Psalm 73
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges


Psalms 73-89


Twelve Psalms in the Psalter are entitled Psalms “of Asaph,” of which one (Psalms 50) stands by itself between the Korahite and Davidic groups in Book ii, and the remainder stand together in a group at the beginning of Book iii. It has been conjectured (see Introd. p. liv, note [35] that the isolated position of Psalms 50 is due to a transposition of the divisions of Books ii and iii, and that the original arrangement was (1) Davidic Psalms , 51-72; (ii) Levitical Psalms, (1) of the sons of Korah, 42–49; (2) of Asaph, 50, 73–83. But it is at least as probable that Psalms 50 owes its position to its connexion with Psalms 49 on the one hand and Psalms 51 on the other, and was intentionally placed by the compiler between the Psalms which he took from the Korahite collection and those which he took from the Davidic collection.

[35] It has been conjectured by Ewald that Psalms 51-72 originally stood after 41, so that the arrangement was (1) Davidic Psalms , 1-41; Psalms 51-72 : (2) Levitical Psalms: (a) Korahite, 42–49; (b) Asaphite, 50, 73–83; (c) Korahite supplement, 84–89. The hypothesis is ingenious. It brings the Davidic Psalms together, and makes the note to Psalm 72:20 more natural; and it connects the isolated Psalm of Asaph (50) with the rest of the group.

But it is clear that Books II and III formed a collection independent of Book I: and the editor may have wished to separate the mass of the Asaphite Psalms from the Korahite Psalms by placing the Davidic Psalms between them, while he put 50 next to 51 on account of the similarity of its teaching on sacrifice. The note to Psalm 72:20 is true for his collection; and it does not necessarily imply that none but Davidic Psalms have preceded. Cp. Job 31:40.

Asaph was one of David’s three chief musicians. Along with Heman and Ethan (who seems to have been also called Jeduthun, see p. 348, and Intr. to Psalms 88) he was selected by the Levites to lead the music when David brought up the Ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:16-19). He was appointed by David to preside over the services of praise and thanksgiving in the Tent where the Ark was placed (1 Chronicles 16:4-5; 1 Chronicles 16:7; 1 Chronicles 16:37), while Heman and Jeduthun ministered in the Tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:41-42). His sons, under his superintendence, were leaders of four of the twenty-four courses of musicians (Psalm 25:1 ff.), and they are mentioned as taking part in the Dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 5:12). In later times Asaph was ranked with David as the author of sacred songs, and along with Heman and Jeduthun, he bore the title of “the king’s seer” (2 Chronicles 29:30; 1 Chronicles 25:5; 2 Chronicles 35:15).

The “sons of Asaph,” that is, the Levitical family or guild of his descendants, are further mentioned in the reign of Jeho-shaphat (2 Chronicles 20:14), in connexion with Hezekiah’s reformation (2 Chronicles 29:13), and as taking part in the Passover celebrated by Josiah (Psalm 35:15). Among the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel were “the singers, the sons of Asaph,” in number 128 (Ezra 2:41), or (according to Nehemiah 7:44) 148, and they conducted the service of praise and thanksgiving when the foundation of the Temple was laid (Ezra 3:10). In the time of Nehemiah they are once more mentioned as holding the same office (Nehemiah 11:22).

It is clear that all the Psalms which bear the name of Asaph cannot have been written by David’s musician, if indeed any of them were, for some unquestionably belong to the time of the Exile or even a later period. Probably the title does no more than indicate that they were taken by the compiler of the Elohistic Psalter from a collection of Psalms preserved and used in the family or guild of Asaph, and bearing his name. Why one Levitical hymn-book should have been named from the sons of Korah, and the other from Asaph rather than the sons of Asaph can only be conjectured. Possibly tradition connected the name of Asaph himself more closely with it as the founder of the collection or the author of some of the Psalms in it, but it must have remained open to additions in successive periods.

The Psalms of Asaph are marked by distinctive characteristics. How is this to be accounted for, if they belong, as seems certainly to be the case, to widely different periods? It may best be explained by the supposition that a certain type or style of composition, derived possibly from Asaph him self, was traditional in the family of Asaph, rather than by the supposition that they were selected on account of their particular characteristics.

