A Maskil of Asaph
Why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke
Against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation!
You acquired it long ago.
You redeemed it.
It was to be the tribe of your heritage.
Remember Mount Zion!
There you came to dwell.
Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins!
The enemy has destroyed everything
In the sanctuary.”
Like the preceding psalm, Psalm 74 is a Maskil or psalm of Asaph, the Temple singer, part of the series that begins book 3 of the psalms. This appears to be a national lamentation, post-exilic, after the destruction of the Temple. This starts out as a cry for help. Asaph wants to know why God has cast them off forever. Why was God angry at his own sheep? God should remember his congregation that he acquired long ago. He had redeemed this tribe at Mount Zion to be his heritage as he dwelt there. Somehow the idea that God lived in the Temple was a common theme. However, here was the problem. The Temple was in ruins, destroyed by the enemy. Everything in the sanctuary had been destroyed. What is the exact reference? Was this the Babylonian captivity?
To the choirmaster leader with stringed instruments, a Maskil of David
“Give ear to my prayer!
Do not hide yourself from my supplication!
Attend to me!
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught,
By the noise of the enemy,
Because of the clamor of the wicked,
They bring trouble upon me.
They cherish enmity against me.”
Psalm 55 is a prayer of David. He felt that he was being persecuted and betrayed. Once again this is a choral psalm with stringed instruments attributed to David. David wanted God to hear his prayer and not hide from him. He wanted an answer right away. He was in trouble and distraught because of his enemies, a common theme of these psalms. The wicked enemies were out to get him. He was going to call on God to help him.
“Nicanor and his troops advanced with trumpets and battle songs. Judas Maccabeus and his troops met the enemy in battle with invocations to God and prayers. So, fighting with their hands and praying to God in their hearts, they laid low no less than thirty-five thousand men. They were greatly gladdened by God’s manifestation. When the action was over, they were returning with joy. They recognized Nicanor, lying dead, in full armor.”
Nicanor and his army advanced with trumpets and battle songs. On the other hand, Judas Maccabeus and his troops went to fight with prayers in their hearts to God. Thus they fought and prayed at the same time. This seemed to have worked quite well. They killed 35,000 troops of Nicanor. They were glad because God had manifested his gladness with their actions. After the action was all over, they too were happy. Then they recognized Nicanor in full armor dead. There is something similar to this in 1 Maccabees, chapter 7, where Nicanor was defeated.
“When all were now looking forward to the coming issue, the enemy was already close at hand with their army drawn up for battle. The elephants were strategically stationed. The cavalry were deployed on the flanks. Judas Maccabeus, observed the masses that were in front of him. He saw the varied supply of arms and the savagery of the elephants. He then stretched out his hands toward heaven. He called upon the Lord who works wonders. He knew that it is not by arms, but as the Lord decides, that he would gain the victory for those who deserve it.”
Judas Maccabeus knew that the enemy was close at hand. They were ready for the battle with elephants, cavalry, and all the infantry in front of him. Then he stretched out his hands to heaven. He knew that he would not win this battle with superior weapons that he did not have. He knew that the victory would come from the Lord, who would work wonders to give victory to the ones who deserved it.
“When the battle became fierce, there appeared to the enemy from heaven five resplendent men on horses with golden bridles, leading the Jews. Two of them took Judas Maccabeus between them. They shielded him with their own armor and weapons. They kept him from being wounded. They showered arrows and thunderbolts on the enemy. Confused and blinded, they were thrown into disorder and cut to pieces. Twenty thousand five hundred were slaughtered, besides six hundred cavalry.”
Suddenly, 5 men on horses with golden bridles appeared leading the Jews. This is somewhat reminiscent of the battle with King Antiochus IV in chapter 5 of this book with the divine intervention. 2 of these heavenly horsemen protected Judas Maccabeus from being wounded with their armor and weapons. They threw arrows and thunderbolts at the enemy so that they were confused and blinded. They killed 25,500 men and 600 cavalry that day. This was a total victory thanks to the 5 heavenly horsemen.
“Rising from their prayer, they took up their arms. They advanced a considerable distance from the city. When they came near the enemy they halted. Just as dawn was breaking, the two armies joined battle. The one army had a pledge of success and victory, based not only on their valor but their reliance upon the Lord. However, the other army made their rage their leader in the fight.”
Having finished praying, the men of Judas Maccabeus took up their arms and marched into battle. The battle began at dawn. The army of Judas had a pledge of success and victory because they relied on the Lord. The other army was fighting out of rage and anger.
