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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Psalms 73



Verses 1-3

Asaph began this psalm by affirming God"s goodness to His people, specifically those whose hearts are pure because they seek to follow God faithfully ( Psalm 73:1). This verse provides the key to the psalm by highlighting attitude as most important. Purity of heart means being totally committed to God. References to the heart appear in Psalm 73:1; Psalm 73:7; Psalm 73:13; Psalm 73:21; Psalm 73:26 (twice). One writer referred to this psalm as a meditation on the heart. [Note: Martin Buber, Right and Wrong, pp37-38.]

However, Asaph confessed that he almost stumbled in his walk as a faithful believer when he thought about the great material prosperity of the wicked. The wealth and easy living of those who do not follow God"s will strictly tempted Asaph to abandon his commitment to living by God"s Law.

"Doubt comes from a struggling mind, while unbelief comes from a stubborn will that refuses surrender to God ( Psalm 73:7). The unbelieving person will not believe, while the doubting person struggles to believe but cannot." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p222.]

Another distinctive feature of this psalm is the recurrence of the phrase "but as for me" ( Psalm 73:2; Psalm 73:28; Psalm 73:22-23 in the Hebrew text).

Verses 1-14

1. The present prosperity of the wicked73:1-14

Verses 1-28

III. BOOK3: CHS73-89

A man or men named Asaph wrote11of the psalms in this book ( Psalm 73-83). Other writers were the sons of Korah ( Psalm 84-85 , 87), David ( Psalm 86), Heman ( Psalm 88), and Ethan ( Psalm 89). Asaph, Heman, and Ethan were musicians from the tribe of Levi who were contemporaries of David. Book3of the Psalter has been called its "dark book." [Note: Waltke, p886.]

Psalm 73

In this Psalm , Asaph related his inner mental struggle when he compared his life, as one committed to Yahweh, with the lives of his acquaintances who did not put God first. He confessed discouragement. On further reflection he realized the sinfulness of his carnal longings. Finally, he explained that the contrast between these two lifestyles enabled him to keep a proper view of life in perspective.

"We come now to what may be the most remarkable and satisfying of all the psalms. We treat it last among the psalms of disorientation, because in the career of faith it seems to be the last word on disorientation, even as it utters the first word of new orientation. The very process of the psalm itself shows the moves made in faith, into, through, and out of disorientation, into new orientation, which is marked by joyous trust." [Note: Brueggemann, p115.]

"This great psalm is the story of a bitter and despairing search, which has now been rewarded beyond all expectation." [Note: Kidner, Psalm 73-150 , p259.]

This psalm is similar to Psalm 49. It is a wisdom psalm because of the wise insight it provides for the godly, but the vehicle of communication is a lament. [Note: See James F. Ross, " Psalm 73 ," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, pp161-75.]

"... I have typed this psalm as a psalm of wisdom because it deals with a common problem found in wisdom literature, the prosperity of the wicked. But based on its strong affirmations of trust ( Psalm 73:1; Psalm 73:17-20; Psalm 73:23-28), it can also be classified as a psalm of trust." [Note: Bullock, p173.]

Verses 4-12

The writer next described the ways the wicked behave. They seem more carefree ( Psalm 73:4-5), proud and violent ( Psalm 73:6), as well as unrestrained ( Psalm 73:7). They speak proudly ( Psalm 73:8-9), lead others after themselves ( Psalm 73:10), and act as if God does not care how they live ( Psalm 73:11; cf. Psalm 94:7). With few cares, they continue to prosper ( Psalm 73:12; cf. Psalm 73:4-5).

Verse 13-14

After observing the wicked, Asaph felt his commitment to follow God faithfully was a mistake. Instead of prospering, he experienced more problems. God seemed to be punishing the pure in heart and prospering the proud.

"He had not been guilty of bloodshed or oppressive activities; so he could say that his hands were washed "in innocence" (cf. Psalm 26:6; Matthew 27:24)." [Note: VanGemeren, p479.]

". . . we don"t serve God because of what we get out of it but because He is worthy of our worship and service regardless of what He allows to come to our lives." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p222. Author"s italics omitted.]

Verses 15-20

The present condition of the wicked tends to make the godly question the wisdom of their strong commitment to the Lord. However, the future condition of those who disregard God"s will now helped Asaph remain loyal to Yahweh.

Had he proclaimed his former doubts publicly, he would have misled those who heard him because he was not considering all the facts. It was only when he viewed life in the light of God"s revelation that he regained a proper perspective. Sitting in the sanctuary and reflecting brought the memory of the end of the wicked to mind again. Even though the wicked may prosper now, when they stand before God He will punish them. Their ultimate end will be bad even though their present life may be comfortable. Their present life will then seem to them to have been only a dream in view of that final reality.

Verses 15-28

2. The future destiny of the wicked and the righteous73:15-28

Verses 21-26

Asaph also found encouragement as he reflected on his own future and the future of all the faithful.

The awareness of the relative prosperity of the godless led Asaph to become bitter toward God ( Psalm 73:21). However, now he realized that he was wrong and his viewpoint was similar to an animal"s, namely, ignorant of divine revelation ( Psalm 73:22). Sober reflection reminded him that God had not abandoned him but would one day provide the good things He presently withheld ( Psalm 73:23-24).

The phrase "to glory" ( Psalm 73:24) probably means "with honor." Asaph"s generation of believers did not have much revelation concerning life beyond the grave. He was probably referring to future vindication during his lifetime rather than glory in heaven. [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p286.] We know from later revelation that our vindication as Christians will come mainly the other side of the grave at the judgment seat of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Psalm 73:25-26 are a great expression of faith and contentment with the spiritual blessings God has promised His people. Asaph was presently willing to go without anything material because he had a proper relationship with God. That was enough for him. God would be his strength (cf. Psalm 18:1) and his portion (cf. Psalm 16:5; Psalm 119:57; Psalm 142:5) forever (cf. Philippians 4:11-13).

Verse 27-28

These verses contrast with1-3. Those who do not follow God faithfully will suffer eventually. However, those who walk in close fellowship with Him will experience His blessing in the end. Therefore Asaph closed this "intricately crafted speech" [Note: Brueggemann, p121.] by reaffirming his commitment to stay close to God. This would benefit himself and others with whom he would share his testimony.

"The problem of the suffering of the righteous has no clear resolution, but the "pain" is relieved by the experience of God"s living presence." [Note: VanGemeren, p476.]

What Asaph wrote about the wicked applies to unbelievers and to believers who do not follow God faithfully. Many believers in Asaph"s day, and in ours, choose to live for the present rather than for the future (contrast Jacob and Esau). We, who have committed to following God faithfully and putting His priorities before our own preferences, face the same temptation Asaph described here. This psalmist"s transparency will help us adjust our attitude when we, too, are tempted to become bitter because we do not have many of the things unbelievers and compromising Christians enjoy materially.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 73:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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