Broadly speaking, these Psalms are distinguished by their prophetic character. The theme of Psalms 50, which is a typical Psalm of Asaph, conspicuous for its vigour and originality, is the message reiterated by the prophets from Samuel onward, that merely formal sacrifices are worthless in the sight of God; and the following features occur with sufficient frequency to be regarded as characteristic of the collection[36].

[36] Stähelin, who is followed by Bishop Perowne, reckons among the characteristics of these Psalms the interchange of the Divine names Jehovah and Elôhîm, and observes that Jehovah generally occurs towards the end of a Psalm where it passes into supplication. But if the predominant use of Elôhîm in the Elohistic collection is due to the hand of an editor (Introd. p. lvi), the interchange cannot be set down as a peculiarity either of the Psalms of Asaph or of those of the sons of Korah.

El, ‘God’, and Elyôn, ‘the Most High’, occur with somewhat greater relative frequency, but the former is distributed over the whole Psalter, and the latter over the first four Books of it. In Book v it occurs only in Psalm 107:11. Adônâi, ‘Lord’ (which however may often be due only to an editor or scribe, the word read in place of JHVH being actually written instead of it) occurs but six times, while in 68 alone it occurs seven times, and in 86 seven times.

(1) Like the prophets, they represent God as the Judge. Psalms 50 describes Him as coming to judge His people, demanding spiritual service, and rebuking unbelief. Psalms 75, 76 celebrate a signal judgement upon some blasphemous and insolent enemy of His people, probably Sennacherib. Psalms 82 represents Him as the Judge of judges, calling them to account for malversation of their office. And though God is not expressly called the Judge in Psalms 73, 78, 81, the judgements of God as exhibited in life and history for encouragement and warning form the subject of these Psalms. Of course the representation of God as the Judge is not confined to these Psalms, but it is so prominent in them as to constitute a distinctive feature.

(2) As in the prophets, God Himself is frequently introduced as the speaker, and that not merely by the way, but in solemn, judicial utterances. See 50, 75, 81, 82. Comp. Psalm 60:6 ff. in the Davidic group.

(3) The didactic use of history is also a prophetical feature, for it was the function of prophecy not only to foretell the future, but to interpret the past. It is in the Psalms of Asaph that we first meet with frequent references to the ancient history of Israel. The allusion to the legislation at Sinai in Psalms 50 is merely general; but in Psalm 74:12 ff., Psalm 77:10 ff., Psalm 80:8 ff, Psalm 81:5 ff., Psalm 83:9 ff, the past history of the nation is appealed to for encouragement or warning, and Psalms 78 is entirely devoted to the ‘parable’ of Israel’s history from the Exodus to the Building of the Temple. Such references are not found in Book i, and are rare in Book ii (Psalm 44:1 ff., Psalm 66:5 ff., Psalms 68); in the later books however they are more frequent (Psalm 95:8 ff., Psalm 103:7; Psalms 105; Psalms 106; Psalms 114; Psalms 132; Psalms 135; Psalms 136).

(4) Another feature, springing out of the last, is the frequency with which the relation of Jehovah to Israel is expressed by the figure of the Shepherd and His flock. It recalls Jehovah’s guidance of His people through the wilderness, and conveys the assurance that He will yet seek the lost and gather the scattered and guide them back into their own land. See Psalm 74:1; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 78:52, cp. 70–72; Psalm 79:13; Psalm 80:1. It may be noted that this is a favourite figure with the prophets Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

(5) Connected with the tendency to look back to the early history of Israel may be the use of the combinations Jacob and Joseph (Psalm 77:15), Joseph and Israel (Psalm 80:1; Psalm 81:4-5); cp. Psalm 78:67-68. Cp. Amos 5:6; Amos 5:15; Amos 6:6; Obadiah 1:18; Zechariah 10:6; Ezekiel 37:16; Ezekiel 37:19; Ezekiel 47:13. It seems to express the idea that the division of the nation is intolerable, and that the reunion of Israel is necessary to its full restoration. In this too the Asaphite Psalms agree with the prophets, who from the time of Amos onward predict the ultimate reunion of the nation.

