George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 73

1. Asaph

Apart from the isolated Psalm 50, Psalm 73 is the first Asaph psalm. Psalms 73-83 all have this title. It has been suggested that Psalms 42-50 (8 “Korah” and then one “Asaph”) originally came immediately after Psalm 72. (Thus Psalm 73 would be closely associated with Psalm 49 — with which it shares a common theme.) With this arrangement, there would then be 8 “Korah” (42-49), then 12 “Asaph” (50, 73-83), and then 4 more “Korah” (84,85,87, and 88).

Asaph was a chief musician in the sanctuary in the days of David and Solomon (1 Chron. 16:4,5; 2 Chron. 5:12; Neh. 12:46). But it is noteworthy that there was also a Korah prominent in connection with the temple in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Chron. 31:14), and also a Joah, the recorder, son of Asaph, in the same reign (2 Kings 18:18). It would seem, from study of the psalms themselves, that all 24 Korah/Asaph psalms belong to Hezekiah’s reign.

2. Structure

The faithful

Prosperous wickedness — a problem

See how prosperous!

The problem, still unsolved by man,...

... Is in fact no problem at all to God

The problem once again

God controls my life...

... And the lives of the wicked

A final peace, based on the assurance that my life is in God’s hand

In its overall theme, concerning the whys and wherefores of the ongoing prosperity of the wicked — and in its satisfying conclusions — this psalm has much common ground with the Book of Job (see esp. Job 12:6; 21:7-15).

3. Historical setting

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. Hezekiah’s terrible disease and the overpowering Assyrian invasion happened at the same time, and just about devastated him: Isa. 38:5,6; 2 Kings 20:5,6.
For there are no bands (“pangs”: RV, RSV) in their death. Hezekiah rightly saw himself as a sacrifice on behalf of his people (hence the “Messianic” language of Isaiah 53, applied firstly to him). In his sufferings on account of the sins of the nation, it was as though he were bound with cords to the horns of the altar (Psa. 118:27).
Neither are they plagued like other men. This is an allusion to Hezekiah’s “plague” of leprosy (s.w. in Isa. 38:21 as in Leviticus 13:18-23). Here the word is pega, which is used over 50 times for leprosy, especially in Lev. 13 and 14.
Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. The Assyrians were world-class boasters (see the taunts of Sennacherib and Rabshakeh in Isa. 36 and 37), but they also had the destructive power to back up those boasts — to a point!
Their eyes stand out with fatness. “Their eyes gleam through folds of fat” (NEB). The besiegers of Jerusalem were well-fed by comparison with those on short rations inside the city.

They have more than heart could wish is, literally, “more than can be pictured in stone” — an allusion, perhaps, to the many vivid Assyrian bas-reliefs (as in the British Museum). The NEB has: “While vain fancies pass through their minds.”
They speak wickedly concerning oppression. Slavery under the Assyrians was dressed up to sound like a veritable paradise, and the slave-masters like the most wonderful humanitarians:

“Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me: and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern: until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards” (Isa. 36:16,17).

The repetition speak... speak... mouth... tongue (vv. 8,9) alludes to the smooth “propagandist” (i.e., liar!) Rabshakeh (cp. Psa. 75:4,5 — where “fools” = boasters).
They set their mouth against the heavens. Rabshakeh repeatedly directed his tirades against the Jews’ faith in Jehovah. Compare, generally, the boasts of the builders of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-4), and, more specifically, that of the king of Babylon/Assyria in Isa. 14:13,14.

Their tongue walketh through the earth. This is an idiomatic way of describing Assyrian boasting of conquest, but it is also a round-about suggestion of similarity to the serpent of Gen. 3:14: “Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust thou shalt eat.” To walk with one’s tongue is surely to “eat dust”!
Therefore his people return hither. This alludes to repeated Assyrian inroads into Palestine — e.g. 2 Kings 17:6,18 (against Samaria) and 18:9,13 (against the cities of Judah). Alternatively, by adding “saying” at the beginning of the verse, this may be read: ‘Let Him (Jehovah) bring back His people hither’, with reference to the 200,000 captives which Sennacherib had taken in Judah (Taylor prism). And the Lord did bring them back (Isa. 35:7-10; 49:9-23; etc.)!
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High (Elyon)? More railing against the God of Israel.
Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. Hezekiah’s zealous personal and national reformation apparently brought only disaster and suffering, for himself and for his people.
For all the day long have I been plagued by my disease (cp. v. 5).

