Psalm #73


Psalms Book 1            1-41                                                           

Book 2                     42-72                                                                    

Book 3                     73-89

Psalm 73 introduces the third book of the psalter which has many laments and complaints.  They were probably the prayers of the people who returned from exile and found only ruins and hardship.

This wisdom psalm offers the psalmist’s community guidance and insight that will help them with the problem of the gap between faith and experience. 

We can divide the psalm into three major sections, each beginning with the word ‘surely.’


Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.    

The premise of the Psalm in v. 1 is the premise of Old Testament faith, the premise of the faith in which we stand: Truly God is good to Israel. This attestation knows that God is deeply, genuinely, abidingly, reliably committed to God's people. This is the creator God who does good and gives good abundantly. This is the electing God of Exodus who has settled on this community of the beloved. This is the God of wisdom who keeps the world functioning generously. This is the God of whom the church confesses, "That all things work together for good for those who love God who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28).

But some doubted!  There is a gap between what they believe and what they

see around them.

I envied the arrogant;
    I observed how the wicked are well off:
They suffer no pain;
    their bodies are fit and strong.
They are never in trouble;
    they aren’t weighed down like other people.
That’s why they wear arrogance like a necklace,
    why violence covers them like clothes….
They scoff and talk so cruel;
    from their privileged positions
    they plan oppression.

The psalmist sees, to his dismay, a pretentious and oppressive lifestyle.  The arrogant live very well. They are easy with casual morals; they are not worried about their neighbors; but they go from strength to strength, from party to party, from portfolio to portfolio. And out of that carefree way in the world, they become celebrities.


Eventually they are so successful and so full of themselves that they scoff at the notion of a God who watches and monitors and judges. Our speaker noticed them; he disapproved of them; and then he wanted what they wanted. He wanted to be like them! He could not keep his eyes off them. He decided to give up his Torah piety because it wasn't worth it:

Surely in vain I’ve kept my heart pure;
in vain I’ve washed my hands to stay innocent.

Verse 15 marks the first direct address to God:

        If I had said, ‘I will talk on in this way,’                                    

       I would have betrayed your children.  (73.15)

What brings the psalmist through the crisis of faith, then, is apparently his identity as a member of God’s people.  He finally begins to see clearly how the world works and how God works in the world.  He begins to bring faith and experience together!

But when I thought how to understand this,                                     

    it seemed to me a wearisome task,                                              

until I went into the sanctuary of God;                                        

   then I perceived their end. (Ps 73:17)

This is the big until that breaks the spell of consumer society. This is the confession of faith that questions the magic of the market and it’s supportive military apparatus. This "until" is the big, jarring disruption that makes alternative life possible. "Until I went to the sanctuary." Maybe he went out of habit, but even if out of habit, this time there was a seriousness and an urgency, a wondering and a receptiveness. When he was there, in any case, it all became clear.  The speaker arrives at a deeply new orientation.

If we transpose the "until" into Christian parlance, it is "until,"

The word became flesh and lived among us,                             

and we have seen his glory,                                                 

the glory as of a father's only son,                                          

full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

We have looked into the face of Jesus and have seen the ultimate offer of communion, grace and truth, generosity and reliability that the cheap self-indulgence of our world cannot make on its way to death.


Surely You place them on a slippery path;
    You will make them fall into ruin!
Jesus once said:

‘The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light.  But if the eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.’    (Matthew 6.21-23)

Such a life has no staying power, no gravitas, no quality of existence that one would finally envy. Such a life is a fantasy created by image-makers who readily dupe naive Torah-keepers. It cannot be sustained!

The Psalmist has come to the judgment that while the others are in slippery places his right hand is held by God, the God of Torah, so that he cannot slip. He now knows that this God is an adequate guide, quite in contrast to those who are sadly and destructively misguided.

And then he arrives at one of the most eloquent statements of faith in all of our tradition:

Whom have I in heaven but you?                                              

And there is nothing on earth that                                           

I desire other than you.                                                         

My flesh and my heart may fail,                                                

but God is the strength of my heart                                          

and my portion forever. (Ps 73:25-26)


When the psalmist returns to the sanctuary in awe and wonder, his faith is given back to him, that is, God gives him no intellectual answer but gives him His very presence.

The Scottish writer, George MacDonald, writes:

          ‘The pure in heart shall see God. The seeing of Him will be the sign that we are like Him, for only by being like Him can we see Him as He is. But when we shall be fit to look Him in the face, God only knows. That is the heart of my hopes by day and my dreams by night. To behold the face of Jesus seems to me the one thing to be desired.’