When I Have Doubte
Psalm 73:1-28 October 25 2009
This psalm, and the ten that next follow it, carry the name of Asaph in the titles of them. If he was the penman of them (as many think), we rightly call them psalms of Asaph. If he was only the chief musician, to whom they were delivered, our marginal reading is right, which calls them psalms for Asaph. It is probable that he penned them; for we read of the words of David and of Asaph the seer, which were used in praising God in Hezekiah’s time, 2 Chr. 29:30 . Though the Spirit of prophecy by sacred songs descended chiefly on David, who is therefore styled “the sweet psalmist of Israel,” yet God put some of that Spirit upon those about him. This is a psalm of great use; it gives us an account of the conflict which the psalmist had with a strong temptation to envy the prosperity of wicked people. He begins his account with a sacred principle, which he held fast, and by the help of which he kept his ground and carried his point (v. 1). He then tells us, I. How he got into the temptation (v. 2-14). II. How he got out of the temptation and gained a victory over it (v. 15-20). III. How he got by the temptation and was the better for it (v. 21-23). If, in singing this psalm, we fortify ourselves against the life temptation, we do not use it in vain. The experiences of others should be our instructions.
A psalm of Asaph.
(Psalms 73:1-11) The desolations of the sanctuary.
Ps 73;1 Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart.2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled ; My steps had nearly slipped.3 For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.4 For there are no pangs in their death , But their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men , Nor are they plagued like other men. 6 Therefore pride serves as their necklace ; Violence covers them like a garment. 7 Their â—™ eyes bulge with abundance ; They have more than heart could wish. 8 They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression ; They speak loftily. 9 They set their mouth against the heavens , And their tongue walks through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return here , And waters of a full cup are drained by them. 11And they say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
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.
(Ps 73:12-17) Pleas for encouraging faith.
Ps 73:12 Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches. 13 Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, And washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all day long I have been plagued, And chastened every morning. 15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. 16 When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me— 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end.
The church silences her own complaints. What God had done for his people, as their King of old, encouraged them to depend on him. It was the Lord’s doing, none besides could do it. This providence was food to faith and hope, to support and encourage in difficulties. The God of Israel is the God of nature. He that is faithful to his covenant about the day and the night, will never cast off those whom he has chosen. We have as much reason to expect affliction, as to expect night and winter. But we have no more reason to despair of the return of comfort, than to despair of day and summer. And in the world above we shall have no more changes.
(Ps 73:18-28) Petitions for deliverances.
Ps 73:18 Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. 20 As a dream when one awakes, So, Lord, when You awake, You shall despise their image. 21 Thus my heart was grieved, And I was vexed in my mind 22 I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. 24 You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. 26 My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. 28 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 Your works.
God would not suffer his people to be tempted, if his grace were not sufficient, not only to save them from harm, but to make them gainers by it. This temptation, the working of envy and discontent, is very painful. In reflecting upon it, the psalmist owns it was his folly and ignorance thus to vex himself. If good men, at any time, through the surprise and strength of temptation, think, or speak, or act amiss, they will reflect upon it with sorrow and shame. We must ascribe our safety in temptation, and our victory, not to our own wisdom, but to the gracious presence of God with us, and Christ’s intercession for us. All who commit themselves to God, shall be guided with the counsel both of his word and of his Spirit, the best counsellors here, and shall be received to his glory in another world; the believing hopes and prospects of which will reconcile us to all dark providences. And the psalmist was hereby quickened to cleave the closer to God. Heaven itself could not make us happy without the presence and love of our God. The world and all its glory vanishes. The body will fail by sickness, age, and death; when the flesh fails, the conduct, courage, and comfort fail. But Christ Jesus, our Lord, offers to be all in all to every poor sinner, who renounces all other portions and confidences. By sin we are all far from God. And a profession Christ, if we go on in sin, will increase our condemnation. May we draw near, and keep near, to our God, by faith and prayer, and find it good to do so. Those that with an upright heart put their trust in God, shall never want matter for thanksgiving to him. Blessed Lord, who hast so graciously promised to become our portion in the next world, prevent us from choosing any other in this.
The psalmist begs that God would appear for the church against their enemies. The folly of such as revile his gospel and his servants will be plain to all. Let us call upon our God to enlighten the dark nations of the earth; and to rescue his people, that the poor and needy may praise his name. Blessed Saviour, thou art the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Make thy people more than conquerors. Be thou, Lord, all in all to them in every situation and circumstances; for then thy poor and needy people will praise thy name.
