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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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BOOK III

PSALMS 73--89

INTRODUCTION FOR BOOK III

Psalms 73--89 are entitled Book III. These Psalms are classified as "The Asaph Group," composed of Ps. 73--83, the only other Asaph Psalm being Psalm 50 in Book II. "All of this group are Elohimic."F1 Most of the remaining Psalms in Book IV are ascribed to the Sons of Korah. "Some of these are Elohimic and some are Jehovist."F2 Three Psalms in this Book are ascribed, one each, to David, Heman and Ethan.

"The Psalms of Asaph are of different dates, but are similar in character and have many features in common ... They are national and historical ... They have a definite doctrine of God, who is presented as "The Shepherd of Israel" (Psalms 80:1), and the people are the sheep of his pasture (Ps. 74:1; 77:20; 79:13) ... History is used for instruction, admonition and encouragement."F3

Dr. DeHoff summarized this entire book as follows: Ps. 73 handles the problem of the wicked's prosperity; Ps. 74 discusses the national disaster in Jerusalem's destruction; Ps. 75 speaks of the final judgment; Ps. 76 gives thanks for a great victory; Ps. 77--78 are historical extolling God's marvelous works; Ps. 79--80 give us a glance of a great disaster; Ps. 81--82 deplore the sinfulness of God's people; Ps. 83 is a prayer for protection; Ps. 84 stresses the blessedness of those `in God's house.' (with an application to Christ's church); Ps. 85--86 contain prayers of thanksgiving to God and pleas for mercy and forgiveness; Ps. 88 is the prayer of a shut-in suffering from a long illness; and Ps. 89 is a magnificent presentation of the Throne of David which will endure forever.F4

This is the shortest of the Five Books of Psalms.

"Each of the major Psalm-types is represented in Book IV, except Penitential."F5

We shall also observe that there are many quotations in the New Testament from this portion of the Psalms. This is especially true of Ps. 89 which is referred to in Acts 13:22, (Psalms 73:20); 2 Thess. 1:10 (Psalms 73:7); Rev. 1:5 (Psalms 73:27,37). Other quotations are Mal. 13:35 (Psalms 78:2), John 6:31 (Psalms 78:24), and John 10:34 (Psalms 82:6).

PSALM 73

THE PROBLEM OF THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED

Where is the Christian who has not struggled with this same problem? Righteous people seem pressed down on every hand, often struggling for the very necessities of life, whereas openly arrogant and wicked unbelievers flaunt their godless lives, sometimes wallowing in wealth and luxuries. This psalm addresses that very problem.

Of course, there is one practical reason for the seeming disparity between what appears to be God's treatment of the righteous and the wicked, and that is the truth emphasized by Jesus who stated that, "The sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light" (Luke 16:8). There surely seems to be a naivete among God's people that often hinders their worldly success. This is not the only Old Testament Scripture that deals with this problem. Ps. 37 and Ps. 49, as well as the Book of Job likewise confront this problem, dealing with it extensively. We have already commented extensively on this problem in Ps. 37 and Ps. 49.

For word on Asaph, see under Ps. 50 in Vol. I of this Series. Asaph (or possibly his sons) authored Ps. 73--83.

In this psalm, the conclusion is announced at the beginning.

Ps. 73:1-2

Surely God is good to Israel.

Even to such as are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet were almost gone;

My steps had well nigh slipped."


 
Verses 1, 2
Surely God is good to Israel, [Even] to such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; My steps had well nigh slipped.
(Psalms 73:1). God is not partial to the wicked. However the opposite of this may appear at times to be true, it is never the correct view. God's goodness toward the righteous is by no means limited to the present time but extends throughout eternity. Whatever advantage wickedness may appear to have in the present life is of no consequence whatever when considered in the light of the eternal rewards and punishments to be meted out on the Day of Judgment.

But as for me
(Psalms 73:2). Here the Psalmist looks back upon the temptations which almost overcame him and recognizes how fatal it would have been for him to succumb thereunto.

For I was envious at the arrogant,

When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For there are no pangs in their death;

But their strength is firm.

They are not in trouble as other men;

Neither are they plagued like other men.

Therefore pride is as a chain about their neck;

Violence covereth them as a garment."

