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Bible Commentaries

Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 73

Verses 1-28

Psalms 73:1-28. Title. This, and several of the following psalms, are ascribed to Asaph, in the same manner of expression by which others are ascribed to David : (Marg. Ref.) yet some think that David wrote them, and only delivered them to Asaph to be set to music, or sung ; while others think that another Asaph, in later ages, wrote some of them. (2 Chronicles 29:30.)

V. 1. The Psalmist, after much consideration, and a sharp contest with temptation, thus abruptly expressed his assurance that, notwithstanding appearances, the Lord was kind to his true people, who served him in uprightness of heart. The same distinction between an Israelite by nation, and the true Israelite, which is often made in the New Testament, is here explicitly established. (Notes, Matthew 5:8. John 1:47-51. Romans 2:25-29.)

V. 2, 3. (Notes, Psalms 37:1; Psalms 2:5-8. Psalms 94:16-18. Jeremiah 12:1-4.) ’ I began to doubt, and stagger in my faith. ... ’The reason was, that having a just indignation against ’ the folly, or rather madness, of wicked men, it first vexed ’me to see them... in a very flourishing condition ; and ’ then tempted me to think it very hard, that sober men ’ should not equal, if not exceed them, in such happiness.’ Bp. Patrick.

V. 4. Wicked men often live to old age, in firm strength and health, as well as prosperity; and end their lives without great pain : while many pious persons scarcely know what health is, and die with great suffering. Nay, numbers of the wicked are so hardened in presumption, that they die without terror or remorse. (Notes, Psalms 17:13-15. Job 21:7-22; Job 24:18-20.) The original may be rendered, " They have no bands till their death." They are not put in chains for execution, like condemned criminals ; but are let alone, till they are taken out of the world like other men. ’ There is neither pangs of body, nor remorse and ’ terror of soul, in their death.’ Bp. Hall.

V. 5. The wealthy sinner, ’ far from poverty as free ’ from disease, seems to pass his days exempted from the ’ miseries of mankind, without labour and anxiety ; and ’ not so much as to think of those, who, distressed on all ’ sides, can scarcely earn their bread by the sweat of their ’ brows.’ Up. Home. (Notes, Hebrews 12:4-13.)

V. 6-9, The haughtiness of these prosperous ungodly men appeared in their external decorations ; nay, they counted that display of their pride, which is falsely called magnificence, their highest ornament ; as conquerors, and other eminent persons, wore chains of gold round their necks for decoration and distinction. (Marg. Ref. k.) At the same time, their whole conduct was so notorious for violence and oppression, that they were covered with them as with a garment. Perhaps it is also implied, that their violence bore the expense of their ostentation, which they gratified in rich garments and costly ornaments. They likewise indulged and pampered their bodies, in the most luxurious manner ; and their looks discovered their excessive sensuality and voluptuousness. Yet they reserved more from their enormous expenses, than a wise man would wish for ; or more than they formerly could have thought of : such unexpected success attended them ! But, instead of being thankful for their abundance, their corrupt passions were thus exceedingly strengthened and inflamed : and, so far from restraining or concealing them, they openly gloried in them ; avowing their designs and politick methods of oppressing the poor, and crushing opposition ; despising the laws of man, and even those of almighty God ; and haughtily uniting to their licentious, selfish, and unfeeling conversation, tiie language of infidelity or atheism ; saying, not " within themselves," but openly, " I neither fear God, nor regard man ; " thus setting the Judge of the world at defiance, and propagating far and wide their pernicious and impious principles.

(Marg Ref Notes 1 Samuel 2:8. Job 21:7-16; Job 22:15-20. Luke 18:1-8.) Alas ! how many are there in modern times, who seem to have sat for the odious and detestable portrait nere exhibited ’ ’ A circle of fawning ’dependants is never wanting, to whom the... vain and ’ ignorant wretch, exalted in his own conceit above the ’ level of mortality, may, from the chair, without control, ’ dictate libertinism and infidelity.’ Bp. Home.