This psalm appears to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Chaldeans. The deplorable case of the people of God, at the time, is spread before the Lord, and left with him. They plead the great things God had done for them. If the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt was encouragement to hope that he would not cast them off, much more reason have we to believe, that God will not cast off any whom Christ has redeemed with his own blood. Infidels and persecutors may silence faithful ministers, and shut up places of worship, and say they will destroy the people of God and their religion together. For a long time they may prosper in these attempts, and God’s oppressed servants may see no prospect of deliverance; but there is a remnant of believers, the seed of a future harvest, and the despised church has survived those who once triumphed over her. When the power of enemies is most threatening, it is comfortable to flee to the power of God by earnest prayer.
Ps. 73:0 title The psalm is ascribed to Asaph, leader of one of David’s Levitical choirs (see notes on Ps 39; 42; 50 titles). It begins a collection of 11 Asaphite psalms (Ps 73-83), to which Ps 50 at one time probably belonged. In view of the fact that the collection clearly contains prayers from a later date (e.g., Ps 74; 79; 83), references to Asaph in these titles must sometimes include descendants of Asaph who functioned in his place (see note on Ps 50 title). The Asaphite psalms are dominated by the theme of God’s rule over his people and the nations. Apart from an introductory word of instruction (Ps 73) the collection is bracketed by prayers for God to rescue his people from foreign oppression (Ps 74; 83). The rest of the collection (Ps 75-82) appears to reflect thematic pairing: 1. The God who brings down the wicked and exalts the righteous (Ps 75) is the God and Savior of Israel (Ps 76). 2. God’s saving acts in behalf of his people are remembered (Ps 77-78). 3. God is petitioned for help against the devastating attacks of Israel’s enemies (Ps 79-80). 4. God is portrayed as presiding in judgment over his people (Ps 81) and over the world powers (Ps 82).
Ps. 73:1 (73:1-28) A word of godly wisdom concerning the destinies of the righteous and the wicked. The editors of the Psalter placed it at the beginning of Book III, as they did Ps 1 at the beginning of the whole collection (see introduction to Ps 1). Here is addressed one of the most disturbing problems of the OT saints: How is it that the wicked so often prosper while the godly suffer so much? Thematically the psalm has many links with Ps 49 (see introduction to that psalm; see also Ps 37). Its date may be as late as the postexilic era. Thematic development divides the psalm’s structure into two halves of 14 verses each. The whole is framed by the sharply etched contrast of v. 1 and v. 27. (73:1-14) An almost fatal trial of faith: In the midst of his many troubles a godly man lets his eyes become fixed on the prosperity of the wicked. (73:1) PURE IN HEART. See v. 13; see also note on 24:4. HEART. See note on 4:7.
Ps. 73:2 FEET HAD ALMOST SLIPPED. From the path of truth and godliness (see 37:31 and note).
Ps. 73:4 (73:4-12) A description of the prosperous state of the wicked and the haughty self-reliance it engenders —hardly an objective account; it is rather the exaggerated picture that envious and troubled eyes perceived (see the description of the wicked in 10:2-11; cf. Job’s anguished portrayal of the prosperity of the wicked in Job 21).
Ps. 73:13 (73:13-14) The thoughts that plagued him when he compared the state of the wicked with his own troubled lot. (73:13) HEART PURE. See note on v. 1.
Ps. 73:14 PUNISHED. As a child by his father to keep him in the right way (see Pr 3:12; 23:13-14).
Ps. 73:15 (73:15-28) The renewal of faith: In the temple the godly man sees the destiny God has appointed for the wicked. (73:15) IF I HAD SAID. If he had given public expression to his thoughts as embodying true insight. YOUR CHILDREN. Those characterized by a humble reliance on and commitment to God.
Ps. 73:18 (73:18-20) Though the wicked seem to prosper, God has made their position precarious, and without warning they are swept away. The psalmist does not reflect on their state after death but leaves it as his final word that the wicked fall utterly and inevitably from their state of proud prosperity (see Ps 49; cf. the final state of the godly in v. 24).
Ps. 73:25 Though he has envied the prosperity of the wicked, he now confesses that nothing in heaven or earth is more desirable than God.
Ps. 73:26 MY FLESH. . . HEART. My whole being (see 84:2). HEART. See note on 4:7. PORTION. Since the psalmist was a Levite, the Lord was his portion in the promised land in that he lived by the people’s tithes dedicated to the Lord (see Nu 18:21-24; Dt 10:9; 18:1-2). Here he confesses more: The Lord himself is his sustainer, his preserver —his very life.
Ps. 73:28 I WILL TELL OF ALL YOUR DEEDS. A concluding vow to praise God for all his mercies to him (see note on 7:17).