The Asaphite Psalms are almost entirely national Psalms, of intercession, thanksgiving, warning, and instruction. The purely personal element is scarcely found among them. In the Psalms which have the most individual character (73, 77) the Psalmist speaks as the representative of a class, and the circumstances which cause him perplexity are social or national, not personal.

As regards the date of the Psalms in this group, some belong to the period of the monarchy (75, 76); some to the Exile (74, 79, 80); and some perhaps to the post-exilic period. But the predominant impression gained from reading the collection as a whole is that of a cry out of the Exile, pleading that God will visit and restore His people Psalms of thanksgiving for past deliverances, such as 75, 76, 81, follow Psalms of supplication, as reminders of the marvellous works wrought by God for His people in times past, and pledges that He can and will once more deliver them. That the collection contains Maccabaean Psalms appears to the present writer improbable, in spite of the general opinion to the contrary. See Introd., p. xlvi, and the introduction to Psalms 74.

Psalms 73

This Psalm is a touching confession of faith sorely tried but finally victorious. It falls into two equal divisions: in the first, the Psalmist relates his temptation; in the second, the conquest of his doubts.

i. He had all but lost belief in God’s goodness towards the righteous (Psalm 73:1-2), as he gazed with envy on the prosperity and influence of the wicked, who seem to enjoy immunity from sickness and trouble, and go on unchecked in a career of pride and violence and blasphemy, seducing the mass of men to follow them in denying God’s rule in the world (Psalm 73:3-11). He was tempted to think that all his endeavours after holiness had been worse than wasted labour, for they had only brought him suffering (Psalm 73:12-14).

ii. He felt that to proclaim such a view of life would have been an act of treachery towards his fellow-Israelites, but the more he pondered on the problem, the more cruel did it seem (Psalm 73:15-16), until in the Temple the truth was revealed to him, that all the pomp of the wicked is but a hollow show, doomed to sudden and irreparable destruction (Psalm 73:17-20). To envy it was indeed irrational stupidity, when in the fellowship and guidance and favour of God he possessed the highest good of which man is capable (Psalm 73:21-26). For desertion of God leads to death; drawing near to Him is happiness (Psalm 73:27-28).

The double problem of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous weighed heavily on the minds of many in ancient Israel, who only knew of this world as the scene of God’s dealings with men, and missed the clear evidence of God’s sovereign justice which they desired to see in the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. In Psalms 37 we have a simple exhortation to patience and faith in view of the prosperity of the wicked, for the triumph of the wicked will be short-lived, while the reward of the righteous will be sure and abiding. In Psalms 49 the impotence and the transitoriness of wealth are insisted on, and contrasted with God’s care for the righteous and the final triumph of righteousness. In this Psalm the problem is still approached from the side of the prosperity of the wicked, though there is a side-glance at the sufferings of the righteous (Psalm 73:14). It represents a deeper and probably later stage of thought: the difficulty has become more acute, and the solution is more complete; for the Psalmist is led to recognise not only the instability of worldly greatness, but the supreme blessedness of fellowship with God as man’s highest good. In the Book of Job the problem is approached from the side of the suffering of the righteous, but it is fully discussed in its manifold aspects. A further step is made towards the conclusion implicitly contained in the faith of this Psalm, that this world is but one act in the great drama of life.

Whether the Psalmist in Psalm 73:24 ff. looks beyond this life or not, is a question of interpretation on which opinion will probably always be divided. But it is clear, as Delitzsch observes, that he does not rise from pointing to the retribution which awaits the wicked in this world, to anticipate a solution of the contradictions of life in the world beyond, and the exceeding glory which infinitely outweighs the sufferings of this present time still lies beyond his horizon. But the dimmer his view of a future life, the more wonderful is the triumphant faith, which surrenders all and cleaves to God, and the pure love, which counts all in the universe as nothing in comparison of Him.

