Psalms 73

PSALM LXXIII

The psalmist speaks of God's goodness to his people, 1;

shows how much he was stumbled at the prosperity of the wicked,

and describes their state, 2-12;

details the process of the temptation, and the pain he suffered

in consequence, 13-16;

shows how he was delivered, and the dismal reverse of the state

of the once prosperous ungodly man, by which his own false

views were corrected, 17-22;

his great confidence in God, and the good consequences of it,

23-28.

NOTES ON PSALM LXXIII

THIS is the commencement of the THIRD BOOK of the Psalter; and

the Psalm before us has for title, A Psalm of Asaph; or, as the

margin has it, A Psalm for Asaph. The title in the Hebrew is

mizmor leasaph; "A Psalm of Asaph:" and it is likely

that this Asaph was the composer of it; that he lived under the

Babylonish captivity; and that he published this Psalm to console

the Israelites under bondage, who were greatly tried to find

themselves in such outward distress and misery, while a people

much more wicked and corrupt than they, were in great prosperity,

and held them in bondage.

Verse 1. Truly God is good to Israel] Captives as they were,

they still had many blessings from God; and they had promises of

deliverance, which must be fulfilled in due time.

Such as are of a clean heart.] Those who have a clean heart must

have inward happiness: and, because they resemble God, they can

never be forsaken by him.

Verse 2. My feet were almost gone] I had nearly given up my

confidence. I was ready to find fault with the dispensations of

providence; and thought the Judge of all the earth did not do

right.

Verse 3. I was envious at the foolish] I saw persons who

worshipped not the true God, and others who were abandoned to

all vices, in possession of every temporal comfort, while the

godly were in straits, difficulties, and affliction. I began then

to doubt whether there was a wise providence; and my mind became

irritated. It seems to have been a maxim among the ancient

heathens, θεουονειδοςτουςκακουςευδαιμονειν, "The prosperity of

the wicked is a reproach to the gods." But they had no just

conception of a state of future rewards and punishments. Besides,

man could not bear prosperity. If men had uninterrupted comforts

here, perhaps not one soul would ever seek a preparation for

heaven. Human trials and afflictions, the general warfare of human

life, are the highest proof of a providence as benevolent as it is

wise. Were the state of human affairs different from what it is,

hell would be more thickly peopled; and there would be fewer

inhabitants in glory. There is reason to doubt whether there would

be any religion upon earth had we nothing but temporal prosperity.

Indeed, all the following verses are proofs of it.

Verse 4. No bands in their death] Many of the godly have sore

conflicts at their death. Their enemy then thrusts sore at them

that they may fall; or that their confidence in their God may be

shaken. But of this the ungodly know nothing. Satan will not

molest them; he is sure of his prey; they are entangled, and

cannot now break their nets; their consciences are seared, they

have no sense of guilt. If they think at all of another world,

they presume on that mercy which they never sought, and of which

they have no distinct notion. Perhaps, "they die without a sigh or

a groan; and thus go off as quiet as a lamb"-to the slaughter.

Verse 6. Pride compasseth them about as a chain] Perhaps there

is an allusion here to the office which some of them bore. Chains

of gold, and golden rings, were ensigns of magistracy and civil

power. As these chains encompassed their necks, or the rings their

wrists and fingers, as the signs of the offices in virtue of which

they acted; so chamas, violence, oppressive conduct,

encompassed them. They made no other use of their great power,

than to oppress the poor and the needy; and to drive things to

extremities. The Chaldee, instead of a chain, represents this as a

crown or diadem, which they had formed out of the plunder of the

poor and defenceless.

Verse 7. Their eyes stand out with fatness] "Their countenance

is changed because of fatness."-Chaldee. By fatness, or

corpulency, the natural lines of the face are changed, or rather

obliterated. The characteristic distinctions are gone; and we

see little remaining besides the human hog.

They have more than heart could wish.] I doubt this translation.

Whose heart ever said, I have enough, which had not its portion

with God? It would be more literal to say, "They surpass the

thoughts of their heart." They have more than they expected,

though not more than they wish.

Verse 8. They are corrupt] yamiku, they mock, act

dissolutely.

And speak wickedly concerning oppression] They vindicate

excessive acts of government: they push justice to its rigour.

They neither show equity, lenity, nor mercy; they are cruel, and

they vindicate their proceedings.

Verse 9. Set their mouth against the heavens] They blaspheme

God, ridicule religion, mock at Providence, and laugh at a future

state.

