Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 73

Verse 1

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

Psalms 73:1-28.-God is always good to the true Israel (Psalms 73:1); contrary appearances once shook his faith: the ungodly prosper in life and in dying, so they are proud, as if God knew not their wickedness (Psalms 73:2-11); his mental conflict (Psalms 73:12-16); his victory over doubt when he went into the sanctuary, and understood their end (Psalms 73:17-20); he condemns his beastlike folly: his confidence in God, his present Guide and future Glorifler (Psalms 73:21-24); his satisfaction with God, his grand Portion, contrasted with the destruction of all who go from God (Psalms 73:25-28). Whereas in Psalms 37:1-40 the Psalmist teaches in calm faith the same lesson, this psalm depicts the conflict itself before calm faith was attained. Compare Jeremiah 11:18-20; Jeremiah 12:1-6.

Title. - A Psalm of Asaph - David's chief Musician.

Truly God is good to Israel - Hebrew, 'Only' [ 'ak (Hebrew #389)]. 'God is only good,' not, as unbelief arising from our judging by some outward appearances, also evil in some respects and instances. God is never otherwise than just and good (Lamentations 3:25). God's goodness to His people exemplifies His absolute and universal goodness. Awaking, as if out of a reverie in which he had been agitated with conflicting thoughts, the Psalmist begins abruptly with stating the conclusion to which better thoughts in the sanctuary (Psalms 73:17) had led him.

(Even) to such as are of a clean heart. This limits the meaning of "Israel," in the former and parallel clause, to the true Israelites in whom there is no guile (Psalms 73:13; Psalms 24:6, note; John 1:47). Those who are Israelites in nothing but appearance are classed with the pagan.

Verse 2

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.

But as for me, my feet were almost gone. The "as for me" is emphatic. I say this not without personal experience of the difficulties which assail one's faith; nay, I was so shaken by temptations to doubt as to the righteousness and goodness of God, because of the prosperity of the wicked and the trials of the godly, that I had almost given up faith altogether.

My steps had well nigh slipped - literally, 'were well near spilled' or "poured out" (Psalms 22:14).

Verse 3

For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For I was envious at the foolish - Hebrew, 'the foolishly insolent' or 'haughty' [from haalal (Hebrew #1984), to boast foolishly] (Psalms 5:5; Psalms 75:5). Though the world reputes them wise, their boasting in their fleeting and unsatisfying prosperity convicts them us 'fools.'

Verse 4

For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.

For (there are) no bands in their death - or 'even up to [l

Verse 5

They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.

They are not in trouble (as other) men - Hebrew, 'They are not in the trouble of (other) mortals' (Hebrew, '

Verse 6

Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.

Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain - as a neck-ornament. A stiff, uplifted neck is the emblem of pride (Psalms 75:5; Isaiah 3:16). "Therefore" - i:e., because of this their impunity and exemption from the ordinary ills of life.

Verse 7

Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.

Their eyes stand out with fatness. They are so pampered with rich living that their very eyes stand out with the fatness of their bodies (Job 15:27). The external obesity reflects the inward self-indulging carnality (Psalms 17:10). Contrasted with sunken eyes, which mark dejection and sorrow.

They have more than heart could wish - literally., 'they exceed (pass beyond) the imaginations of their heart.' I prefer this translation to Hengstenberg's, 'The thoughts of their heart flow over,' like a river which cannot be confined within its own boundaries.

Verse 8

They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.

They are corrupt - Hebrew [ yaamiyquw (Hebrew #4167)], 'they make to melt,' either themselves by their sin (Mariana) or others by their oppression (Gejer); 'they melt the minds of the godly,' by their cruel and haughty words (Muis). L. de Dieu, whom Hengstenberg follows, takes it, 'They scoff,' from the Chaldaic and Syriac sense [mayeeq]. I prefer, on account of the parallel clause which follows, to take it either as L. de Dieu or as Gejer. Thus, 'they melt' others, corresponds to "oppression" in the parallel clause.

And speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily - rather, punctuate and translate, 'and speak in malice (so the Hebrew); they speak oppression from on high' (so Hebrew): i:e., from the height to which they in their pride have lifted themselves, they speak oppressive words (Isaiah 59:13).

Verse 9

They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.

They set their mouth against the heavens. With their blasphemies they even reach up to heaven itself, denying the providence and moral government of God Himself. The same Hebrew [b

Verse 10

Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.