And chastened every morning (Isa. 38:13!) by defeat and Assyrian bullying.
If I said, I will speak thus (i.e., like Rabshakeh: vv. 8,9), I should offend, that is, be disloyal to my own people. Hezekiah knew that he carried their well-being on his own shoulders.
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. In trying to understand the seemingly mysterious ways of God, Hezekiah was coming very near to losing his faith.
Until I went into the sanctuary of God. This Hezekiah did, carrying the letter of his humiliation to spread before the Lord (Isa. 37:14).

Then understood I their end. This verse is not true of many men of faith, but it was literally true of Hezekiah:

“Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: This is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning him: The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn: the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee... Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest” (Isa. 37:21,22,29).
Thou castedst them down into destruction:

“Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (Isa. 37:36).
How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh. This is a wonderful description of the devastation of the Assyrian camp, and remarkably like the words of Isaiah, describing the same event:

“And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel [i.e., Jerusalem, see v. 1], even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth: but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh: but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion” (Isa. 29:7,8).
Thou shalt despise their image. As Sennacherib and Rabshakeh despised the God of Israel, so He in turn despised their foolish trust in their “gods”, which were but images of vanity, or nothingness (see Isaiah 40-44 for repeated sarcastic expansions upon this theme).

Moreover, God despised the image (singular) of such men, for their “image” (Hebrew tselem, s.w. Gen. 1:26,27; 5:3; 9:6) — now so terribly distorted by sin — was no longer His “image”!
Thus my heart was grieved. This and the next verse are reminiscences, referring back to the earlier despair that Hezekiah had felt (vv. 13-16).
Thou hast holden my right hand. The Hebrew makes a play on “Ahaz”. Jehovah was Hezekiah’s true Father. Compare Isa. 45:1, which makes a play on the name “Hezekiah” (there is good reason to suppose that this passage is not about king “Cyrus” at all, but about Hezekiah — see H.A. Whittaker, Isaiah, pp. 393-412).
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, through Isaiah.

And afterward receive me to glory. Referring to a vision of the Shekinah Glory, which Hezekiah must have seen when he went into the sanctuary (v. 17).
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. A wonderful expression of Hezekiah’s renewed faith and righteousness.
My flesh and my heart faileth. His disease ravaged his flesh, but his spirit rested in Jehovah. Then finally his heart (mind) and his flesh were restored.

God is... my portion for ever. Of course, 15 years is not “for ever”! But this fine man believed in the resurrection! For the idea of portion, or “inheritance”, see Psa. 16:5,6.
Thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. Was Rabshakeh a renegade Jew (cp. Psalms Studies, Vol. 1, p. 367)?

4. Messianic reference

For Hezekiah as a superb type of Christ, see Psalm 80, Par. 4.

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. Certainly, this is Jesus in Gethsemane. Perhaps it is also Peter, when he attempted to walk on the sea (Matt. 14:30,31). But his Savior held his hand (cp. v. 23 here) to keep him from sinking.
They are corrupt... speak wickedly... loftily... they set their mouth against the heavens. A good picture of the power-drunk leaders of Israel who were hostile to Jesus.
Waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. That which was appointed for Jesus — the cup of suffering (Matt. 26:39) — came (and will come again) in full measure to those who condemned him.
I have cleansed my heart. Jesus shared our human nature, a nature that required cleansing (Psalms Studies, Vol. 1, pp. 47, 108, 154, 155, 184, 202, 229, 230, 297, 298, 397, 398) — but he disciplined and subdued that nature to the ultimate glory of his Father.

In vain. Compare v. 21. When in Gethsemane it seemed as though his entire ministry was fruitless. The frustration, remorse, and despair that he must have felt — even if only temporarily — is revealed in Isa. 49:4:

I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain.”

