A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.Psalm 73:1. Truly, or nevertheless, &c. — The beginning is abrupt, and sufficiently intimates that he had a great conflict within himself about the matter here spoken of, and that many doubts and objections were raised in his mind concerning it. But, at last, light and satisfaction broke forth upon him, like the sun from under a cloud, and overcame and silenced his scruples, in consequence of which he lays down this conclusion. God is good to Israel — Though he may sometimes seem negligent of, and harsh and severe toward, his people; yet, if all things be considered, it is most certain, and hereafter will be made manifest, that he is really and superlatively good, that is, most kind and bountiful, and a true friend to them, and that they are most happy in possessing his favour, and have no reason to envy sinners their present and seeming felicity. Even to such as are of a clean heart — To all true Israelites, who love God with their whole hearts, and serve him in spirit, in truth, and uprightness: see John 4:23; Romans 2:28-29. So this clause limits the former, and takes off a great part of the force of the objection, indeed the whole of that which was drawn from the calamities which befell the hypocritical and half-hearted Israelites, who were vastly the greater number of that people.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.Psalm 73:2-3. But as for me — Yet I must acknowledge with grief and shame, concerning myself, that notwithstanding all my knowledge of this truth, and my own experience and observation of God’s dealings with me and other good men; my feet were almost gone — My faith in God’s promises and providence was almost overthrown by the force of temptation; and I was almost ready to repent of my piety, Psalm 73:13, and to follow the example of ungodly men. My steps had well nigh slipped — Hebrew, שׁפכו, shuppechu, were almost poured forth, namely, like water upon the ground, which is unstable, and runs hither and thither with great disorder and uncertainty, till it be irrecoverably lost. So was I almost transported by my unruly fancies and passions into unworthy thoughts of God, and a sinful course of life. For I was envious at the foolish — I was vexed and murmured to see the wicked, notwithstanding their guilt and desert of punishment, in a very flourishing condition, and I thought it very hard that pious men should not equal, if not exceed, them in such happiness; especially when I saw no likelihood that it would end, but that they continued in their prosperity. With great propriety are the wicked, and those that live as if there were no God, called the foolish; for nothing can show greater folly.
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.Psalm 73:4. For there are no bands in their death — They are not violently dragged to an untimely death, either by the hand and sentence of the magistrate, which yet they deserve, or by any sudden and unexpected stroke of Divine Providence, like the fruit forced from the tree before it is ripe, but are left to hang on, till, through old age, they gently drop off themselves. Hebrew, אין חרצבות, een chartzuboth, There are no pangs, anguish, or agonies, in their death; they are not afflicted with sore and painful diseases, nor brought to the grave by grievous torments of body or mind; but after a long life, in firm and vigorous health, they enjoy a sweet and quiet death, and depart easily out of the world: “while others of a contrary character are worn with chronical, or racked with acute disorders, which bring them with sorrow and torment to the grave.” — Horne. But their strength is firm — Hebrew, בריא אולם, baria ulam, their strength is fat, that is, sound and good; the best of any thing being called fat, in Scripture, as Genesis 41:2; Daniel 1:15. They continue strong and healthful all their days, till at last they expire quietly, as a lamp goes out when the oil is spent.
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.Psalm 73:5-9. They are not in trouble as other men — They escape even common calamities. Therefore pride compasseth them about — Discovers itself on every side, in their countenances, speech, behaviour. Their eyes stand out with fatness — They live in great plenty and prosperity. They are corrupt — Dissolute and licentious, letting loose the reins to all manner of wickedness. And speak wickedly concerning oppression — Wickedly boasting of their oppressions; either of what they have done, or of what they intend to do in that way. They speak loftily — Arrogantly presuming upon their own strength, and despising both God and men. They set their mouth against the heavens — That is, against God, blaspheming his name, denying or deriding his providence, reviling his saints and servants. Their tongue walketh through the earth — Using all manner of liberty, introducing and reproaching all sorts of persons, not caring whom they displease or hurt by it.
Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.
They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.
