Psalm 73
Matthew Poole's Commentary
A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

The subject of this Psalm is the same with Psalm 77, concerning the promiscuous carriage of God’s providence towards good and bad men

Or, for Asaph, the famous musician, to whom divers of David’s Psalms were committed, as Psalm 1, &c. But because Asaph was not only a skilfull musician, but also was divinely inspired, and the author of some Psalms, as is manifest from 2 Chronicles 29:30, and the style of this Psalm may seem to be something differing from that of David, it may be thought not improbable that Asaph was the author or penman of it.

The prophet under temptation by reason of wicked men’s prosperity, Psalm 73:1-12. His diffidence thereupon, Psalm 73:13-16. His way to overcome such temptations, i.e. the knowledge of God’s purpose in destroying the wicked, Psalm 73:17-20, and that the faithful might be contented alone with God, and communion with him, Psalm 73:21-28.

Truly; or, nevertheless. The beginning is abrupt and sufficiently intimates that he had a great conflict within himself about this matter, and that many doubts and objections were raised in his mind concerning it. But at last he breaks forth like the sun out of a cloud, and having by God’s grace silenced and conquered his scruples, he lays down this following conclusion.

God is good to Israel; though he may sometimes seem negligent of, and harsh and severe to, his people, yet, if all things be considered, it is most certain, and another day will be made manifest, that God is really and superlatively good, i.e. most kind and bountiful, and a true friend to them, and that they are most happy in him, and have no reason to envy sinners their present and seeming felicity.

To such as are of a clean heart; to all true Israelites, who love God with their whole heart, and serve him in spirit, and 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, even all that concerns the calamities which befell the profane or false-hearted Israelites, which were vastly the greatest number of that people.

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
Yet I must acknowledge this with grief and shame concerning myself; notwithstanding all my knowledge of this truth, and my own experience and observation of God’s gracious 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 three of this temptation; and I was almost ready to repent of my piety, Psalm 73:13, and to follow the example of ungodly men.

Had well nigh slipped, Heb. were almost poured forth, 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 own unruly passions into unworthy thoughts of God, and a sinful course of life.

For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
I grudged and murmured at it, and had a secret desire to partake of their delicates.

For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
There are no bands in their death; they are not dragged to death, neither by the hand and sentence of the magistrate, which yet they deserve; nor by any lingering and grievous torments of mind or body, which is the case of many good men; but they enjoy a sweet and quiet death, dropping into the grave, like ripe fruit from the tree, without ally violence used to them. Compare Job 5:26 21:13.

But their strength is firm, Heb. and their strength is fat, i.e. sound and good; the best of any thing being called fat in Scripture, as Genesis 41:2 Daniel 1:15. And in their lifetime they have great ease, and health, and content, till they expire like a lamp, merely for want of moisture.

They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.

1. As good men frequently are. Or

2. As men generally are. They do by a secret and favourable providence of God escape even common calamities.

Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
Pride compasseth them about as a chain: this phrase notes both the extent of their pride, which appears on every side of them, in their countenances, discourses, gestures, &c, and their glorying in it. The like may be said of the next phrase.

Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.
Their eyes stand out with fatness; as they do in some fat persons, though not in others. The meaning is, they live in great plenty and prosperity, as the next clause explains it.

They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.
They are corrupt; or, dissolved in pleasure. Or, they corrupt themselves.

Speak wickedly concerning oppression; wickedly boasting of their oppressions; either of what they have done, or of what they intend to do, in that kind.

They speak loftily; arrogantly presuming upon their own strength, and despising both God and men.

They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
Against the heavens, i.e. against God, blaspheming his name, denying or deriding his providence, reviling his saints and servants.

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 his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.
His people; either,

1. The people of those wicked blasphemers; all their children, and servants, and friends, encouraged by their example. Or rather,

2. The people of God, who is oft understood under the pronoun relative he or his, though he be not expressed, as Psalm 105:19 Isaiah 30:23. See the like Psalm 87:1 Song of Solomon 1:2. But then as God’s people are of two sorts, some that are so really and sincerely, and others that are so only in profession and show, in which sense the whole body of the Israelitish nation, yea, even the wicked among them, are called his

people, as Psalm 81:11 Isaiah 1:3 Jeremiah 2:11, &c.; so this may be understood, either,

1. Of those true Israelites, Psalm 73:1. Even the godly were startled and stumbled at this, as David was, Psalm 37, and Jeremiah, Jeremiah 12 But although they might have some murmuring thoughts about this matter, it seems not probable that they would either give way to such thoughts, or break forth into such expressions, as are here ascribed to them, Psalm 73:11; nor are such things to be imputed to them without necessity; nor did either David or Jeremiah in their conflicts utter any thing of this nature. Or rather,

2. Of the carnal, hypocritical Israelites, who perceiving the impunity and prosperity of these ungodly wretches, were easily drawn to the approbation and imitation of their courses. And this may seem most suitable to the context; for the description of the condition, and carriage, and words of these ungodly men, which begins Psalm 73:4, seems to be continued to Psalm 73:13; then follows the psalmist’s reflection and consideration upon the whole matter, from Psalm 73:13 to the end.

