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Psalm 73


The End of the Wicked Contrasted with that of the Righteous
MT Intro
A Psalm of Asaph
The Tragedy of the Wicked, and the Blessedness of Trust in God Meditation on the Justice of God The Justice of God The Triumph of Justice
73:1-9 73:1-3 73:1-3 73:1-3 73:1
  73:4-9 73:4-9 73:4-14 73:4-5
73:10-14 73:10-14 73:10-14   73:10-12
73:15-20 73:15-17 73:15-20 73:15-17  
  73:18-20   73:18-20  
73:21-24 73:21-24 73:21-26 73:21-26 73:21-22
73:25-28 73:25-26     73:25-26
  73:27-28 73:27-28 73:27-28 73:27-28

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.


A. Asaph is one of the Levitical choir directors under David (cf. 1 Chr. 25:1-9).

B. This Psalm speaks to the apparent unfairness of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. It treats the problem by projecting the justice of God into a future afterlife.

C. The Psalm develops and expands the traditional view ("the two ways") concerning life; compare Deuteronomy 27-28; 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Pro. 4:10-18; Matt. 7:13-14. Life is unfair but God will set it straight!

D. The book of Job and Psalm 37 deal with the same problem, but in this life; Psalm 73 deals with it in light of Matthew 25.


 1Surely God is good to Israel,
 To those who are pure in heart!
 2But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
 My steps had almost slipped.
 3For I was envious of the arrogant
 As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
 4For there are no pains in their death,
 And their body is fat.
 5They are not in trouble as other men,
 Nor are they plagued like mankind.
 6Therefore pride is their necklace;
 The garment of violence covers them.
 7Their eye bulges from fatness;
 The imaginations of their heart run riot.
 8They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
 They speak from on high.
 9They have set their mouth against the heavens,
 And their tongue parades through the earth.

73:1 "Surely God is good to Israel" "Good" (BDB 373 II, #9) means "kind to" (cf. Ps. 86:5; 145:9; Lam. 3:25). This is the conclusion of the Psalm and the basic assumption of the OT but not every person in Israel is of faith (cf. Romans 9-11). The same can be said of the church (cf. Matthew 7; 13). The unusual phrase of Ps. 73:15 may reflect a true, faithful Israel.

Notice the added connotations of God's "goodness."

1. He is good to all (cf. Ps. 145:9)

2. His goodness is primarily bestowed on those who call upon Him (cf. Ps. 86:5)

3. He is good, Himself (cf. Ezra 3:11; Ps. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1,29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11; Nah. 1:7)

Israel's blessing is based on

1. God's eternal redemptive purpose in the seed of Abraham (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan)

2. the faith relationship and covenant obedience of His followers

3. short term physical blessings do not compare (cf. Rom. 8:18-25) with long term, personal relationship (cf. Rom. 8:26-30,31-39)! Be sure to take the long look! Immediate circumstances can be deceiving!

▣ "to Israel" The NRSV and REB, as well as the Catholic version NAB, change "to Israel," לישראל (BDB 975) to "for God's upright one," אללישר (BDB 449 plus BDB 42 II, #6).

▣ "pure in heart" This reflects one's attitudes and motives (cf. Ps. 24:4-5; 51:10; Matt. 5:8).


NJB"on the point of"

This reflects the Hebrew adverb BDB 589. It clearly states the seriousness of the psalmist's faith crisis! He was on the very verge of losing his confidence, trust, assurance, and peace with God. Faith crises are potentially

1. a devastating loss of hope

2. a source of strength and growth

We all know people who have experienced one or the other!

▣ "stumbling. . .slipped" This is a biblical metaphor of lifestyle. The straight, stable path was righteousness (cf. Ps. 40:2), but the crooked, slippery path was wickedness (cf. Ps. 73:18; Pro. 3:23). The two options in life are what is called "the two ways" (i.e., Psalm 1 and Deut. 30:15-20).