They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.Psalm 73:10. Therefore his people return hither — “It seems impossible to ascertain,” says Dr. Horne, “with any degree of precision, the meaning of this verse, or to whom it relates. Some think it intends those people who resort to the company of the wicked, because they find their temporal advantage by it; while others are of opinion that the people of God are meant, who, by continually revolving in their thoughts the subject here treated of, namely, the prosperity of the wicked, are sore grieved, and enforced to shed tears in abundance.” Certainly a variety of discordant interpretations have been given of the verse. But a literal translation, which the following is, seems, in some degree at least, to determine its meaning. Therefore — Hebrew, לכן, lachen, on this account, his people shall return thither, and waters of fullness shall be wrung out to them — As if he had said, Because of the prosperity of the wicked, and the afflicted state of the righteous, his people, that is, the people of God, will be under a strong temptation to return; and many will actually return to the company of the ungodly, which they had forsaken, in order to share their prosperity: but in consequence thereof, waters of a full cup shall be wrung out to them, they shall bring upon themselves many chastisements and troubles, and shall be oppressed with grief and sorrow for their sin and folly. Waters, in Scripture, frequently signify afflictions, although, it must be acknowledged, they also often signify mercies and comforts; but the former, and not the latter sense of the metaphor, seems to be intended here: for when did, or do, the people of God receive mercies and comforts, or blessings of any kind, by returning to the sins and follies which they had forsaken, or to the society of the ungodly, from which they had withdrawn themselves? Do they not uniformly meet with chastisement and trouble? The clause, “waters of a full cup,” &c., may probably refer to the cups of liquor, mingled with poison, which were, in those days, given to criminals. The verse, it must be observed, is in the future tense, and it seems most natural, as Mr. Scott has remarked, to interpret it as expressive of the psalmist’s apprehension, that the prosperity of daring sinners would eventually prove a strong temptation, and a great source of sorrow to believers.
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?Psalm 73:11. And they say — Namely, the ungodly, described in the preceding verses, (verse the 10th coming in by way of parenthesis,) or the people confederate with them, or that fall back to them. For these and such like opinions and speeches are often ascribed to the carnal and wicked in Scripture, but never to any good man. Some such expressions as this were indeed charged on Job by his friends, but, although he had used many intemperate speeches, he utterly disowned such as these. How doth God know? Is there knowledge, &c. — As if they said, Since blasphemers of God and enemies of all goodness are crowned with so many blessings, how is it credible that there is a God who sees and orders the affairs of this lower world? For if God did know these things, and concerned himself with affairs here below, he certainly neither could nor would suffer them to be thus managed.
Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.Psalm 73:12. Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the world — This is their condition and behaviour in it. “The temptation is now stated in its full force. As if he had said, These worthless, ungodly, blasphemous wretches, whose characters I have been delineating, these are the men who prosper in the world, who succeed in every thing they undertake, and roll in riches! What are we to think of God, his providence, and his promises?”
Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.Psalm 73:13-14. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, &c. — Hence I have been tempted to think, that religion is a vain and unprofitable thing; that “all my faith, my charity, and my devotion; all my watching and fastings, in short, all the labour and pains I have taken in the way of goodness, have been altogether vain and fruitless; since, while the rebellious enemies of God enjoy the world and themselves at pleasure, I, who continue his servant, am in perpetual tribulation and affliction.” — Horne. True religion is properly and fully described in this verse, by its two principal parts and works, the cleansing of the heart from sinful lusts and passions, and of the hands, or outward man, from a course of sinful actions. And although it be God’s work to cleanse the heart, yet he says, I have cleansed it, because every pious man co-operates with God’s grace in cleansing his heart. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1. And washed my hands in innocency — That is, kept my hands (the chief instruments of action, and, consequently, the rest of the members of my body) innocent and pure from evil practices. I have washed my hands, not only ceremonially with water, wherewith hypocrites satisfy themselves, but also morally, with the waters of God’s grace and Spirit, in innocency or purity. For all the day long I have been plagued, &c. — While their ungodliness hath been attended with constant prosperity, my piety hath been exercised with continual afflictions.
