The Prophet is engaged, in this Psalm, in a subject which hath called forth the astonishment of pious minds in all ages of the church; namely, the seeming prosperity of the wicked, and the afflicted state of the godly. The Prophet describes (somewhat at large) the trial, and then tells us where alone he found the explanation of it, in the sanctuary of God.
A Psalm of Asaph.
Nothing can be more beautiful, as well as just, than the certain truth this verse contains: the Prophet lays it down for a maxim, at once fixed and incontrovertible, that whatsoever shall arise, or seem to arise, in the circumstances of the world, the great Judge of all the earth doth right; and is, in a special and distinguishing manner, good to Israel. They are clean in heart, being washed in the blood of Christ, regenerated by the Holy Ghost, and have those blessed promises which God the Father promised in the covenant of redemption; Ezekiel 36:25-28. We find the Prophet reasoning on the same subject as Asaph; Jeremiah 12:1, etc.
The Psalmist here opens the subject which had so much tended to stagger his faith. It appears, the question which arose in his mind, and gave him such uneasy thoughts concerning God's providence, was, if God loves his people, as we know he doth, whence is it that bad men prosper, and his beloved are exercised with such sharp and trying dispensations?
He here draws the outlines of the prosperity of the wicked: they have all carnal enjoyments, the good things brought forth by the sun, and the precious things put forth by the moon: they have plenty of corn, and wine, and oil; they chant to the sound of the organ; they send forth their little ones to the dance, but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Nay, what appeared to the prophet's view as still more astonishing, they seemed for the most part to die in peace; no bands, no pangs, no difficulties in their death: and though strangers to Christ, strangers to God's covenant love in him, strangers to the new-birth, and all the work of God the Spirit on their hearts; they died as much at ease as if all the promises of salvation were their own. This view puzzled and perplexed the prophet's mind, and for awhile he was at a loss to explain it. Reader! do the same things appear in the world now? Oh yes! Every day's experience demonstrates such things, and to an enlightened eye they carry their own reasoning and confirmation with them. What a striking picture hath Job drawn of such in his days: but after he hath drawn it to the life, and sketched their features to a nicety, he gives the finishing stroke when he describes them, after spending their days in wealth, as in a moment going down to the grave! Job 21:7-13. See also the prophet's representation of the same, Amos 6:3-7. When you have paid due attention to these scriptures, turn to the gospel, and read some of the unequalled words of Jesus and his apostles on the same subject; and if God the Holy Ghost be your teacher, you will rise to a degree of enjoyment unknown to all such worldly characters. Indeed, that one passage alone of Christ is a volume in point, John 14:18-20. To this subjoin the apostle's account of God's people, Hebrews 11:33, to the end.
Reader! do mark what it was which the Lord blessed to the mind of his servant: namely, his visits to the sanctuary. It is in God's house that we are brought acquainted with God's ways. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant; Psalms 25:14. Depend upon it, the faithful, constant, diligent, and humble waiting upon the Lord in his ordinances, reading his word, and drawing nigh in Jesus to the mercy-seat; these are the methods God is pleased to honour, in bringing souls acquainted with himself and his dispensations.
It were a pity to separate these verses, and the devout and happy frame which appears through the whole of them. Reader! what a thought is that one, Nevertheless I am continually with, thee! An union with Christ gives this everlasting abiding with him, and blessedness in him. It is impossible to be otherwise than happy while Jesus Christ is our portion. All grace is secure from this principle; for while the Head exists, the members must exist no less. Because I live ye shall live also; John 14:19. Heaven itself, but for Jesus and the constant flow of righteousness and glory in him, would cease to be heaven. Our souls could be no longer happy or righteous but as those supplies flow into our souls and keep them alive in him. So that the everlasting need of Christ, as the Head of his church here below, to supply grace, is evident from hence; and the everlasting need of Christ, as the head of his church in glory, must be the same also; and hence, Reader, think how eternally and unchangeably precious must Jesus be, both for earth and heaven, to become the perennial and overflowing fountain of life, and light, and peace, and happiness, and glory, to his whole church, in time and to all eternity. Oh! precious, precious Jesus, do thou make me to see that I am continually with thee, and that thou art holding me by thy right hand.
MY soul! gather from this blessed Psalm all the instructions the Holy Ghost intended the church should derive from it, and look up and pray that it may be made blessed in the Lord's hand to teach thee how to draw proper improvements from the Lord's providences which are going on continually in the world, and with which the Lord is pleased to exercise his faithful also. May Jesus bless it to this end!
In the first place, my soul! do, as Asaph did, put it down as a truth, which no outward circumstances can for a moment give occasion to call, in question, Truly God is good to Israel, whatever afflictions Israel is exercised with; and the Lord cannot but love his redeemed which he hath purchased with his blood, whatever calamities they labour under, while the wicked and the ungodly seem to prosper.
In the next place, learn to look at all exercises of God's people, in the seeming prosperity of the wicked, and their triumphs over the righteous, as so many means in the Lord's hand for bringing about the greatest good. By these shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged. The Lord is invariably pursuing one plan of mercy, love, and grace, to his people: That the trial of your faith (saith the apostle) being much more precious than gold which perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ! Blessed process, when sanctified by grace! It weans from the world, from creature-comforts, creature-confidences, all self-exalting thoughts; and brings the soul humble, low, and submissive before God. Above all, it endears Jesus, proves the importance of his salvation, and makes him increasingly precious day by day.
Lastly, learn to see love at the bottom of all, in the blessed conformity the people of God are hereby brought into, to the person and pattern of Jesus. Whom he did foreknow (saith an apostle) he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son - that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. And what prophet, what apostle, what martyr of Jesus ever lived in the prosperity which Asaph describes in this Psalm? Rather let it be asked, what prophet, what apostle, what martyr, who was most eminent in God's service, but was most eminent also in suffering? Nay, what was the Prince of prophets, but a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Blessed then be the Lord for those marks of sonship and adoption, by which the faithful are eminently known! Oh! for grace to take joyfully reproaches, afflictions, necessities, for Christ's sake; that when most weak in ourselves, we may be most strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Precious Jesus! be thou my portion, and bring me into a holy conformity to thee, in all things, that thou mayest be my joy, my happiness, and my all, both now and forever. Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Psalms 73". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29