Bringing Down, Lifting Up
(H) For the director of the choir, set to “Do not Destroy,” a psalm of Asaph, a song. (1) We give thanks to you, God. We give thanks, for your wondrous works proclaim that your name (is) near. (2) “For at the appointed time I choose, I judge with equity. (3) When the earth and all its inhabitants quake, (it is) I who keeps its pillars firm. (4) I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up the horn. (5) Do not lift up your horn to the heights nor speak with a stiff neck.’” (6) For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the wilderness (comes) lifting up, (7) for (it is) God who judges. He brings down one and lifts up another, (8) for in the hand of Yahweh there is a cup of foaming wine well mixed, and he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth shall drink it down to the very dregs. (9) As for me, I will declare it forever. I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. (10) “All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”
The psalm opens with the repeated phrase, “We give thanks” (vs. 1). This is echoed toward the close of the psalm with two parallel statements of praise: “I will declare...I will sing praises” (vs. 9). Two unusual words are given strong emphasis: “horn(s)” found four times (once each in vss. 4 & 5, and twice in vs. 10), and “lift up” found five times (vss. 4, 5, 6, 7, & 10). Both these terms refer to the behavior of animals. Many beasts use their horns as weapons. When the males “lift up the horn,” they are essentially preparing to assert their strength and dominance in head-to-head combat. Applied to human behavior, these terms metaphorically describe boastful self-exaltation.
Note that several verses in the translation are placed in quotation marks (vss. 2-5 and vs. 10). Because they use the first person singular as the subject, we should assume that the psalmist intends them to represent what God himself declares although the author never uses an introductory phrase like “Thus says the Lord.”
I. Thanking God for his mighty works (1)
II. God’s declarations (2-5)
III. God’s bringing down and lifting up (6-8)
IV. Praising God for bringing down and lifting up (9 & 10)
God brings down the wicked who exalt themselves while lifting up the righteous who exalt him with their praise.
This psalm should remind us of one of Jesus’ more memorable statements found in two gospel accounts: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23:12 & Lk. 14:11). The psalmist uses colorful language to describe such attitudes of self-exaltation, particularly “lifting up the horn.”
National Geographic documentaries often portray behavior in the animal kingdom. These include videos of males, whether arctic walruses or bighorn sheep, challenging each other for dominance in their herds by displaying their horns or confronting and charging each other. Such images help us picture what the author of Psalm 75 had in mind.
If there is any exalting to be done among believers, God alone should do it. Otherwise, the well-known warning from King Solomon in the Proverbs will inevitably come into play: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).