PSALM 73 OVERVIEW
Title. A Psalm of Asaph. This is the second Psalm ascribed to Asaph, and the first of eleven consecutive Psalms bearing the name of this eminent singer. Some writers are not sure that Asaph wrote them, but incline to the belief that David was the author, and Asaph the person to whom they were dedicated, that he might sing them when in his turn he became the chief musician. But though our own heart turns in the same direction, facts must be heard; and we find in 2 Chronicles 29:30 , that Hezekiah commanded the Levites to sing "the words of David and of Asaph the seer;" and, moreover, in Nehemiah 12:46 , David and Asaph are mentioned together, as distinct from "the chief of the singers," and as it would seem, as joint authors of psalmody. We may, therefore, admit Asaph to be the author of some, if not all, of the twelve Psalms ascribed to him. Often a great star which seems to be but one to the eyes of ordinary observers, turns out upon closer inspection to be of a binary character; so here the Psalms of David are those of Asaph too. The great sun of David has a satellite in the moon of Asaph. By reading our notes on Psalm Fifty, in Volume 2, the reader will glean a little more concerning this man of God.
Subject. Curiously enough this Seventy-third Psalm corresponds in subject with the Thirty-seventh: it will help the memory of the young to notice the reversed figures. The theme is that ancient stumbling block of good men, which Job's friends could not get over; viz. -- the present prosperity of wicked men and the sorrows of the godly. Heathen philosophers have puzzled themselves about this, while to believers it has too often been a temptation.
Divisions. In Psalms 73:1 the psalmist declares his confidence in God, and, as it were, plants his foot on a rock while he recounts his inward conflict. From Psalms 73:2-14 he states his temptation; then, from Psalms 73:15-17 he is embarrassed as how to act, but ultimately finds deliverance from his dilemma. He describes with awe the fate of the ungodly in Ps 73:18-20, condemns his own folly and adores the grace of God, Psalms 73:21-24 , and concludes by renewing his allegiance to his God, whom he takes afresh to be his portion and delight.
Verse 1. Truly, or, more correctly, only, God is good to Israel. He is only good, nothing else but good to his own covenanted ones. He cannot act unjustly, or unkindly to them; his goodness to them is beyond dispute, and without mixture.
Even to such as are of a clean heart. These are the true Israel, not the ceremonially clean but the really so; those who are clean in the inward parts, pure in the vital mainspring of action. To such he is, and must be, goodness itself. The writer does not doubt this, but lays it down as his firm conviction. It is well to make sure of what we do know, for this will be good anchor hold for us when we are molested by those mysterious storms which arise from things which we do not understand. Whatever may or may not be the truth about mysterious and inscrutable things, there are certainties somewhere; experience has placed some tangible facts within our grasp; let us, then, cling to these, and they will prevent our being carried away by those hurricanes of infidelity which still come from the wilderness, and, like whirlwinds, smite the four corners of our house and threaten to overthrow it. O my God, however perplexed I may be, let me never think ill of thee. If I cannot understand thee, let me never cease to believe in thee. It must be so, it cannot be otherwise, thou art good to those whom thou hast made good; and where thou hast renewed the heart thou wilt not leave it to its enemies.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. The Seventy-third Psalm is a very striking record of the mental struggle which an eminently pious Jew underwent, when he contemplated the respective conditions of the righteous and the wicked. Fresh from the conflict, he somewhat abruptly opens the Psalm with the confident enunciation of the truth of which victory over doubt had now made him more and more intelligently sure than ever, that God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. And then he relates the most fatal shock which his faith has received, when he contrasted the prosperity of the wicked, who, though they proudly contemned God and man, prospered in the world and increased in riches, with his own lot, who, though he had cleansed his heart and washed his hands in innocency, had been plagued all the day long and chastened every morning. The place where his doubts were removed and his tottering faith reestablished, was the sanctuary of God. God himself was the teacher. What, then, did he teach? By what divinely imparted considerations was the psalmist reassured? Whatever is the proper rendering of Psalms 73:4 ; whether, There are no sorrows (tending) to their death, or, There are no sorrows until their