Psalm 73:10-14

10. On this account his people will return hither, and waters of a full cup will be wrung out to them. 11. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? 12. Behold! These are the ungodly, and yet they enjoy repose [or quietness] for ever: they heap up riches. 13. Surely I have purified my heart in vain, and washed my hands daily.1 14. And I have been scourged daily, and my chastisement has been every morning.


10. On this account his people will return hither. Commentators wrest this sentence into a variety of meanings. In the first place, as the relative his is used, without an antecedent indicating whose people are spoken of, some understand it simply of the ungodly, as if it had been said, That the ungodly always fall back upon this reflection: and they view the word people as denoting a great troop or band; for as soon as a wicked man raises his standard, he always succeeds in drawing a multitude of associates after him. They, therefore, think the meaning to be, that every prosperous ungodly man has people flocking about him, as it were, in troops; and that, when within his palace or magnificent mansion, they are content with getting water to drink; so much does this perverse imagination bewitch them. But there is another sense much more correct, and which is also approved by the majority of commentators; namely, that the people of God2 return hither. Some take the word Mlh, halom, which we have rendered hither, as denoting afflicted;3 but this is a forced interpretation.

The meaning is not, however, as yet, sufficiently evident, and therefore we must inquire into it more closely.4 Some read the whole verse connectedly, thus: The people of God return hither, that they may drain full cups of the water of sorrow. But, in my opinion, this verse depends upon the preceding statements, and the sense is, That many who had been regarded as belonging to the people of God were carried away by this temptation, and were even shipwrecked and swallowed up by it. The prophet does not seem to speak here of the chosen people of God, but only to point to hypocrites and counterfeit Israelites who occupy a place in the Church. He declares that such persons are overwhelmed in destruction, because, being foolishly led away to envy the wicked, and to desire to follow them,5 they bid adieu to God and to all religion. Still, however, this might, without any impropriety, be referred to the chosen seed, many of whom are so violently harassed by this temptation, that they turn aside into crooked by-paths: not that they devote themselves to wickedness, but because they do not firmly persevere in the right path. The sense then will be, that not only the herd of the profane, but even true believers, who have determined to serve God, are tempted with this unlawful and perverse envy and emulation.6 What follows, Waters of a full cup are wrung out to them,7 seems to be the reason of the statement in the preceding clause, implying that they are tormented with vexation and sorrow, when no advantage appears to be derived from cultivating true religion. To be saturated with waters is put metaphorically for to drink the bitterest distresses, and to be filled with immeasurable sorrows.

11. And they say, How doth God know? Some commentators maintain that the Prophet here returns to the ungodly, and relates the scoffings and blasphemies with which they stimulate and stir up themselves to commit sin; but of this I cannot approve. David rather explains what he had stated in the preceding verse, as to the fact that the faithful fall into evil thoughts and wicked imaginations when the short-lived prosperity of the ungodly dazzles their eyes. He tells us that they begin then to call in question, Whether there is knowledge in God. Among worldly men, this madness is too common. Ovid thus speaks in one of his verses:

"Sollicitor nullos esse putare deos;"
"I am tempted to think that there are no gods."

It was, indeed, a heathen poet who spake in this manner; but as we know that the poets express the common thoughts of men, and the language which generally predominates in their minds,8 it is certain that he spake, as it were, in the person of the great mass of mankind, when he frankly confessed, that as soon as any adversity happens, men forget all knowledge of God. They not only doubt whether there is a God, but they even enter into debate with, and chide him. What else is the meaning of that complaint which we meet with in the ancient Latin Poet-

"Nec Saturnius haec oculis pater adspicit aequis:"

"Nor does the great god, the son of Saturn, regard these things with impartial eyes," -- but that the woman, of whom he there speaks, accuses her god Jupiter of unrighteousness, because she was not dealt with in the way which she desired? It is then too common, among the unbelieving part of mankind, to deny that God cares for and governs the world, and to maintain that all is the result of chance.9 But David here informs us that even true believers stumble in this respect: not that they break forth into this blasphemy, but because they are unable, all at once, to keep their minds under restraint when God seems to cease from executing his office. The expostulation of Jeremiah is well known,

"Righteous art thou, O Lord! when I plead with thee; yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously ?" (Jeremiah 12:1)

It appears from that passage that even the godly are tempted to doubt of the Providence of God, but at the same time that doubts on this subject do not go very deep into their hearts; for Jeremiah at the outset protests the contrary; and by doing so, puts, as it were, a bridle upon himself. Yet they do not always so speedily anticipate the snares of Satan, as to avoid asking, under the influence of a doubting spirit, how it can happen, if God really regards the world, that he does not remedy the great confusion which prevails in it? Of those who impiously prate against God by denying his Providence, there are two sorts. Some openly pour out their blasphemies, asserting that God, delighting in ease and pleasure, cares about nothing, but leaves the government of all things to chance. Others, although they keep their thoughts on this subject to themselves, and are silent before men, yet cease not secretly to fret against God, and to accuse him of injustice or of indolence, in conniving at wickedness, neglecting the godly, and allowing all things to be involved in confusion, and to go to wreck. But the people of God, before these perverse and detestable thoughts enter deep into their hearts, disburden themselves into the bosom of God,10 and their only desire is to acquiesce in his secret judgments, the reason of which is hidden from them. The meaning of this passage, therefore, is, that not only the wicked, when they see things in the world so full of disorder, conceive only of a blind government, which they attribute to fortune or chance; but that even true believers themselves are shaken, so as to doubt of the Providence of God; and that unless they were wonderfully preserved by his hand, they would be completely swallowed up in this abyss.