Return hither, or, turn hither, i.e. to this wicked company, or to their course.

Waters of a full cup are wrung out to them: waters, in Scripture, do ofttimes signify afflictions, and as oft comforts and mercies. So the sense may be, either,

1. And whilst the wicked prosper, God doth wring out waters out of the cup of tribulation, and causeth his holy ones to drink them up: compare Psalm 75:8 80:5 Isaiah 51:17 Jeremiah 25:15, &c. Or rather,

2. And those hypocritical Israelites find themselves gainers by their apostacy, and they partake of the same prosperity with their leaders, and God seems to give them a full cup of consolation, and to pour forth his mercies upon them in such abundance, as if he would wring or squeeze out all his blessings out of his stores to bestow upon them. And meeting with such success to their wickedness, it is not strange if they put that question, Psalm 73:11.

And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
They; either,

1. The godly. Or rather,

2. Those wicked ones, whose words and actions he hath been hitherto describing, or the people confederate with them. For these and such-like opinions are oft ascribed to the wicked in Scripture, but never, as far as I know; to any good man. And Job, though he used many intemperate speeches, and though some such expressions as this were charged upon him by his friends, as Job 22:13, yet he utterly disowned them. Is there knowledge in the Most High? seeing these cursed and impudent 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, certainly he neither could nor would suffer them to be thus managed.

Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
These are the ungodly; this is their condition and carriage in it. These seem to be the words of the psalmist, summing up the matter, and preparing his passage to the other part of the Psalm.

Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
Hence I was sometimes tempted to think that religion was a vain and unprofitable thing, at least as to the happiness of this life, which yet God had promised as a reward to piety. True religion is here fitly and fully described 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 saith,

I have cleansed it, because every good man doth co-operate with God’s grace in cleansing it. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:1 7:1.

Washed my hands in innocency, i.e. kept my hands (the great 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, or with the waters of God’s grace and Spirit, innocency or purity.

For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
Whilst their ungodliness hath been attended with constant prosperity, my piety hath been exercised with continual afflictions.

If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
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, and discouraging, and condemning them, and by tempting them to revolt from God and godliness. But because the Hebrew verb bagad in this sense is always, so far as I have observed, construed with the preposition beth, which is not here, and is constantly put before that preposition and word which it governs, and not after, as here it is, I rather join with them who render the place thus; which is more agreeable to the words and order of the text; Behold the generation of thy children, (or, Behold, these are the generation of thy children, as appears by thy fatherly care of and indulgence and kindness to them, whilst thou dost at present seem to treat them like bastards who are more truly called thy children, dealing roughly and severely with them,) I shall (or rather, should, to wit, in speaking so) transgress, or prevaricate, speak against the truth, and against my own conscience, which assureth me that these are the haters of God, and hated and cursed by him.

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
To know this; to find out the reason of this mysterious course of thy providence.

It was too painful for me; I was gravelled with the difficulty.

Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.
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 posterity was short, and would quickly have an end, and that a most dismal and terrible one; that their fair morn would be followed with a black and dreadful evening, and an everlasting night.

Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
Their happiness hath no firm foundation; it was very unstable, like a man’s standing in very slippery ground. The same hand which raised them will cast them down into the pit of utter destruction.

How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
Their fall is wonderful, both for its soreness and for its suddenness.

Consumed with terrors; either, with the horrors of their own minds; or rather, with God’s dreadful judgments unexpectedly seizing upon them.

As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
Their happiness is like that in a dream, wherein a man seems to be highly pleased and transported with ravishing delights, but when he awakes he finds himself deceived and unsatisfied. Awakest, i.e. stirrest up thyself to punish them. Or rather, when they shall awake out of the pleasant dream of this vain, sinful life by death, and the torments following it. For this seems to agree best with the metaphor here before mentioned. And the Hebrew words being only these, in awaking, may be applied either to God or to them, as the context directs.

Despise their image; not so much really, for so God ever did despise it, in the height of all their glory; but declaratively, things being oft said to be done in Scripture when they appear, or are manifested; as hath been more than once noted. Thou shalt pour contempt upon them; make them despicable, both to themselves and to all others; and raise them to shame and everlasting contempt, as is said, Daniel 12:2.

