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Psalms 73:1-28

Context

Book 3
(Psalms 73-89)

Psalm 73 1 

A psalm by Asaph.

73:1 Certainly God is good to Israel, 2 

and to those whose motives are pure! 3 

73:2 But as for me, my feet almost slipped;

my feet almost slid out from under me. 4 

73:3 For I envied those who are proud,

as I observed 5  the prosperity 6  of the wicked.

73:4 For they suffer no pain; 7 

their bodies 8  are strong and well-fed. 9 

73:5 They are immune to the trouble common to men;

they do not suffer as other men do. 10 

73:6 Arrogance is their necklace, 11 

and violence their clothing. 12 

73:7 Their prosperity causes them to do wrong; 13 

their thoughts are sinful. 14 

73:8 They mock 15  and say evil things; 16 

they proudly threaten violence. 17 

73:9 They speak as if they rule in heaven,

and lay claim to the earth. 18 

73:10 Therefore they have more than enough food to eat,

and even suck up the water of the sea. 19 

73:11 They say, “How does God know what we do?

Is the sovereign one aware of what goes on?” 20 

73:12 Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like, 21 

those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer. 22 

73:13 I concluded, 23  “Surely in vain I have kept my motives 24  pure

and maintained a pure lifestyle. 25 

73:14 I suffer all day long,

and am punished every morning.”

73:15 If I had publicized these thoughts, 26 

I would have betrayed your loyal followers. 27 

73:16 When I tried to make sense of this,

it was troubling to me. 28 

73:17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, 29 

and understood the destiny of the wicked. 30 

73:18 Surely 31  you put them in slippery places;

you bring them down 32  to ruin.

73:19 How desolate they become in a mere moment!

Terrifying judgments make their demise complete! 33 

73:20 They are like a dream after one wakes up. 34 

O Lord, when you awake 35  you will despise them. 36 

73:21 Yes, 37  my spirit was bitter, 38 

and my insides felt sharp pain. 39 

73:22 I was ignorant 40  and lacked insight; 41 

I was as senseless as an animal before you. 42 

73:23 But I am continually with you;

you hold my right hand.

73:24 You guide 43  me by your wise advice,

and then you will lead me to a position of honor. 44 

73:25 Whom do I have in heaven but you?

I desire no one but you on earth. 45 

73:26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak, 46 

but God always 47  protects my heart and gives me stability. 48 

73:27 Yes, 49  look! Those far from you 50  die;

you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you. 51 

73:28 But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. 52 

I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter,

as 53  I declare all the things you have done.

1 sn Psalm 73. In this wisdom psalm the psalmist offers a personal testimony of his struggle with the age-old problem of the prosperity of the wicked. As he observed evil men prosper, he wondered if a godly lifestyle really pays off. In the midst of his discouragement, he reflected upon spiritual truths and realities. He was reminded that the prosperity of the wicked is only temporary. God will eventually vindicate his people.

2 tn Since the psalm appears to focus on an individual’s concerns, not the situation of Israel, this introduction may be a later addition designed to apply the psalm’s message to the entire community. To provide a better parallel with the next line, some emend the Hebrew phrase לְיִשְׂרָאֵל אֱלֹהִים (lÿyisraelelohim, “to Israel, God”) to אֱלֹהִים [or אֵל] לָיָּשָׁר (’elohim [or ’el] lÿyyashar, “God [is good] to the upright one”).

3 tn Heb “to the pure of heart.”

4 tn The Hebrew verb normally means “to pour out,” but here it must have the nuance “to slide.”

sn My feet almost slid out from under me. The language is metaphorical. As the following context makes clear, the psalmist almost “slipped” in a spiritual sense. As he began to question God’s justice, the psalmist came close to abandoning his faith.

5 tn The imperfect verbal form here depicts the action as continuing in a past time frame.

6 tn Heb “peace” (שָׁלוֹם, shalom).

7 tn In Isa 58:6, the only other occurrence of this word in the OT, the term refers to “bonds” or “ropes.” In Ps 73:4 it is used metaphorically of pain and suffering that restricts one’s enjoyment of life.

8 tn Or “bellies.”

9 tc Or “fat.” The MT of v. 4 reads as follows: “for there are no pains at their death, and fat [is] their body.” Since a reference to the death of the wicked seems incongruous in the immediate context (note v. 5) and premature in the argument of the psalm (see vv. 18-20, 27), some prefer to emend the text by redividing it. The term לְמוֹתָם (lÿmotam,“at their death”) is changed to לָמוֹ תָּם (lamo tam, “[there are no pains] to them, strong [and fat are their bodies]”). The term תָּם (tam, “complete; sound”) is used of physical beauty in Song 5:2; 6:9. This emendation is the basis for the present translation. However, in defense of the MT (the traditional Hebrew text), one may point to an Aramaic inscription from Nerab which views a painful death as a curse and a nonpainful death in one’s old age as a sign of divine favor. See ANET 661.

