Psalm 73 & Commentary

A Psalm of Asaph.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.a
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strengthb of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

 

Commentary from iTorah.com

Psalm 73, which was composed by the Levite poet Asaf, addresses the age-old question of theodicy – the success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. Asaf confesses to having almost been misled by the power and prosperity enjoyed by the wicked, and that he even envied their lives of ill-begotten wealth, peace and serenity (verses 2-3). He observes that the wicked and corrupt men always seem to escape the hardships and trials endured by others, and enjoy the means and peace of mind to indulge to their hearts’ content (verses 4-7). Their success has led many among the masses to follow their example of crime and treachery, as people naturally began to wonder whether or not God in fact takes note of wrongdoing and punishes the wicked (10-14). Asaf goes so far as to say that were he to give a comprehensive account of the success and prosperity of the wicked, he would likely drive his entire generation of otherwise believing Jews to heresy (verse 15).

Asaf’s outlook thankfully changed when he “entered the Temples of God” (verse 17). Rashi explains that Asaf prophetically beheld the miraculous demise of the Assyrian army when it besieged Jerusalem (see introduction to chapter 68). That event serves as a dramatic example of a successful reign of tyranny and cruelty that meets a sudden, catastrophic end, and it thus clarified for Asaf why God allows the wicked to prosper: He allows evildoers to follow their chosen path which leads them further and further away from any possibility of repentance, thus guaranteeing their ultimate demise.

The Radak explains differently, claiming that “Temples of God” refers to the afterlife. Asaf reveals that he erred in focusing his attention exclusively upon this world; indeed, our experiences in this world demonstrate that corruption often brings success while piety can bring poverty and hardship. But once Asaf broadened his perspective and began to take into account the eternal life of the soul, he immediately resolved the dilemma of theodicy: God grants the wicked in this world whatever reward they deserve, so that they receive their punishment in full after death, in the afterlife.

Asaf thus concludes in this chapter’s final verse, “Va’ani Kirvat Elokim Li Tov” – closeness to God is what is good and beneficial for a person. Though we often see wicked and depraved men succeed and prosper at the expense of the righteous and upright, we must nevertheless retain our belief in the inestimable value of observing God’s laws, and that the reward that awaits those who devote themselves to God far exceeds the success enjoyed by the wicked in this world.


L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .


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