Psalm 75: A Change in Perspective

We praise you, God,
    we praise you, for your Name is near;
    people tell of your wonderful deeds.
You say, ‘I choose the appointed time;
    it is I who judge with equity.
When the earth and all its people quake,
    it is I who hold its pillars firm.
To the arrogant I say, “Boast no more,”
    and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horns.
Do not lift your horns against heaven;
    do not speak so defiantly.”’

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Psalm 75

In many ancient Near Eastern cultures the bull was revered as a symbol of virility and vitality. In Egypt the worship of Apis revolved around sacred bulls and major deities such as Ptah and the sun god Re could be represented by these impressive animals. Even the female deity Isis was depicted with horns on her head. Further north the Canaanite god, Baal, could also be represented by a bull. In King Solomon’s temple the great wash basin in the inner court stood on twelve brazen bulls (1 Kings 7:23–26), hence all the references to horns (vv. 4, 5, 9). In apocalyptic literature horns are also associated with power (Daniel 7:24).

The previous psalm was set in a time of crisis. It ended with an impassioned plea to God to take some action, to remember his covenant and to rescue the people he had called to be his own. Psalm 74 is panic; Psalm 75 is praise.

The arrogant and amoral of the previous psalm are still around but they are no longer seen from the limits of a human perspective. They may still be going around under the illusion that they are the world’s movers and shakers (v. 3) but God is not moved by them. To God those who lift up their horn against heaven are just dust on the scales (Isaiah 40:15) or chaff blown by the wind (Isa 17:13). They will have their day, but like the proud and mighty in Mary’s song they will be brought down (Luke 1:51–53).

Elsewhere the Psalms declare that wine makes glad the heart of man (Psalm 104:5) but here the cup that the arrogant will drink shall have a bitter taste (v. 8). The psalm concludes as it began in praise to YHWH for his wonderful deeds. YHWH is a God who will do what is right and our confidence in his justice should inspire us to do the same.