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(Psalms 73–89)

Psalm 73

Plea for Relief from Oppressors

A Psalm of Asaph.


Truly God is good to the upright,

to those who are pure in heart.


But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;

my steps had nearly slipped.


For I was envious of the arrogant;

I saw the prosperity of the wicked.



For they have no pain;

their bodies are sound and sleek.


They are not in trouble as others are;

they are not plagued like other people.


Therefore pride is their necklace;

violence covers them like a garment.


Their eyes swell out with fatness;

their hearts overflow with follies.


They scoff and speak with malice;

loftily they threaten oppression.


They set their mouths against heaven,

and their tongues range over the earth.



Therefore the people turn and praise them,

and find no fault in them.


And they say, “How can God know?

Is there knowledge in the Most High?”


Such are the wicked;

always at ease, they increase in riches.


All in vain I have kept my heart clean

and washed my hands in innocence.


For all day long I have been plagued,

and am punished every morning.



If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”

I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.


But when I thought how to understand this,

it seemed to me a wearisome task,


until I went into the sanctuary of God;

then I perceived their end.


Truly you set them in slippery places;

you make them fall to ruin.


How they are destroyed in a moment,

swept away utterly by terrors!


They are like a dream when one awakes;

on awaking you despise their phantoms.



When my soul was embittered,

when I was pricked in heart,


I was stupid and ignorant;

I was like a brute beast toward you.


Nevertheless I am continually with you;

you hold my right hand.


You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will receive me with honor.


Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.


My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.



Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;

you put an end to those who are false to you.


But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord G od my refuge,

to tell of all your works.

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 עולם, olam, for the world, but improperly. It rather denotes in this passage an age; 184184     “Plustost il signifie yci un siecle,” — Fr. 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.

15. If I should say, I will speak thus. David, perceiving the sinfulness of the thoughts with which he was tempted, puts a bridle upon himself, and reproves his inconstancy in allowing his mind to entertain doubts on such a subject. We can be at no loss in discovering his meaning; but there is some difficulty or obscurity in the words. The last Hebrew verb in the verse, בגד, bagad, signifies to transgress, and also to deceive. Some, therefore, translate, I have deceived the generation of thy children, as if David had said, Were I to speak thus, I should defraud thy children of their hope. Others read, I have transgressed against the generation of thy children; that is, Were I to speak thus, I would be guilty of inflicting an injury upon them. But as the words of the prophet stand in this order, Behold! the generation of thy children: I have transgressed; and as a very good meaning may be elicited from them, I would expound them simply in this way: Were I to approve of such wicked thoughts and doubts, I would transgress; for, behold! the righteous are still remaining on the earth, and thou reservest in every age some people for thyself. Thus it will be unnecessary to make any supplement to complete the sense, and the verb בגדתי, bagadti, I have transgressed, will read by itself, and not construed with any other part of the verse. We have elsewhere had occasion to observe, that the Hebrew noun דור, dor, which we have rendered generation, is properly to be referred to time. The idea which David intends to convey is now perfectly obvious. Whilst worldly men give loose reins to their unhallowed speculations, until at length they become hardened, and, divesting themselves of all fear of God, cast away along with it the hope of salvation, he restrains himself that he may not rush into the like destruction. To speak or to declare 187187     The word in the Hebrew text is ספר, saphar Horsley translates it “to argue” —
   “If I resolve to argue thus,
I should be a traitor to the generation of thy children.”

   “The verb ספר,” says he, “which literally signifies to count or reckon, may easily signify ‘to reason within one’s self, to syllogise,’ as is indeed the case with the corresponding words of many languages; as λογιζεσθαι, ratiocinari, putare, reckon, count.”
here signifies to utter what had been meditated upon. His meaning, therefore, is, that had he pronounced judgment on this subject as of a thing certain, he would have been chargeable with a very heinous transgression. He found himself before involved in doubt, but now he acknowledges that he had grievously offended; and the reason of this he places between the words in which he expresses these two states of mind: which is, because God always sees to it, that there are some of his own people remaining in the world. He seems to repeat the demonstrative particle, Behold! for the sake of contrast. He had a little before said, Behold! these are the ungodly; and here he says, Behold! the generation of thy children. It is assuredly nothing less than a divine miracle that the Church, which is so furiously assaulted by Satan and innumerable hosts of enemies, continues safe.

