis of content 247

Similarities and differences between Psalms 74: and 60 248

Contributions to an understanding of Psalm 74 249

Psalm 79 249

Synthesis of content 249

Similarities and differences between Psalms 74 and 79 252

Contributions to an understanding of Psalm 74 253

Psalm 80 254

Synthesis of content 254

Similarities and differences between

Psalms 74 and 80 255

Contributions to an understanding of Psalm 74 256

Asaph Psalms 256

Introduction 256

1 Chronicles 16:4 and Asaph Psalms 256

Superscriptions to Asaph Psalms 258

Psalm 50 259

Location and nature of Psalm 50 259

Synthesis of content 260

Contributions to an understanding of Psalm 74 260

Psalms 73 and 75 261

Synthesis of content 261

Contributions of Psalms 73 and 75 to an understanding

of Psalm 74 262

A Survey of Remaining Asaph Psalms 264

Psalm 76 264

Psalm 77 266

Psalm 81 267

Psalm 82 268

Psalm 83 268

A summary of contributions of Psalms 76, 77, and 81-83

to an understanding of Psalm 74 269

Maskil Psalms 270

lykWm as a Psalm Title 270

Past proposals as to meaning 270

The book of Proverbs and the meaning of lykWm 273

Conclusion 277

Psalm 44 278

The context of Psalm 44 278


How Psalm 44 is a didactic poem 279

Psalm 78 279

The didactic character of Psalm 78 279

The explicit lessons of Psalm 78 280

Psalm 88 280

Synthesis of content 280

Psalm 88 compared to Psalm 74 280

How Psalm 88 is a didactic poem 281

Psalm 89 282

Synthesis of content 282

Comparison of Psalm 89 to Psalm 74 283

How Psalm 89 is a didactic poem 283

Psalm 137, Jeremiah 24, and Exilic Judah in

Relationship to Psalm 74 284

Psalm 137 284

A Survey of the Psalm 284

Similarities and differences between Psalms 74 and 137 288

Jeremiah 24 289

The placement of Jeremiah 24 289

The good figs as the exiles 290

The bad figs as resisting exile 291

Jeremiah 24: A possible meeting point for Psalms 137 and 74 292

Exilic Judah and Mixed Interests Among Its

Population in Palestine 293

Exilic factions during the seige of 588 B.C 293

Factions relating to Gedaliah's assassination 294

Contributions of Studies in Psalm 137, Jeremiah 24, and

Exilic Judah to an Understanding of Psalm 74 295

A Note About Possible Liturgical Use of Psalm 74 296

A Summary of Contributions of Communal Lament Psalms, Asaph

Psalms, and Maskil Psalms to an Understanding of Psalm 74 299

Communal Lament Psalms 299

Psalm 44 299

Psalm 60 299

Psalm 79 299

Psalm 80 300

Asaph Psalms 300

Psalm 50 300

Psalms 73 and 75 301

Psalms 76, 77, 82-83 301

Maskil Psalms 302

Psalms 32, 78, 88-89 302

Psalm 74 303



The Meaning of Psalm 74 Based upon Exegesis and

Structure 304

Verses 1, 10-11 and 20: An Axis for Psalm 74 304

What the community affirms about God 305

What the community affirms about itself 306

Verses 2 and 12-17: A Recalling of the

Distant Past 307

What the community affirms about God 307

What the community affirms about itself 309

Verse 3: What the Psalmist Believes about God 310

Verses 4-11: Implications and Assumptions about God by

the Community 310

Verses 4-7 310

Verses 8-9 311

Verses 10-11 311

Verses 18-23: Implications by the Community about God and Itself 312

Concerning God 312

Concerning the community 312

The Meaning of Psalm 74 Based upon Surveys in Selected

Sumerian City Laments 313

The Meaning of Psalm 74 Based upon Selected Studies in

Other Biblical Psalms 314

A comparison of Psalm 74 with communal lament psalms and

Asaph psalms 314

A comparison of Psalm 74 with maskil psalms 315

A general statement 316

An assessment of the prayer of Psalm 74 fromNew

Testament perspectives 316

Hebrews 4:16 316

1 Corinthians 10:13 317

Matthew 6:9-13 317

Summary and conclusions 318

Concerning Content and Structure 318

Concerning Sumerian Laments 319

Concerning Biblical Psalms 319

Concerning Meaning 320



AB Anchor Bible

A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia

W. W. Hallo and W. K. Simpson, The Ancient Near East

J. B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts

AUSS Andrews University Seminary Studies

Babylonian Talmud