10 tn Heb “in the trouble of man they are not, and with mankind they are not afflicted.”

11 sn Arrogance is their necklace. The metaphor suggests that their arrogance is something the wicked “wear” proudly. It draws attention to them, just as a beautiful necklace does to its owner.

12 tn Heb “a garment of violence covers them.” The metaphor suggests that violence is habitual for the wicked. They “wear” it like clothing; when one looks at them, violence is what one sees.

13 tc The MT reads “it goes out from fatness their eye,” which might be paraphrased, “their eye protrudes [or “bulges”] because of fatness.” This in turn might refer to their greed; their eyes “bug out” when they see rich food or produce (the noun חֵלֶב [khelev, “fatness”] sometimes refers to such food or produce). However, when used with the verb יָצָא (yatsa’, “go out”) the preposition מִן (“from”) more naturally indicates source. For this reason it is preferable to emend עֵינֵמוֹ (’enemo, “their eye”) to עֲוֹנָמוֹ, (’avonamo, “their sin”) and read, “and their sin proceeds forth from fatness,” that is, their prosperity gives rise to their sinful attitudes. If one follows this textual reading, another interpretive option is to take חֵלֶב (“fatness”) in the sense of “unreceptive, insensitive” (see its use in Ps 17:10). In this case, the sin of the wicked proceeds forth from their spiritual insensitivity.

14 tn Heb “the thoughts of [their] heart [i.e., mind] cross over” (i.e., violate God’s moral boundary, see Ps 17:3).

15 tn The verb מוּק (muq, “mock”) occurs only here in the OT.

16 tn Heb “and speak with evil.”

17 tn Heb “oppression from an elevated place they speak.” The traditional accentuation of the MT places “oppression” with the preceding line. In this case, one might translate, “they mock and speak with evil [of] oppression, from an elevated place [i.e., “proudly”] they speak.” By placing “oppression” with what follows, one achieves better poetic balance in the parallelism.

18 tn Heb “they set in heaven their mouth, and their tongue walks through the earth.” The meaning of the text is uncertain. Perhaps the idea is that they lay claim to heaven (i.e., speak as if they were ruling in heaven) and move through the earth declaring their superiority and exerting their influence. Some take the preposition -בְּ (bet) the first line as adversative and translate, “they set their mouth against heaven,” that is, they defy God.

19 tc Heb “therefore his people return [so Qere (marginal reading); Kethib (consonantal text) has “he brings back”] to here, and waters of abundance are sucked up by them.” The traditional Hebrew text (MT) defies explanation. The present translation reflects M. Dahood’s proposed emendations (Psalms [AB], 2:190) and reads the Hebrew text as follows: לָכֵן יִשְׂבְעוּם לֶחֶם וּמֵי מָלֵא יָמֹצּוּ לָמוֹ (“therefore they are filled with food, and waters of abundance they suck up for themselves”). The reading יִשְׂבְעוּם לֶחֶם (yisvÿum lekhem, “they are filled with food”) assumes (1) an emendation of יָשׁיּב עַמּוֹ (yashyyv, “he will bring back his people”) to יִשְׂבְעוּם (yisvÿum, “they will be filled”; a Qal imperfect third masculine plural form from שָׂבַע [sava’] with enclitic mem [ם]), and (2) an emendation of הֲלֹם (halom, “to here”) to לֶחֶם (“food”). The expression “be filled/fill with food” appears elsewhere at least ten times (see Ps 132:15, for example). In the second line the Niphal form יִמָּצוּ (yimmatsu, derived from מָצָה, matsah, “drain”) is emended to a Qal form יָמֹצּוּ (yamotsu), derived from מָצַץ (matsats, “to suck”). In Isa 66:11 the verbs שָׂבַע (sava’; proposed in Ps 73:10a) and מָצַץ (proposed in Ps 73:10b) are parallel. The point of the emended text is this: Because they are seemingly sovereign (v. 9), they become greedy and grab up everything they need and more.

20 tn Heb “How does God know? Is there knowledge with the Most High?” They appear to be practical atheists, who acknowledge God’s existence and sovereignty in theory, but deny his involvement in the world (see Pss 10:4, 11; 14:1).

21 tn Heb “Look, these [are] the wicked.”

22 tn Heb “the ones who are always at ease [who] increase wealth.”