The term translated "slipped" is literally "poured out" (BDB 1049, KB 1629, Qal passive perfect). Only here does it have the connotation (demanded by the parallel poetic line, "stumbling") of slipping on a wet surface.

Psalm 73:3 clarifies the problem area (i.e., envy, jealousy).

73:3 "I was envious of the arrogant. . .the prosperity of the wicked" This world is unfair. If this world is all there is, God is unfair!

The "pure in heart" of Ps. 73:1 are being tested by the unfairness of life. The underlying assumption is that God allows that which should be judged! See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE.

73:4-9 These verses describe the lifestyle of the people mentioned in Ps. 73:3 (i.e., the arrogant and prosperous, wicked people of the covenant community).

1. no pain in their death

2. well fed, Ps. 73:4b, 7a

3. no outward trouble

4. show off the pride, Ps. 73:6a, 8b

5. act in violence without judgment

6. evil thinking and slandering

7. flaunt their evil deeds, even before God, Ps. 73:11

From OT theology (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30) prosperity was a blessing from God for faith and obedience (cf. Ps. 73:10), but these people made a mockery of those texts!

73:4 "there are no pains in their death" This means (1) they had an honorable funeral or (2) their death was quick and painless.

▣ "pains" This Hebrew word (BDB 359) is used only twice in the OT, in very different senses.

1. "fetters" or "bonds" - Isa. 58:6 (singular)

2. "pains" - Ps. 73:4 (plural)

The NET bible suggests:

"It is used metaphorically of pain and suffering that restricts one's enjoyment of life" (p. 941).

The Tyndale Commentary by Derek Kidner (p. 289, footnote #2) agrees with the RSV, which changes "in their death," למותם, into two words, תם למו, which results in "no pains for them, sound and sleek in their body." This is followed by NRSV and REB.

▣ "their body is fat" They did not seemingly experience disease or the normal problems of life (i.e., a healthy body; the Hebrew term [BDB 17 I]) is found only here.


NASB, NKJV"They are not in trouble as other men"
NJB"exempt from the cares which are the human lot"
JPSOA"They have no part in the travail of men"

The wicked seem to be spared the normal problems of life. This, at first, seems to be an act of God. This is the theological problem connected to "the two ways" (cf. Job; Psalm 73).

▣ "plagued" This term (BDB 619, KB 668, Pual imperfect) is often used of divine punishment (cf. Gen. 12:17; 2 Kgs. 15:5; 2 Chr. 26:20; Isa. 26:5; Job 1:11; 2:5). It seemed God's own words (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30; Psalm 1) about the wicked had failed. In Ps. 73:14 the same word is used for the mental anguish of the psalmist, caused by his own doubts.

73:6 Because of their life experiences (Ps. 73:4-5) the arrogant, wealthy, healthy, covenant violators live openly, even flauntingly, their godless lives (Ps. 73:6-9).


NASB"their eye bulges from fatness"
TEV"their hearts pour out evil"
NJB"from their fat oozes out malice"
LXX"Their injustice will go forth as though from fat"
Peshitta"Their iniquity comes through like grease"
JPSOA"Fat shuts out their eyes"

The idea of "iniquity" is the translation from the LXX, Syriac, Peshitta, and Vulgate. The UBS Text Project (p. 314) gives "their eyes" a "C" rating (i.e., considerable doubt).

"iniquity" is עובמו

"their eyes" is עיבמו

"Eyes" fits the context and parallelism of Ps. 73:7 best.

73:8 "mock" This apparently Aramaic term (BDB 558, KB 559) occurs only here in the OT.

 10Therefore his people return to this place,
 And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
 11They say, "How does God know?
 And is there knowledge with the Most High?"
 12Behold, these are the wicked;
 And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
 13Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
 And washed my hands in innocence;
 14For I have been stricken all day long
 And chastened every morning.