V. 10. This verse is generally allowed to be very difficult, and a variety of discordant interpretations have been given of it. The original may literally be rendered, " Oa " this account his people shall return hither, and waters " of fullness shall be wrung out to them." " His people," seems to mean the people of God, who, witnessing the prosperity of the wicked, and experiencing many sorrows and hardships, were tempted to " return hither," (i. e. to the company of the ungodly,) in order to share their ease and pleasure : but the consequence in general was, that " waters of a full cup were wrung out to them ; " they brought many chastisements on themselves, and were oppressed with sorrow for their guilt and folly. ’ Not only ’ the reprobate, but also the people of God, oftentimes ’ fall back, seeing the prosperous estate of the wicked, and ’ are overwhelmed with sorrows ; thinking that God considereth not aright the state of the godly.’ The verse is in the future, and it seems most natural to explain it, as the Psalmist’s apprehension, that the prosperity of daring sinners would eventually prove an invincible temptation, and a great source of sorrow to believers. The clause, " waters of a full cup are wrung out to them," probably refers to the cups of liquor mingled with poison, which were in those days given to criminals : but whether it denote the inordinate sorrow of tempted believers under their own sufferings, contrasted with beholding the success and indulgence of the wicked; or to the painful consequences of yielding to the temptation, and imitating those whom they envied, must remain doubtful.

V. 11. This verse is by some interpreted in connexion with the foregoing, as the language of the tempted believer, who is even induced by what he feels and witnesses, to adopt the language of the ungodly, and to question, whether God do indeed know, and take cognizance of human affairs. This interpretation rises naturally from the words : but, as it is thought by many, that pious persons cannot well be supposed to use such infidel language, they conclude that the Psalmist here returns to his subject, and that the profligates above described, and those whom they pervert, are again introduced. (Note 6- 9. Psalms 10:2-11. Psalms 94:1-9.)

V. 12 -14. ’ These worthless, ungodly, blasphemous ’ wretches, whose characters 1 have been delineating ; these ’ are the men who prosper in the world, who succeed in ’ every thing they undertake, and roll in riches ! What are * we to think of God, his providence, and his promises ?. . . ’ All my faith, my charity, and my devotion, all my watching and fastings, ... all the labour and pains I have taken * ...have been altogether vain and fruitless.’ Bp. Home.

(Notes, Job 34:5-9; Job 35:13. Malachi 3:13-18.)

The clause, " Washed my hands in innocency," seems equivalent to St. Paul’s words, " Herein do I exercise " myself to have a conscience void of offence towards God " and man."

(Note, Psalms 26:6-8. Acts 24:10-21; Acts 5:16.)

V. 15- 17. The Psalmist, having related the progress of his temptation till it came to the crisis, next shews how by faith and grace he prevailed against it. In his greatest despondency, he could not but respect and wish well to " the generation of God’s children ; " and he considered, that if he gave utterance to such sentiments as had arisen within him, he should grieve, condemn, or deceive them, and so cause them to offend. He therefore purposed to acquire a full understanding of the mystery in Providence ; and in the mean while to keep silence : but the more he reflected and reasoned on the subject, the deeper was his conviction that it was too difficult for him, and the greater perplexity he experienced; until he went at length into the sanctuary of God, to consult the priests, the Lord’s ministers, and to examine his word, and spread the case before him in prayer ; and then he was enabled to look forward to the last end, and to understand the final doom of prosperous sinners, so that he could no longer envy them, or complain of his own condition.

(Notes, Psalms 37:35-38; Psalms 92:6-7. Luke 16:19-23.)

