Book III—Psalms 73–89[a]
False Happiness of the Wicked
1 A psalm of Asaph.[c]
God is truly good to the upright,[d]
to those who are pure in heart.
2 [e]But as for me, I nearly lost my balance;[f]
I was almost at the point of stumbling.
3 For I was filled with envy of the arrogant
when I perceived how the wicked prosper.
4 [g]They endure no painful suffering;
their bodies are healthy and well fed.
5 They are not plagued with burdens common to all;
the troubles of life do not afflict them.
6 So they wear arrogance like a necklace
and don violence like a robe.
7 Their callous hearts overflow with malice,
and their minds are completely taken up with evil plans.
8 They mock and pour forth their malevolence;
in their haughtiness they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths rage against the heavens
while their tongues are never stilled on the earth.
10 [h]So the people blindly follow them
and find nothing offensive in their words.[i]
11 They say: “How does God know?
Does the Most High notice anything?”
12 Such are the wicked,
as they pile up wealth, without any concerns.
13 [j]Is it in vain that I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence?
14 For I am stricken day after day
and punished every morning.
15 If I had decided, “I will speak like them,”
I would not have been true to your children.[k]
16 [l]When I tried to understand all this,
I found it too difficult for me,
17 until I entered the sanctuary of God[m]
and realized what their final end would be.
18 [n]Indeed, you set them on a slippery slope
and cast them headlong into utter ruin.
19 How suddenly they are destroyed,
completely wiped out by terrors!
20 When you arise, O Lord,
you will dismiss them
as one discards a dream on awakening.
21 [o]When my heart was embittered
and my soul was deeply tormented,
22 I was stupid and unable to comprehend—
like a brute beast in your presence.
23 [p]Yet I am always with you;
you grasp me by the right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me into glory.[q]
25 Whom do I have in heaven except you?
And besides you there is nothing else I desire on earth.
26 Even should my heart and my flesh[r] fail,
God is the rock of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 [s]But all those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy those who are unfaithful to you.
28 As for me, my happiness is to be near God,
and I have made the Lord God my refuge;
I will proclaim all your works[t]
at the gates of the Daughter of Zion.
- Psalm 73:1 This third Book of the Psalter combines the collections of psalms of Asaph (probably a choral leader in the Jerusalem temple; see 1 Chr 25:2-6; 2 Chr 29:30) with the end of the Psalter of the Sons of Korah, which began in the second Book (Pss 42–49). The prayers are varied in accord with the experience of believers; we pass from the lament of the innocent to the exultation after victory. We read, by turns, canticles of Zion, chants of joy and hope, and historical retrospectives that often take the tone of great national lamentations. Each prayer expresses in a new way the longing for God and his salvation.
- Psalm 73:1 The psalmist is taken back by the prosperity of the wicked and the sufferings of the righteous (see Job; Eccl 7:15; Jer 12:1; Mal 3:15). Those who make sport of God seem to succeed in life much more than believers, and their example becomes a scandal for the righteous and the wise: what is the good of remaining faithful? Still he knows that no one should deny God. Tempted by doubt, the faithful psalmist reflects and seeks light in God’s presence; in such a meditation, his faith deepens and a conviction imposes itself on him with new force: human glory has no tomorrow, but the friendship of God remains forever precious; it cannot end or deceive. The psalmist-sage who expresses himself here begins to suspect that the joy of being with the Lord could become eternal happiness (v. 24).
In times of trouble, at moments when people grow weary of being faithful, this psalm brings the grace of refreshment to the interior life.
- Psalm 73:1 Asaph: see notes on Pss 73–89.
- Psalm 73:1 The upright: literally, “Israel,” i.e., the group of the “poor” (see v. 15; Pss 72:2ff; 149:4; 1 Mac 1:53; Isa 49:3, 13). Pure in heart: see note on Ps 24:4. Heart: see note on Ps 4:8.
- Psalm 73:2 Like many of the godly, the psalmist envied the prosperity of the wicked and their arrogance. Everything seemed to go well for them. They experienced “prosperity,” i.e., well-being, full family life, and success in business. Hence, the psalmist was miserable, filled with self-pity and discontent with God’s justice. But, although he almost lost his foothold on the “way” of the Lord, he righted himself with the help of the Lord, who sustains his saints (see Ps 37:23ff).
- Psalm 73:2 I nearly lost my balance: see note on Ps 37:30-31.