Their tongue walketh through the earth.] They find fault with

every thing; they traduce the memory of the just in heaven, and

ridicule the saints that are upon earth. They criticize every

dispensation of God.

Verse 10. Therefore his people return hither] There are very few

verses in the Bible that have been more variously translated than

this; and, like the man in the fable, they have blown the hot to

cool it, and the cold to warm it. It has been translated,

"Therefore God's people fall off to them; and thence they reap no

small advantage." And, "Therefore let his people come before them;

and waters in full measure would be wrung out from them." That is,

"Should God's people come before them, they would squeeze them to

the utmost; they would wring out all the juice in their bodies."

The Chaldee has, "Therefore, are they turned against the people of

the Lord, that they may bruise and beat them with mallets; that

they may pour out to them abundance of tears." The Vulgate,

"Therefore shall my people return here, and days of abundance

shall be found by them." The Septuagint is the same. The

AEthiopic, Arabic, and Syriac, nearly the same. The Hebrew text

is, lachen yashub ammo (

ammi) halom; umey male yimmatsu lamo; "Therefore shall my people

be converted, where they shall find abundance of waters." That is,

The people, seeing the iniquity of the Babylonians, and feeling

their oppressive hand, shall be converted to me; and I shall bring

them to their own land, where they shall find an abundance of all

the necessaries of life. I believe this to be the meaning; and

thus we find their afflictions were sanctified to them; for they

obliged them to return to God, and then God caused them to return

to their own land. The Vulgate translates umey male,

"abundance of waters," by et dies pleni, "and days of plenty;" for

it has read yemey, days, for umey, and waters.

Almost all the Versions support this reading; but it is not

acknowledged by any MS. The old Psalter is here mutilated.

Verse 11. They say, How doth God know?] My people are so

stumbled with the prosperity of the wicked, that they are ready in

their temptation to say, "Surely, God cannot know these things, or

he would never dispense his favours thus." Others consider these

words as the saying of the wicked: "We may oppress these people as

we please, and live as we list; God knows nothing about it."

Verse 12. These are the ungodly] The people still speak. It is

the ungodly that prosper, the irreligious and profane.

Verse 13. I have cleansed my heart in vain] It is no advantage

to us to worship the true God, to walk according to the law of

righteousness, and keep the ordinances of the Most High.

Verse 14. For all the day long have I been plagued] Far from

enjoying worldly prosperity, we are not only poor, but we are

afflicted also; and every succeeding day brings with it some new

trouble.

Verse 15. If I say, I will speak thus] I have at last discovered

that I have reasoned incorrectly; and that I have the uniform

testimony of all thy children against me. From generation to

generation they have testified that the Judge of all the earth

does right; they have trusted in thee, and were never confounded.

They also met with afflictions and sore trials, but thou didst

bring them safely through all, didst sustain them in the worst,

and sanctifiedst the whole to their eternal good.

Verse 16. When I thought to know this] When I reviewed the

history of our fathers, I saw that, though thou hadst from time to

time hidden thy face because of their sins, yet thou hadst never

utterly abandoned them to their adversaries; and it was not

reasonable to conclude that thou wouldst do now what thou hadst

never done before; and yet the continuance of our captivity, the

oppressive hardships which we suffer, and the small prospect there

is of release, puzzle me again. These things have been very

painful to me.

Verse 17. Until I went into the sanctuary] Until, in the use of

thy ordinances, I entered into a deep consideration of thy secret

counsels, and considered the future state of the righteous and the

wicked; that the unequal distribution of temporal good and evil

argued a future judgment; that the present is a state of trial;

and that God exercises his followers according to his godly wisdom

and tender mercy. Then light sprang up in my mind, and I was

assured that all these exercises were for our benefit, and that

the prosperity of the wicked here was a prelude to their

destruction. And this I saw to be their end.

That this Psalm was written during the captivity, there is

little room to doubt. How then can the psalmist speak of the

sanctuary? There was none at Babylon; and at Jerusalem it had

been long since destroyed? There is no way to solve this

difficulty but by considering that mikdeshey may be taken in

the sense of holy places-places set apart for prayer and

meditation. And that the captives had such places in their

captivity, there can be no doubt; and the place that is set apart

to meet God in, for prayer, supplication, confession of sin, and

meditation, is holy unto the Lord; and is, therefore, his

sanctuary, whether a house or the open field. Calmet thinks

by holy meditations a view of the Divine secrets, to which he

refers, Ps 73:24, is here meant.

