The Trial of the Just
1A psalm of Asaph.
How good God is to the upright,
to those who are pure of heart!
2But, as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped,
3Because I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.a
4For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are healthy and sleek.
5They are free of the burdens of life;
they are not afflicted like others.
6Thus pride adorns them as a necklace;
violence clothes them as a robe.
7Out of such blindness comes sin;
evil thoughts flood their hearts.b
8They scoff and spout their malice;
from on high they utter threats.c
9*They set their mouths against the heavens,
their tongues roam the earth.
10*So my people turn to them
and drink deeply of their words.
11They say, “Does God really know?”
“Does the Most High have any knowledge?”d
12Such, then, are the wicked,
always carefree, increasing their wealth.
13Is it in vain that I have kept my heart pure,
washed my hands in innocence?e
14For I am afflicted day after day,
chastised every morning.
15Had I thought, “I will speak as they do,”
I would have betrayed this generation of your children.
16Though I tried to understand all this,
it was too difficult for me,
17Till I entered the sanctuary of God
and came to understand their end.*
18You set them, indeed, on a slippery road;
you hurl them down to ruin.
19How suddenly they are devastated;
utterly undone by disaster!
20They are like a dream after waking, Lord,
dismissed like shadows when you arise.f
21Since my heart was embittered
and my soul deeply wounded,
22I was stupid and could not understand;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
23Yet I am always with you;
you take hold of my right hand.g
24With your counsel you guide me,
and at the end receive me with honor.*
25Whom else have I in the heavens?
None beside you delights me on earth.
26Though my flesh and my heart fail,
God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
27But those who are far from you perish;
you destroy those unfaithful to you.
28As for me, to be near God is my good,
to make the Lord GOD my refuge.
I shall declare all your works
in the gates of daughter Zion.*
* [Psalm 73] The opening verse of this probing poem (cf. Ps 37; 49) is actually the psalmist’s hard-won conclusion from personal experience: God is just and good! The psalmist describes near loss of faith (Ps 73:2–3), occasioned by observing the wicked who blasphemed God with seeming impunity (Ps 73:4–12). Feeling abandoned despite personal righteousness, the psalmist could not bear the injustice until an experience of God’s nearness in the Temple made clear how deluded the wicked were. Their sudden destruction shows their impermanence (Ps 73:13–20). The just can thus be confident, for, as the psalmist now knows, their security is from God (Ps 73:1, 23–28).
* [73:9] They set their mouths against the heavens: in an image probably derived from mythic stories of half-divine giants, the monstrous speech of the wicked is likened to enormous jaws gaping wide, devouring everything in sight.
* [73:10] The Hebrew is obscure.
* [73:17] And came to understand their end: the psalmist receives a double revelation in the Temple: 1) the end of the wicked comes unexpectedly (Ps 73:18–20); 2) God is with me.
* [73:24] And at the end receive me with honor: a perhaps deliberately enigmatic verse. It is understood by some commentators as reception into heavenly glory, hence the traditional translation, “receive me into glory.” The Hebrew verb can indeed refer to mysterious divine elevation of a righteous person into God’s domain: Enoch in Gn 5:24; Elijah in 2 Kgs 2:11–12; the righteous psalmist in Ps 49:16. Personal resurrection in the Old Testament, however, is clearly attested only in the second century B.C. The verse is perhaps best left unspecified as a reference to God’s nearness and protection.
* [73:28] In the gates of daughter Zion: this reading follows the tradition of the Septuagint and Vulgate.
d. [73:11] Ps 10:11; Jb 22:13.