It is impossible to speak with confidence as to the date of the Psalm. It does not belong to the Exile, for the Temple was standing (Psalm 73:17). The problem was debated in pre-exilic times (Jeremiah 12:1 ff.; Habakkuk 1:2 ff.); as well as after the Return (Psalm 94:3 ff; Psalm 92:7 ff.; Malachi 3:13 ff.; Ecclesiastes 8:11 ff.; &c.). The relation of the Psalm to Job (cp. especially ch. 21) and Proverbs (Proverbs 23:17-18; &c.) does not enable us to fix its date. It should be noted that here, as in Psalms 37, 49, the thoughts and language of the ‘Wisdom’ or religious philosophy of Israel, find a place in the Psalter.

A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
1. Truly] It is possible to render with R.V. marg., Only good is God. Though He permits His people to suffer, He is wholly loving-kindness toward them. Cp. Lamentations 3:25. But it is preferable to render with R.V. text, Surely. The particle ak in this connexion expresses the idea Nay but after all.

such as are of a clean heart] R.V., such as are pure in heart. ‘Israel’ is thus defined as the true Israel of God. To them, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, He manifests His goodness (Exodus 33:19). Purity of heart and life is the condition of admission to His presence (Psalm 24:4 ff.), of ‘seeing God’ (Matthew 5:8).

1, 2. The Psalmist begins by stating the conclusion to which he had been led through the trial of his faith.

1–14. Faith tried by the sight of the prosperity of the wicked.

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
2. But the Psalmist had almost lost his faith in God’s goodness. He had as it were all but swerved from the right path (Psalm 44:18); all but lost his footing in the slippery places of life’s journey (Psalm 17:5).

For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
3. I was envious] Cp. Psalm 37:1; and the repeated warnings of the Book of Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:1; Proverbs 24:19.

the foolish] Rather as R.V., the arrogant, a word denoting boastful blustering presumption. Cp. Psalm 5:5; Psalm 75:4.

the prosperity] Lit. the peace. Cp. Job 21:9, “their houses are in peace without fear.”

3–9. The cause: the unbroken prosperity of the godless. Cp. Job’s indignant complaint, Psalm 21:7 ff.

For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
4. no bands &c.] The meaning may be that they are not bound and delivered over like “pale captives” to premature death (cp. the paraphrase of P.B.V. “they are in no peril of death”): or that they have no torments of pain and disease (R.V. marg. pangs) in their death, but have a peaceful end to a prosperous life. Cp. Job 21:13; Job 21:23.

But the mention of death seems premature, and the rhythm of the Hebrew is halting: sense and rhythm both gain by a simple emendation which is adopted by most editors:

For they have no torments:

Sound and stalwart is their body.

They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
5, 6. They have no share in the misery of mortals;

Neither are they plagued along with other men:

Therefore pride is as a chain about their neck;

Violence covereth them as a garment.

Though “man is born for misery” (Job 5:7), they escape the common lot of humanity, and consequently their pride and brutality are unchecked. For the metaphors cp. Proverbs 1:9; Psalm 109:18. Chains were worn on the neck in Eastern countries for ornament by men as well as women, and also as badges of office (Genesis 41:42; Daniel 5:7).

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.
7. According to the Massoretic Text the first line describes the insolent look of these sleek-faced villains. Cp. Job 15:27. But the LXX and Syr. represent a different reading, which suits the probable sense of the next line better, and gets rid of a grammatical anomaly. Render

Their Iniquity cometh forth from the heart:

The imaginations of their mind overflow.

The word for heart is the same as that in Psalm 17:10, which according to Robertson Smith (Religion of the Semites, p. 360) means properly the midriff. The verse is thus a continuation of Psalm 73:6. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”; and no fear or shame controls their utterance of their thoughts. Cp. Jeremiah 5:28.

They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.
8. The rhythm seems to require a different division of the verse from that given by the Massoretic accentuation, thus;

They scoff, and talk of evil:

Of oppression do they talk from on high.

Not the commandments of God (Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19) but their own nefarious designs are the subject of their conversation: they talk “as if they were gods and their words oracles.” Cp. Isaiah 14:13. P.B.V. “their talking is against the most High” (Great Bible from Münster) is untenable.

They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
9. The A.V. gives a good sense: they blaspheme God and dictate to men. Cp. Daniel 7:25. But probably the R.V. is right in rendering,

They have set their mouth In the heavens.