death, -- their whole life to the very last is one unchequered course of happiness -- that verse conveys to us the psalmist's mistaken estimate of the prosperity of the wicked, before he went unto the sanctuary of God. The true estimate, at which he afterwards arrived, is found in Psalms 73:18-20 . Now, admitting (what, by the way, is somewhat difficult of belief, inasmuch as the sudden and fearful temporal destruction of all or even the most prosperous, cannot be made out) that the end of these men means only and always their end in this world, we come to the conclusion that, in the case of the wicked, this Psalm does not plainly and undeniably teach that punishment awaits them after death; but only that, in estimating their condition, it is necessary, in order to vindicate the justice of God, to take in their whole career, and set over against their great prosperity the sudden and fearful reverses and destruction which they frequently encounter. But, in turning to the other side of the comparison, the case of the righteous, we are not met by the thought, that as the prosperity of the wicked is but the preparation for their ruin, the raising higher the tower that the fall may be the greater, so the adversity of the godly is but an introduction to worldly wealth and honour. That though is not foreign to the Old Testament writers. "Evildoers shall be cut off;" writes one of them, "but those who wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Psalms 37:9-11 . But it is not so much as hinted at here. The daily chastening may continue, flesh and heart may fail, but God is good to Israel notwithstanding: he is their portion, their guide, their help while they live, and he will take them to his glorious presence when they die. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. The New Testament has nothing higher or more spiritual than this. The reference of the last clause to happiness after death is, I believe, generally acknowledged by Jewish commentators. They left it to the candour of Christian expositors to doubt or deny it. Thomas Thompson Perowne, in "The Essential Coherence of the Old and New Testaments." 1858.
Whole Psalm. In Psalm Seventy-three the soul looks out, and reasons on what it sees there; namely, successful wickedness and suffering righteousness. What is the conclusion? "I have cleansed my heart in vain." So much for looking about. In Psalm Seventy-seven the soul looks in, and reasons on what it finds there. What is the conclusion? "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" So much for looking in. Where, then, should we look? Look up, straight up, and believe what you see there. What will be the conclusion? You will understand the "end" of man, and trace the "way" of God. From "Things New and Old, a Monthly Magazine." 1858.
Whole Psalm. In this Psalm, the psalmist (Asaph) relates the great difficulty which existed in his own mind, from the consideration of the wicked. He observes ( Psalms 73:2-3 ), As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. In the fourth and following verses he informs us what, in the wicked, was his temptation. In the first place, he observed, that they were prosperous, and all things went well with them. He then observed their behaviour in their prosperity, and the use which they made of it; and that God, notwithstanding such abuse, continued their prosperity. Then he tells us by what means he was helped out of this difficulty, viz., by going into the sanctuary ( Psalms 73:16-17 ), and proceeds to inform us what considerations they were which helped him, viz., --
- The consideration of the miserable end of wicked men. However they prosper for the present, yet they come to a woeful end at last ( Psalms 73:18-20 ).
- The consideration of the blessed end of the saints. Although the saints, while they live, may be afflicted, yet they come to a happy end at last ( Psalms 73:21-24 ).
- The consideration that the godly have a much better portion than the wicked, even though they have no other portion but God; as in Psalms 73:25-26 .
Though the wicked are in prosperity, and are not in trouble as other men; yet the godly, though in affliction, are in a state infinitely better, because they have God for their portion. They need desire nothing else: he that hath God hath all. Thus the psalmist professes the sense and apprehension which he had of things: Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. In the twenty-fourth verse the psalmist takes notice how the saints are happy in God, both when they are in this world and also when they are taken to another. They are blessed in God in this world, in that he guides them by his counsel; and when he takes them out of it they are still happy, in that he receives them to glory. This probably led him to declare that he desired no other portion, either in this world or in that to come, either in heaven or upon earth. Jonathan Edwards.