73:10 This verse is uncertain in the MT. The flow of the context implies

1. the wicked people have negatively affected other covenant people (The Catholic Tradition CCD thinks Ps. 73:10 was a quote from the wicked Israelites)

2. the wicked consume every good thing they can

3. the followers of the wicked believe everything they say (NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 1065)

Basically this is the psalmist's dilemma. He sees the arrogant, blasphemous, covenant person receiving all the covenant's benefits and abundance! This is why he asks the question of Ps. 73:13! The "if. . .then" of the Mosaic covenant (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30) seems to be of no effect. The world seems "upside down."

The AB, followed by the NET Bible, suggests an emendation to the first line. They change "he will bring back his people" (MT) to "they will be filled with food," which seems to be a better parallel to the next line.

73:11 "How does God know?" The wicked show open arrogance and blasphemy toward YHWH (cf. Ps. 73:9).

The Jewish Study Bible has an interesting quote (p. 1362).

"There was no atheism in ancient times, only the notion that God lacked knowledge and power" (cf. Ps. 10:4,11,13; 94:7).

This assertion of the lack of foreknowledge has reappeared in modern theology of "Open Theism." I personally think this theology has taken an OT literary technique (i.e., God asking questions, cf. Gen. 3:9) and used it as a grid to filter all Bible texts. It is a modified form of "Progressive Theism" from Alfred North Whitehead.

▣ "Most High" This is the Hebrew title Elyon (see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY). It is used in Genesis 14 (i.e., Melchizedek's name for Deity) four times and twenty-one times in the Psalter, but only six times in all the rest of the OT.

73:13 "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure" This reflects the psalmist's doubt about the goodness and fairness of God mixed with a "poor me" attitude. This almost reflects the "what's in it for me" attitude of Job 1:6-12.

This is theologically similar to Satan's accusations against Job that he only served God because of God's blessings and protection (i.e., faith for favors).

The "two ways" of the OT seem to have been reversed! This is where "faithful followers" must remember we live in a fallen world. This is not the world God intended it to be. The purpose of the OT was to show humanity their rebellion and sin (cf. Galatians 3)!

Godliness and faithfulness bring reproach and rejection in a fallen world (cf. Matt. 5:10-16), but there is a new day coming (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38).

▣ "surely" This adverb (BDB 36), used of "doubt" in Ps. 73:13, becomes an affirmation in Ps. 73:18! The psalmist had not lived a righteous life in vain and the wicked will reap what they have sowed (cf. Job 34:11; Ps. 28:4; 62:12; Pro. 24:12; Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 17:10; 32:19, for a full list of NT texts cf. Gal. 6:7 online).

▣ "washed my hands in innocense" This translation is surely possible, based on

1. the MT intro to Psalm 73

2. this Levitical imagery

3. the sacrificial term "portion" in Ps. 73:26

The author may have been a Levite or priest. Hand washing was part of the rituals of the temple.

However, the idiom takes on the wider connotation of "godly living" (cf. Deut. 21:6; Ps. 26:6); also note the idiom in Gen. 20:5.

73:14 There is a parallel between "all day long" and "every morning," both of which are idioms for an extended period of time (i.e., a lifetime). The psalmist is claiming a life of faithfulness.

The passive voice of the phrase "I have been stricken" (BDB 224, K 243, Qal imperfect combined with BDB 619, KB 668, Qal passive participle) implies that not only has God allowed or overlooked the wicked's actions and motives, but has done to the faithful psalmist what should have been done to the arrogant, blasphemous, unfaithful covenant partners! This is the mystery of events in a fallen world. This is not the world God intended it to be. Things happen that are not from God. In the OT, to support monotheism, there is only one causality (cf. Eccl. 7:14; Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6) but from further revelation we know that is not the case. God has allowed His beloved creation to reap the terrible consequences of Genesis 3. The good news is

1. He will fix it eventually (i.e., New Age)

2. He is with us in the midst of it (cf. Psalm 23)

 15If I had said, "I will speak thus,"
 Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
 16When I pondered to understand this,
 It was troublesome in my sight
 17Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
 Then I perceived their end.
 18Surely You set them in slippery places;
 You cast them down to destruction.
 19How they are destroyed in a moment!
 They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
 20Like a dream when one awakes,
 O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.