Therefore his people return hither. In consequence of the prosperity attending the wicked, Yahweh's people (Psalms 73:1) forsake Him, and take part with the wicked.

And waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. So the Hebrew (Leviticus 1:15; Leviticus 5:9). Maurer translates, 'are sucked up by them' (cf. Psalms 75:8; Psalms 51:17). Here it is in a good sense. These who leave Yahweh, to join the wicked, have a full abundance of all things like a brimming cup (Job 15:16).

Verse 11

And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?

And they say, How doth God know? - (Psalms 10:11; Job 22:13.) The apostates, finding that not only not punishment, but even prosperity, ensues upon their apostasy, soon deny God's providence altogether.

Verses 12-16

Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.

-The mental conflict which resulted in the Psalmist's mind from the anomalous prosperity of sinners.

Verse 12. Behold, these (are) the ungodly, who prosper in the world - rather, 'and (yet) they prosper (or are tranquilly secure) perpetually' [ `owlaam (Hebrew #5769)]. The Chaldaic favours the English version; but the Hebrew is against it. Behold, these are the ungodly, against whom God's Word denounces shame and misery. And yet they prosper perpetually. Impatience exaggerates.

Verse 13. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain - referring to Psalms 73:1, "such as are of a clean heart."

And washed my hands in innocency - (Psalms 26:6.) Not absolute, but relative sincerity, in religion (Proverbs 20:9). Understand "in vain" to this clause. Malachi 3:14 breathes the same impatient and unbelieving spirit.

Verse 14. For all the day long have I been plagued - in contrast to Psalms 73:5, "neither are they played like other men." And chastened every morning. - `my chastening (visited me anew) every morning.'

Verse 15. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. Here a voice within urges him to shrink from openly recommending ungodliness. It is sad to indulge in such hard thoughts of God's goodness and justice at all; but to preach or recount them publicly (as the Hebrew for speak means) would be utter treachery to the people and the cause of God. "If ... I will speak [ caapar (Hebrew #5608)] thus," as those ungodly apostates (Psalms 73:11), 'I should deal treacherously toward the generation,' etc. (cf. Job 15:4). The treacherous dealing toward the children of God, the true Israel (Psalms 73:1; Psalms 14:5; Deuteronomy 14:1), consists in uttering sentiments subversive of their prayers and hopes, and calculated to encourage the wicked rather than the righteous.

Verse 16. When I thought to know this - `When I meditated in order to know this,' with all the powers of my reason.

It was too painful for me. Human speculation and research can in this accomplish nothing. The thing remains after all a painful perplexity: not so much the fact of the exalted state of the godless, and the depression of the godly, as the perplexity thereby suggested concerning God's righteousness, causes the pain.

Verses 17-20

Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

-The victory which he gained over his doubts in the sanctuary when he understood the end of the godless.

Verse 17. Until I went into the sanctuary of God: (then) understood I their end. The sanctuary was the appointed place of meeting between God and His people: then God manifested His glory and goodness to His people (Psalms 77:13; Psalms 63:2). When true Israelites were unable to be there in body, they still in spirit turned there with the feet of the heart. So the Psalmist obtained that spiritual 'understanding' and insight into God's ways which is unattainable by mere reason. He "understood their end" (Psalms 73:18-20; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 49:11-14; Psalms 37:20; Psalms 37:22; Psalms 37:35-36; Psalms 37:38). The end is what settles the whole difficulty. He has in mind Deuteronomy 32:29. Compare1 Daniel 12:9-10, which refers to the came passage. There is a retribution to the wicked even in thus life. The seeming exceptions confirm the rule. Even the pagan recognized it. 'Raro antecendentem scelestum Deseruit pede Poena claudo' (Horace, 'Carm.,' 3:, 2-31). 'The exceptions are designed to perplex those who do not go into the sanctuary of God' (Hengstenberg). The full vindication of God's righteousness remains for, and proves the moral necessity of, the final judgment.

Verse 18. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places - Hebrew, 'only.' 'Thou didst put them only in slippery places' (cf. Psalms 35:6), so as to be dashed down in a moment.

Thou castedst them down into destruction - literally '(so as to become) desolations' or ruins (Psalms 73:10). So the Hebrew, mashuw'owt (Hebrew #4876), is translated in the only other passage where it occurs Psalms 74:3).