Verse 1. Truly: it's but a particle; but the smallest filings of gold are gathered up. Little pearls are of great price. And this small particle is not of small use, being rightly applied and improved. First, take it (as our translators gave it us) as a note of asseveration. Truly. It's a word of faith, opposite to the psalmist's sense and Satan's injections. Whatsoever sense sees or feels, whatsoever Satan insinuates and says; yet precious faith with confidence asserts, Truly, verily God is good. He is not only good in word, but in deed also. Not only seemingly good, but certainly good. Secondly, consider it as an adversative particle, Yet, so our old translation. Ainsworth renders it, yet surely; taking in the former and this together. And then the sense runs thus: How ill soever things go in the world, how ill soever it fares with God's church and people amongst men, yet God is good to Israel. Thirdly, some conceive that the word carries admiration. Oh, how good is God to Israel. Where expressions and apprehensions fail, there the psalmist takes up God's providence with admiration. Oh, how wonderfully, how transcendently good is God to Israel! This yet (as I conceive) hath a threefold reference to the body of the Psalm. For as interpreters observe, though these words are set in the beginning, yet they suggest the conclusion of the psalmist's conflict. And the psalmist seems to begin somewhat abruptly. Yet God is good. But having filled his thoughts with his former follies and fears, and now seeing himself in a safe condition both for the present and the future, he is full of confidence and comfort; and that which was the strongest and chiefest in his heart now breaks our first: Yet God is good.
- This yet relates unto his sufferings, Psalms 73:14 : All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. Notwithstanding the variety and frequency of the saint's sufferings, yet God is good. Though sorrow salutes them every morning at their first awaking, and trouble attends them to bed at night, yet God is good. Though temptations many and terrible make batteries and breeches upon their spirits, yet God is good to Israel.
- This yet reflects upon his sinning, the fretting and wrangling of his distempered heart ( Psalms 73:2-3 Psalms 73:21 ). Though sinful motions do mutiny in the soul against God's wise administration, though there be foolish, proud quarrelling with divine providence, and inexcusable distrust of his faithful promises; though fretfulness at others prosperity and discontent at their own adversity, yet God is good. Israel's sinful distempers cause not the Almighty to change the course of his accustomed goodness. While corruptions are kept from breaking out into scandal, while the soul contends against them, and is humbled for them (as the psalmist was), this conclusion must be maintained: yet God is good.
- This yet looks back upon his misgivings. There had been distrustful despondency upon the good man's heart. For from both the premises (viz., his sufferings and sinning) he had inferred this conclusion, Psalms 73:13 , Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. As if he had said, "I have kept fasts, observed Sabbaths, heard sermons, made prayers, received sacraments, given alms, avoided sins, resisted temptations, withstood lusts, appeared for Christ and his cause and servants in vain": yea, his heart had added an asseveration (verily) to this faithless opinion, but now he is of another mind: Yet God is good. The administrations of God are not according to the sad surmises of his people's misgiving hearts. For, though they through diffidence are apt to give up their holy labours as lost, and all their conscientious care and carriage as utterly cast away; yet God is good to Israel. Simeon Ash, in a Sermon entitled "God's Incomparable Goodness unto Israel."
Verse 1. David opens the Psalm abruptly, and from this we learn what is worthy of particular notice, that, before he broke forth into this language, his mind had been agitated with many doubts and conflicting suggestions. As a brave and valiant champion, he had been exercised in very painful struggles and temptations; but, after long and arduous exertion, he at length succeeded in shaking off all perverse imaginations, and came to the conclusion that yet God is gracious to his servants, and the faithful guardian of their welfare. Thus these words contain a tacit contrast between the unhallowed imaginations suggested to him by Satan, and the testimony in favour of true religion with which he now strengthens himself, denouncing, as it were, the judgment of the flesh, in giving place to misgiving thoughts with respect to the providence of God. We see, then, how emphatic is this exclamation of the psalmist. He does not ascend into the chair to dispute after the manner of the philosophers, and to deliver his discourse in a style of studied oratory; but as if he had escaped from hell, he proclaims with a loud voice, and with impassioned feeling, that he had obtained the victory. John Calvin.
Verse 1. (first clause).
Yet sure the gods are good: I would think so,
If they would give me leave!
But virtue in distress, and vice in triumph,
Make atheists of mankind. Dryden.