“In encounters with the forces of Timothy and Bacchides, they killed more than twenty thousand of them. They got possession of some exceedingly high strongholds. They divided a very great amount of plunder. They give it to those who had been tortured, to the orphans, widows, and aged, shares equal to their own. They collected the arms of the enemy. They carefully stored them all of them in strategic places. They carried the rest of the spoils to Jerusalem. They killed the commander of Timothy’s forces, a most unholy man, one who had greatly troubled the Jews. While they were celebrating the victory in the city of their ancestors, they burned those who had set fire to the sacred gates, Callisthenes and some others. They had fled into one little house. Thus they received the proper recompense for their impiety.”
This is loosely connected to stories and battles in 1 Maccabees, chapters 5 and 7. Timothy was a leader of the gentiles on the east side of the Jordan River. Bacchides was a governor and general of King Demetrius I. Both of them were considered the enemy. These enemy troops had lost 20,000 men. The spoils had been taken and distributed to the tortured, the widows, the orphans, and the aged. However, they always kept some for themselves as they had done with the spoils from the defeat of Nicanor. Here it says that they had killed the commander of the troops of the unholy man Timothy. When they were celebrating in Jerusalem, they also burned the house of this unknown man named Callisthenes and others because they had been impious. Perhaps these were the Hellenizing Jews in Jerusalem.
“With the Almighty as their ally, Judas Maccabeus killed more than nine thousand of the enemy. They wounded and disabled most of Nicanor’s army. They forced them all to flee. They captured the money of those who had come to buy them as slaves. After pursuing them for some distance, they were obliged to return because the hour was late. It was the day before the Sabbath. For that reason they did not continue their pursuit. When they had collected the arms of the enemy and stripped them of their spoils, they kept the Sabbath. They gave great praise and thanks to the Lord, who had preserved them for that day. He allotted it to them as the beginning of mercy. After the Sabbath, they gave some of the spoils to those who had been tortured, the widows, and the orphans. They distributed the rest among themselves and their children. When they had done this, they made common supplication. They implored the merciful Lord to be wholly reconciled with his servants.”
This section is a little like the battles in 1 Maccabees, chapter 4, but not quite the same. The leader of the army is Nicanor and Gorgias. As God Almighty was on their side, Judas and his men killed more than 9,000 of the 20,000 enemy soldiers. They also wounded and disabled most of Nicanor’s army, as those who were able, fled the scene. They even got the money that was going to be used to buy Jewish slaves. They had to stop pursuing them since it was the eve of the Sabbath. They then celebrated the Sabbath with great praise and thanksgiving for the Lord’s mercy to them. Then on the day after the Sabbath, they gave some, but not all, of the spoils to those who had been tortured, as well as the widows and orphans. The rest of the money they distributed it among themselves and their children. They once again prayed to the Lord so that he might be reconciled with his servants. There is no longer any mention of religious sacrifices of any kind.
“But Judas Maccabeus gathered his men together, to the number six thousand. He exhorted them not to be frightened by the enemy. They were not to fear the great multitude of gentiles who were wickedly coming against them. But they were to fight nobly. They were to keep before their eyes the lawless outrage that the gentiles had committed against the holy place. They were to keep before their eyes the torture of the derided city, and besides, the overthrow of their ancestral way of life. He said.
‘They trust to arms and acts of daring.
But we trust in the Almighty God.
He is able with a single nod to strike down
Those who are coming against us
And even the whole world.’”
Like in 1 Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus was able to keep all his 6,000 troops together despite some minor defections. They were not to fear the wicked gentiles who were coming against them, but to fight nobly. They were to remember the evil acts of the gentiles against the holy place and the tortured city of their ancestors. They were to trust in the Almighty God who could strike down those coming against them, and even the whole world. He tried to calm their fears by saying that the powerful God was on their side.
“As soon as Judas Maccabeus got his army organized, the gentiles could not withstand him. The wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy. Coming without warning, he would set fire to towns and villages. He captured strategic positions. He put to flight not a few of the enemy. He found the nights most advantageous for such attacks. Talk of his valor spread everywhere.”
Suddenly, the army of Judas Maccabeus was able to attack the gentiles. The anger of God turned to mercy. Judas Maccabeus and his group would set fire to towns and villages, the supposed strategic positions of the enemy. However, they were in Israel or Judah. The enemies were sent fleeing. He mostly attacked at night because it was easier then as talk of his exploits began to spread everywhere.