Verse 18. Thou didst set them in slippery places] Affluence is a

slippery path; few have ever walked in it without falling. It is

possible to be faithful in the unrighteous mammon, but it is very

difficult. No man should desire riches; for they bring with them

so many cares and temptations as to be almost unmanageable. Rich

men, even when pious, are seldom happy; they do not enjoy the

consolations of religion. A good man, possessed of very extensive

estates, unblamable in his whole deportment, once said to me:

"There must be some strange malignity in riches thus to keep me in

continual bondage, and deprive me of the consolations of the

Gospel." Perhaps to a person to whom his estates are a snare, the

words of our Lord may be literally applicable: "Sell what thou

hast, and give to the poor; and thou shalt have treasure in

heaven: and come, take up thy cross, and follow me." But he went

away sorrowful, for he had great possessions! May we not then say

with the psalmist, Surely thou digest set them in slippery places,

&c.?

Verse 19. Are they brought into desolation] This is often a

literal fact. I have known several cases where persons, very rich,

have by sudden losses been brought into desolation as in a moment;

in consequence of which they were utterly consumed in terrors.

Verse 20. As a dream when one awaketh] So their goods fled away.

Their possession was a dream-their privation, real.

Thou shalt despise their image.] While destitute of true

religion, whatever appearance they had of greatness, nobility,

honour, and happiness; yet in the sight of God they had no more

than the ghost or shade of excellence which God is said here to

despise. Who would be rich at such risk and dishonour?

Verse 21. Thus may heart was grieved] The different views which

I got of this subject quite confounded me; I was equally

astonished at their sudden overthrow and my own ignorance. I felt

as if I were a beast in stupidity. I permitted my mind to be

wholly occupied with sensible things, like the beasts that perish,

and did not look into a future state; nor did I consider, nor

submit to, the wise designs of an unerring Providence.

Verse 23. I am continually with thee] I now see that myself and

my people are under thy guardian care; that we are continually

upheld by thee; and while in thy right hand, we shall not be

utterly cast down.

Verse 24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel] After we have

suffered awhile, receiving directions and consolations from thy

good Spirit, by means of thy prophets, who are in the same

captivity with ourselves; thou wilt grant us deliverance, restore

us to our own land, and crown us with honour and happiness. Any

sincere follower of God may use these words in reference to this

and the coming world. Thy counsel-thy WORD and SPIRIT, shall guide

me through life; and when I have done and suffered thy righteous

will, thou wilt receive me into thy eternal glory.

Verse 25. Whom have I in heaven but thee?] The original is more

emphatic: mi li bashshamayim;

veimmecha lo chaphatsti baarets. "Who is there to me in the

heavens? And with thee I have desired nothing in the earth." No

man can say this who has not taken God for his portion in

reference to both worlds.

Verse 26. My flesh-faileth] I shall soon die: and my heart-even

my natural courage, will fail; and no support but what is

supernatural will then be available. Therefore, he adds,-

God is the strength of my heart] Literally, the rock of my

heart.

And my portion] Allusion is here made to the division of the

promised land. I ask no inheritance below; I look for one above. I

do not look for this in the possession of any place; it is GOD

alone that can content the desires and wishes of an immortal

spirit. And even this would not satisfy, had I not the prospect of

its being for ever, leolum, "to eternity!'

Verse 27. They that are far from thee shall perish] The term

perish is generally used to signify a coming to nothing, being

annihilated; and by some it is thus applied to the finally

impenitent, they shall all be annihilated. But where is this to be

found in the Scriptures? In no part, properly understood. In the

new heavens and the new earth none of the wicked shall be found;

for therein dwells righteousness-nothing but God and righteous

spirits; but at the same time the wicked shall be in their own

place. And to suppose that they shall be annihilated, is as great

a heresy, though scarcely so absurd, as to believe that the pains

of damnation are emendatory, and that hell-fire shall burn out.

There is presumptive evidence from Scripture to lead us to the

conclusion, that if there be not eternal punishment, glory will

not be eternal; as the same terms are used to express the duration

of both. No human spirit that is not united to God can be saved.

Those who are FAR FROM THEE shall perish-they shall be lost,

undone, ruined, and that without remedy. Being separated from God

by sin, they shall never be rejoined; the great gulf must be

between them and their Maker eternally.

All them that go a whoring from thee.] That is, all that worship

false gods; all idolaters. This is the only meaning of the word in

such a connexion. I have explained this elsewhere.

