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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Psalms 73



Verse 1

Psalms 73.

The Prophet, prevailing in a temptation, sheweth the occasion thereof, the prosperity of the wicked, the wound given thereby, diffidence; the victory over it, knowledge of god's purpose, in destroying of the wicked, and sustaining the righteous.

A Psalm of Asaph.

Title. ףּלאס מזמור mizmor leasaph. The Psalmist here considers that great question, Why wicked men are permitted to prosper, and good men to be miserable and afflicted; and, to put the case home, he describes these wicked men as profligate to the last degree; highly impious towards God, and injurious to men; and yet suffered to live in ease and affluence, and at last to enjoy a death without any great pain. There are no bands in their death, Psalms 73:4. They have no pains when they die, says Le Clerc. This had almost tempted him, he says, to doubt the providence of God; but then he was soon cured of the temptation, when he reflected on the miracles that God had wrought for his people, which left no room to question a providence. See on Psalms 73:15. Still he was under some perplexity while he looked no further than the visible appearances of things; till he entered the sanctuary of God; then understood he the end of these men: their future wretched state in another world. See on Psalms 73:17. In consequence of which he expresses his firm hope and trust in God: Assured of a future state of rewards and punishments, his heart was so perfectly and entirely at rest, that he seems, to wonder how he could be so weak as to fall into doubts and perplexities about this matter. See Psalms 73:21-22, and Peters on Job.

Verse 2

Psalms 73:2. My feet were almost gone By these figurative expressions the Psalmist means, that he began to stagger in his faith, and was in danger of falling into a disbelief of God's providence. The foolish and wicked are used in the next verse as synonimous terms; because wickedness argues a manifest defect in understanding. Mudge renders the word foolish, by men of no principle.

Verse 6

Psalms 73:6. Therefore pride compasseth them, &c.— That is, They are holden, as the other translation has it, or they are wholly possessed with pride: in like manner, as their necks are encompassed with a golden chain; which used to be worn by way of ornament. See Song of Solomon 4:9. Castalio renders the next clause, They are clothed with the garment of violence; i.e. "They maintain their pompous greatness by acts of violence:" These are what so magnificently clothes them.

Verse 8

Psalms 73:8. They are corrupt, &c.— They mock, and speak maliciously of oppression: they speak from on high. From on high, signifies, from the superior station to which they are advanced: or, from the bench of justice. See Psalms 94:10.

Verse 9

Psalms 73:9. They set their mouth against the heavens i.e. They blaspheme the God of heaven; and their tongue walketh, &c. i.e. is let loose to abuse and calumniate whomsoever they please.

Verse 10

Psalms 73:10. Therefore his people return hither "Therefore God's people falleth off to them, and from thence they reap no small advantage." Green. Mudge renders it, Therefore, let his people come before them, and waters in full measure would be wrung out from them. This seems, says he, to continue the description of their haughtiness and oppression. "Should God's people (for he is mentioned in the next verse) come before them, they would squeeze them to the uttermost: they would wring out all the juice in their bodies." Waters in full measure, seems to be proverbial. Houbigant and Fenwick give different versions from any of these. Houbigant reads, Therefore bread fills them to the full, and water is drank by them in a flowing cup. Fenwick reads the passage in a parenthesis.

"(For this his people broken-hearted sit, And tears in great abundance shed.)"

The reader must judge for himself.

Verse 15

Psalms 73:15. If I say, I will speak thus, &c.— Reckon or reason thus:—I should offend against the generation of thy children; i.e. "I should give the lie to the history of our forefathers." See Peters, and the first note. Others, by the generation of God's children, understand all true believers: those who have undertaken the service of God, and entered into covenant with him: part of which covenant and profession is, to believe in God's Providence: which therefore to deny, question, or doubt of, is to break the covenant, to prevaricate, to deal perfidiously; according to the meaning of the original word בגד bagad, rendered offend.