Verse 19. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! - as Pharaoh at the Red Sea, Sodom and Gomorrha, and Sennacherib's host before Jerusalem.

They are utterly consumed with terrors - literally, 'they cease, they are consumed with terrors,' terrible and terror-inspiring judgments (Job 18:11; Ezekiel 26:21).

Verse 20. As a dream when, one awaketh - as a dream (is despised) upon one's awaking (Job 20:8).

So, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image - so when thou arisest up ( baa`iyr (Hebrew #5782), a different Hebrew word from that in the first clause meehaaqiyts (Hebrew #6974) - Psalms 78:65 : while the ungodly prospered, God seemed as out asleep to the requirements of justice), thou shalt show thy contempt for their imaginary prosperity, by destroying both it and them. Compare the same figure concerning Sennacherib's dream of irresistible might dissipated by the morning dawn (Isaiah 29:7-8; also Psalms 39:6). [Thus, baa`iyr (Hebrew #5782) stands for b

Verses 21-24

Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.

-He condemns his past beastlike folly and expresses his assurance of God's presence and guidance, notwithstanding his folly.

Verse 21. Thus my heart was grieved - literally, 'was soured' or embittered.

And I was pricked in my reins - with self-inflicted pain, the result of too subtle reasonings of intellect; instead of only waiting for the end, and meanwhile simply believing that all must be just and good which comes from God.

Verse 22. So foolish was I - Hebrew, 'brutish;' i:e., stupid (Psalms 49:10; Psalms 49:12; Proverbs 30:2).

And ignorant - Hebrew-`and I knew not.'

I was as a beast before thee - "with thee," as in Psalms 73:23 : Hebrew, plural, 'as beasts,' behemoth' (Job 40:15); as one having all that is beastlike and irrational in conduct. The Psalmist had complained and doubted 'before God,' in beautiful contrast to which stands God's grace (Psalms 73:23-26).

Verse 23. Nevertheless I am continually with thee. The same Hebrew 'immak, which, in Psalms 73:22 is, translated in the English version, "before thee." It is not the Psalmist who has been continually faithful to God, but God has continually been with him, notwithstanding his perverse doubts and murmurings. Though I acted as a beast with thee I have been treated by thee as one always with thee, instead of being given up to associate with the godless, to whom I for a time virtually joined myself in sentiments.

Thou hast holden me by my right hand - as Jesus upheld Peter when sinking (Matthew 14:31). Compare also as to Yahweh's holding Cyrus right hand (Isaiah 45:1); and especially Israel's (lsa. 41:13; 2:3).

Verse 24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel. The Psalmist, after experiencing God's gracious deliverance from his doubts, expresses here his confidence of Gods shepherd-like guidance. So He guided Israel with the cloud over the ark of the covenant (Numbers 10:33; Psalms 107:7). He guides His people even in temporal affair (Ezra 8:21; Psalms 32:8).

And, afterward receive me (to) glory - or '(with) glory,' Thou wilt at length bring me to glory; even as, on the contrary, those wicked men who now enjoy prosperity, thou wilt at length bring down to destruction.

Verses 25-28

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.

-His joy in God as his portion, in contrast to the final destruction of all who go from God.

Verse 25. Whom have I in heaven (but thee)? and (there is) none upon earth that I desire besides thee - in juxtaposition with thee. "But thee," or "besides thee," has to be supplied in the first from the second clause. Thou art my supreme good (Song of Solomon 5:10). The context implies, 'Whom have I that I desire in juxtaposition with thee' as a Saviour?

Verse 26. My flesh and my heart falleth: but God is the strength of my heart - Hebrew, 'the rock of my heart;' i:e. hypothetically, 'whensoever my heart (regarded as the seat of life) and my flesh fail, God is the rock of my heart' (Psalms 18:1-2; Job 19:25-27).

And my portion for ever - (Lamentations 3:24.)

Verse 27. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go awhoring from thee. All spiritual estrangement from God, whether by idolatry or covetousness, is 'whoredom' (Leviticus 20:6; Numbers 14:33).

Verse 28. But (it is) good for me to draw near to God - literally, 'But I ... nearness to God is good for me' as opposed to "they that are far from thee" (Psalms 73:27; James 4:8; Zephaniah 3:2). "It is good, for it brings with it salvation, as contrasted with the destruction of those far from God.

I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works - i:e., that, being preserved by thee, I may have thereby occasion given me to "declare all thy works" of deliverance.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 73". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.