16. Although I applied my mind to know this. The first verb חשב, chashab, which he employs, properly signifies to reckon or count, and sometimes to consider or weigh. But the words which follow in the sentence require the sense which I have given, That he applied his mind to know the part of Divine Providence referred to. He has already condemned himself for having transgressed; but still he acknowledges, that until he entered into the sanctuaries of God, he was not altogether disentangled from the doubts with which his mind had been perplexed. In short, he intimates that he had reflected on this subject on all sides, and yet, by all his reasoning upon it, could not comprehend how God, amidst so great disorders and confusions, continued to govern the world. Moreover, in speaking thus of himself, he teaches us, that when men are merely under the guidance of their own understandings, the inevitable consequence is, that they sink under their trouble, not being able by their own deliberations and reasonings to arrive at any certain or fixed conclusions; for there is no doubt that he puts the sanctuaries of God in opposition to carnal reason. Hence it follows, that all the knowledge and wisdom which men have of their own is vain and unsubstantial; since all true wisdom among men — all that deserves to be so called — consists in this one point, 188188     “D’autant que toute la vraye sagesse qui doit estre ainsi nommee es hommes, consiste en un seul poinct.” — Fr. That they are docile, and implicitly submit to the teaching of the Word of God. The Psalmist does not speak of unbelievers who are wilfully blind, who involve themselves in errors, and are also very glad to find some color or pretext for taking offense, that they may withdraw to a distance from God. It is of himself that he speaks; and although he applied his mind to the investigation of divine subjects, not only earnestly, but with all humility; and although, at the same time, he contemplated, according to his small measure, the high judgments of God, not only with attention, but also with reverence, yet he confesses that he failed of success; for the word trouble 189189     Green translates the Hebrew word for this, “hard;” Horsley, “perplexing;” and Boothroyd, “difficult.” here implies unprofitable or lost labor. Whoever, therefore, in applying himself to the examination of God’s judgments, expects to become acquainted with them by his natural understanding, will be disappointed, and will find that he is engaged in a task at once painful and profitless; and, therefore, it is indispensably necessary to rise higher, and to seek illumination from heaven.

By the sanctuaries of God some, even among the Hebrews, understand the celestial mansions in which the spirits of the just and angels dwell; as if David had said, This was a painful thing in my sight, until I came to acknowledge in good earnest that men are not created to flourish for a short time in this world, and to luxuriate in pleasures while in it, but that their condition here is that of pilgrims, whose aspirations, during their earthly pilgrimage, should be towards heaven. I readily admit that no man can form a right judgment of the providence of God; but he who elevates his mind above the earth; but it is more simple and natural to understand the word sanctuary as denoting celestial doctrine. As the book of the law was laid up in the sanctuary, from which the oracles of heaven were to be obtained, that is to say, the declaration of the will of God, 190190     “C’est a dire, la declaration de la volonte de Dieu.” — Fr. and as this was the true way of acquiring profitable instruction, David very properly puts entering into the sanctuaries, 191191     “It is remarkable,” observes Horsley, “that the original word for ‘sanctuary,’ in this place, is plural, which is unexampled when the sanctuary is literally meant.” He considers the expression, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God,” as meaning, “Till I entered into the secret grounds of God’s dealings with mankind.” Cresswell explains it — “Until I entered into the grounds of God’s dealings with men, as explained by the sacred writings, which are laid up in the place dedicated to his worship.” for coming to the school of God, as if his meaning were this, Until God become my schoolmaster, and until I learn by his word what otherwise my mind, when I come to consider the government of the world, cannot comprehend, I stop short all at once, and understand nothing about the subject. When, therefore, we are here told that men are unfit for contemplating the arrangements of Divine Providence until they obtain wisdom elsewhere than from themselves, how can we attain to wisdom but by submissively receiving what God teaches us both by his Word and by his Holy Spirit? David by the word sanctuary alludes to the external manner of teaching, which God had appointed among his ancient people; but along with the Word he comprehends the secret illumination of the Holy Spirit.

By the end of the wicked is not meant their exit from the world, or their departure from the present life, which is seen of all men — for what need was there to enter into the sanctuaries of God to understand that? — but the word end is to be regarded as referring to the judgments of God, by which he makes it manifest that, even when he is commonly thought to be asleep, he only delays to a convenient time the execution of the punishment which the wicked deserve. This must be explained at greater length. If we would learn from God what is the condition of the ungodly, he teaches us, that after having flourished for some short time, they suddenly decay; and that although they may happen to enjoy a continued course of prosperity until death, yet all that is nothing, since their life itself is nothing. As, then, God declares that all the wicked shall miserably perish, if we behold him executing manifest vengeance upon them in this life, let us remember that it is the judgment of God. If, on the contrary, we do not perceive any punishment inflicted on them in this world, let us beware of thinking that they have escaped, or that they are the objects of the Divine favor and approbation; 192192     “Gardons-nous de penser qu’ils soyent eschappez, ou que Dieu leur favorise.” — Fr. but let us rather suspend our judgment, since the end or the last day has not yet arrived. In short, if we would profit aright, when we address ourselves to the consideration of the works of God, we must first beseech him to open our eyes, (for these are sheer fools who would of themselves be clear-sighted, and of a penetrating judgment;) and, secondly, we must also give all due respect to his word, by assigning to it that authority to which it is entitled.

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