Verse 17

Psalms 73:17. Then understood I their end This certainly cannot mean their destruction by death; for he had before expressly taken notice of their felicity or ease in this respect. Nor is it easy to say how the sanctuary, or any thing there, could inform him of the manner of the death of wicked men. This must be learned from observation. Nor can what follows in the next verse be understood consistently with the rest of the psalm, of a temporal destruction, but of their future wretched state in another world; which is often represented in Scripture by death and destruction; and so, indeed, the following verses explain it. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! Psalms 73:19 i.e. The moment that they pass from this life to another, they are utterly consumed with terrors. Psalms 73:20. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, in arousing or awakening them, for so it should be rendered, Thou wilt despise or debase their image. This, obscurely as it is expressed, evidently points at something after death; for it is then alone that the finally impenitent can be thoroughly awakened to see their misery. If, therefore, the word rendered their image, means the ειδωλον, as Homer calls it, the separated soul; methinks there is an exquisite propriety in the word here used, and rendered despise or debase: "Thou shalt debase, spurn, and render contemptible, the separate spirits of those haughty wretches, whose pride had raised them in their own conceit above all other men, and even led them to despise their Maker and his laws. Their condition in the region of departed souls shall be as low and despicable, as here it was in appearance high and happy." The Chaldee paraphrast understands the passage of the day of judgment; and Dr. Hammond compares it with that of Daniel 12:2 that some shall awake to shame and everlasting contempt. See Peters, and more on the 24th verse.

Verse 21-22

Psalms 73:21-22. Thus my heart was grieved I was disturbed with envy and indignation at the prosperity of the wicked. The word rendered a beast, in the next verse, is a term aptly applied in Scripture to one who is wholly taken up with the things before him, and who has no sense of, or regard to things, future and invisible. See Psalms 92:6.

Verse 24

Psalms 73:24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, &c.— See Psalms 49:15. That the future wretched state of wicked men is understood in the preceding verses, seems further evident, from its being opposed to the happy state of the righteous in this verse; where the very term glory is used, whereby the happiness of heaven is described in the New Testament. The two next verses are no less remarkable; for no Christian could express his hope of being for ever with God in more apt words. It follows, Psalms 73:27. They that forsake thee shall perish. What can be meant by this, but the future perdition of wicked men? For, do they perish? i.e. Are they certainly punished here? Are they so universally? if not, How is it possible to understand these words of any thing temporal? or how, in short, can this knot be untied, this difficulty solved, which has so often perplexed good men, but by the doctrine of future rewards and punishments? This was then that doctrine of the sanctuary, which set the Psalmist's heart at rest. If it be still asked, What was there in the sanctuary to quiet and compose the Psalmist's doubts, or to confirm him in the belief of another life? The answer is easy; that his entering the sanctuary of God would naturally turn his thoughts towards heaven, the habitation of God and his holy angels; of which the tabernacle and temple were a sort of standing symbol or memorial. The figures of the cherubim, which were not only placed in the Holy of Holies, but sculptured on the walls of the temple round about, have been generally believed, both by Jews and Christians, except a few moderns perhaps, to represent the hosts of angels that attend upon the divine Majesty as his ministers to do his pleasure; and there is so near an affinity between the doctrine of angels and that of the human soul subsisting after death, that they who believed the one, could scarcely be ignorant of, or disbelieve, the other. There is, I think, a promise made to Joshua the high-priest, Zechariah 3:7 that if he discharged his office with fidelity, God would hereafter give him a place in heaven among the blessed angels his attendants. I will give thee places to walk among them that stand by; or among these ministering angels. See Peters, p. 292.

Verse 28

Psalms 73:28. That I may declare all thy works The end breaks off a little abruptly, for want of what the LXX read, in the gates of the daughters of Zion.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prosperity of the wicked has been a common temptation to the saints of God. The Psalmist was staggered at it, and musing, on the mysterious providence, he breaks forth, Truly, or notwithstanding, God is good to Israel, even to them that are of a clean heart: this he is assured of amidst all his doubts and perplexities, and, holding fast this principle, rides out the storm. Note; There are some first principles clear as the sun; to them we must recur under all our difficulties.

2nd, He was strongly tempted, but as strongly supported, and enabled at last to prevail.

1. He kept his thoughts to himself while he ruminated on the subject, lest he should offend God's people; and, though he saw the rash suggestion of his spirit, he would not speak unadvisedly with his lips. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children; and that he was shocked to think of, and carefully avoided. Note; (1.) When evil thoughts arise, our labour must be to suppress them; when once uttered, their mischief may be endless and irreparable. (2.) There are a people in the world dear to God as children, and who love him as their father, whom we must be careful never to offend, to grieve, or discourage. (3.) It would be the greatest reproach on God's service, and most effectually tend to weaken the hands of his people, to misrepresent his good ways, as unprofitable and vain. (4.) They who do so, shew that they have never truly served God, since the experience of every faithful soul proves his service to be the supreme felicity.