73:15-20 This strophe is the theological heart of this Psalm. Notice the main points.

1. Faithful followers openly expressing their doubt and confusion can affect other believers.

2. A place and time of fellowship with God can bring peace to our confusion.

3. The wicked's prosperity is fleeting and their time of confrontation with God will surely come (cf. Ps. 73:27).

This is an affirmation that the "two ways" still have validity! We do reap what we sow!

73:16 "When I pondered to understand this" Our ability to understand the ways of God through fallen, worldly, time-bound human intellect is doomed to failure (cf. Pro. 3:5b; Isa. 55:8-13; Col. 2:8). Knowledge is good but trust is better!

73:17 "Until I came into the sanctuary" The word "sanctuary" (BDB 874) is plural, which would denote the entire temple compound or the plural of majesty. Worship helped the psalmist see clearly. Possibly he had neglected this during his struggle.

▣ "I perceived their end" Revelation came and his eyes were opened to the big picture—he took the long look, both in time and beyond time.

73:18-20 The result of rebellion is not only a fearful death but also a dreadful eternity (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 20:11-15).

73:19 The term "terrors" (BDB 117) can refer to death (cf. Job 18:11,14). The AB in Psalms by Mitchell Dahood finds many Hebrew words and idioms that, because of Ugaritic usage may be imagery for the nether world.

73:20 "when aroused" The preposition and verb (בעור, BDB 734, KB 802, Hiphil infinitive construct) has been emended (LXX, Peshitta, Vulgate) to "city" (עיר, BDB 746 II). This would refer to

1. "the city of phantoms" (AB, i.e., Sheol)

2. a reference to Jerusalem (i.e., they are excluded from God's presence by sin and/or exile)

The concept of God awakening from sleep or rising from His throne to act is used in the OT as figurative language to denote the mystery of Deity's apparent inactivity or/and the unfairness of worldly events. God has revealed Himself but why are His promises and human conditions so different?

NRSV, LXX"phantoms"

This word (BDB 853) occurs only twice in the OT (cf. here and Ps. 39:6). NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 810, suggests it denotes an image or shadow. It possibly comes from an ANE root for "dark," "black" (another form would be "the valley of the shadow of death," cf. Ps. 23:4).

 21When my heart was embittered
 And I was pierced within,
 22Then I was senseless and ignorant;
 I was like a beast before You.
 23Nevertheless I am continually with You;
 You have taken hold of my right hand.
 24With Your counsel You will guide me,
 And afterward receive me to glory.

73:21 "within" This is literally "kidneys" (BDB 480). The Hebrews referred to the lower viscera as the seat of the emotions (cf. Job 19:27; Pro. 23:16) and mental activity (cf. Ps. 16:7).

73:22 Animals have no moral sense. It is humans who are created in the image and likeness of God (i.e., Gen. 1:26-27). Only they have a moral sense. The knowledge of the Tree of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden accentuated this moral dilemma (cf. Gen. 3:8-13). To call someone "brutish" means they have no moral compass or direction and simply live like animals (i.e., to meet their immediate needs or wants). The psalmist felt his doubts and jealousy had made him act like one who did not know God (i.e., Ps. 73:21-22). All humans go through these times of "less than appropriate" feelings. True believers emerge from these times stronger and surer of God's great mercy and presence! Inappropriate attitudes can be stepping stones to greater faith!

