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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Psalms 73



Verses 1-28

The third book of Hebrew psalms begins here. It opens with a psalm of Asaph, the noble singer and musician of the temple. 1 Chronicles 6:39; 1 Chronicles 25:1. Eleven other psalms bear his name. Hezekiah commanded the levites to sing in the words of David, and of Asaph the seer, the ancient name of a prophet. 2 Chronicles 29:30. On this account his compositions are admitted, and deservedly so, into the sacred canon. The language here approximates to Psalms 4, 36, 37, 39, 49. The psalm under consideration could not he written in Babylon, for there the Jews had no sanctuary. Daniel opened his window which looked towards Jerusalem. There also the wicked Jews were not in great prosperity, with their eyes standing out with fatness: Psalms 73:3; Psalms 73:7.

Psalms 73:6. Pride compasseth them about as a chain. Hebrews ענק Anak, a torque of gold around their neck, from which their robes hung suspended. See on Deuteronomy 1:28. The giants are thought to have received this name from their huge torques.

Psalms 73:10. Therefore his people return hither. The sense of the Hebrew is obscure; but the text seems to say that the righteous, shocked at the speeches of the wicked, return the more to God, and obtain his plenitude of blessings. This idea coincides with the conduct of Asaph.

Psalms 73:27. Them that go a whoring from thee. That forsake thee, and worship false gods. Idolatry is frequently expressed in the scriptures by the term adultery, &c.


Asaph, seeing himself surrounded with wicked courtiers, whose lives were devoted to pleasure and irreligion, and who supported their profligate habits by corruption and oppression, was beclouded with moral darkness.

They made very daring speeches against revelation, and providence, and the perfection of the Lord. They laughed at threatenings, Isaiah 28:12-14; and utterly denied a providence. The like cause produces similar effects. Europe has lately been filled with blasphemies of like nature. Those men were not afflicted and chastened like other men; they were distinguished by corpulence of habit, and seemed to die in repose. This first and partial view of their case shook the faith of the psalmist. He was about to say, I have cleansed my hands from iniquity, and wept for my sins in vain: the wicked are happier than the mournful saints. The prophet’s foot had nearly slipped; he almost lost the shield of faith.

When almost vanquished, he invoked the aid, and sought counsel of the Lord. He sought the Lord in his sanctuary, for there he was wont to guide and comfort his saints. Here his soul was favoured with more enlarged views of providence: he saw the wicked set in slippery places, and perishing in the midst of their days by disease and war. These visitations have been remarkably realized in the late wars on the continent. The revolutionary army received its full rewards of blood in Russia, in Spain, and at Waterloo.

The psalmist became, like the oak, the more enrooted for the tempest. He sprung into the arms of God, saying, thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. Many christians are much injured by seeking a mixed happiness, in riches and relatives, which all forsake us under the severest strokes of providence. This sublime sentiment of Asaph in hoary age, when his heart and flesh failed, of making the Lord his sole and simple happiness, I have not found touched with a more delicate pencil than that of Madam Guion, when her bishop, Bossuet, threw her into prison for heresy. Making the Lord there her husband and only hope, she uttered her soul in the most hallowed and delicate touches of the lyre, which our poet, William Cowper, Esq. has successfully turned into English verse.

Sun, stay thy course, this moment stay, Suspend the overflowing tide of day; Divulge not such a love as mine, Ah, hide the mystery divine, Lest men who deem my glory shame, Should learn the secrets of my flame.

Oh night, propitious to my views, Thy sable awning wide diffuse, Conceal alike my joy and pain, Nor draw thy curtain back again; Though morning, by the tears she shows, Seems to participate my woes. Ye stars, whose faint and feeble fires, Express my languishing desires, Whose slender beams pervade the skies, As silent as my secret sighs; The emanations of a soul, That darts her fires beyond the pole.

Your rays that scarce assist the sight, That pierce, but not displace the night; That shine indeed, but nothing show Of all those various scenes below, Bring no disturbance, rather prove, Incentives of a sacred love. Thou moon, whose never-failing course Bespeaks a providential force, Go tell the tidings of my flame To him who calls the stars by name:

Whose absence kills, whose presence cheers, Who blots or brightens all my years.

While in the blue abyss of space, Thine orb performs its rapid race, Still whisper in his listening ears, The language of my sighs and tears; Tell him, I seek him far below, Lost in a wilderness of woe. Ye thought-composing silent hours, Diffusing peace o’er all my powers; Friend of the pensive, who conceals In darkest shades the flame I feel, To you I trust, and safely may; The love that wastes my strength away.

In sylvan scenes, and caverns rude, I taste the sweets of solitude; Retired indeed, but not alone, I share them with a spouse unknown, Who hides me here, from envious eyes, From all intrusion and surprise. Imbowering shades, and dens profound, Where echo rolls the voice around, Mountains, whose elevated head A moist and misty veil o’erspread, Disclose a solitary bride, To him I love, to none beside.

Ye rills that murmur all the way, Among the polished pebbles stray; Creep silently along the ground, Lest, drawn by that harmonious sound, Some wanderer whom I would not meet Should stumble on my loved retreat. Enamelled meads and hillocks green, And streams that water all the scene, Ye torrents, loud in distant ears, Ye fountains that receive my tears, Ah still conceal with caution due, A charge I trust to none but you.

And when my pain and grief encrease, I seem to enjoy the sweetest peace, It is because I feel so fair, The charming object of my care, That I can sport and pleasure make Of torment, suffered for his sake. Ye meads and groves, unconscious things, Ye know not whence my pleasure springs; Ye know not, and ye cannot know, The source from which my sorrows flow; The dear sole cause of all I feel,—He knows, and understands them well.

Ye deserts where the wild beasts rove, Scenes sacred to my hours of love; Ye forests, in whose shades I stray, Benighted under burning day, Ah whisper not how blest am I, Nor while I live, nor when I die. Ye lambs that sport beneath the shades, And bound along the mossy glades, Be taught a salutary fear, And cease to bleat when I am near; The wolf may hear your harmless cry, Whom should ye dread so much as I? How calm amid these scenes my mind, How perfect is the peace I find, Oh hush, be still my every part, My tongue, my pulse, my beating heart, That love aspiring to its source, May suffer not a moment’s pause. Ye swift finned nations that abide In seas as fathomless as wide, And unsuspicious of a snare, Pursue at large your pleasures there; Poor sportive fools, how soon does man Your heedless ignorance trepan.

Away, dive deep into the brine, Where never yet sunk plummet-line; Trust me, the vast leviathan Is merciful, compared with man; Avoid his arts, forsake the beach, And never play within his reach. My soul her bondage ill endures, I pine for liberty like yours; I long for that immense profound That knows no bottom, and no bound; Lost in infinity to prove Th’ incomprehensible of love.

Ye birds that lessen as ye fly, And vanish in the distant sky; To whom yon airy waste belongs, Resounding with your cheerful songs; Haste to escape from human sight, Fear less the vulture and the kite. How blest and how secure am I, When quitting earth, I soar on high, When lost, like you, I disappear, And float in a sublimer sphere; When falling within human view, I am ensnared and caught like you.

Omniscient God, whose notice deigns To try the heart and search the reins; Compassionate the numerous woes, I dare not e’en to thee disclose; Oh save me from the cruel hands Of men, who fear not thy commands. Love all subduing and divine, Care for a creature truly thine:

Reign in a heart disposed to own No sovereign but thyself alone, Cherish a bride who cannot rove, Nor quit thee for a meaner love.


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

Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 73:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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