2. Though by the light of reason he could not reconcile this difficulty, yet when he went into the sanctuary, sought God by prayer, and communed with his word and ministers, then the mystery was unfolded; he saw the prosperity of sinners no longer to be envied, when they were fattening only as an ox for the slaughter. Their joy had no stability, was precarious and momentary; their destruction inevitable, sudden, and terrible. Like a dream of the night, when God awakes to judgment, their prosperity vanishes, and is exchanged for everlasting shame and contempt. Note; We must form our judgment of men and things, not by appearances, but by the word of God; and when we there see the end of prosperous iniquity in everlasting burnings, and of suffering piety in eternal glory, we shall no longer hesitate about our choice.

3rdly, The temptations of the faithful serve to brighten their graces, and end in their greater establishment. Such good the Psalmist found.

1. He owns his deep obligations to the grace of God. Nevertheless, I am continually with thee, the object of God's tender regard, and cleaving to God amidst all his temptations; thou hast holden me by my right hand, as a tender parent who supports his falling child. Note; We are weak as helpless infancy, and stand wholly indebted to the everlasting arms which are under us, for our preservation. And the more we are convinced of this, the more shall we be engaged to love God.

2. He expresses his confidence of God's continual guidance and support. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, his revealed word, and the teachings of his holy Spirit, and afterwards receive me to glory, when, every trial passed, and death the last overcome, thou wilt bring me to the consummation of bliss in thy eternal kingdom. Note; (1.) God's counsel in his word infallibly conducts to his glory those who follow it. (2.) If there be a sure inheritance for the faithful in eternal glory, the godly little need envy sinners any thing that they possess above them here below.

3. His soul rises up in fervent aspirations after God, Whom have I in heaven but thee? A covenant God is the sole object of the believer's worship and confidence, from whom alone he expects his felicity, and in the enjoyment of whom the eternal happiness of the faithful consists. He hopes to be happy in heaven, because God is there; and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee; all that earth affords, health, wealth, friends, family, honour, &c. are nothing, compared with a sense of God's love, and the enjoyment of communion with him. All without him cannot satisfy; whilst in the want of all, he can satisfy our souls, and be to us a better portion than ten thousand worlds. Note; (1.) The more we see of God's excellence and all-sufficiency, the less we shall regard every thing besides. (2.) What cause have we to lament the coldness of our hearts, which so little correspond with the Psalmist's fervent desires?

4. In every distress he rests his soul upon this Almighty God, his all-sufficient portion. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength, or rock of my heart, to support me in every distress, and my portion for ever; when the body is laid in the dust and forgotten, God will be still the same to the faithful soul, its complete and eternal portion. Note; (1.) We must expect the hour when this feeble flesh shall fail, and sickness, or age, bring us to the grave. (2.) Death is terrible to nature; and our heart, as well as flesh, will fail us in that trying season, unless God be our strength, and faith in his power and grace remove the sting of death. (3.) They who have made God their rock in time, will find him their portion in eternity.

5. Miserable will be the end of the ungodly. For, lo, they that are far from thee, who depart from God in heart and conduct, and live estranged from his love, worship, and service, shall perish eternally. Thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee, that follow other gods, or, idolatrously attached to the creature, love and serve it more than their Creator; all such sinners have perished, and all such will perish to the end of time, who thus apostatize from God.

6. He declares his fixed purpose of cleaving to God. But it is good for me to draw near to God in prayer, and all those means of grace whereby communion with God is maintained, and which they, who have their souls truly attached to him, find most profitable and delightful. I have put my trust in the Lord God, who will never disappoint the expectations of his faithful people; that I may declare all thy works of providence and grace, wherein his faithfulness and mercy appear, and for which we owe everlasting praise. Note; (1.) They who know the comfort of communion with God, can say by experience, it is good to draw near to him. (2.) None ever trusted in him, and were confounded. (3.) The more we are enabled to trust him, the more shall we see cause to praise him.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 73:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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