Psalm 73

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-09-02 09:36.

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This psalm is ascribed to Asaph, either the contemporary of David or a later descendant. A prominent Levite musician and composer in David’s time, Asaph, with Heman and Ethan, was in charge of music and singing at the sanctuary. (1 Chronicles 6:31-44; 15:19; 25:1, 2; 2 Chronicles 29:30; 35:15)


In the opening verse, “Israel” and “those pure in heart” are parallel expressions. This suggests that “Israel” is to be understood as meaning the upright members of the nation, persons who were Israelites in the noblest sense. In their deep inner selves, they were rightly motivated and proved themselves to be godly. The Almighty was good to them, sustaining them in times of hardship and bestowing his blessing upon them.

Although acknowledging that God is good to Israel, the psalmist, for a time, lost sight of this. He experienced doubt to the point that he almost stumbled in his walk and nearly slipped in his steps as one who recognized God’s goodness.

Seeing the prosperity of arrogant, corrupt people, the psalmist became envious. The wicked did not seem to be particularly subjected to “pains in their death.” This could denote that, despite their vile way of life, they did not undergo an excruciating experience immediately prior to death but died in peace. Based on a different way of reading the Hebrew text, the significance could be that their life proved to be free from the pains of dreadful disease or suffering in general. “They die a painless death.” (CEV, footnote) “For there are no pangs in their death.” (NKJV) “For they suffer no pain in their death.” (NLB) “They never have to suffer.” (CEV) “They have no struggles.” (NIV) “They seem to live such a painless life.” (NLT) “They have an easy time until they die.” (HCSB) The psalmist observed that the bodies of the ungodly gave evidence of being well-nourished, with no serious health problems that would have made them appear emaciated. (See the Notes section for additional comments on verse 4.)

They did not even seem to have the trouble other people commonly had. It did not appear that they were plagued or afflicted like many of their contemporaries. From all appearances, they were prosperous and healthy.

Having experienced no apparent ill effects from their corrupt ways, they became arrogant. Their shameless pride proved to be like a necklace to them. So many were their violent deeds that these covered them like a garment. According to the Septuagint, they clothed themselves with “injustice and ungodliness.”

A literal reading of the Hebrew text represents their eyes as “going forth with fat.” This could denote that their eyes were not sunken as in the case of persons suffering from malnutrition. The Septuagint reads, “Their injustice will go forth as out of fat.” Perhaps this may be understood to mean that injustice oozes out of them as persons who ceased to have a sense of right. As with layers of fat, their conscience had been dulled. They “surpassed the imaginations of their heart [their deep inner self or their mind].” This may mean that they attained their planned objectives to a degree that went beyond their expectations. (See the Notes section on verse 7.)

The ungodly scoffed, showing contempt for what was fair and right. Their speaking with or about evil may refer to their scheming to do bad or talking maliciously, deliberately intending to injure with their words. The Septuagint represents the lawless ones as plotting and speaking in wickedness.

As from an exalted position, they “speak oppression,” “defrauding,” or “injustice” (LXX). This could mean that they talked pridefully about their corrupt schemes to make gain for themselves or that they assumed an arrogant bearing when about to act oppressively toward others. Translators have conveyed various meanings. “From their eminence they plan wrongdoing.” (Tanakh) “From on high they utter threats.” (NAB) “Because of their pride, they make violent threats.” (CEV) “Loftily they advocate force.” (NJB) “In their arrogance they threaten oppression.” (NIV) “Loftily they threaten oppression.” (NRSV) “They are proud and make plans to oppress others.” (GNT, Second Edition) “They arrogantly threaten oppression.” (HCSB) “In their pride they seek to crush others.” (NLT) “They speak from a high place.” (NLB)

They defiantly set their mouths against heaven, which could signify that they spoke blasphemously against God. The reference to their tongue “walking” in the earth or the land suggests that they were in control, making unjust demands, threatening, and speaking abusively.

The psalmist’s next words appear to relate to God’s people, but the context does not indicate in what manner they “return” and the nature of the “waters” that are “drained out.” If the “return” is to be understood of God’s people in relation to the wicked, the meaning could be that among them are those who are moved to adopt the ways of the lawless ones and imbibe their corrupt ways as if draining the last drop from a cup when drinking. In the event the “return” may relate to a closer focus on the manner in which the godless appear to prosper, the effect on God’s people would be comparable to having to drink a bitter potion.

