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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 73



Verse 1

1. Truly God is good to Israel—The psalmist has now passed through his temptation, and, being reassured, can “set to his seal [set his seal to it] that God is true.” John 3:33. The “truly,” certainly, here, is his amen or verily to the divine dealings, which now he perceives are “good,” not only in the sense of benevolence, but of moral fitness. This had been the point of his wavering. “Good to Israel,” here, indicates that he is not speaking on his own behalf merely, as reciting only a personal experience, but as the spokesman of the nation. It was God’s dealing with the nation that had stumbled him, which now he acknowledges “good.” The Hebrew word here rendered “good” is a broad term, and signifies the quality of perfect moral excellence.

A clean heart—The pure of heart. Such was Israel by profession, and the really pure should receive the promise.

Verse 2

2. But as for me—The psalmist at once turns aside to trace the causes and extent of his doubts as to the goodness and equality of God’s ways. Literally, And Imy feet almost turned aside, or swerved. The almost, here, shows that the temptation had taken hold of him; he had halted and wavered, and but little was wanting to complete the triumph of evil. The next line carries forward the figure.

My steps had well nigh slipped—The word translated “well nigh” literally means, nothing was wanting. Everything was complete to give practical effect to the temptation. Had he remained in that state he would have fallen; but he went into “the sanctuary of God,” Psalms 73:17. This saved him.

Slipped—Literally slipped out, or poured out, like water, and so he had been “well nigh” lost.

Verse 3

3. Envious at the foolish—I saw their prosperity, and thought they were more favoured than I, and I was dissatisfied. See Psalms 37:1; Proverbs 23:17; Malachi 3:14-15

Verse 4

4. No bands in their death—The word “bands” means tortures, pains, “intended of pains that produce convulsive contractions.”Delitzsch. Not “no pangs till their death,” which some have adopted in order to harmonize the verse with Psalms 73:18-19, but, following the English version, consider that “the psalmist is describing here, not the fact, but what seemed to him to be the fact, in a state of mind which he [afterwards] confesses to have been unhealthy.”Perowne. See Job 21:13.

Their strength is firm— They enjoy life to the last.

Verse 5

5. Neither… plagued like other men—They seem to be exempt from the perplexities and diseases common to mortal men. The word rendered “plagued” signifies to smite, and is frequently used for any judgment of God, whether of disease or other calamity, as in 2 Chronicles 26:20; Isaiah 53:4; 2 Kings 15:5. They are not smitten with judgments “like other men.” So, in his gloom and doubt, the psalmist thought.

Verse 6

6. Pride compasseth them… as a chain—Pride has stretched out their neck, or, has necklaced them. The neck is here alluded to and regarded as the seat of expression to pride, by which it is carried loftily and with rich ornamentation. See Psalms 75:5; Isaiah 3:6; Proverbs 1:9; Song of Solomon 4:9. Thrupp, who considers this psalm to belong to the occasion of Sennacherib’s invasion, thinks he sees here an allusion to the ornamental necklaces of the Assyrians, as described in Bonomi’s “Nineveh.” So also of the luxurious attire, colouring of eyelids, etc., in the following verses.

As a garment—A robe, covering the entire person. See Psalms 109:18

Verse 7

7. They have more than heart could wish—Literally, They have surpassed the images of the heart. What the imagination or the corrupt heart pictures forth as desirable, they have even exceeded. Marginal reading: “They pass the thoughts of the heart.”

Verse 8

8. They are corrupt—They are mockers. They treat serious subjects lightly and with derision.

They… speak wickedly concerning oppression—In reference to their plans of deceit and violence to rob the poor and exalt themselves, they scorn alike the restraints of law and the rights of men.

They speak loftily—Literally, They speak from on high, haughtily. See on Psalms 73:6

Verse 9

9. Against the heavens—More properly, in the heavens. They have ascended to the abode of God. Their haughtiness (Psalms 73:8) has now assumed and usurped divine prerogative, (as Isaiah 14:13-14,) and they speak as from the throne of God.