23 tn The words “I concluded” are supplied in the translation. It is apparent that vv. 13-14 reflect the psalmist’s thoughts at an earlier time (see vv. 2-3), prior to the spiritual awakening he describes in vv. 17-28.

24 tn Heb “heart,” viewed here as the seat of one’s thoughts and motives.

25 tn Heb “and washed my hands in innocence.” The psalmist uses an image from cultic ritual to picture his moral lifestyle. The reference to “hands” suggests actions.

26 tn Heb “If I had said, ‘I will speak out like this.’”

27 tn Heb “look, the generation of your sons I would have betrayed.” The phrase “generation of your [i.e., God’s] sons” occurs only here in the OT. Some equate the phrase with “generation of the godly” (Ps 14:5), “generation of the ones seeking him” (Ps 24:6), and “generation of the upright” (Ps 112:2). In Deut 14:1 the Israelites are referred to as God’s “sons.” Perhaps the psalmist refers here to those who are “Israelites” in the true sense because of their loyalty to God (note the juxtaposition of “Israel” with “the pure in heart” in v. 1).

28 tn Heb “and [when] I pondered to understand this, troubling it [was] in my eyes.”

29 tn The plural of the term מִקְדָּשׁ (miqdash) probably refers to the temple precincts (see Ps 68:35; Jer 51:51).

30 tn Heb “I discerned their end.” At the temple the psalmist perhaps received an oracle of deliverance announcing his vindication and the demise of the wicked (see Ps 12) or heard songs of confidence (for example, Ps 11), wisdom psalms (for example, Pss 1, 37), and hymns (for example, Ps 112) that describe the eventual downfall of the proud and wealthy.

31 tn The use of the Hebrew term אַךְ (’akh, “surely”) here literarily counteracts its use in v. 13. The repetition draws attention to the contrast between the two statements, the first of which expresses the psalmist’s earlier despair and the second his newly discovered confidence.

32 tn Heb “cause them to fall.”

33 tn Heb “they come to an end, they are finished, from terrors.”

34 tn Heb “like a dream from awakening.” They lack any real substance; their prosperity will last for only a brief time.

35 sn When you awake. The psalmist compares God’s inactivity to sleep and the time of God’s judgment to his awakening from sleep.

36 tn Heb “you will despise their form.” The Hebrew term צֶלֶם (tselem, “form; image”) also suggests their short-lived nature. Rather than having real substance, they are like the mere images that populate one’s dreams. Note the similar use of the term in Ps 39:6.

37 tn Or perhaps “when.”

38 tn The imperfect verbal form here describes a continuing attitude in a past time frame.

39 tn Heb “and [in] my kidneys I was pierced.” The imperfect verbal form here describes a continuing condition in a past time frame.

40 tn Or “brutish, stupid.”

41 tn Heb “and I was not knowing.”

42 tn Heb “an animal I was with you.”

43 tn The imperfect verbal form here suggests this is the psalmist’s ongoing experience.

44 tn Heb “and afterward [to] glory you will take me.” Some interpreters view this as the psalmist’s confidence in an afterlife in God’s presence and understand כָּבוֹד (cavod) as a metonymic reference to God’s presence in heaven. But this seems unlikely in the present context. The psalmist anticipates a time of vindication, when the wicked are destroyed and he is honored by God for his godly life style. The verb לָקַח (laqakh, “take”) here carries the nuance “lead, guide, conduct,” as in Num 23:14, 27-28; Josh 24:3 and Prov 24:11.

45 tn Heb “Who [is there] for me in heaven? And besides you I do not desire [anyone] in the earth.” The psalmist uses a merism (heaven/earth) to emphasize that God is the sole object of his desire and worship in the entire universe.

46 tn The Hebrew verb כָלָה (khalah, “to fail; to grow weak”) does not refer here to physical death per se, but to the physical weakness that sometimes precedes death (see Job 33:21; Pss 71:9; 143:7; Prov 5:11).

47 tn Or “forever.”

48 tn Heb “is the rocky summit of my heart and my portion.” The psalmist compares the Lord to a rocky summit where one could go for protection and to landed property, which was foundational to economic stability in ancient Israel.

49 tn Or “for.”

50 sn The following line defines the phrase far from you in a spiritual sense. Those “far” from God are those who are unfaithful and disloyal to him.

51 tn Heb “everyone who commits adultery from you.”

52 tn Heb “but as for me, the nearness of God for me [is] good.”

53 tn The infinitive construct with -לְ (lÿ) is understood here as indicating an attendant circumstance. Another option is to take it as indicating purpose (“so that I might declare”) or result (“with the result that I declare”).



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