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.Psalm 73:15. If I say, I will speak thus — I will give sentence for the ungodly in this manner. I should offend against the generation of thy children —
By grieving, discouraging, and condemning them, and by tempting them to revolt from thee and thy service. By the generation of God’s children must be understood 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 word בגד, bagad, here rendered, offend. The reader will observe, that “the psalmist,” having particularly described the disease, “proceeds now, like a skilful physician of the soul, to prescribe a medicine for it, which is compounded of many salutary ingredients. And first, to the suggestions of nature, grace opposes the examples of the children of God, who never fell from their hope in another world, because of their sufferings in this. For a man, therefore, to distrust the divine goodness on that account, is to belie their hope, renounce their faith, and strike his name out of their list.”
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;Psalm 73:16. When I thought to know this — To find out the reason and meaning of this mysterious course of Divine Providence, it was too painful for me — I found it too hard a task to attain satisfaction, as to these points, by my own meditations and reasonings. Indeed, it is a problem not to be solved by the mere light of nature; for if there were not another life after this, we could not fully reconcile the prosperity of the wicked with the justice of God. Here, then, we have “a second reason why a man should not be too forward to arraign God’s dispensations of injustice, namely, the extreme difficulty of comprehending the whole of them, which, indeed, is not to be done by the human mind, unless God himself shall vouchsafe it the necessary information.” — Horne.
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.Psalm 73:17. Until I went into the sanctuary of God — Till I consulted with the oracle, or word of God. He alludes to the practice of those times, which was in dark and difficult cases to resort to God’s sanctuary, and the oracle in it, for satisfaction. Then understood I their end — There I learned that their prosperity was short, and would quickly have an end, and that a most terrible one; that their fair morning would be followed with a black and dreadful evening, and an everlasting night. “This is the third argument, with which we may repress the spirit of murmuring and distrust, so apt to be excited by the prosperity of the wicked; and it is one communicated to us by the word of God, which alone can acquaint us with what shall be the end, the final portion of sinners. This is an arrow from the heavenly quiver, which brings down our enemy at once, and lays Dagon prostrate before the ark.”
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.Psalm 73:18. Thou didst set them in slippery places — Their happiness hath no firm foundation; it is very unstable, like a man’s standing on very slippery ground. Thou castedst them down into destruction — The same hand which raised them will soon cast them down into utter ruin. “Worldly prosperity,” says Dr. Horne, “is as the narrow and slippery summit of a mountain, on which, to answer the designs of his providence, God permits the wicked, during his pleasure, to take their station; till, at length, the fatal hour arrives, when, by a stroke unseen, they fall from thence, and are lost in the fathomless ocean of sorrow, torment, and despair.”
How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.Psalm 73:19-20. They are brought to desolation as in a moment — Their fall is wonderful, both for its greatness, and for its suddenness. They are utterly consumed with terrors — With the horrors of their own minds; or rather, with God’s judgments unexpectedly seizing upon them. As a dream when one awaketh — Their happiness is like that of a dream, wherein a man seems highly pleased and transported with ravishing delights, but when he awakes he finds himself deceived and unsatisfied. O Lord, when thou awakest — Arisest to punish them. Or rather, when they shall awake; namely, out of the pleasant dream of this sinful life, by death and the torments following. For the Hebrew is only בעיר, bagnir, in awaking, an expression which may be applied either to God or to them, as the context directs, and the latter application seems to agree best with the metaphor here before mentioned. Thou shalt despise their image — That is, all their felicity and glory, which, as indeed it ever was, so now shall evidently be discerned to be no real, or substantial and solid thing, but a mere image, or shadow, or vain show, which can neither abide with them, nor yield them satisfaction. Thus the word rendered pomp, Acts 25:23, is, in the Greek, φαντασια, a mere fancy and imagination. And Psalm 39:6, man is said to walk in a vain show; in the LXX., εν εικονι, in an image, the word used by these interpreters here. God is said to despise the image, when they awake, not really, for in that sense God ever did despise it, even when they were in the height of all their glory; but declaratively, things being often said to be done in Scripture when they appear or are manifest. The sense is, Thou shalt pour contempt