Walketh through the earth—That is, walketh proudly, stalketh. As they have blasphemed God by placing their mouth in the heavens, so they stalk through the earth, speaking contemptuously against the innocent and holy.

Verse 10

10. Therefore his people return hither—That is, “God still suffers or requires his people to survey the painful spectacle, and drain the bitter draught presented by the undisturbed prosperity of wicked men.” Alexander. This is the most natural and best sustained sense of this obscure passage. See Psalms 80:5. The verb שׁוב, (shoobh,) return, here denotes a subjective, or mental returning, as it often does; (see 2 Chronicles 6:24; 2 Chronicles 6:37-38; Malachi 3:18;) and the adverbial pronoun, הלמ, (halom,) hither, is not to be understood of place, but of subject. God’s people mentally turn to this subject to consider the mystery of providence in allowing this difference between a suffering Church and the prosperous wicked.

Verse 11

11. They say, How doth God know—If these words are supposed to be spoken by God’s people they simply express their wonder, not how God should know, but how his certain knowledge of these outrageous doings could be reconciled with his goodness; as if they would say, How can God know these things and yet allow them? But if they are the words of the wicked, as seems most natural, we must suppose them to be heathen, with whom limited knowledge and local jurisdiction of the gods were admissible facts; or, taking knowledge here in its judicial sense of legal cognizance, it may be only a denial by the wicked that God notices with a view to punish their acts, as Psalms 11:4-5. Knowledge, in the second member of the verse, is to be taken in the sense of omniscience.

Verse 12

12. Behold, these are the ungodly—The psalmist speaks and “describes the impression made upon him, the representative of real and living piety, by this contradiction between sight and faith, between the reality and the idea.”Hengstenberg. These prosperous are “the ungodly.”

Who prosper in the world—Who are the prosperous ones of the age. The word עולם, (‘olam,) here denotes continuance, not the habitable globe.

They increase in riches—An important element of prosperity, considering the relation of wealth to the supply of human wants and the gratification of the natural desires. The unequal distribution of property has always been a great stumblingblock to weak faith and a worldly mind.

Verse 13

13. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain— “Verily” has the force of wholly. Wholly in vain have I cleansed my heart. So it appeared, but this was his temptation: in Psalms 73:1; Psalms 73:22, after the temptation, he asserts the contrary.

Washed my hands in innocency—In protestation of innocency. The allusion is to Deuteronomy 21:6-7. Compare Matthew 27:24; Psalms 26:6. The Septuagint understands this as the language of personal experience, not as that of a representative man, and introduces “And I said, Verily I have washed,” etc.

Verse 14

14. Have I been plagued—I who have endeavoured after innocency and righteousness, (Psalms 73:13,) while the wicked “are not plagued like other men,” Psalms 73:5, which see on the word “plagued.”

And chastened every morning— “Chastened” must be taken in the sense of rebuked, censured, for so it appeared to him, as Psalms 39:11; Proverbs 3:11. “Every morning” is put for every day, daily. This apparent smiting and rebuking the righteous every day, while the wicked live in affluence and ease, is the complaint of the Church only in times of special and prolonged persecution and oppression, such as the nation was now suffering. See introduction.

Verse 15

15. If I say, I will speak thus—That is, If I say within myself, (as Psalms 14:1,) that I will openly declare thusmake this statement.

I should offend—The same cautious reserve of speech is observed, Psalms 39:1-2. The Hebrew word “offend,” means to betray, to deal falsely with, and thus it is translated in every case but two in our English Bible. And to openly declare as dogma that which was only a temptation under powerful pressure, would be to act like the wicked, or those who had fallen away to the wicked, and thus deal falsely, or betray God’s children into the hands of their scoffing enemies.

The generation of thy children—Or, thy sons, sons of God, Deuteronomy 14:1; 1 John 3:1; the total body of the truly spiritual Israel. To have openly spoken, according to his doubts, would have placed him outside of the family of the true Israel, while his reserve and patient inquiry restored his faith and saved them.

