Psalm 73:4-9

4. For there are no bands to their death, and their strength is vigorous.1 5. They are not in the trouble that is common to man; neither are they scourged [or stricken] with other men. 6. Therefore pride compasseth them as a chain; the raiment of violence hath covered them. 7. Their eye goeth out for fatness; they have passed beyond [or exceeded] the thoughts of their heart. 8. They become insolent, and wickedly talk of extortion:2 they speak from on high. 9. They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.3


4. For there are no bands to their death. The Psalmist describes the comforts and advantages of the ungodly, which are as it were so many temptations to shake the faith of the people of God. He begins with the good health which they enjoy, telling us, that they are robust and vigorous, and have not to draw their breath with difficulty through continual sicknesses, as will often be the case with regard to true believers.4 Some explain bands to death, as meaning delays, viewing the words as implying that the wicked die suddenly, and in a moment, not having to struggle with the pangs of dissolution. In the book of Job it is reckoned among the earthly felicities of the ungodly, That, after having enjoyed to the full their luxurious pleasures, they "in a moment go down to the grave," (Job 21:13.) And it is related of Julius Caesar, that, the day before he was put to death, he remarked, that to die suddenly and unexpectedly, seemed to him to be a happy death. Thus, then, according to the opinion of these expositors, David complains that the wicked go to death by a smooth and easy path, without much trouble and anxiety. But I am rather inclined to agree with those who read these two clauses jointly in this way: Their strength is vigorous, and, in respect to them, there are no bands to death; because they are not dragged to death like prisoners.5 As diseases lay prostrate our strength, they are so many messengers of death, warning us of the frailty and short duration of our life. They are therefore with propriety compared to bands, with which God binds us to his yoke, lest our strength and rigour should incite us to licentiousness and rebellion.

5. They are not in the trouble that is common to man. Here it is declared that the wicked enjoy a delightful repose, and are as it were by special privilege exempted from the miseries to which mankind in general are subject. They also are no doubt involved in afflictions as well as the good, and God often executes his judgments upon them; but, for the express purpose of trying our faith, he always places some of them as it were upon an elevated stage, who appear to be privileged to live in a state of exemption from calamities, as is here described. Now, when we consider that the life of men is full of labor and miseries, and that this is the law and condition of living appointed for all, it is a sore temptation to behold the despisers of God indulging themselves in their luxurious pleasures and enjoying great ease, as if they were elevated above the rest of the world into a region of pleasure, where they had a nest for themselves apart.6

6. Therefore pride compasseth them as a chain. This complaint proceeds farther than the preceding; for we are here told that although God sees the ungodly shamefully and wickedly abusing his kindness and clemency, he notwithstanding bears with their ingratitude and rebellion. The Psalmist employs a similitude taken from the dress and attire of the body, to show that such persons glory in their evil deeds. The verb qne, anak, which we have rendered, encompasseth them as a chain, comes from a noun which signifies a chain. The language, therefore, implies that the ungodly glory in their audacity and madness, as if they were richly adorned with a chain of gold:7 and that violence serves them for raiment, thinking, as they do, that it renders them very stately and honorable. Some translate the Hebrew word tys, shith, which we have rendered raiment, by buttocks; but this is a sense which the scope of the passage will by no means admit. David, I have no doubt, after having commenced at the neck or head -- for the Hebrew verb qne, anak which he uses, signifies also sometimes to crown8 -- now meant to comprehend, in one word, the whole attire of the person. The amount of what is stated is, that the wicked are so blinded with their prosperity, as to become more and more proud and insolent9 The Psalmist has very properly put pride first in order, and then added violence to it as its companion; for what is the reason why the ungodly seize and plunder whatever they can get on all sides, and exercise so much cruelty, but because they account all other men as nothing in comparison of themselves; or rather persuade themselves that mankind are born only for them? The source, then, and, as it were, the mother of all violence, is pride.