The clause expands the words of the preceding verse “from on high.” They make an impious claim of divine authority, and dictate to men as though the earth belonged to them.

Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.
10. A difficult verse. The general sense appears to be that attracted by the prosperity and pretensions of the wicked a crowd of imitators turn to follow them, and in their company drink to the dregs the cup of sinful pleasure. The Psalmist’s temptation is intensified as he contemplates the popularity of the wicked. Cp. Psalm 49:13. The details however are obscure. Therefore, because they are deluded by the extravagant pretensions of the wicked. The pronoun his is commonly explained to refer to the wicked regarded as a whole, or to some conspicuous leader among them. The context hardly allows of its reference to God. But the LXX and Syr. may preserve the true reading ‘my people,’ the Psalmist speaking with sorrow of his deluded countrymen. Return should rather be turn; hither, to the wicked and their pernicious ways.

The reading of the Kthîbh given in R.V. marg., he will bring back his people hither, finds no support from the Ancient Versions, and admits of no satisfactory explanation. Waters of fulness are drained by them is a metaphor for the enjoyment of pleasure; or possibly for imbibing pernicious principles. Cp. Job 15:16; and the saying of Jose ben Joezer, “Let thy house be a meeting house for the wise … and drink their words with thirstiness.” Pirqe Aboth, i. 4, cp. 12.

10, 11. The mass of men are carried away by their evil example.

And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
11. The speakers in this verse are not ‘the wicked,’ but the deluded mass of their followers described in Psalm 73:10. They adopt the language of their leaders, and question God’s knowledge of their doings in particular, and even His omniscience in general. Cp. Psalm 10:4; Psalm 10:11; Psalm 10:13. The names of God—El, the Mighty One, ‘Elyôn, the Supreme Ruler of the Universe—are chosen so as to accentuate the blasphemy of their scepticism.

Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
12. Behold, such are the wicked!

And being always at ease they have gotten much substance.

At ease is a favourite word in Job: e.g. Job 3:26; Psalm 12:6 (A.V. prosper); Job 16:12; Job 20:20; Job 21:23; cp. Jeremiah 12:1.

12–14. The Psalmist’s temptation as he contemplated the scene. Some commentators regard these verses as the continuation of the speech in Psalm 73:11, giving the thoughts of the followers of the wicked, the speaker in Psalm 73:13-14 being any individual among them. But it is preferable to regard them as the words of the Psalmist himself, expressing the thoughts which he had been tempted to indulge. (1) The form of the sentence, Behold, such &c., points to a summing up (cp. Job 5:27; Job 8:19-20; Job 18:21); (2) ‘the wicked’ is a more natural designation for the Psalmist than for their own followers to use; (3) there is nothing to shew that the speaker in Psalm 73:15 is another than the speaker in Psalm 73:13-14; (4) the LXX (followed by the P.B.V.) inserts And I said at the beginning of Psalm 73:13.

Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
13. Verily] The same word ak as in Psalm 73:1. R.V. Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart. If the wicked prosper thus, his endeavours after holiness have been wasted. There is no reward for the righteous: nay (Psalm 73:14) his own reward has been chastisement. He would not have claimed to be sinless any more than Job (cp. Job 20:9), but he has a good conscience. For the second line cp. Psalm 26:6. The metaphor is derived from the ceremonies of the Levitical ritual. See Exodus 30:17 ff.; cp. Deuteronomy 31:6.

For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
14. For &c.] Apparently the recompence of his piety has been continual chastisement. The wicked are not plagued (Psalm 73:5), but for him there has been constant renewal of divinely inflicted sufferings. Cp. Psalm 39:10-11; Job 7:18.

If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
15. If I had said, I will speak thus;

Behold, I had dealt treacherously with the generation of thy children (R.V.).

If he had paraded his perplexities, and made open profession of the wicked man’s creed (Job 21:15), he would have been faithless to the interests of God’s family. In the O.T. Israel as a people is called Jehovah’s son (Exodus 4:22) or Jehovah’s sons (Deuteronomy 14:1), but the individual does not yet claim for himself the title of son except in an official and representative capacity (Psalm 2:7). The recognition of that closer personal relation is reserved for the N.T. (Galatians 3:26).