73:23-24 The blessings of God are:

1. His presence in our lives (cf. Ps. 73:28a)

2. His daily guidance (i.e., holds the psalmist's "right hand")

3. His acceptance now

4. His acceptance eternally (see note at Ps. 73:24)

When faith looks backward it clearly sees the hand of God. Past faithfulness and mercy give the faithful follower hope and confidence in the future presence and promises of God!

73:24 Interpreters must be careful not to assume NT revelation into ambiguous OT texts. There are OT texts that point toward a future hope of physical life with God. This text, however, may not be one of them.

1. the word "glory" (BDB 458) does not refer to heaven in any other place in the OT (see UBS Handbook, p. 642; IVP Background Commentary, p. 540)

2. the preposition "to" is not in the text (there is no preposition). The LXX supplies "with."

3. "glory" may refer to "honor" (cf. JPSOA, NRSV, Peshitta) that seemed to be with the wicked, but in reality, was with the psalmist

On the other hand

1. the verb "receive" (BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperfect) is used of Enoch in Gen. 5:24, who was translated into God's presence, as was Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:3,10-11)

2. the adverb "afterward" (BDB 29) occurs in Ps. 73:24, which seems to denote a concluding event

3. "heaven" (BDB 1029, see two Special Topic: Heaven and SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN and the Third Heaven) is mentioned in Ps. 73:25

4. the term "forever" is used in Ps. 73:26 in contrast to "those who are far from You will perish"

The hope of all faithful followers is that they will be with God forever (cf. Ps. 23:6; 27:4-6). It is not a "where" question but a "who" question! Humans were created for fellowship with God; nothing else will do!

 25Whom have I in heaven but You?
 And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
 26My flesh and my heart may fail,
 But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
 27For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
 You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
 28But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
 I have made the Lord God my refuge,
 That I may tell of all Your works.

73:25 "besides You, I desire nothing on earth" God Himself is our greatest need! We were created for fellowship with Him (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 3:8).

It is possible that this phrase is an affirmation of covenant loyalty to the one true God. The psalmist is asserting that he never participated in idolatry ("act as a harlot," i.e., idolatry, Ps. 73:27).

73:26 "God is the strength" His changelessness is our hope (cf. Ps. 18:1-3; Mal. 3:6).

▣ "my portion forever" God Himself was the inheritance of the Levites (cf. Deut. 10:9; 12:12; 14:27,29; 18:1; Ps. 16:5; Lam. 3:24) and now He is the inheritance of all faithful followers (cf. Acts 15; Rom. 2:28-29; Galatians 3)!

73:27 "unfaithful" This is literally "to go awhoring from" (BDB 275, KB 275, Qal participle). This involves the concept of God as husband (cf. Hosea 1-3). To leave Him is spiritual adultery (cf. Exod. 34:15; Num. 15:39; Hos. 4:12; 9:1).

73:28 "the nearness" Note the contrast between "those who are far from You" (Ps. 73:27) and "the nearness of God" (Ps. 73:28).

▣ "I have made the Lord God my refuge" The name for Deity here is Adonai YHWH. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

For "refuge" (BDB 340) see note at Ps. 5:11.

▣ "That I may tell of all Your works" It is crucial that faithful followers communicate what God has done for them. This is the opposite of Ps. 73:15.

Some scholars classify this Psalm as a "Wisdom Psalm," but this phrase implies it is a "Thanksgiving Psalm." A testimony of thanksgiving and a sacrifice in the temple were the common elements of this genre of Psalms.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Define the word "good" in Ps. 73:1.

2. What does it mean to be pure in heart? (Ps. 73:1)

3. Why did the psalmist almost lose his faith/trust/confidence in YHWH?

4. Who are "the wicked" described in Ps. 73:3-9?

5. How does Ps. 73:13 parallel Satan's accusations of Job 1-2?

6. How did the psalmist escape his doubt?

7. List the benefits of verses Ps. 73:23-24.

8. Does Ps. 73:25-26 speak of vindication in this life or the hereafter? Why, why not?

9. What does Ps. 73:28a mean?

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