- Psalm 73:4 The psalmist describes the reasons that led the godly to envy the wicked. Evildoers seem to be carefree and unconcerned for the future. They have wealth and power and enjoy freedom of movement and speech. They appear untouched by life’s frustrations: frailty, adversities, diseases, and hard labor. They disregard God and his laws with apparent impunity. They decree what can be done on earth and even what God can do in heaven. In short, it seems that God lets the wicked get away with their wickedness. Hearts: see note on Ps 4:8.
- Psalm 73:10 From the mistaken viewpoint of an afflicted person, the wicked enjoy power, glory, and prosperity without end.
- Psalm 73:10 The meaning of the Hebrew for this verse is unclear. Another translation is: “So the people turn to them / and find no fault in them.”
- Psalm 73:13 The psalmist begins to have doubts about his effort to keep himself holy (see Pss 24:4; 119:9). He questions himself about the troubles and sufferings that he experiences while the wicked seem to have no such problems.
- Psalm 73:15 If he had expressed in public what he had been thinking, the psalmist would have denied the ancestral traditions and beliefs (see note on Ps 139:19-24) and betrayed the “poor.” For the Lord is a father to Israel (Ex 4:22; Isa 63:16; Hos 11:1).
- Psalm 73:16 Understanding did not come to the psalmist until he entered into the sanctuary of God. There he regained his perspective in the light of God’s greatness, glory, and majesty. He realized once again that the Lord is just and will judge the wicked in accord with their evil deeds.
- Psalm 73:17 Sanctuary of God: literally, “the divine sanctuaries.” Rather than the temple (see Jer 51:51) where he would have been enlightened by God, or the divine mysteries (see Wis 2:22) in which he would have received revelation, this expression indicates the teaching contained in the Scriptures, the abode of wisdom (see Ps 119:130; Prov 9:1ff; Sir 39:1).
- Psalm 73:18 In reality, God makes the state of the wicked so precarious that they will not be stable but will vanish like the figures of a dream. The assurance of Scripture is that the wicked will incur sudden and complete judgment. They will be assailed by all kinds of terrors and death itself.
- Psalm 73:21 The psalmist stresses his former embittered state once again. In his grief he was irrational (see Ps 94:8) and not ruled by wisdom; he was like the fools who are compared to brute beasts (see Ps 49:13, 21; Isa 1:2f). He was assailed by doubt and mired in self-pity—but God used this experience to make him a better person and bring him closer to himself. Heart: see note on Ps 4:8.
- Psalm 73:23 The psalmist’s experience of anguish is transformed into the joy of God’s presence and his greatness. God protects him by holding his right hand (v. 23; see Ps 63:8; Isa 41:10, 13; 42:6; Jer 31:32), by strengthening his resolve (rock, v. 26; see Ps 18:3), and by taking care of all his needs (portion, v. 26; see Ps 16:5). God gives his servant wisdom and insight (counsel) as he journeys toward everlasting glory (v. 24; see Ps 32:8).
- Psalm 73:24 Receive me into glory: is it a question here of heavenly glory? The text does not make this clear. It states that God will preserve the righteous from a brutal and premature death and rehabilitate them (see Job 19:9; 29:18; 42:7), while he despises the wicked who will suddenly disappear (v. 18f). Nothing obliges us to give the verb “receive” a stronger meaning than in Pss 18:17 (“snatched me up”) and 49:16 (“take”—see also note there) based on the assumption into heaven of Enoch (Gen 5:24; Sir 44:16) and Elijah (2 Ki 2:3; Sir 48:9). However, as in Ps 16:9f, the psalmist’s fervor and the demands of his love for God lead him to long never to be separated from him; it constitutes a stage in the explicit belief in the resurrection, attested in Dan 12:2.
- Psalm 73:26 My heart and my flesh: the whole being (see Ps 84:3). Heart: see note on Ps 4:8. Portion: as a Levite, the psalmist has the Lord for his portion (or inheritance) of the Promised Land, i.e., he lives off the tithes that the people present to the Lord (see Num 18:21-24; Deut 10:9; 18:1-8).
- Psalm 73:27 The psalmist now understands that all who are unfaithful to God must perish. Their judgment is a consequence not only of their failure to profess faith in God but also of their immoral and unjust practices.
- Psalm 73:28 I will proclaim all your works: the psalmist expresses the vow to praise the Lord’s mercies (see note on Ps 7:18). At the gates of the Daughter of Zion: this phrase is added to the final line of the Septuagint. It is taken from Ps 9:15, which may be a liturgical adaptation.