Verse 16

16. When I thought to know this—The psalmist gives himself to meditation, and to weigh this matter which so perplexed him.

It was too painful for me—Literally, It was grievousness, or labour, in my eyes: his unassisted reason could not trace it out, and it remained to him a mystery. See Ecclesiastes 8:17; Job 11:7

Verse 17

17. I went into the sanctuary of God—The word “sanctuary” is in the plural in Hebrew, which indicates that there were holy places where the word of God was read and taught. It may signify the total collection of the temple buildings, or other sacred places in the land for synagogue services. But the age of synagogues dates later than the occasion we have assigned to this psalm. If Psalms 74 belongs to the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judea, as is quite probable, then Psalms 73:8 proves that synagogues were earlier than the captivity. But the holy places of the text were probably the places within the temple buildings assigned for public teaching. It was here, in the sanctuaries, that the psalmist obtained the explanation of God’s equal ways with men.

Then understood I their end—The “end,” here, is the period following the termination of life, that future where the results of this life are reached. The Hebrew word is clearly marked with this eschatological signification. See Psalms 37:37-38; Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 19:20; Proverbs 5:4-11, (English version, at the last.)

Verses 18-20

18-20. In these verses there is a rising climax in the description of the doom of the wicked.

Surely—Answering to verily in New Testament.

Slippery places—The figure is that of a narrow path along mountain crags where the rocks are smooth and treacherous.

Thou castedst them down—The fall of the wicked is not accidental, nor simply consequential. God casts them down. The strong arm of law now interferes.

Verse 19

19. How are they brought into desolation—Literally, How have they been for a desolation! The strongest possible mode of expression. Not annihilation, but the utter ruin of their plans, their pleasures, their hopes, and their proud positions of power.

In a moment—The suddenness and unexpectedness of their downfall augments their fears, so that now they are utterly consumed with terrors.

Verse 20

20. As a dream when one awaketh—So unreal, so unworthy of their wakeful thoughts, it is soon dismissed and forgotten.

O Lord, when thou awakest—To judgment.

Image—Shadow, phantom. So unreal is their prosperity.

Verse 21

21. Thus my heart was grieved—Heart and reins are herein parallel terms, denoting the inmost nature,the mind and soul, the intellective and sensitive being. The psalmist’s “heart” was “grieved,” and his “reins” were “pierced.” His mental sufferings were intense at being tempted to doubt the justice of God’s ways. The Hebrew particle translated “thus,” (Psalms 73:21,) connects with Psalms 73:16, and resumes the description of himself before he “went into the sanctuary of God,”a condition which his now enlightened and awakened mind is shocked to contemplate.

Verse 22

22. Foolish… ignorant… as a beast—Strong terms, expressive of his blindness and stupidity in his deceived and doubting state.

Verse 23

23. Nevertheless I am continually with thee—Notwithstanding my unreasonable and even brutish conduct, yet “all this while I have been particularly considered and cared for, and in a special and eminent manner supported, by thee.”Hammond. The expression, “I am continually with thee,” as Hengstenberg says, “is not self praise, but praise of the divine compassion and faithfulness in keeping him,” as the second hemistich explains.

Verse 24

24. Thou shall guide me—This is at once the language of restored confidence and consecration. Henceforth the wisdom of God, not his own sinister reasonings, should be the governing and directing power of his life.

