Surely you did set them in slippery places: you cast them down into destruction.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)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.”
Thou castedst them down into destruction - They are placed, not in a permanent condition, but in a condition from which they will be cast down to destruction. Ruin is before them; and the end will demonstrate the justice of God. Nothing can be determined from their present condition as to the question which caused so much perplexity, but in order to a proper solution we must wait to see the end. As an illustration of this, see the interesting account of the interview between Solon of Athens, and Croesus, the rich king of Lydia, as given in Herodotus, book i., 30-33.
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.
"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.Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)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.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. Psalm 11:3, cf. Job 22:13. With וישׁ the doubting question is continued. Bצttcher renders thus: nevertheless knowledge is in the Most High (a circumstantial clause like Proverbs 3:28; Malachi 1:14; Judges 6:13); but first of all they deny God's actual knowledge, and then His attributive omniscience. It is not to be interpreted: behold, such are (according to their moral nature) the ungodly (אלּה, tales, like זה, Psalm 48:15, Deuteronomy 5:26, cf. המּה, Isaiah 56:11); nor, as is more in accordance with the parallel member Psalm 73:12 and the drift of the Psalm: behold, thus it befalleth the ungodly (such as they according to their lot, as in Job 18:21, cf. Isaiah 20:6); but, what forms a better connection as a statement of the ground of the scepticism in Psalm 73:11, either, in harmony with the accentuation: behold, the ungodly, etc., or, since it is not הרשׁעים: behold, these are ungodly, and, ever reckless (Jeremiah 12:1), they have acquired great power. With the bitter הנּה, as Stier correctly observes, they bring forward the obvious proof to the contrary. How can God be said to be the omniscient Ruler of the world? - the ungodly in their carnal security become very powerful and mighty, but piety, very far from being rewarded, is joined with nothing but misfortune. My striving after sanctity (cf. Proverbs 20:9), my abstinence from all moral pollution (cf. Proverbs 26:6), says he who has been led astray, has been absolutely (אך as in 1 Samuel 25:21) in vain; I was notwithstanding (Ew. 345, a) incessantly tormented (cf. Psalm 73:5), and with every morning's dawn (לבּקרים, as in Psalm 101:8, cf. לבקרים in Job 7:18) my chastitive suffering was renewed. We may now supply the conclusion in thought in accordance with Psalm 73:10 : Therefore have I joined myself to those who never concern themselves about God and at the same time get on better.
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