A Psalm of Asaph.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as 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 boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
5 They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
6 Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
8 They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
9 They set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue walks through the earth.
10 Therefore his people return here,
And waters of a full cup are drained by them.
11 And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
13 Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
16 When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.
18 Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.
21 Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord God,
That I may declare all Your works.
Asaph (intro) — The first of three heads of the three families of Levitical singers in the time of David (see 1 Chronicles 25; 16:7). He is also elsewhere described as a “seer” (2 Chronicles 29:30), one “who prophesied” (1 Chronicles 25:1-2), and “the prophet” (Matthew 13:35) — descriptions which are clearly borne out in the present psalm, not only by virtue of its inclusion in Scripture, but also his expressing the majority of the psalm (from v.5 onwards) as the first-person utterance of God. Aside from this psalm there are eleven others attributed to Asaph, all of which are found at the beginning of the “third book” of Psalms (i.e., Psalms 73-83). — Wechsler, page 141.
Consistent with its placement at the beginning of the third of the five “books” of Psalms, this psalm focuses on—and hence introduces—the main theme of the Third Book, which, parallel to the third book of the Pentateuch (i.e., Leviticus), concerns the importance and obligations of holiness. — Wechsler, page 185.
The Apparent Futility of Holiness (vs. 1-14) — The psalmist begins by affirming what he knows to be true—i.e., that God is good to Israel, and especially to those who are pure in heart; yet at the same time he sincerely confesses a theological dilemma that brought his feet close to stumbling (a euphemism for sinning, in this case by doubting God’s justice)—to wit: that the arrogant and the wicked appear to prosper (v.3) and to have increased in wealth (v.12), which in turn caused him to think (v.13) that keeping his heart pure (holy), unstained by sin) was a vain exercise. — Wechsler, pages 185-186
The characteristics of ungodly men are described first outwardly (conditions and conduct, vs.4-7) and then inwardly (speech and motive, vs. 8-9). Verse 4 reads literally “their dying has no pangs.” The psalmist is thus not contemplating the temporary well-being of the ungodly (cf. Psalm 37:35-36), but a life-long prosperity ending in peaceful and painless death. This state of affairs is reflected in their conduct. They behave insolently and unscrupulously as regularly as they wear their rich clothing. Their gaze is intent on self-gain and the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts are become utterly vain. It is only to be expected that such behavior should indicate an exaggerated self-opinion, and their mouths are, as ever, a true index of their hearts. Nothing in either the heavens or the earth is above or beyond their criticism. — Guthrie, page 496.
The problem of the life-long prosperity of the wicked is aggravated by the apparent lack of reward for those who live righteously (vs. 13-14) — Ryrie, page 877.
The True Futility of Unholiness (vs. 15-20) — The psalmist’s sense of the apparent worth of unholiness gave way to an unobscured perspective of its true worth—namely, that in the end it is worthless, and even more: it leads to one’s ultimate detriment—when he came into the sanctuary of God. It was here, in God’s sanctuary, when confronted with the holy presence of God, that, just like Isaiah when he beheld the Lord on His throne in the heavenly Temple (Isaiah 6:1ff.), that which was obscuring the psalmist’s spiritual perspective is quickly burned away by the blinding holiness of God. — Wechsler, page 186.
Had the psalmist voiced his doubts in public (v.15), he would have been a traitor to God’s children, encouraging them to doubt. … At last he went into the sanctuary of God (v.17) and meditated upon the ultimate state of the wicked. There he discovered a new outlook; he perceived that life had baffled him because he had not looked at it in the light of the final issue. — Guthrie, pages 497.
The True Worth of Holiness (vs. 21-28) — At the same time the true worth of holiness is impressed upon the psalmist—not that it will ensure him a more “successful” life here and now, for indeed, “all who desire to live godly … will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)—but rather, even in the midst of his affliction, God is continually with him (vs. 23, 28) and will afterward (i.e., after he dies) receive him to glory. The psalmist is able to reconcile his adversity—his loss of station, possessions, and perhaps even his health (as suggested by vs. 14, 26)—because, when compared to what he already has in God (i.e., present relationship and the hope of glory), all their value evaporates; and with redoubled yearning he affirms that, besides God, he desires nothing on earth (v.25). — Wechsler, page 187.
The psalmist … saw men go into death unscathed; but he saw that, on awakening, their situation was quite different, one of insecurity, ruin, destruction and terror. Indeed they awake (cf. Psalm 17:15) and see what a dream they have lived in, and before the judgment of an awakening God (v. 20, cf. Psalm 44:23-26) all their so-called worldly achievement is no more than a phantom. — Guthrie, page 497.
when You awake (v.20) — The idea of God waking up is a metaphor for His ending of a period of probation or indulgence with an act of judgment.
[In this third book] Israel as a worshiper in her future time of trouble is the subject rather than the Messiah and the Remnant, which is the subject of the first to books. …
The Prophet, perplexed with the problem that the ungodly prosper and the children of the kingdom suffer, learns the lesson that, outside the Sanctuary, the mind is distracted and the heart fermented, but that inside all is peace. …
The last stanza (vs. 23-28) records the fruit of the experience. The heart learns the sufficiency of God to satisfy it both in time and eternity (v.25). Such fruit explains the value of trial. Under such experiences flesh and heart fail (v.26). Nature can do nothing else. It can give no victory in such conflicts. But in God the heart finds a reservoir of strength that is inexhaustible; it is a portion forever. — Williams, page 357.
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