V. 18- 22. By the light of truth, and the eye of faith, the Psalmist clearly saw, that prosperous ungodly men stand on the slippery summit of a tremendous precipice ; whence in the appointed time God casts them down by death, with a fall equal to the height to which they were elevated. In a moment they are desolated and ruined, and overwhelmed with terrors. (Notes,Psalms 58:6-9. Job 20:4-9. Luke 12:15-21.) The dread of death and judgment mars their enjoyment; and the death of any one of them terrifies the survivors. So that their happiness is but a transient, disturbed dream of pleasure : and God pours contempt upon this lifeless image of felicity ; (Notes, Psalms 39:6. Zechariah 11:15-17) when arising to take vengeance, he by death awakes them to see substantial good for ever lost, and real misery unavoidable and eternal. These considerations convinced the Psalmist of his sin and folly, in envying such wretched men. He was deeply ashamed, on recollecting the disquietude and impatience of his heart, and the effect produced even upon his animal frame, without any sufficient cause. And he appeared to himself, and knew that he must appear in the sight of God, to be ignorant and stupid as a beast, which has no conception of any other good than present sensual enjoyment. (Notes. Proverbs 30:2-3.)

V. 23- 28. Emerging from his temptation, the Psalmist found his heart humbled, and his valuation of spiritual blessings greatly enhanced. He reflected, with pleasure and gratitude, on his privileges as a believer. He was persuaded that he was under the immediate care of an ever-present, wise, and faithful Friend, who had hitherto upheld him, especially under h’s urgent temptation; as a tender parent holds his child by the hand, lest he should fall and hurt himself. He was assured that the Lord would guide him in wisdom through life, and at death " receive " him to glory : " nor could any thing in heaven or on earth, be worthy of being put in competition with his favour, or necessary to his happiness in accession to it. He relied on none of the real or supposed inhabitants of heaven; he expected not his future happiness from the society of the most exalted or excellent creatures ; he did not delight even in his earthly friends and comforts, when compared with the Fountain of felicity, who was in every respect his All in all. He was aware that his body would speedily decay, his natural spirits fail, and his heart no longer beat ; but God would strengthen and support his soul in that last conflict which would terminate all his sorrows, and then he would be his eternal Portion.

(Notes,Psalms 84:11-12. John 14:2-3; John 17:24. Romans 2:7-11; Romans 5:1-2. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. 1 Peter 1:8-9; 1 Peter 5:14.)

This would be his felicity, while the most prosperous of those who were alienated from God, and under his wrath, must perish; and Israelites especially, who broke their national covenant by apostasy, idolatry, and rebellion against God, would be more severely punished than others. But for his part, he was satisfied that it was " good " (advantageous, pleasant, and honourable,) for him, to wait upon God, and walk with him, confiding in his mercy, and celebrating his praises, whatever should be his outward circumstances and situation. Thus the psalm concludes with the language of assured hope, and joyful anticipation of future and eternal glory in heaven : and as the sinners, above described, are supposed to prosper even to the end of life ; the firm belief of a future state of punishment and perdition to ungodly men, is likewise as explicitly avowed, as almost in any part of the new testament. (Marg. Ref.) ’ He who, but a little while ago, seemed ’ to question the providence of God over the affairs of men, ’ now exults in happy confidence of the divine mercy ; . . .’ nothing doubting, but that he would ever continue to ’ guide him upon earth, till glory should crown him in ’ heaven. Such are the blessed effects of " going into the ’ " sanctuary," and consulting " the lively oracles," in all ’ our doubts, difficulties, and temptations.’ Bp. Home.

The doctrine established in this Psalm is highly useful, in understanding the arguments contained in the book of Job

(Notes, Job 8:20-22; Job 9:22-24; Job 42:7-9.)