upon them; make them despicable to themselves and others, notwithstanding all their riches; shalt raise them to shame and everlasting contempt. The LXX. render it, τον εικονα αυτων εξουδενωσεις, Thou shalt bring to naught, or make nothing of their image. God will render utterly contemptible even in their own sight, as well as in that of himself, of his holy angels, and the spirits of the righteous, those imaginary and fantastic pleasures for which they have lost the substantial joys and glories of his heavenly kingdom. For it is evident that what the psalmist here affirms, concerning the end of the wicked, cannot be understood, consistently with the rest of the Psalm, of their temporal destruction, but must be interpreted of their future wretched state in another world, which is often represented, in Scripture, by death and destruction; and so, indeed, these verses explain it. How are they brought to desolation in a moment, that is, the moment when they pass out of this life to another. It is then only that the wicked will be thoroughly awakened to see their misery, especially if they die without much pain or anguish, in a stupid, thoughtless way, as seems to be intimated Psalm 73:4. And here let us reflect, with Dr. Horne, If “the sudden alteration which death makes in the state of a powerful and opulent sinner, cannot but affect all around him, though they behold but one part of it; how much more would they be astonished and terrified if the curtain between the two worlds were withdrawn, and the other half of the change exposed to view! Let faith do that which sight cannot do;” let it show us, that the life of the ungodly is a sleep; their happiness a dream, illusive and transitory; at best a shadow, afterward nothing; and that, at the day of death, the soul is roused out of this sleep, the dream vanishes, and the sinner finds himself consigned to everlasting torments, “and then the ungodly, however wealthy and honourable, will surely cease to be the objects of our envy.”
As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.Psalm 73:21-22. Thus my heart was grieved — I was disturbed, so as I have expressed, with envy and indignation at the prosperity of the wicked. Hebrew, יתחמצ לבבי, jithchamets lebabi, my heart was in a ferment, or, had wrought itself up into a ferment, namely, with unbelieving thoughts, and reasonings on the above-mentioned subject. And I was pricked in my reins — I was heartily and deeply wounded in my spirit. So foolish was I, and ignorant — Of what I might have known and which, if I had known it aright, would have been perfectly sufficient to have prevented or silenced the disquieting thoughts and perplexing reasonings which have given me so much uneasiness. I was as a beast before thee — A most stupid and sottish creature, as though I had not only been devoid of grace, but of reason too. For reason itself, informed by the Holy Scriptures, sufficiently discovered, that, all things considered, I had no sufficient cause to envy the prosperity of wicked men. I minded only present things, as the brutes do, and did not look forward to and consider things to come, as reasonable creatures ought to do. Before thee — In thy sight, or judgment, and therefore in truth, Romans 2:2, howsoever I seemed to myself, or others, to have some degree of reason and discretion.
So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.Psalm 73:23. Nevertheless — Notwithstanding all my temptations, and my gross folly in yielding to them; I am continually with thee — In thy favour and under thy care. Although I gave thee just cause to cast me off, yet thou didst continue thy gracious presence with me, and kindness to me. Thou hast holden me by thy right hand — Hast upheld me, that my faith might not fail, and I might not be overthrown by this, or any other temptation. “The remainder of the Psalm contains the most dutiful and affectionate expressions of a mind perfectly at ease, and reposing itself with comfortable assurance on the loving-kindness of the Lord, of which it had thus experienced a fresh instance in its support under the late temptation, and complete victory over it.” — Horne.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.Psalm 73:24. Thou shall guide me, &c. — As thou hast kept me hitherto, in all my trials, so I am persuaded thou wilt lead me still into, and in, the right way, and keep me from straying from thee, or falling into evil or mischief; with thy counsel — By thy gracious providence, executing thy purpose of mercy to me, as being one of thy believing and obedient people, and watching over me, by thy word, which thou wilt open my eyes to understand; and principally by thy Holy Spirit, sanctifying and directing me in the whole course of my life. And afterward receive me to glory — Translate me to everlasting glory in heaven. As all those who commit themselves to God’s conduct shall be guided by his counsel, so all those who are so guided in this world shall be received to his glory in another world. If God direct us in the way of our duty, and prevent our turning aside out of it; enabling us to make his will the rule, and his glory the end of all our actions, he will afterward, when our state of trial and preparation is over, receive us to his kingdom and glory; the believing hopes and prospects of which will reconcile us to all the dark providences that now puzzle and perplex us, and ease us of the pain into which we may have been put by some distressing temptations. Here we see, that “he, who but a little while ago seemed to question the providence of God over the affairs of men, now exults in happy confidence of the divine mercy and favour toward himself; nothing doubting but that grace would ever continue to guide him upon earth, till glory should crown him in heaven. Such are the blessed effects of going into the sanctuary of God, and consulting the lively oracles, in all our doubts, difficulties, and temptations.” — Horne.