F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Hebrew

and English Lexicon of the Old Testament

BH Biblical Hebrew

BHS Biblia hebraica stuttgartensia

BSac Bibliotheca Sacra

Beihefte zur ZAW

ca. approximately

CAD The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute

of the University of Chicago

CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly

CHJI W. D. Davies, L. Finkelstein (eds.), The Cambrdige

History of Judaism: Vol. I, Introduction, The

Persian Period.

CMHE F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic

CPAI A. R. Johnson, The Cultic Prophet in Ancient Israel

CPIP A. R. Johnson, The Cultic Prophet and Israel's Psalmody

CPTOT J. Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the

Old Testament
DNTT C. Brown (ed.), Dictionary of New Testament Theology

DWEI P. D. Miller, The Divine Warrior in Early Israel

ExpTim Expository Times

GKC Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch, tr.

A. E. Cowley

GNB Good News Bible

HB Hebrew Bible

IBH T. 0. Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew

ICC International Critical Commentary

ILC J. Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture

Int Interpretation

JB Jerusalem Bible

JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

JBL Journal of Biblical Literature

JSS Journal of Semitic Studies

JTS Journal of Theological Studies

KB L. Koehler and W. Baumbartner, Lexicon in

Veteris Testamenti libros

KJV King James Version

LSJ Liddell-Scott-Jones, Greek-English Lexicon

LXX Septuagint

m. Mishnah

MT Masoretic Text

NA Neo-Assyrian

NAB New American Bible

NASB New American Standard Bible

NB Neo-Babylonian


NCBC R. E. Clement, M. Black (eds.), New Century Bible Commentary

NCOT A. Even-Shoshan, A New Concordance of the Old Testament

NEB New English Bible

NIV New International Version

NJPS New Jewish Publication Society Bible

OB Old Babylonian

OTL G. Wright, J. Bright, J. Barr, P. Ackroyd. (eds.), Old Testament

OTS Oud Testamentische Studien

PIW S. Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel's Worship

PLP C. Westermann, Praise & Lament in the Psalms

RHPR Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses

RSV Revised Standard Version

S Seleucid

s The Syriac Version

SBLASP Society of Biblical Literature Abstracts and

Seminar Papers

SKL E. R. Matson, A Word-Study of SKL and Its

Application to the Maskilim

SUBH W. L. Holladay, The Root SUBH in the Old Testament

TB Tyndale Bulletin

TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrick (eds.), Theological

Dictionary of the New Testament

TDOT G. Botterweck,, H. Ringgren (eds.), Theological

Dictionary of the Old Testament

TOT W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament

TWOT R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr., B. K. Waltke

(eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament


UT C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook

VT Vetus Testamentum

VTSup Vetus Testamentum, Supplements

WUS J. Aistleitner, Worterbuch der Ugaritischen Sprache

ZAW Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft

ZDPV Zeitschrift des deutschen Palastina-Vereins



"Life is tough but God is good."1 These two clauses

dramatize the predicament of the redeemed sinner. The terms

of the contrast accord well with the repetitious movement

from lament to praise throughout the biblical psalter. The

Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim, indicates that the

primary intent of "the book as a whole is to render praise

to God."2 Exodus 15, one of Israel's earliest songs,

strikes this same movement.

Psalm 74 is different. This Psalm lacks both an

explicit vow to praise and a direct expression of praise. 3

In a book so dominated by the praise theme, one should ask

how Psalm 74 fits its canonical context and how it functions

as a worship piece.

Psalm 74 is a communal lament, of which there are at

least five others.4 This Psalm is one of the longest of its

1Ronald B. Allen, Praise: A Matter of Life and

Breath (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1980), pp.


