|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
73:15-20 The psalmist having shown the progress of his temptation, shows how faith and grace prevailed. He kept up respect for God's people, and with that he restrained himself from speaking what he had thought amiss. It is a sign that we repent of the evil thoughts of the heart, if we suppress them. Nothing gives more offence to God's children, than to say it is vain to serve God; for there is nothing more contrary to their universal experience. He prayed to God to make this matter plain to him; and he understood the wretched end of wicked people; even in the height of their prosperity they were but ripening for ruin. The sanctuary must be the resort of a tempted soul. The righteous man's afflictions end in peace, therefore he is happy; the wicked man's enjoyments end in destruction, therefore he is miserable. The prosperity of the wicked is short and uncertain, slippery places. See what their prosperity is; it is but a vain show, it is only a corrupt imagination, not substance, but a mere shadow; it is as a dream, which may please us a little while we are slumbering, yet even then it disturbs our repose.
Verse 18. - Surely thou didst set them up in slippery places. The wicked have at no time any sure hold on their prosperity. They are a "set in slippery places" - places from which they may easily slip and fall. Thou castedst them down to destruction. The fall often comes, even in this life. The flourishing cities of the plain are destroyed by fire from heaven; Pharaoh's land is ruined by the plagues, and his host destroyed in the Red Sea; Sennacherib's army perishes in a night; Jezebel is devoured by dogs; Athaliah is slain with the sword; Antiochus Epiphanes perishes in a distant expedition; Herod Agrippa is eaton of worms; persecutors, like Nero, Galerius, Julian, come to untimely ends. A signal retribution visits the wicked in hundreds and thousands of instances. When it does not, the question remains - Is death the end? This point is not formally brought forward, but it underlies the whole argument; and, unless retribution after death be regarded as certain, a single exception to the general rule of retribution in this life would upset the solution which the psalmist finds satisfactory.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places,.... In which a man cannot stand long, and without danger; and the higher they are the more dangerous, being slippery, and such are places of honour and riches. The phrase denotes the uncertainty and instability of these things, and the danger men are in who are possessed of them of falling into destruction and misery. The Targum is,
"thou didst set them in darkness;''
to be in slippery places, and in the dark, is very uncomfortable, unsafe, and dangerous indeed; See Psalm 35:6 and it may be observed, that all this honour, promotion, and riches, are of God; it is he that sets them in these places of honour and profit; and he that sets them up can pull them down, as he does; so it follows,
thou castest them down into destruction: into temporal destruction, by removing them from their high stations into a very low, mean, and contemptible state, as were Shebna and Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah 22:15 and into everlasting destruction, from whence there is no recovery; see Psalm 55:23.
The Treasury of David
18 Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
The Psalmist's sorrow had culminated, not in the fact that the ungodly prospered, but that God had arranged it so: had it happened by mere chance, he would have wondered, but could not have complained; but how the arranger of all things could so dispense his temporal favours, was the vexatious question. Here, to meet the case, he sees that the divine hand purposely placed these men in prosperous and eminent circumstances, not with the intent to bless them but the very reverse. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places." Their position was dangerous, and, therefore, God did not set his friends there but his foes alone. He chose, in infinite love, a rougher but safer standing for his own beloved. "Thou castedst them down into destruction." The same hand which led them up to their Tarpeian rock, hurled them down from it. They were but elevated by judicial arrangement for the fuller execution of their doom. Eternal punishment will be all the more terrible in contrast with the former prosperity of those who are ripening for it. Taken as a whole, the case of the ungodly is horrible throughout; and their worldly joy instead of diminishing the horror, actually renders the effect the more awful, even as the vivid lightning amid the storm does not brighten but intensify the thick darkness which lowers around. The ascent to the fatal gallows of Haman was an essential ingredient in the terror of the sentence - "hang him thereon." If the wicked had not been raised so high they could not have fallen so low.
"How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment!" This is an exclamation of godly wonder at the suddenness and completeness of the sinners' overthrow. Headlong is their fall; without warning, without escape, without hope of future restoration! Despite their golden chains, and goodly apparel, death stays not for manners but hurries them away; and stern justice unbribed by their wealth hurls them into destruction. "They are utterly consumed with terrors." They have neither root nor branch left. They cease to exist among the sons of men, and, in the other world, there is nothing left of their former glory. Like blasted trees, consumed by the lightning, they are monuments of vengeance; like the ruins of Babylon they reveal, in the greatness of their desolation, the judgments of the Lord against all those that unduly exalt themselves. The momentary glory of the graceless is in a moment effaced, their loftiness is in an instant consumed.
"As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image." They owe their existence and prosperity to the forbearance of God, which the Psalmist compares to a sleep; but, as a dream vanishes so soon as a man awakes, so the instant the Lord begins to exercise his justice and call men before him, the pomp and prosperity of proud transgressors shall melt away. When God awakes to judgment, they who despise him shall be despised; they are already "such stuff as dreams are made of," but then the baseless fabric shall not leave a wreck behind. Let them flaunt their little hour, poor unsubstantial sons of dreams; they will soon be gone; when the day breaketh, and the Lord awakes as a mighty man out of his sleep, they will vanish away. Who cares for the wealth of dreamland? Who indeed but fools? Lord, leave us not to the madness which covets unsubstantial wealth, and ever teach us thine own wisdom.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
18-20. their end—future (Ps 37:37, 38), which is dismal and terribly sudden (Pr 1:27; 29:1), aggravated and hastened by terror. As one despises an unsubstantial dream, so God, waking up to judgment (Ps 7:6; 44:23), despises their vain shadow of happiness (Ps 39:6; Isa 29:7). They are thrown into ruins as a building falling to pieces (Ps 74:3).
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