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.Psalm 73:25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? — To seek to, or trust in, to court or covet an acquaintance with? God is in himself more glorious than any other being, and must be in our eyes infinitely more desirable. He, and he alone, is the felicity and chief good of man. He, and none but he, who made the soul, can make it happy. There is no other in heaven or earth that can pretend to do it. Now, in order that God may be our felicity, we must have him, as it is here expressed; we must possess his favour, his image, and communion with him. We must choose him for a portion, and ensure to ourselves an interest in his love. What will it avail us that he is the felicity of souls, if he be not the felicity of our souls; and if we do not, with a lively faith, make him ours, by joining ourselves to him in an everlasting covenant? Our affection must be set upon him, and our delight must be in him. Our desires must not only be offered up to God, but they must terminate in God, as their ultimate object. Whatever we desire besides him must be desired in subordination to him and his will, and with an eye to his glory. We must desire nothing besides God but what we desire for God. He must have our heart, our whole heart, and no creature in earth or heaven must be permitted to share with him.
My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.Psalm 73:26. My flesh and my heart faileth — I find, by sad experience, my own weakness and inability to encounter such temptations, and bear, with becoming patience and resignation, such troubles, as I frequently meet with; yea, I find myself a frail, dying creature, that shall shortly return to the dust. Both my flesh and heart, my body and soul may, and, unless supported by God, will soon fail. But God is the strength of my heart — I have found him so; I do find him so, and hope I ever shall. As if he had said, Though I have no strength in myself, I have it in God, my never- failing refuge, to whom I will trust as long as I live. Hebrew, צור לבבי, tsur lebabi, the rock of my heart, a firm foundation, which will bear my weight, and not sink under it. In the distress supposed, he had put the case of a double failure, a failure of both the flesh and heart; but in the relief, he fixes on a single support; he leaves out the flesh, and the consideration of it; it is enough that God is the strength of his heart. He speaks as one careless of the body; let that fail, it must, there is no remedy; but he is concerned about his soul, to be strengthened in the inner man. And my portion for ever — He will not only support me while I am here, but will make me happy when I go hence, happy to all eternity. The saints choose God for their portion; he is their portion; and it is their happiness that he will be their portion for ever; a portion that will last as long as the immortal soul. Reader, consider this, and make choice of this portion without delay.
For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.Psalm 73:27. For lo, they that are far from thee shall perish — That is, they that forsake thee and thy ways, preferring the prosperity of this present evil world to thy love, and favour, and service; they who estrange themselves from an acquaintance with thee, and a conformity to thee; who are alienated from thy life, through the ignorance of thee, which is in them, and rest short of, or decline from, union and communion with thee; that say, if not in words, yet in effect, “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” Thou hast destroyed — And thou wilt still certainly and dreadfully destroy; all them that go a whoring from thee — Who, having professed subjection to thee, shall afterward revolt from thee, which is called whoredom, or adultery (figuratively speaking) in Scripture. For none are more hateful to God than wilful and wicked apostates from the principles and practice of the true religion which they once owned.
But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.Psalm 73:28. But it is good for me to draw near to God — But whatsoever they do, I am abundantly satisfied that it is, as my duty, so my interest and happiness, to cleave unto thee by faith, love, and obedience, and diligent attendance upon all thy ordinances. I have put my trust in the Lord God — I depend on him alone, for all my comfort and felicity; That I may declare all thy works — From which dependance, I know, I shall have this benefit, that I shall have many and great occasions to declare God’s acts of mercy and kindness to me.