The extant Septuagint text does not mention “waters,” but speaks of “full days” (possibly signifying “meaningful days”) being found for the people. On account of the obscurity of the Hebrew text, translations vary considerably in their interpretive renderings, with some representing the people as adopting the ways of the godless and others as portraying God’s people as being afflicted by the lawless ones or helped by the Most High. “That is why my people turn to them, and enjoy the waters of plenty.” (NJB) “So my people turn to them and drink deeply of their words.” (NAB) “Therefore the people turn and praise them, and find no fault in them.” (NRSV) “So they [the wicked] pound His people again and again, until they are drained of their very last tear.” (Tanakh) “God will bring his people back, and they will drink the water he so freely gives.” (CEV) “So that even God’s people turn to them and eagerly believe whatever they say.” (GNT, Second Edition) “And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words.” (NLT) “So their people turn to them and give them whatever they want.” (NCV) “Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.” (ESV)

Either the godless ones or those who were induced to adopt their corrupt course thought that God was unaware of or did not take note of their actions. The questions the psalmist put in their mouths are, “How can God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High?” If, however, the previous verse is understood to apply to godly persons whom the lawless ones oppress, these two questions would have a different significance. The meaning could then be: How could God tolerate the wicked as if he did not know what was taking place? Did he not see?

The psalmist observed that the wicked appeared to be at “ease,” untroubled, or undisturbed, and prospered, continuing to increase in wealth. His circumstances, however, were quite different.

It appeared to him that his efforts to cleanse his heart, endeavoring to remain pure in his inmost self, were in vain, resulting in no personal benefits. He had washed his hands “in innocence,” not acting in a corrupt manner. This, too, seemed to have been for nothing, as he found himself in an undesirable situation.

All day long he was plagued or afflicted, continually faced with distress. Upon awakening each morning, he found himself subjected to correction or reproof.

He realized, though, that it was improper for him to continue speaking about his lot in this manner. Other Israelites also were seeking to do God’s will, and they were part of the “generation of [his] sons” or his people. When questioning the value of upright conduct, the psalmist would have been expressing thoughts that called into question the rightness of their course and had the potential to undermine their faith. As he himself recognized, he would have made himself guilty of treachery toward them.

Still, when the psalmist considered his own situation and the apparent success of the wicked, he simply could not understand why they should prosper. In his eyes or in his view, trying to make sense of what appeared to him to be a grave injustice was a wearying task. There seemed to be no satisfying answer.

Upon going to the “sanctuary of God,” the psalmist succeeded in resolving his troubling doubts. Among the assembled worshipers, he came to discern just what the “end” for the wicked would be.


As persons without God, the lawless ones actually found themselves in a perilous situation, comparable to being on slippery ground. The psalmist perceived God as having placed them on slippery places and bringing about their ruinous fall.

Although flourishing for a time, they come to desolation in a moment. Suddenly they are no more, utterly swept away by terrors. The Septuagint reads, “They have been destroyed because of their lawlessness.”

When one awakens, a dream is over and, even if recalled, soon passes out of one’s memory. Whatever may have been seen in a dream is an unreality and has no real value. So the “image” of the wicked—their possessions and position—does not amount to anything, being nothing more than the fleeting scenes of a dream upon God’s rousing himself to take action. He will despise it. (See the Notes section on verse 20 regarding the Septuagint reading.)

The psalmist came to recognize that he had wrongly allowed his “heart” or his inmost self to become embittered and his “kidneys” or deepest emotions to be pierced or severely pained. (Regarding the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section on verse 21.)

He had erred in his thoughts about the seeming well-being of lawless ones. So he speaks of himself as having been stupid or brutish and as not having knowledge. Before or toward God, he had been like a beast or an unreasoning animal, reacting merely according to feelings or sensations.

Still, the Most High had not abandoned him. The psalmist proved to be continually with God, who took hold of his right hand or led him in the proper direction. The Almighty guided him with his counsel and would finally bring him to or receive him in glory or honor. While lawless ones may have reproached and taunted him, the Most High would honor him, effecting a complete reversal.