Verse 1. God is good. There is a beauty in the name appropriated by the Saxon nations to the Deity, unequalled except by his most reverential Hebrew appellation. They called him "GOD," which is literally "THE GOOD." The same word thus signifying the Deity, and his most endearing quality. Turner.
Verse 1. God is good. Let the devil and his instruments say what they will to the contrary, I will never believe them; I have said it before, and I see no reason to reverse my sentence: Truly God is good. Though sometimes he may hide his face for awhile, yet he doth that in faithfulness and love; there is kindness in his very scourges, and love bound up in his rods; he is good to Israel: do but mark it first or last: "The true Israelite, in whom there is no guile, shall be refreshed by his Saviour." The Israelite that wrestles with tears with God, and values his love above the whole world, that will not be put off without his Father's blessing, shall have it with a witness: "He shall reap in joy though he may at present sow in tears. Even to such as are of a clean heart." The false hearted hypocrite, indeed, that gives God only his tongue and lip, cap and knee, but reserves his heart and love for sin and the world, that hath much of compliment, but nothing of affection and reality, why let such a one never expect, while in such a state, to taste those reviving comforts that I have been treating of; while he drives such a trade, he must not expect God's company. James Janeway. 1636-1674.
Verse 1. Even to such as are of a clean heart. Purity of heart is the characteristic note of God's people. Heart purity denominates us the Israel of God; it makes us of Israel indeed; "but all are not Israel which are of Israel." Romans 9:6 . Purity of heart is the jewel which is hung only upon the elect. As chastity distinguishes a virtuous woman from an harlot, so the true saint is distinguished from the hypocrite by his heart purity. This is like the nobleman's star or garter, which is a peculiar ensign of honour, differing him from the vulgar; when the bright star of purity shineth in a Christian's heart it doth distinguish him from the formal professor...
God is good to the pure in heart. We all desire that God should be good to us; it is the sick man's prayer: "The Lord be good to me." But how is God good to them? Two ways.
- To them that are pure all things are sanctified, Titus 1:15 : "To the pure all things are pure;" estate is sanctified, relations are sanctified; as the temple did sanctify the gold and the altar did sanctify the offering. To the unclean nothing is clean; their table is a snare, their temple devotion a sin. There is a curse entailed upon a wicked man ( Deuteronomy 28:16 ), but holiness removeth the curse, and cuts off the entail: "to the pure all things are pure."
- The clean hearted have all things work for their good. Romans 8:28 . Mercies and afflictions shall turn to their good; the most poisonous drugs shall be medicinal; the most cross providence shall carry on the design of their salvation. Who, then, would not be clean on heart? Thomas Watson.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Whole Psalm. It containeth the godly man's trial, in the former part of it, and his triumph, in the latter part of it. We have,
- The grievous conflict between the flesh and the
spirit, to the 15th verse.
- The glorious conquest of the spirit over the flesh, to
the end. G. Swinnock.
The cause of his distemper. The cure of it. The psalmist's carriage after it. G. Swinnock.
Verse 1. The true Israel, the great blessing, and the sureness of it: or, the proposition of the text expounded, enforced, and applied.
Verse 1. (first clause). Israel's receipts from God are,
- For quantity, the greatest;
- For variety, the choicest;
- For quality, the sweetest;
- For security, the surest;
- For duration, the most lasting. Simeon Ash.
WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE SEVENTY-THIRD PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY
Certain Comfortable Expositions of the Constant Martyr of Christ JOHN HOOPER, Bishop of Gloucester and Worcester, 1555, written in the time of his Tribulation and Imprisonment, upon the Twenty-third, Sixty-second, Seventy-third, and Seventy-seventh Psalm of the prophet David. (In Parker Society's publications, and also in the "British Reformers" series of the Religious Tract Society.)
David Restored; or, And Antidote against the Prosperity of the Wicked and the Afflictions of the Just, shewing the different ends of both. In a most seasonable discourse upon the Seventy-third Psalm. By the Right Reverend Father in God EDWARD PARRY. Late Lord Bishop of Killaloe. 1660.