12. Behold! these are the ungodly. The Psalmist here shows, as it were by a vivid pictorial representation, the character of that envy which had well nigh overthrown him. Behold! says he, these are wicked men! and yet they happily enjoy their ease and pleasures undisturbed, and are exalted to power and influence; and that not merely for a few days, but their prosperity is of long duration, and has, as it were, an endless course. And is there anything which seems to our judgment less reasonable than that persons whose wickedness is accounted infamous and detestable, even in the eyes of men, should be treated with such liberality and indulgence by God? Some here take the Hebrew word Mlwe, olam, for the world, but improperly. It rather denotes in this passage an age;11 and what David complains of is, that the prosperity of the wicked is stable and of long duration, and that to see it last so long wears out the patience of the righteous. Upon seeing the wicked so tenderly cherished by God, he descends to the consideration of his own case; and as his conscience bore him testimony that he had walked sincerely and uprightly, he reasons with himself as to what advantage he had derived from studiously devoting himself to the practice of righteousness, since he was afflicted and harassed in a very unusual degree. He tells us that he was scourged daily, and that as often as the sun rose, some affliction or other was prepared for him, so that there was no end to his calamities. In short the amount of his reasoning is this, "Truly I have labored in vain to obtain and preserve a pure heart and clean hands, seeing continued afflictions await me, and, so to speak, are on the watch to meet me at break of day. Such a condition surely shows that there is no reward for innocence before God, else he would certainly deal somewhat more compassionately towards those who serve him." As the true holiness for which the godly are distinguished consists of two parts, first, of purity of heart, and, secondly, of righteousness in the outward conduct, David attributes both to himself. Let us learn, from his example, to join them together: let us, in the first place, begin with purity of heart, and then let us give evidence of this before men by uprightness and integrity in our conduct.

1 "Et lave mes mains en nettete." -- Fr. "And washed my hands in innocency." The Psalmist may allude to the rite of ablution which was in use among the Jews. See Deuteronomy 21:6, and Psalm 26:6. Or he may be understood as signifying by the metaphor of washing the hands in general, the pains which he took to be blameless in the whole of his outward conduct. "Opposite to the phrase, to wash in innocence," says Merrick, "is the scelere imbuere of Cicero, (Philipp. v.) 'Cum autem semel gladium scelere imbuisset,'" etc. See Job 9:30.

2 The Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions read, "my people."

3 "Abu Walid," says Hammond, "hath a peculiar way of rendering Mlh, as if it were Mlh, the infinitive, with breaking of spirit." A similar interpretation is adopted by Horsley. "For Mlh," says he, "many MSS. read Mwlh, which I take as the participle Pual of the verb Mlh, 'Contusus miseria,' scilicet." He reads,

"Therefore his [God's] people sit woebegone."

To make out this translation, he adopts another of the various readings of MSS. "For bysy," says he, "many MSS. have bwsy: I would transpose the vau, and read bswy. The third person future, Hophal, signifies is made to sit, is settled, attended with grief and consternation at the unpunished audacity of the profane."

4 "Et pourtant il nous y faut aviser de plus pres." -- Fr.

5 "Stulta aemulatione decepti." -- Lat. "Se abusans par leur folie a porter envie aux meschans, et les vouloir ensuyvre." -- Fr

6 While Calvin admits that the words, his people, may refer to true believers, he conceives that carnal and hypocritical Israelites are rather intended. One great objection to the opinion, that true believers are at all intended is, that stumbled though they often are at the unequal distributions of the present state, and chargeable though they may be with entertaining murmuring thoughts in reference to this matter, we can scarcely suppose that they would so far depart from every principle of truth and propriety, as to break forth into such language as is ascribed in verse 11th to the persons here spoken of, "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?" Neither David nor Jeremiah, though much perplexed in reconciling the prosperity of the wicked and the afflicted state of God's people, with the righteousness and goodness of Divine Providence, ever gave utterance to any such language. See Psalm 38 and Jeremiah 12. Walford thinks that "it is far more agreeable to the design of the entire passage, to interpret the words, his people, of the friends and connections of the wicked, who imitate their actions." In support of this it may be observed, that the description of the condition, conduct, and words, of these prosperous ungodly men, commences at the 4th verse, and seems to be continued to the 13th verse, where the Psalmist's reflections upon the subject begin, and are continued to the close of the psalm.

7 This has also been understood as denoting the prosperity, the abundance of all outward good things bestowed upon the persons referred to.

8 "Et les discours qui regnent communeement en leur cerveaux." -- Fr.

9 "Que tout vient a l'aventure." -- Fr.

10 "En la presence de Dieu." -- Fr. "In the presence of God."

11 "Plustost il signifie yci un siecle," - Fr.