Such feelings were also reminiscent of Job’s complaint (at least as restated by Elihu):

It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God” (Job. 34:8,9).

And washed my hands in innocency. Concerning Jesus this was quite literally true. Compare Psa. 26:6.
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. This suggests the many (daily?) exasperations during the course of his ministry.
If I say, I will speak thus... (that is, answering his adversaries on the same level as their attacks on him, then...) behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. That is, ‘What would become of God’s redeeming purpose in me?’
Until I went into the sanctuary of God. In the temple Jesus was repeatedly reminded that there would come the judgments of God on these evil men (see note in Par. 5). Also, in the “sanctuary” of prayer there would be constantly renewed a sense of true perspective. Compare, generally, Psa. 27:4; 42:2; 63:1,2; 84:1-4.
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. Within one short generation it all came to pass! They had built all their hopes on the shifting sands (Matt. 7:24-27). Like the bursting of a great dam, God’s wrath would break forth upon a stiff-necked and perverse nation and sweep them away.
I am continually with thee. This is true of Jesus as it could be of no other man.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, both in Holy Scripture and in his personal communion with his Father.

And afterward receive me to glory. His ascension.
God is the strength of my heart. In Gethsemane Jesus was strengthened by an angel (Luke 22:43), almost certainly Gabriel, whose name means “the strong one of God”.

5. Other details

Truly is a very expressive Hebrew particle meaning “nothing but this” — i.e., ‘What else but good may come from God?’ The s.w. occurs in vv. 13 (verily) and 18 (surely).

Even to such as are of a clean heart. A good definition of the true Israel: cp. Jer. 12:1-3; Psa. 24:3-6 (contrast vv. 4-7 here); Matt. 5:8.
My steps had well nigh slipped. But not altogether! However, contrast what does happen to the wicked (v. 18).
For I was envious. Envy is the natural bent of man (James 4:5), but it is a sure killer (Job 5:2). Envy is absolutely incompatible with true Scriptural love (1 Cor. 13:4).

Prosperity is literally “peace”: see Psa. 72:3; Isa. 57:20; Deut. 29:19.
There are no bands in their death. For “bands”, the LXX has a word (ananeo) meaning “renewal” (literally, ‘to make young — or new — again’): s.w. Eph. 4:23 only. Does this mean: ‘When they die, they have no hope of a resurrection’?
Pride compasseth them about as a chain. They are captive to their pride, like those led away into slavery by the Assyrians. The Hebrew phrase reads like: ‘Pride is their Anak — i.e., their strength’.

Violence covereth them as a garment. They wear their violent characters openly and proudly, flaunting them before all men (cp. phrase in 109:18,19). But the meek, and godly, cover themselves in a very different manner (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10,12,14).
NIV: Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. But, in contrast, the righteous seeks nothing — either in heaven or in earth — but his God (v. 25)!
Who prosper in the world (olahm, or “age”). The ungodly prosper in this age, and in this age only.
Then understood I their end. In the sanctuary one might see the brazen plates on the altar of burnt-offering, and recall their origin: for this was all that was left of the proud presumption and rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num. 16:39; cp vv. 18,19,27 here). See also Psa. 37:9,10,20,22,28, etc.

To enter the “sanctuary” is to see the unseen things (2 Cor. 4:17, 18; Heb. 11:1), and to properly differentiate between transient “reality” and absolute reality!
“Sheol” as the place of destruction: cp. Psa. 49:14,15.
Thus, when contemplating vv. 3-14.

My heart was grieved. RV: in a ferment. The Hebrew word is the same as for leaven.
As a beast before thee: Psa. 49:12,20.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee. The Hebrew word tamid often refers to the continual burnt offering.
Receive me to glory: Psa. 49:15.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. Thus Peter asks, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
God is the strength, or tsur, a great rock or place of refuge (s.w. Psa. 18:2; 19:14).
It is good for me to draw near to God. Compare 1 Cor. 6:17, where “joined” alludes to the name of Levi.
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