This impression that the wicked made upon the Psalmist was surely due in part to the faulty nature of his observation. It is human nature to view the "grass on the other side of the fence" as greener; and that propensity entered into the inaccurate impression here.


 
Verses 3-6
For I was envious at the arrogant, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death; But their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as [other] men; Neither are they plagued like [other] men. Therefore pride is as a chain about their neck; Violence covereth them as a garment.
(Psalms 73:4). This cannot be considered as accurate. Herod II was eaten with worms at the very moment when he was having himself proclaimed as a god; the dogs ate Jezebel, etc. -- the list is a mile long. Look at Pharaoh, Zedekiah, Judas, Saul, Ahithophel, Absalom, Nero, Herodias, Salome and a host of others.

Pride is as a chain about their neck. violence covereth them as a garment
(Psalms 73:6). The mention of garment in the second line here suggests that the true meaning of the first line is that the arrogant pride of the wicked is worn by them like an ornament. All of these verses describe the wicked as they appeared to be in the eyes of the envious Psalmist, not as they actually were.

Their eyes stand out with fatness;

They have more than heart could wish.

They scoff, and in wickedness utter oppression:

They speak loftily.

They have set their mouth in the heavens,

And their tongue walketh through the earth.

Therefore his people return hither:

And waters of a full cup are drained by them."


 
Verses 7-10
Their eyes stand out with fatness: They have more than heart could wish. They scoff, and in wickedness utter oppression: They speak loftily. They have set their mouth in the heavens, And their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: And waters of a full [cup] are drained by them.
(Psalms 73:7). The wicked people in view here were wealthy.

They scoff
(Psalms 73:8). Ps. 73:8-9 describes the arrogant and boastful speech of the wicked.

They have set their mouth in the heavens
(Psalms 73:9). The margin on this reads, against the heavens. They speak as if they owned heaven and earth.

Their tongue walketh through the earth
(Psalms 73:9). This line is priceless. There are a lot of wicked tongues walking through the earth right now!

His people return hither
(Psalms 73:10). The thought here is that the followers of wicked men partake of their earthly benefits and adopt their patterns of evil behavior.

And they say, How doth God know?

And is there knowledge in the Most High?

Behold, these are the wicked;

And being always at ease, they increase in riches."

Part of this verse accurately describes the wicked. They are indeed unbelievers, practical atheists, who have no knowledge of God and who desire none. As noted above, we cannot allow all of this to be an accurate description of the wicked, but rather an impression that the wicked made upon the envious heart of a superficial observer. Although indeed "some wicked people" might be cited as deserving such a description as we find in these verses, it simply cannot be true that "all wicked people" are thus. The Lord says, "The way of the transgressor is hard" (Proverbs 13:15). What we have here, perhaps, is what Satan tells God's people about wicked people. Foolish indeed is he who believes it.

Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart,

And washed my hands in innocency;

For all the day long have I been plagued,

And chastened every morning."

These verses represent the thoughts that came into the mind of the tempted Psalmist; but he never permitted such words to escape from his lips. These verses were indeed whispered into his ear by Satan himself; but the Psalmist, although feeling the appeal of such thoughts tugging at his heart, nevertheless rejected them and did not utter them. Many a child of God in all generations has been assailed by such wicked thoughts.

If I had said, I will speak thus;

Behold I had dealt treacherously with the generation of thy children.

When I thought how I might know this,

It was too painful for me;

Until I went into the sanctuary of God,

And considered their latter end.

Surely thou settest them in slippery places:

Thou castest them down to destruction."


 
Verses 15-18
If I had said, I will speak thus; Behold, I had dealt treacherously with the generation of thy children. When I thought how I might know this, It was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God, And considered their latter end. Surely thou settest them in slippery places: Thou castest them down to destruction.
(Psalms 73:15). No, he did not speak the sinful thoughts that Satan whispered to him. For him to have done so would have been treachery in the sight of God.

Until I went into the sanctuary of God
(Psalms 73:17). It is important to note the place where enlightenment came to the tempted heart of the Psalmist; it came in the house of worship; and the same thing still happens. If men would be strengthened in their faith and delivered from the manifold temptations which the Evil One continually hurls against the sons of God, let him attend the worship services. There is no substitute whatever for this. In the last analysis, salvation and damnation turn finally upon one little pivot, those who attend God's worship and those who don't. Scoffers may scoff, but that is the way it is whether men like it or not.