7. Their eye goeth out for fatness.10 He now adds, that it is not wonderful to see the ungodly breaking forth with such violence and cruelty, since, by reason of fatness and pampering, their eyes are ready to start out of their heads. Some explain the words goeth out as meaning, that their eyes being covered and hidden with fat, were, so to speak, lost, and could not be perceived in their sockets. But as fat causes the eyes to project from the head, I prefer retaining the proper meaning of the words. Let it, however, be observed, that David is not to be understood as speaking of the bodily countenance, but as expressing metaphorically the pride with which the ungodly are inflated on account of the abundance which they possess. They so glut and intoxicate themselves with their prosperity, that afterwards they are ready to burst with pride. The last clause of the verse is also explained in two ways. Some think that by the verb rbe, abar, which we have translated passed beyond, is denoted unbridled presumption;11 for the ungodly are not contented to keep themselves within ordinary bounds, but in their wild and extravagant projects mount above the clouds. We know, in fact, that they often deliberate with themselves how they may take possession of the whole world; yea, they would wish God to create new worlds for them. In short, being altogether insatiable, they pass beyond heaven and earth in their wild and unbounded desires. It would certainly not be inappropriate to explain the verb as meaning, that their foolish thoughts can be regulated by no law, nor kept within any bounds. But there is another exposition which is also very suitable, namely, that the prosperity and success which they meet with exceed all the flattering prospects which they had pictured in their imaginations. We certainly see some of them who obtain more than ever they had desired, as if, whilst they were asleep, Fortune laid nets and fished for them,12 -- the device under which king Demetrius was in old time wittily painted, who had taken so many cities, although otherwise he was neither skillful nor vigilant, nor of great foresight. If we are inclined to take this view of the words, this clause will be added by way of exposition, to teach us what is meant by that fatness, spoken of before -- that it means that God heaps upon the wicked, and fills them with, an abundance of all good things, beyond what they had ever either desired or thought of.

8. They become insolent, and wickedly talk of extortion. Some take the verb wqymy, yamicu, in an active transitive sense, and explain it as meaning, that the wicked soften, that is to say, render others pusillanimous, or frighten and intimidate them.13 But as the idiom of the language admits also of its being understood in the neuter sense, I have adopted the interpretation which agreed best with the scope of the passage, namely, that the wicked, forgetting themselves to be men, and by their unbounded audacity trampling under foot all shame and honesty, dissemble not their wickedness, but, on the contrary, loudly boast of their extortion. And, indeed, we see that wicked men, after having for some time got every thing to prosper according to their desires, cast off all sham and are at no pains to conceal themselves when about to commit iniquity, but loudly proclaim their own turpitude. "What!" they will say, "is it not in my power to deprive you of all that you possess, and even to cut your throat?" Robbers, it is true, can do the same thing; but then they hide themselves for fear. These giants, or rather inhuman monsters, of whom David speaks, on the contrary not only imagine that they are exempted from subjection to any law, but, unmindful of their own weakness, foam furiously, as if there were no distinction between good and evil, between right and wrong. If, however, the other interpretation should be preferred, That the wicked intimidate the simple and peaceable by boasting of the great oppressions and outrages which they can perpetrate upon them, I do not object to it. When the poor and the afflicted find themselves at the mercy of these wicked men, they cannot but tremble, and, so to speak, melt and dissolve upon seeing them in possession of so much power. With respect to the expression, They speak from on high,14 implies, that they pour forth their insolent and abusive speech upon the heads of all others. As proud men, who disdain to look directly at any body, are said, in the Latin tongue, despicere, and in the Greek, Katablepein, that is, to look down;15 so David introduces them as speaking from on high, because it seems to them that they have nothing in common with other men, but think themselves a distinct class of beings, and, as it were, little gods.16

9. They have set their mouth against the heavens. Here it is declared that they utter their contumelious speeches as well against God as against men; for they imagine that nothing is too arduous for them to attempt, and flatter themselves that heaven and earth are subject to them. If any should endeavor to alarm them by setting before them the power of God, they audaciously break through this barrier; and, with respect to men, they have no idea of any difficulty arising from such a quarter. Thus, there is no obstacle to repress their proud and vaunting speeches, but their tongue walketh through the whole earth. This form of expression seems to be hyperbolical; but when we consider how great and unbounded their presumption is, we will admit that the Psalmist teaches nothing but what experience shows to be matter of fact.

1 Literally, "Their strength is fat." Jerome renders as if, for Mlwa, his MSS. had Mhymlwa, 'et firma sunt vestibula eorum;' 'their stately mansions are firm.' The stability of a dwelling is a significant image of general prosperity. -- Horsley.

2 "Oppression. Dr Boothroyd joins this word to the latter clause, thus: Concerning oppression they talk loftily. This we think preferable." -- Williams.

3 "The powerful effects of the tongue are expressed by a like figure in a Greek proverb preserved by Suidas. Tlw~ssa poi~ poreu>n; po>lin ajnorqw>sousa kai< po>lin katastre>yousa. 'Tongue, whither goest thou? To build up a city, and to destroy a city.' Garrulity is called 'the walk of the tongue' in a line quoted by Stobaeus (Serm. 36) from Astydamas --

Tlw>sshv peri>pato>v ejstin ajdolesci>a.""


4 "Comme souvent il en prendra aux fideles." -- Fr.