Their image, i. e. all their felicity and glory, which as indeed it ever was, so now it shall be evidently 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 satisfaction to them. See Psalm 39:6 Acts 25:23, where what is rendered pomp, in the Greek signifies a mere fancy or imagination, 1 Corinthians 7:31.

Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
Thus; so as I have above expressed; for this particle so taken, doth not belong to what he had now wisely and piously said in the next foregoing verses, but to what he had unadvisedly spoken in the former verses, as is evident from the following verse. Or, nevertheless, as this particle is oft used. Although I knew very. well that the prosperity of sinners would have a sudden and dismal end, yet I was so foolish as to be grieved at it.

I was pricked in my reins; was heartily and deeply wounded with disquieting thoughts, and tormenting passions, envy, and sorrow, and anger.

So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
As a beast. Heb. beasts, which may signify a great beast; a most stupid and sottish creature, like one not only void of grace, but of reason too; for reason itself, especially assisted by the Holy Scriptures, did sufficiently discover 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 consider things to come, as reasonable creatures do, and 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.

Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
Nevertheless; notwithstanding all my temptations, and my gross folly in yielding to them.

I am continually with thee; either,

1. In a way of duty. Yet I did not depart from thee, nor from thy ways; but did at last conquer them, and firmly cleave unto thee by faith. Or rather,

2. In a way of mercy and favour, of which he speaks in the next clause of this and in the following verse. Although I gave thee just cause to east me off, yet thou didst continue thy gracious presence with me, and thy care and kindness to me. And this phrase, with thee, seems to have some emphasis in it, as being opposed to the other with thee, Psalm 73:22. I was a beast with thee, such was my folly and wickedness; and yet I was in favour with thee, such was thy goodness: thou didst pardon and cure it.

Thou hast holden me by my right hand, that my faith might not fail, and I might not be overthrown by this or any other temptations.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Thou shalt guide me: as thou hast kept me hitherto in all my trials, so I am assured thou wilt lead me still into right paths, and keep me from wandering or straying from thee, or falling into mischief.

With thy counsel; partly, by thy gracious providence, executing thy purpose of mercy to me, and watching over me; partly, by thy word, which thou wilt open mine eyes to understand, as Psalm 119:18; and principally, by thy Holy Spirit, sanctifying and directing me in the whole course of my life.

Receive me to glory; either,

1. Advance me to honour here. Or rather,

2. Translate me to everlasting glory in heaven. For,

1. Thus God doth for his people most constantly and certainly, whilst all the occurrences of the present life do happen indifferently to good and bad; which was the common observation of Job, and David, and Solomon, and other holy men of God in Scripture.

2. This is far more considerable than the former, and the more satisfactory relief against the present prosperity of the wicked, and the afflictions of good men.

3. This future glory is that mystery which was to be learned only in God’s sanctuary, Psalm 73:17.

4. As the destruction of the wicked, mentioned Psalm 73:18-20, looks beyond this life, so doth the glory of God’s people.

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
Whom have I in heaven, or in earth? as it follows. There is no other person nor thing in the world from which I can seek or hope for happiness, or which I am willing to accept as my portion. Let sinners have an earthly prosperity, I am satisfied with thee, and with thy favour. Since thou givest me support and conduct here, and carriest me safe from hence to eternal glory, what do I need more? or what can I desire more?

But thee; which words must necessarily be understood here from the next clause, where they are expressed.

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
In myself, I confess I am a poor weak creature, and my body and spirit may fail and be ready to faint under such temptations and tribulations as these, and I know I shall shortly return to the dust, out of which I was taken. But though I have no strength in myself; I have it in God, my never-failing refuge, to whom I will trust whilst I live, and who will be my portion to eternity.

For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
They that are far from thee; they that forsake thee and thy ways, preferring the prosperity of this present evil world before thy love, and favour, and service; they who estrange themselves from the love, and life, and acquaintance of God; that say to God, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways, as they did, Job 21:14.

Thou hast destroyed; thou will certainly and dreadfully destroy them.

Them that go a whoring from thee; those who having professed subjection to thee, shall afterwards revolt from thee, and sell themselves to work wickedness; which is called whoredom in Scripture. For none are more hateful to God, than willful and wicked apostates from the principles and practice of the true religion, which once they 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.
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, and love, and obedience, and diligent attendance upon all thine ordinances.

I have put my trust in the Lord God; I depend upon him alone for all my comfort and felicity.

That I may declare all thy works; from which 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.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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