15–17. Instead of parading his doubts, he wrestled with them until in the sanctuary the solution of them was revealed to him.

15–28. Faith triumphant in the conviction of an ultimate judgement and the consciousness of the supreme blessedness of fellowship with God.

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
16, 17. And I kept thinking how to understand this:

It was misery In mine eyes:

Until I went into the sanctuary of God,

And considered their latter end.

As he kept pondering how to reconcile the facts of experience with the revealed truth of God’s character and promises, the sight of the world’s disorder seemed intolerable, until in the Temple, the place of God’s Presence, where He reveals His power and glory (Psalm 63:2), he was enabled to realise the transitoriness of the prosperity of the wicked, and their nothingness in the sight of God. The sanctuary (lit. as in Psalm 68:35, sanctuaries) is to be understood literally: the explanation of it as “the sacred mysteries of God’s Providence” (cp. Wis 2:22) is attractive but too fanciful.

Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
18. Surely in slippery places dost thou appoint their lot:

Suddenly dost thou cast them down into ruin.

Surely, as in Psalm 73:1; Psalm 73:13, means ‘after all.’ They are set in dangerous places where they will stumble and fall. Cp. Psalm 35:6; Jeremiah 23:12. The word for ruin occurs elsewhere only in Psalm 74:3.

18–20. The awful fate of the wicked is the negative solution of the problem.

How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
19. How are they become a desolation in a moment!

They are at an end, they are consumed with terrors.

The word terrors, found here only in the Psalter, is a favourite word in Job in similar connexions (Psalm 18:11; Psalm 18:14, &c.).

As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
20. As a dream] Cp. Job 20:8; Isaiah 29:7.

when thou awakest] When thou arousest thyself, a different word from that in the previous line, used in Psalm 7:6, Psalm 35:23, of God bestirring Himself to judgement. The word may mean in the city (R.V. marg. and the Ancient Versions); but this rendering yields no satisfactory sense: the paraphrase of P.B.V., ‘so shalt thou make their image to vanish out of the city,’ is quite unjustifiable.

their image] Cp. Psalm 39:6, note. All their brave pomp is a phantom, a mere counterfeit of reality, an eidolon; and God rates it at its true value.

Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
21. Thus] R.V. For. If this rendering is adopted, the connexion is with the general sense of the preceding verses:—‘I failed to perceive the truth until my eyes were opened in the sanctuary, for’ &c. But it is better to render:

When my heart grew sour,

And I was pricked in my reins,

I was brutish and Ignorant,

I became a mere beast with thee.

He confesses the folly of his former impatience. He had lowered himself to the level of a beast (Psalm 49:10), for what distinguishes man from the lower animals is his power of communion with God. Behçmôth, rendered beast, might be taken, as in Job 40:15, to mean ‘the hippopotamus,’ as an emblem for ‘a monster of stupidity,’ but the more general rendering is preferable. The reins (renes, the kidneys) were regarded as the seat of the emotions. Cp. Psalm 7:9.

21, 22. The Psalmist’s confession of his error.

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.
23. Nevertheless] Lit., But as for me, I am &c. Render, Whereas I am &c. He contrasts his real position of fellowship with God with his former delusion and also with the insecurity of the wicked.

thou hast holden &c.] Better as R.V., thou hast holden my right band. Cp. Psalm 63:8.

23–26. The positive solution of the Psalmist’s perplexity: the only true and abiding happiness is to be found in fellowship with God.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
24. with thy counsel] Tacitly he contrasts the course of his life with that of the wicked, for counsel is an attribute of the Divine Wisdom (Proverbs 8:14), which the wicked despise (Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30).

to glory] Or, with glory (R.V. marg.); or, as the word is often translated, with honour.

