Psalm 73 – “Homily About the Wicked”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist comes to the realization that God punishes the wicked.

II. Photo
The psalmist was once tempted: “As for me, my feet had almost strayed, my steps were nearly led off course.” (v. 2)

III. Select Verses    
1b: God is truly good to Israel, to those whose heart is pure.
2-5: As for me, my feet had almost strayed, my steps were nearly led off course, for I envied the wanton; I saw the wicked at ease. Death has no pangs for them; their body is healthy. They have no part in the travail of men; they are not afflicted like the rest of mankind.
9-12: They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth. So they pound His people again and again, until they are drained of their very last tear. Then they say, “How could God know? Is there knowledge with the Most High?” Such are the wicked; ever tranquil, they amass wealth.
19: How suddenly are they ruined, wholly swept away by terrors.
24-26: You guided me by Your counsel and led me toward honor. Whom else have I in heaven? And having You, I want no one on earth. My body and mind fail; but God is the stay of my mind, my portion forever.

IV. Outline
1a. Superscription
1b. Affirmation of confidence
2-14. Personal account: admiring the wicked
15-17. Personal account: change of heart
18-20. Reflection on the wicked
21-22. Confession
23-27. Affirmation of confidence

V. Comment
Psalm 73, which begins the third book of Psalms, begins with a superscription: “A psalm of Asaph.” Who was Asaph? According to Rogers, he was “[Asaph] son of Berechiah, eponymous ancestor of ‘the Asaphites,’ and one of the great families or guilds of musicians and singers in the Jerusalem temple (1 Chr 6:39; 25:1, 2; 2 Chr 5:12). The headings of 12 psalms (50, 73–83) include the designation le’asaph “to Asaph,” most likely an indication that they were a part of an Asaphic collection or were performed according to the style or tradition of the guild bearing Asaph’s name (note also the Asaphic attribution of the psalm anthology in 1 Chr 16:7–36).” (471) As with many biblical figures, not much is known about this individual. It is interesting to note that by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the appellation “Asaphite” was applied to all of the Levitical singers: “The singers: the sons of Asaph — 128.” (Ezra 2:41; Neh 7:44)

Psalm 73 is about the question of evil; the innocent people are wondering why God punishes them and lets the wicked prosper. “Interestingly enough,” Gerstenberger notes, “the solution lies with attending a worship service and taking the sum total to the very end of the life of the wicked.” This can be seen in vv. 18-20: “You [God] surround them with flattery; You make them fall through blandishments. How suddenly are they ruined, wholly swept away by terrors. When You are aroused You despise their image, as one does a dream after waking, O LORD.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
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