2Paul D. Miller, "Enthroned on the Praises of

Israel," Int 39:1 (January 1985):8.

3Verses 12-17 have strong elements of a hymn but

they may not be functioning in this psalm as an unsullied

expression of praise.

4Pss 44, 60, 79, 80, 137.



type and will be employed in this thesis as a reference

point1 to which other biblical communal laments may be


The Problematic Nature of Psalm 74

A cursory reading of Psalms 44, 74, and 79 indicates

several features common to all three psalms. However, a

more careful consideration of how these psalms arrange the

material common to each of them suggests a rather different

orientation for Psalm 74 in comparison with the other two

psalms. Further, there are some subtle differences of

vocabulary between Psalm 74 on the one hand and Psalms 44

and 79 on the other. Comparison of Psalms 60 and 80 with

Psalm 74 tend to confirm the distinctiveness of Psalm 74

among these communal lament psalms.

The community in Psalm 74 seems to be struggling

between embracing God in an appropriate relationship and

accusing God of being less than faithful to His covenant.

The psalm, as such, comes down on the side of the latter and

the tension, characteristic of prayers of complaint, is not

resolved. This lack of resolution, and the absence of

attitudes on the part of the suppliant which can lead to

1Psalm 74 has or implies all of the parts generally

considered to comprise the communal lament genre. Its

substantial message and the way it uses the parts is quite

different from the thrust of other biblical communal

laments. See Chapter II below.
resolution, make Psalm 74 uncharacteristic of other psalms

with which it shares obvious commonalities.

In most psalms of complaint, the one who prays is at

least on the way to a posture of forthright praise of God.

The believing community in any dispensation can readily

relate to this kind of a psalm.1 Many have seen the "hymn"

section of Psalm 74 (i.e., vv. 12-17) as the psalm's

redeeming feature. A study of the structure of the psalm

challenges this notion. If the hymn is not really praise to

God, then one wonders how to express the meaning and signi-

ficance of the Psalm both for its original hearers and for

the subsequent believing community, which affirms the value

of all the Scriptures. This dissertation seeks to articulate

legitimate significances of Psalm 74 for believers today.

The Purpose and Proposition of This Study

The purpose of this thesis is to determine the role

of Psalm 74 in the community which produced it. A determi-

nation of the role of Psalm 74 in its canonical context is

foundational for suggesting its usefulness in post-biblical


The proposition of this study is: The present

significance of Psalm 74 is best articulated on the basis of

1Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms

(Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), p. 78

(hereafter cited as Brueggemann, Psalms). Brueggemann

applies the description to Psalm 88.


careful attention to its content, structure, and function as

indicated by its own text and context. Defense of this

proposition will proceed as indicated below under "Procedure

for the Study."
The Need for This Study

Three recent journals have devoted an entire issue

to Psalm studies.1 Of the several hundred references to

specific Psalms passages, these issues combine to cite only

a few texts from community lament psalms. One issue devotes

an article to the New Testament use of the psalms and cites

no passage from "pure" communal laments. Among the three

issues, there are about four citations of these psalms.

Books on psalms studies (excluding commentaries),

Bible dictionaries, and encyclopedias produced in the post-

Gunkel era have a few paragraphs on communal laments. To

this writer's knowledge, there is no serious published work

on this category of psalms. Individual psalms in this group

have received some attention in journal articles, multi-

authored works, master's theses, and doctoral dissertations.

In terms of individual psalms, attention has been

directed to Psalms 1, 23, 119, and several psalms commonly
1 Paul J. Achtemeir ed. Int 39:1 (January 1985);

Russell H. Dilday, editor-in-chief, Southwestern Journal of

Theology 27:1 (Fall 11984); John T. Willis, "Great Truths in

the Psalms" The Seminary Review 31:1 (March 1985); the three

articles in this latter issue develop the title.


recognized as messianic. With regard to categories and

classifications of psalms, attention has been directed

towards individual laments, thanksgivings, and hymns.

Psalm 74 has perhaps received more attention than

other psalms thought to be national laments. With the

exception of Young's dissertation,1 treatments occur in

articles and short notes in journals and in brief essays in

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