Thou castest them down to destruction
(Psalms 73:18). This is the latter end of the wicked; and there can be no appeal from this fact. There is certain to come a day of Judgment, when God will cast evil out of his universe and Satan himself shall receive the destruction which he so richly deserves. It should be remembered that the hell spoken of so often in the Bible, under so many different figures, was never designed for evil men, but for Satan; and God never intended that any man should suffer in such a place. Moreover Christ himself spread wide his bleeding hands upon the Cross to keep any man from sharing Satan's punishment; but when willful men choose to follow Satan instead of the loving Saviour, how could such a fate be avoided?

How are they become a desolation in a moment!

They are utterly consumed with terrors.

As a dream when one awaketh,

So, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou wilt despise their image.

For my soul was grieved, And I was pricked in my heart:

So brutish was I, and ignorant;

I was as a beast before thee."


 
Verses 19-22
How are they become a desolation in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh, So, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou wilt despise their image. For my soul was grieved, And I was pricked in my heart: So brutish was I, and ignorant; I was [as] a beast before thee.
(Psalms 73:22). In these verses, the Psalmist admits the ignorant foolishness of the thoughts which had tempted him. It is true of every man who under any circumstance whatever becomes either distrustful or critical of God. Whatever false logic the devil may use to support his suggestions, let the child of God refuse it. Failure to do so can only bring eternal sorrow.

Nevertheless, I am continually with thee:

Thou hast holden my right hand.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel,

And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but thee?

And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.

My flesh and my heart faileth;

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

What a marvelous affirmation of faith in God is made here. The answer to all of earth's inequities, maladjustments, injustices, and wretchedness is not to be expected in this life. Over against all of the misfortunes and sorrows of the redeemed there is written the glorious words of the Son of God, "Great is your reward in heaven."


 
Verses 23-26
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: Thou hast holden my right hand. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven [but thee]? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; [But] God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
(Psalms 73:24). Here is another glorious Old Testament text promising the resurrection of the dead and the entry of the saints of God into everlasting blessedness. As an apostle has stated it:

"For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Whom have I in heaven but thee
(Psalms 73:25). These beautiful words were utilized by Fanny J. Crosby:

"Thou the spring of all my comfort,

More than life to me.

Whom have I on earth beside thee,

Whom in heav'n but thee."F6

For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish; trust him.

Thou hast destroyed all them that play the harlot, departing from thee.

But it is good for me to draw near unto God:

I have made the Lord Jehovah my refuge,

That I may tell of all thy works."

These final two verses of the Psalm contrast the status of the wicked and of the righteous. The wicked shall perish; but God Himself shall be the refuge of them that trust him.


 
Verses 27, 28
For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: Thou hast destroyed all them that play the harlot, [departing] from thee. But it is good for me to draw near unto God: I have made the Lord Jehovah my refuge, That I may tell of all thy works.
(Psalms 73:27). This very strong language does not appear often in the Psalms, but is not unusual elsewhere in the Old Testament. This expression was ordinarily used to describe the sins of the Israelites who forsook the true worship of God and indulged in the licentious worship of the pagan deities in the groves and shrines dedicated to that purpose. The words are not inappropriate, because the chief attractiveness of that pagan worship to the Israelites was the sensual appeal of the [~qadesh] and the [~q™deshah] (the religious prostitutes) associated with the old Canaanite cults. Israel had been commanded to destroy these; but they did not do so, and instead patronized and supported them.

It is good for me to draw near unto God
(Psalms 73:18). It is an invariable law of God that bodies in space are mutually attracted; and the same truth holds in the spiritual realm also. One who draws near to God will find that God also draws near to him. Nearness to God is the Great Good. Nothing else can approach the desirability of the soul's being near to the Creator. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to thee (James 4:8).


Footnotes for Psalms 73
1: F. Delitzsch, Vol. 5-B, p. 310.
2: Ibid.
3: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 358.
4: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 168, a paraphrase of DeHoff's words.
5: Ibid.
6: Hymn No. 189, `Pass Me Not,' in Great Songs of the Church.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 73". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=073>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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