V. 1-14.

The distinction has been obvious in every age, between mere professors of even the true religion, and those who are inwardly sanctified by the Holy Spirit : and it has always been an undisputed maxim in the church, that the Lord is kind to his people, whose hearts are upright with him. Yet appearances have often been against this truth ; and Satan has had his advantage in exciting the impatience and unbelief even of pious persons, and causing them to disquiet themselves, and dishonour God, by their surmises : so that many of them have had cause to say, " My feet " were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped ; " for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." It is indeed, at first sight, a mystery in Providence, that the wicked so often prosper, and the righteous are so much afflicted. Health, long life, affluence, and an easy death, are often granted to the basest of men. Thus their pride, ambition, covetousness, and sensuality are increased ; they grow more daring in impiety and iniquity ; and, by their example and discourse, widely diffuse contagion and misery around them : while their impunity emboldens them to infidelity, and they say, " How doth God know ? and is there knowledge in the " most High ? " The mischief which these prosperous infidels and scorners occasion in the world is indeed very great : many professed Christians are by them drawn into apostasy; and even believers are often greatly discouraged; so that sometimes they are ready to think that their repentance, faith, love, zeal, watchfulness, and conscientiousness have been in vain. For being chastened from time to time, they are apt to call this " being plagued all " the day long." But though temptations may thus darken and perplex a true Christian, and very rebellious thoughts may be stirred up : yet there is a holy engrafted principle within, which will counteract them, prevent their effects, and at length gain the ascendancy ; and when he has escaped the snare, he will be the better able to counsel and comfort his brethren. (Note, Luke 22:31-34.)

V. 15-28.

Sometimes, when ’"the fire burns within," an unwillingness to grieve or stumble his fellow Christians, or to gratify the malice of the wicked, imposes silence on the tempted believer : for he must perceive, on reflection, that if outward prosperity were of prime importance, " the " generation of God’s children," in every age, have acted most imprudently, or been greatly deluded, in enduring so many afflictions for the Lord’s sake. We shall, however, never get ground against temptations of this kind, by merely speculating ; and shall rather find our minds perplexed with new difficulties and objections, till we bring the whole matter and weigh it in the balance of the sanctuary. But attention to the sacred Scriptures, and fervent prayer, will soon extricate us from these labyrinths : we shall then be led to look off from things seen and temporal, to things unseen and eternal : and when we consider the end of wicked men, we shall be convinced of their folly and misery ; and clearly perceive that they are no more to be envied, than a state-criminal, who is bound in chains of gold till he be put to some tormenting death. We shall then see that their wealth and prosperity were given them in anger, as a punishment of their impiety and enmity against God; and that they were " treasuring up wrath,’’ until the time, when they were to be cast down headlong from their slippery pre-eminence into eternal destruction ; of which in the mean-while they are often tortured with the apprehension. (Notes, Proverbs 10:22; Proverbs 28:1 .) Thus their happiness is only a dream ; speedily they will awake, and the enchantment will be dissolved, and they will too late perceive their own misery. If we have ever envied such ruinous prosperity, or complained of the salutary corrections of our heavenly Father ; and if our hearts have rebelled against his appointment ; surely on reflection we must be ashamed of our folly and brutish stupidity, as well as of our perverseness and ingratitude ! And indeed we do not gain a complete victory over the enemy, unless his buffetings prove the occasion of our deeper humiliation before God. (Note, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.) Surely, that man has no right or reason to complain, or to envy, who has God for his Friend and Father, to provide for, comfort, and uphold him, to guide him here with his counsel, and then to receive him to eternal glory ! Indeed heaven itself could not render us happy without his presence and love : much less could earth and all its possessions satisfy the desires of an immortal soul. And if the Lord is our Portion, we need desire no more besides him ; for he is all- sufficient and everlasting. The world and all its glory vanishes ; our " flesh and hearts will soon fail ; " but God will be the Strength of our hearts, and our Happiness for ever. By sin we are all indeed far off from God, in the temper of our minds and the state of our souls; and at this distance misery is inevitable : but by the gospel we are invited to draw nigh to him ; and as nothing, but preferring other portions and confidences to him and his salvation, can prevent our happiness, so the ruin of such as refuse this gracious offer is most certain ; and a profession of Christianity, if men go on in sin, or return back to it, will increase their condemnation. May we then " choose " that good part, which can never be taken from us." May we prefer those enduring riches, those holy pleasures, and that genuine honour, which God bestows on his people. May we draw near and keep near to him by faith and prayer, and find it good to do so ; that putting our trust in the Lord, and declaring our experience of his love, patiently bearing our cross, and despising worldly objects, we may encourage our brethren to resist, and teach them, by our counsel and example, to overcome these dangerous temptations of the enemy of our souls.

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Bibliographical Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 73". Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. 1804.