5 "They are not dragged to death," says Poole, "either by the hand or sentence of the magistrate, which yet they deserve, nor by any lingering or grievous torments of mind or body, which is the case with many good men; but they enjoy a sweet and quiet death, dropping into the grave like ripe fruit from the tree, without any violence used to them, (compare Job 5:26 and 31:13.) The word translated bands occurs in only one other place of Scripture, Isaiah 58:6, where in all the ancient versions it is rendered bands. But bands will bear various significations. In the Hebrew style it often signifies the pangs of child-birth; and therefore the meaning here may be, they have no pangs in their death; i.e., they die an easy death, being suffered to live on to extreme old age, when the flame of life gradually and quietly becomes extinct. It was also used by the Hebrews to express diseases of any kind, and this is the sense, in which Calvin understands it. Thus Jesus says of the "woman who had a spirit of infirmity," a sore disease inflicted upon her by an evil spirit, "eighteen years," "Thou art loosed from thine infirmity," (and loosing, we know, applies to bands:) he again describes her as "this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years;" and farther says, "Ought she not to be loosed from this bond?" that is, cured of this sickness? Luke 13:11, 12, 16. According to this view, the meaning will be, they have no violent diseases in their death. Horsley reads, "There is no fatality in their death." After observing that the word twburx, translated bands, occurs but in one other place in the whole Bible, Isaiah 58:6; where the LXX. have rendered it sundesmon, and the Vulgate colligationes, he says, "From its sense there, and from its seeming affinity with the roots Prx and hbu, I should guess that in a secondary and figurative sense, the word may denote the strongest of all bands or knots, physical necessity, or fate; and in that sense it may be taken here. The complaint is, that the ordinary constitution of the world is supposed to contain no certain provision for the extermination of the impious; that there is no necessary and immediate connection between moral evil and physical, wickedness and death." The Septuagint reads, o[ti ou<k e]stin ajna>neusiv ejn tw~ Qana>tw aujtw~n: "For there is no sign of reluctance in their death." The Vulgate, "Quia non est respectus morti eorum;" "For they do not think of dying," or, "For they take no notice of their death." The Chaldee, "They are not terrified or troubled on account of the day of their death."

6 "En un lieu de plaisance, et comme pour avoir leur nid a part." -- Fr.

7 There is here a metaphorical allusion to the rich collars or chains worn about the necks of great personages for ornament. Compare Proverbs 1:9, and Cant. 4, 9. Pride compassed these prosperous wicked men about as a chain; they wore it for an ornament as gold chains or collars were worn about the neck; discovering it by their stately carriage. See Isaiah 3:16. Or there may be an allusion to the office which some of them bore; for chains of gold were among the ensigns of magistracy and civil power.

8 Accordingly, the Chaldee, instead of "compasseth them as a chain." has "crowneth them as a crown or diadem does the head."

9 "Violence covereth them as a garment. Wicked men that are prosperous and proud, are generally oppressive to others; and are very often open in their acts of violence, which are as openly done, and to be seen of all men, as the clothes they wear upon their backs; and frequently the clothes they wear are got by rapine and oppression, so that they may properly be called garments of violence. See Isaiah 59:6." -- Dr Gill.

10 "Their eyes are starting out for fatness." -- Horsley. "Their eyes swell with fatness -- this is a proverbial expression, used to designate the opulent, who are very commonly given to sensuality: comp. Job 15:27: Psalm 17:10." -- Cresswell.

11 "The fantasies of their minds run into excess; i.e., they suffer their imaginations to sway them." -- Cresswell.

12 "Et pesche pour eux." Fr.

13 "Exposans que les meschans amolissent, c'est a dire, rendent lasches les autres, c'est a dire, les espouantent et intimident." -- Fr. wqymy, yamicu, is rendered by Vatablus, Cocceius, Gejer, and Michaelis, "They cause to consume or melt away." "They melt or dissolve others," says Dr Gill, "they consume them, and waste their estates by their oppression and violence; they make their hearts to melt with their threatening and terrifying words; or they make them dissolute in their lives by keeping them company." Mudge reads, "They behave corruptly;" and Horsley, "They are in the last stage of degeneracy."

14 The original word, Mwrmm, memmarom, for from on high, is translated by our English version loftily. But Musculus, Junius, Tremellius, Piscator, Mudge, Horsley, and others read with Calvin, from on high. They speak from on high, "as if they were in heaven and above all creatures, and even God himself; and as if what they said were oracles, and to be received as such without any scruple and hesitation. Thus Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar spake, Exodus 5:2; Isaiah 36:20; Daniel 3:15." -- Dr Gill.

15 "Car comme les Latins et aussi les Grecs, quand ils descrivent la contenance des gens enyvrez d'orgueil, ont des verbes qui signifient Regarder en bas, d'autant que telles gens ne daignent pas regarder droit les personnes." -- Fr. "As the Romans, and also the Greeks, when they describe the countenance of persons intoxicated with pride, have words which mean to look down, because such persons deign not to look directly at other people."

16 "Pource qu'il ne leur semble point avis qu'ils ayent rien de commun avec les autres hommes, mais pensent estre quelque chose a part, et comme des petis dieux." -- Fr.