Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who 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 arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4. For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5. They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.
6. Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them like a garment.
7. Their eyes swell out with fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8. They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9. They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues range over the earth.

10. Therefore the people turn and praise them,
and find no fault in them,
11. And they say, 'How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?'
12. Such are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13. All in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14. For all day long I have been plagued,
and am punished every morning.

15. If I had said, 'I will talk on in this way,'
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
16. But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17. until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
18. Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19. How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20. They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.

21. When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22. I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
23. Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24. You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honour.
25. Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26. My flesh and my heart may fail
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27. Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
28. But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works."

This psalm begins with the statement of faith, "God is good -- to those who are pure in heart". But the psalmist in his experience found that what he believed was tested so greatly that he was stumbling in the way (verse 2). His questions are still asked today" Why do the righteous suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? Why doesn't God remove the wicked from the earth? Why does he look on as though he is unwilling or unable to deal with them the way they deserve? How is the Lord good to the godly? Is it in just giving them pleasurable experiences?

The test of faith

The test of his faith came in three ways: a. It was a problem for his thinking. He was tempted to say, 'That's not fair.' Why should people who have no desire to be "pure in heart" be so prosperous? In fact what adorned them like a necklace was their "pride", and what was as obvious about them as the clothes that they wore was their "violence" (verse 6). In today's language they were 'fast guys', 'go-getters'. Verses 7-9 tell more what they were like, "their minds are busy with wicked schemes. They laugh at other people and speak of evil things; they --- make plans to oppress others. They speak evil of God in heaven and give arrogant orders to men on earth, ---" (Good News Bible). They thought that they could do what they wanted without God doing anything to stop them (verse 11). And they seemed to get away with it. No one stopped them, and in fact they were popular with people and many praised them (verse 10). Although they had no regard for God and no care for other people, everything seemed to go well for them. They seemed to have none of the troubles that others had. They had health and strength, and faced no pain in life (verses 4-5). b. It was a challenge to his feelings. Although he had tried to serve God, he seemed to have been "plagued" with troubles, and even punished under God's discipline on his life (verse 14). So he thought that it was in vain and for nothing that he had tried to live with a clean heart and his hands innocent of evil done against others (verse 13). Life seemed hard for a God-fearing person and easy for those who disregarded God. This feeling can make the believer full of bitterness. But we need to remember that the Holy Spirit does not use bitter people, and we must take the words of Psalm 37:1-3 to heart. c. It was a temptation to his spirit. It was hard to understand the ways of God and to persevere in serving God. In particular he was tempted to be jealous of the wicked when things seemed to go so well with them (verse 3). This will always be the difficulty of those who make the mistake of thinking of goodness only in terms of pleasurable experiences. With the psalmist in Psalm 34:1-2 we have to say, "I will bless the Lord at all times" and under all circumstances. God is good, absolutely good, and he gives what is truly good to those who love him. There is dangerous error in holding to a 'prosperity theology' which expects material blessings in direct proportion to good conduct or religious activities such as giving or church attendance.

How faith wins through

As the psalmist faced this challenge to his faith in God's goodness, he decided on two things. First, he would not talk about his doubts in a way that could hurt others and cause them to stumble (verse 15). It is a mark of Christian maturity to use one's tongue wisely, to encourage rather than discourage others (see Proverbs 12:18). While it is healthy to share our burdens openly with others for prayer and counsel, we must be careful not to discourage others with an attitude of grumbling and complaining. Second, though it was so hard to understand (verse 16), he would seek the presence of God in the "sanctuary", and ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance (verse 17). The New Testament teaches us to see Jesus Christ as a Friend who understands perfectly, and whose invitation is, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). We can cast our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). This is the kind of way in which the psalmist found an answer to the problems he had in his mind, to his feelings of hurt, and to the temptation to go the wrong way.

a. The answer for his mind. In the presence of God he saw things more truly as they were. He realised that the end of evil-doers was not a happy one. He could see many examples that showed him that their path ran through "slippery places" and ended in trouble (verse 18). They had no lasting strength (verse 19). They were just like a dream that fades away when a person wakes up (verse 20). In the presence of God who is righteous and just the psalmist realised that evil could not endure. It is only temporary because real "power belongs to God" (Psalm 62:11). He came to be assured of this, and said to the Lord, "Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you" (verse 27).

b. The answer for his feelings. When he turned his thoughts from God to dwell on the imagined prosperity of the wicked, he became very upset. When he turned his thoughts back to God he found peace, and could say, "I am continually with you; you hold my right hand" (verse 23). God's presence and support would never fail him. In times of great weakness God would be the strength of his heart and his richest possession (verse 26). Because he could say that there was no one like the Lord among spiritual beings in heaven, he could also say that nothing and no one on earth was to be desired more than him (verse 25). All through life he could ask God to guide him and in the end know that he would be received in glory (verse 24).

c. The answer to his temptation. He realised also that when he listened to the temptation to be jealous of wicked people, he was utterly foolish. He was totally wrong to be bitter (verse 21). He was "stupid and ignorant", more "like a brute beast" than a person made in the image of God, a child of God (verse 22).

When the psalmist met the test of faith like this, and dealt with his jealousy and envy and bitterness, he finished up with the faith with which he began, "God is good -- to the pure in heart". So he made three resolutions (verse 28): a. It is always "good to be near God". b. "I have made the Lord God my refuge", and will continue to trust him. c. I see so much of God's wisdom and love and power that, even though there are things I do not fully understand, I will tell others of his "works".

Meditation "Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, --- trust in the LORD, and do good" (Psalm 37:1 and 3).

For further thought and study

a. Read Malachi 3:14-15 and compare the feelings of the prophet there with what the psalmist expresses in this psalm. How does Malachi 3:16-18 give an answer to what both prophet and psalmist felt? b. How does Hebrews 12:3-11 give a wiser understanding of God's disciplining of our lives than the psalmist's thinking in verse 14?


1. All of Psalms 73-83 and also Psalm 50 are from an Asaph collection (see what 1 Chronicles 25:1-8 says of Asaph).

2. There are a number of places in the Psalm where the meaning of the Hebrew is not completely clear, and this accounts for different translations. The New International Version translates verse 10 more literally, "their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance", perhaps meaning, as the Jerusalem Bible puts it, people "lap up all they say". The second part of verse 20 may mean that the person who has a dream wakes from it and realises that it was just a dream that he had, or it may be, as the New International Version has it, "As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies".

3. In verse 24 it is not certain whether the psalmist is speaking of the future in this life when God will receive him "with honour", or whether he has hope of life after death, as is expressed in some of the Psalms. The New International Version translation is "afterward you will take me into glory".