The meaning of this verse is much disputed. Can we suppose that the words bore for the Psalmist the sense which they naturally bear for the Christian in the fuller light of the Gospel? Do they express his faith that God’s guidance of him through this life will be followed by reception into the glory of His Presence after death? Or do they simply express his confidence that God will guide him safely through his present troubles, so that in the end honour, not shame, will be his lot, and his acceptableness to God will be demonstrated to the world? Dclitzsch finds in them the larger hope, and thinks that here, as in Psalm 49:15, there is a reference to the assumption of Enoch (Genesis 5:24); but he admits that there was as yet no divine promise holding out the prospect of a heavenly triumph to the struggling church on earth upon which such a hope could rest. If the Psalmist possessed this definite hope, we might have expected that he would lay more stress upon it as affording a solution of his perplexities. Such a hope moreover would rise far above the general level of the O.T. view of a future life, at any rate till the latest period. And no parallel can be quoted for the absolute use of ‘glory’ in the sense of ‘heavenly’ or ‘eternal glory.’ Elsewhere in the Psalter kâbôd is used in the sense of ‘honour’ (Psalm 42:7; Psalm 84:11; Psalm 112:9; Psalm 149:5); and in Job and Proverbs, to which it is natural to turn for the elucidation of the language of a Psalm so closely connected with the reflections of the ‘Wise,’ it bears the same sense. It is often coupled with riches and life, and contrasted with shame. See Job 19:9; Job 29:20; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 3:35; Proverbs 8:18; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 21:21; Proverbs 22:4.

It seems therefore that as the Psalmist anticipates that judgement will overtake the wicked in this world, so he looks for such a deliverance and advancement in this world as will visibly demonstrate that he is the object of God’s loving favour, and prove that “there is a reward for the righteous.” Cp. Psalm 71:20-21. This life is for him the scene of God’s dealings with men, and a full vindication of God’s moral government is looked for within the limits of individual experience. See further in Introd. pp. xciii ff.: and consult Oehler’s O.T. Theology, § 246, and Schultz’s O.T. Theology, ch. xlii.

It may be noted that the LXX, followed of course by the Vulg., sees no reference here to a future life, but renders, “In thy counsel didst thou guide me, and with glory didst thou receive me.”

If this view is correct, the Psalmist’s faith is even grander than if he looked forward to glorification in a future life. He rises victorious over the world of sense and appearance in the inward certainty of the reality of his communion with God, and the absolute conviction that this is the highest good and the truest happiness of which man is capable. Such a knowledge is eternal life; and the possibility of it is in itself a pledge that the communion thus begun cannot suddenly be interrupted by death, but must be carried on to an ever fuller perfection.

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
25. But thee is rightly supplied in the first line, which receives its completion and explanation from the second. The idea which logically is one is divided into two clauses for the sake of the poetical rhythm.

beside thee] Lit. with thee. If I have Thee, there is none else in heaven and earth whom I desire. Thou art my only good and source of happiness in the whole universe. Cp. Psalm 16:2, R.V., “Thou art my Lord; I have no good beyond thee.”

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
26. God is the strength of my heart] Lit., the rock of my heart. Though bodily and mental powers fail, God is his sure refuge in every danger (Psalm 62:2; Psalm 62:6-7), the possession which cannot be taken from him (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 142:5). Never, now that he has come to his right mind, will he look for any other refuge (Isaiah 44:8), or envy those “whose portion in life is of the world” (Psalm 17:14).

For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
27. they that are far from thee] Better, they that go far from thee, Vulg., qui elongant se a te. Desertion of God the source of life (Psalm 36:9) can lead only to ruin and death.

all them that go a whoring from thee] All Israelites who are faithless to the covenant with God. The figure of marriage is used to express the closeness of Jehovah’s relation to His people (Hosea 2:2 ff;; Isaiah 54:5-6; and often), and consequently apostasy is spoken of as infidelity to the marriage vow.

27, 28. The final contrast of death and life.

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.
28. But as for me, to draw near to God is good for me:

In the Lord Jehovah have I made my refuge;

That I may speak of all thy works.

Emphatically he contrasts himself with those who ‘go far from God.’ Once he had been tempted to ask what profit there was in serving God, and openly to speak (Psalm 73:15) of his doubts: but now he can find an endless theme for praise in the dealings of God with the righteous and the wicked. The LXX reads, “that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion,” as in Psalm 9:14; and this may preserve the original reading, for the present Heb. text sounds incomplete. The P.B.V. “to speak of all thy works in the gates of the daughter of Sion” combines the LXX with the Heb.

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