The psalmist came to appreciate that his relationship to God proved to be his most valuable possession. In the heavens, he had God alone to sustain and comfort him. On earth, God was the one on whom his complete desire or delight was focused. His body and heart or mind may fail him, coming to be in a weak and vulnerable condition, but God would provide strengthening aid. The Almighty would prove to be the “rock” of his heart, infusing him with strength so that he would not lose hope and courage. God was his portion or share, his precious inheritance, indicating he considered his relationship with the Most High to be his abiding and most treasured possession. All other possessions were transitory and really amounted to nothing.

Those who were far from the Almighty or who had distanced themselves would lose everything. They would perish. God would bring to silence or to their end all who had adulterously departed from him.

The psalmist realized that his nearness to God was good, assuring his lasting well-being. Having made YHWH his refuge, putting his full trust in him, he was determined to tell his contemporaries about God’s works. The psalmist’s testimony would serve to strengthen others who may have succumbed to doubts on account of seeing godless ones succeed in attaining their objectives and prospering.


In verse 4, the Hebrew word for “pains” (chartsóv) can also denote “bonds.” In the Septuagint the corresponding term anáneusis, meaning “rejection” or “refusal,” is linked to the word “death” (thánatos). The expression “rejection [as] to their death” may be understood to signify that the wicked (“sinners,” LXX) did not have any exceptionally fearful horror respecting their death. Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus reads, “rejection in their death,” suggesting that there was nothing extraordinarily negative about their death.

The measure of obscurity in the Hebrew text of verse 7 and the somewhat different reading of the Septuagint have given rise to various interpretive renderings. This includes renderings that incorporate readings of the ancient versions for the first part of the verse. “Fat shuts out their eyes.” (Tanakh) “Their eyes poke out with fat.” (CEV) “From their fat oozes out malice.” (NJB) “From their callous hearts comes iniquity.” (NIV) “Out of their stupidity comes sin.” (NAB)

In the second half of verse 7, the Hebrew verb is ‘avár, meaning “pass on,” “pass over,” “pass through,” “go beyond,” “transgress,” or “surpass.” The corresponding Greek word in the Septuagint (diérchomai) has the basic meaning of “pass” and “pass through.” This word can also signify “attain” or “arrive.” With reference to the “imagination of the heart,” the Hebrew could mean that the wicked surpassed or exceeded what they imagined to achieve. The Septuagint rendering would allow for the meaning that the ungodly attained the intent of their heart. Translators vary considerably in their interpretive renderings. “Their fancies are extravagant.” (Tanakh) “Their hearts overflow with follies.” (NRSV) “Evil thoughts flood their hearts.” (NAB) “Their minds are flooded with foolish thoughts.” (CEV) “The evil conceits of their minds know no limits.” (NIV) “Their hearts drip with cunning.” (NJB) “Their hearts pour out evil, and their minds are busy with wicked schemes.” (GNT, Second Edition) “The imaginations of their hearts run wild.” (HCSB) “They exceed the imaginations of their heart.” (Darby) “The imaginations of the heart transgressed.” (Young)

In verse 17, the Hebrew word for “sanctuary” is plural, evidently a plural of excellence to designate God’s exclusive sanctuary.

In the Septuagint, the extant text of verse 20 reads, “Like a dream of one awakening, Lord, you will disdain their image in your city.” A number of modern translations add words to make the meaning of the Hebrew more explicit. “Like a dream when one wakes up, so You will hate what they look like when You rise up, O Lord.” (NLB) “Their present life is only a dream that is gone when they awake. When you arise, O Lord, you will make them vanish from this life.” (NLT) “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (ESV) “They are like a dream that goes away in the morning; when you rouse yourself, O Lord, they disappear.” (GNT, Second Edition)

In verse 21, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus portray the psalmist’s expression as being positive. “For my heart was cheered, and my kidneys were changed.” Instead of “was cheered,” Rahlfs’ printed text says “was inflamed” (ekkaío).

In the extant text of the Septuagint, the concluding verse is longer. “But for me, to cleave to God is good, to place my hope in the Lord, that I may proclaim all your praises in the gates of the daughter of Zion.”

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.