These notes are based on the NASB text.
What is the background of Psalm 73?
This psalm is attributed to Asaph. It deals with a question that has often troubled believers: “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?”
73:1 Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
The psalm begins with a positive affirmation (“Surely. . .”) regarding the goodness of God but quickly moves to a testimony of the doubt and confusion the psalmist experienced regarding the prosperity of the wicked and suffering of the righteous. This inequity was troublesome to him and almost became a source of stumbling. Verse 1 is the conclusion at which the psalmist arrived in his struggle to understand why the wicked prospered and the righteous suffered. Those who are “pure in heart” are those who refuse to let go of their integrity and loyalty to God.
73:2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling;
My steps had almost slipped.
73:3 For I was envious of the arrogant,
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
As the psalmist saw the conduct of the wicked, he struggled to make sense of the inequity. He could not understand why those who defied God and His law continued to prosper. He even became envious of the success of the arrogant. As a result, he came close to the point of stumbling and losing his faith and confidence in God. The psalmist proceeded to describe the wicked in detail in the verses that follow.
Practical Consideration: Looking in the wrong direction can cause us to stumble.
When the attention of the psalmist shifted from God to the wicked, his whole perspective changed. Life no longer looked the same. There were some obvious inequities he did not understand. The more he looked at the wicked the more troubled he became. His theology didn’t seem to make much sense anymore. He began to wonder and waver. He came close to stumbling and falling. He did not regain his equilibrium until he shifted his attention back to God.
73:4 For there are no pains in their death;
And their body is fat.
The psalmist noted that the wicked did not suffer pain in dying. They seemed to go to their grave without any suffering in proportion to their wickedness. The wicked lived in pleasure and prosperity and died in peace. It just didn’t make sense.
73:5 They are not in trouble as other men;
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
The wicked seemed to be exempt from life’s common calamities. The things that burdened and troubled other men did not burden them. They were like the rich man of Luke 12:16-21 whose land was very productive and who built larger barns to store all his grain and goods. Their crops survived blight and drought. Their ships were not lost or wrecked at sea. Their businesses were not hurt by tough times. They seemed to escape the things that troubled and plagued other men.
73:6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
The wicked were clothed and adorned with pride and violence. They selfishly and violently abused and oppressed others and gloried in it (see also verse 8).
73:7 Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
The wicked did not seem to suffer from their riotous living. In fact, their fat faces were an indication of their prosperity. They did not seem to hit any snags in indulging the “imaginations of their heart.” Everything seemed to go smoothly for them along their wicked path.
73:8 They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
73:9 They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
The wicked were so secure in their positions that they were emboldened to speak against others, including God. They had an inflated view of themselves and behaved as though there were no authority in heaven or on earth to hold them in check.
73:10 Therefore his people return to this place;
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
73:11 And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
The wicked were well thought of in the community. Their success made them very popular. People followed them and imbibed or lapped up everything they said. They were so arrogant that they claimed God was unaware of what they were doing.
Practical Consideration: We should not worship success and the successful.
The wicked were so popular that people lapped up everything they said and read everything they wrote. They multiplied their influence at every opportunity. Our society worships success and the successful. Our society drinks in everything the popular wicked write and say. We must exercise caution lest we adopt attitudes and accept views of the wicked.
73:12 Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
73:13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure,
And washed my hands in innocence;
73:14 For I have been stricken all day long,
And chastened every morning.
The psalmist could not escape the troubling conclusion that the wicked had it good. They enjoyed ease and success. Everything they touched turned to gold. They even got richer while loafing. The psalmist’s frustration was accentuated when he contrasted the state of the wicked with his own. He faithfully kept his heart and hands pure yet experienced suffering all day long. The psalmist’s suffering continued from one day to the next. He could see no immediate benefit to obedience.
73:15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children.
73:16 When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight.
The psalmist considered speaking openly about his doubts and dilemma but decided against it lest he cause others to stumble as a result. Instead, he continued to ponder and weigh in his heart the matters that were “troublesome” (a word that suggests labor, toil, or burden) to him. Surely there must be an answer.
73:17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
The answer finally came when the psalmist “came into the sanctuary of God.” He could not make sense of the matters that troubled him until he spent time alone with God in prayer and worship. Then his perspective changed. Then he began to understand what he previously could not understand. Then he “perceived their end.”
Practical Consideration: We should look to God for answers to the things that trouble us.
The psalmist wrestled with the things that troubled him. He could not make sense of them. Things just didn’t add up. The lack of answers plunged him deeper into despair and brought him closer to stumbling. The psalmist did not find the answers he was looking for in his wrestlings. He found the answers he was looking for when he turned to God. Only when he entered the holy place did he begin to understand the inequities of the market place. Only when he spent time alone with God did he regain his perspective. Only in God’s presence was he able to take the long look and put the temporal into the context of the eternal. Only in God’s presence was he able to make sense of the senseless things that troubled him.
73:18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places;
Thou dost cast them down to destruction.
73:19 How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
73:20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form.
The psalmist now understood the fate of the wicked. They were living life on thin ice. They were living life in a posture that would lead them to certain and sudden destruction. The present prosperity of the wicked was not their final lot. They would experience destruction.
Practical Consideration: There is no security apart from God.
The psalmist came to the conclusion that there is no security apart from God. The wicked, who appeared at ease and secure, would be in for a rude awakening. Their life of pleasure, profit, and pride would one day come to an abrupt end. Jesus said, “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
73:21 When my heart was embittered,
And I was pierced within,
73:22 Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before Thee.
As the psalmist reflected on his previous emotions, he confessed that he had become embittered and allowed his emotions to rule over his reason. He had been ignorant and shortsighted. He had been as senseless as an animal in his understanding of the matter. The Amplified Bible translates verse 22 as follows: “So foolish, stupid and brutish was I, and ignorant; I was a beast before You.”
73:23 Nevertheless I am continually with Thee;
Thou hast taken hold of my right hand.
73:24 With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
73:25 Whom have I in heaven but Thee?
And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth.
73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The psalmist once again came to the realization that God had not forsaken him as he struggled to understand the matters that troubled him. In fact, God had taken hold of his right hand and would guide him along life’s path and beyond. He experienced a renewed desire for fellowship with God. Nothing else could satisfy or fill the God-shaped vacuum in his life. And should his flesh and heart fail, he would continue to confidently affirm his faith in God.
73:27 For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish;
Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee.
73:28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Thy works.
The psalmist concluded with a contrast between the fate of the wicked and that of the righteous. The wicked would come to ruin but the righteous would emerge victorious. The psalmist’s final words express his desire to openly tell of the Lord’s great works.
Practical Consideration: “I’d rather have Jesus, than silver or gold!”
“I’d Rather Have Jesus,” by Rhea F. Miller, sums up the psalmist’s final thoughts…
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold, I’d rather be His than have riches untold,
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands, I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause, I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause,
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame, I’d rather be true to His holy name.
Than to be the king of a vast domain, Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.