And afterward receive me to glory— “Glory,” here, must be understood in its spiritual and eschatological sense as the blessedness which the godly shall receive after death, and is the opposite of the pleasures and rewards of wicked men. The whole context requires this, and it is implied in the verb “receive,” the same word as is used of Enoch, (Genesis 5:24,) “For God took him,” and Psalms 49:15, “God shall redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me;” instances in which no other sense can be given than that of final blessedness with God. אחר, (ahhar,) translated after, (which is sometimes used adverbially, as Judges 19:5, and sometimes as a preposition, as Zechariah 2:8,) must here be taken as an adverb. This accords with commentators generally, and with the authorized English Version. All attempts to translate the word prepositionally are obscure and unsatisfactory, as in the following examples: “After honour (glory) thou takest me,” that is, after it as an aim, and so “Thou takest me and bringest me in its train,” (Hengstenberg,) or, “Thou leadest me after glory,” (Hitzig, Ewald.) Such renderings give no appreciable sense, and are as opposed to the scope of the author as to the analogy of revelation and the facts of history. It is not to any state or result in this life that God has ever yet led his suffering, spiritual Church, as the ultimate goal of spiritual aim and desire, or as an antidote to temptation such as had well nigh stumbled the psalmist. Besides, as translations, the quotations just given cannot be accepted. The first, (“after honour [as an aim] thou takest me,”) is unintelligible; and the second, (“Thou leadest me after glory,”) uses לקח, (lakahh,) in an unauthorized sense. The word occurs about nine hundred and fifty times in the Old Testament, and never means lead, but always to take, take away, receive, bring, etc. The proper word for lead, נחה, (nahhah,) had already been used in the previous member of the verse. “Thou shall guide [lead] me with thy counsel.” The life to come alone can explain the words of the psalmist. The counsel of God, which was to “guide” him henceforth, still involved that mysterious purpose of providence which allowed the wicked to prosper in contempt of God, while the righteous should often remain in affliction and oppression. But the discovery of the “end” of the wicked (see on Psalms 73:17) had corrected his error and restored his staggering faith. In this faith he now submissively walks on, led by “the counsel of God,” still unexplained, till the rewards of a future life should unfold all and compensate all. See notes on Psalms 37. With this view the closing verses coincide.

Verse 25

25. Whom have I in heaven but thee—Hebrew, Who in the heavens [is] to me? That is, as an object of trust, or a saviour.

None upon earth— Thus the heavens and the eartha Hebrew phrase for the total universe offer no object of final trust, no deliverer, but God.

Besides thee—Either to the exclusion of thee, or in conjunction with thee. The psalmist’s faith and desire not only rest on God, but centre in him only.

Verse 26

26. My flesh and my heart faileth— “Flesh” and “heart” contrasted, as here, embrace the total makeup of man. In biblical psychology “heart” is used for the innermost, or central, life of man, and must comprehend here the united psychical and spirit life, as “flesh” does the physical and organic.

Faileth—The word is used variously for to come to an end, to faint, to pine, to languish. The failing of the “flesh” would be the going out of animal life, and the failing of the “heart” the sinking of the innermost being into doubt and despair. Both would result without God.

Strength of my heart—Hebrew, Rock of my heart. Psalms 18:2. Against this failing of nature faith finds in God its rock.

My portion for ever—Hebrew, My portion to eternity. This is spoken of both flesh and heart, soul and body a triumphant hope of eternal life. “It is clear as day that this passage contains the germ of the doctrine of the resurrection.”Delitzsch. Compare Job 19:25-27

Verse 27

27. They that are far from theeThe far-off ones. Exactly the New Testament description of the heathen world without the knowledge of God. Acts 2:39; Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:17.

All them that go a whoring from thee—Israel is the spouse of God, and falling away to idolatry is breaking the marriage vow. The figure is common, (Jeremiah 3:14; compare Exodus 34:15; James 4:4; Revelation 17:5,) and is the intensified parallel of “far from thee” in the first hemistich.

Verse 28

28. Good for me to draw near to God—Literally, and I, nearness to God to me is good: that is, the ultimate good, the sum of all conceivable good, the summum bonum of the ancientsa clear declaration of the unselfish and absolute morality of Bible religion. Not a religion of external rewards and honours, and of selfish aspirations and longings for paradisiacal bliss, but of communion and fellowship with God, whether it be on earth or in heaven. It stands opposed here to the distance and alienation from God of Psalms 73:27. The first and closing verses of the psalm are thus beautifully coincident.

That I may declare all thy works—The Septuagint and Vulgate add, “in the gates of the daughter of Zion;” the highest function of a redeemed Church, and God’s living protest against all atheism in form or spirit throughout the ages, and all faithlessness and doubt in his tempted saints.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 73:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

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Friday, October 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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