Verse 28. It is good for me to draw near] We have already seen

that those who are far off shall perish; therefore, it is ill for

them. Those who draw near-who come in the true spirit of

sacrifice, and with the only available offering, the Lord Jesus,

shall be finally saved; therefore, it is good for them.

I have put my trust in the Lord God] I confide in Jehovah, my

Prop and Stay. I have taken him for my portion.

That I may declare all thy works.] That I may testify to all how

good it is to draw nigh to God; and what a sufficient portion he

is to the soul of man.

The Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and Arabic, add, in the

gates of the daughter of Sion. These words appear to make a better

finish; but they are not acknowledged by any Hebrew MS.

ANALYSIS OF THE SEVENTY-THIRD PSALM

The prophet shows the grief that many good men feel at the

prosperity of the wicked, and the distresses of the godly; but at

last, consulting the will of God, he finds that the felicity of

the wicked ends in wretchedness, and the crosses of the godly are

the way to happiness; and, with this consideration, he gains quiet

to his troubled mind. Let the question be, Who is the happy man?

The godly or ungodly? And then the parts of the Psalm will be as

follows:-

I. The arguments produced for the happiness of the wicked,

Ps 73:1-9.

II. The impression these arguments make in carnal minds,

Ps 73:2, 3, 10-14.

III. The rejection of these doubts and impressions,

Ps 73:15-17.

IV. The refutation of the former arguments, Ps 73:18-20.

V. The psalmist's censure of himself for his precipitate

judgment, Ps 73:21, 22.

VI. His full resolution of the doubt, after the full examination

of the reasons on both sides. That true happiness consists in

union with God; and therefore the wicked, who are far from him,

however they flourish, are unhappy, Ps 73:23-28.

But, more particularly, the Psalm is divisible into the

following parts:-

I. There is, first, an assertion: "Certainly, God is good to

Israel, to such as are of a clean heart," Ps 73:1. But can this

comport with their present afflicted state? With this he was

greatly harassed, Ps 73:2. He saw the wicked in prosperity, which

he states in several particulars.

II. What carnal minds think of them.

1. They have no conflicts in their death, Ps 73:4.

2. They are not troubled like other men, Ps 73:5.

3. They are proud and haughty, Ps 73:6, and yet are not

punished.

4. They are oppressive tyrants: "Violence covereth them."

5. They feed luxuriously, Ps 73:7.

6. They speak evil against the poor, Ps 73:8.

7. They even speak against God, and all the dispensations of his

providence: "Their tongue walketh through the earth," Ps 73:9.

8. They assert that he takes no cognizance of their ways,

Ps 73:10, 11.

III. The evil conclusion formed from these premises refuted.

1. It is the ungodly that prosper in the earth, Ps 73:12.

2. If so, then of what avail are my religious observances and

sufferings, &c.? Ps 73:13, 14.

He resolves the question,-

1. From the testimony of ALL the godly, Ps 73:15.

2. He tried to solve it by reason, but did not succeed,

Ps 73:16.

3. He consults with God, and the whole is made plain, Ps 73:17.

From him he learns,-

1. That the happiness of the wicked is unstable, Ps 73:18.

2. They stand on a precipice, and are cast down, Ps 73:19.

3. Their desolation comes suddenly and unexpectedly, Ps 73:19.

4. Their ruin is fearful: "They are consumed with terrors."

5. Thus it is demonstrated that their happiness was vain, empty,

as unsubstantial as a dream, Ps 73:20.

IV. He now acknowledges that he had formed an erroneous

judgment. 1. That he gave way to animosity. 2. That he acted

rather like a beast than a man, in looking only to the present

life, Ps 73:21, 22. He now receives instruction and

encouragement.

1. The godly are not neglected: "They are continually with God,"

Ps 73:23.

2. They are tenderly led as by the hand of a loving father,

Ps 73:23.

3. They are directed by the word and Spirit of God, Ps 73:24.

4. They are often crowned with signal marks of God's esteem,

even in this life, Ps 73:24.

V. His resolution to live to God, as he sees that such alone are

happy.

1. He expects nothing in heaven but God: "Whom have I in

heaven," &c.

2. He will seek no other portion on earth: "There is none on

earth," Ps 73:25.

3. I will cleave to him in life and death: "When my flesh and my

heart fail."

4. My confidence in him shall be unshaken, Ps 73:26.

VI. He draws two conclusions from what he had learned:-

1. They that are far from God perish.

2. They that draw nigh to him are saved, Ps 73:27.

Therefore, I will so trust in God that I shall be able to

declare his works, Ps 73:28.

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