29 August, 2016

Psalm 73:4-12—“… Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches”

For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches (Ps. 73:4-12 KJV).

Psalm 73 is sometimes appealed to in support of the contention that the prosperity of the wicked is due to God’s grace to them and must be viewed as divine blessing.

Donald Macleod is one such theologian who makes use of this text in support of common grace. After quoting the passage, he states: “God does not deal with defiant man as he deserves, but grants him many blessings, even to the extent that the prosperity of His enemies causes His people to ask whether God knows what He is doing (Psalm 73:11)” (Behold Your God, Christian Focus Publications, 1990, p. 119).


Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 68, issue 19]

[Psalm 73] demands that the present prosperity of the wicked be viewed in light of the eternity to which it leads. “… then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation …” (vv. 17-22).

Is it a favorable attitude of God towards the wicked that sets them in slippery places with their prosperity to slide smoothly into eternal hell? Is the abundance of earthly things that constitutes God’s casting of the ungodly into destruction a blessing?

God spare me and my loved ones this grace and blessing! 

As the Ekronites cried out when the lords of the Philistines sent the lethal ark of the covenant to them, “They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people” (I Sam. 5:10), so would a sane man cry out when he was threatened with the prosperity of Psalm 73, “God has sent us these riches to destroy us! Take them away!”

[Is it properly to be called] grace that sets someone in a boat on a sure course down the river that plunges over Niagara Falls, even though the splendid boat is loaded with dainties and fine wine? Would he call the pleasant journey a blessing?

What is still worse about [this erroneous] interpretation of the prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 73 is its clear and necessary implication that the present affliction of God’s Israel is divine curse coming to them in God’s wrath. If grace is in things themselves, not only are riches and health blessing for the ungodly but also poverty and sickness are curse for those of a clean heart.

The Psalmist could be thankful that God did not send him a common grace theologian as a comforter in his affliction. Being plagued all the day and chastened every morning, while seeing the ungodly prosper in the world, caused his feet almost to be gone and his steps nearly to slip. To have had a common grace theologian “comfort” him by assuring him that God in this life blesses the ungodly in His grace, while cursing the godly in His wrath would have done the Psalmist in.

In fact, however, also the adversity of the godly must be viewed in light of the eternity which it serves: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (v. 24). Adversity as well as prosperity comes to the child of God in this life as blessing in the favor of God, working his good. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

The grace of God is not in earthly things. Grace is in the attitude of God towards a man and in His covenant friendship with a man, regardless of things: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand … there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (vv. 23-26). The truth about the temporal suffering of the beloved and elect church is stated in the opening words of the Psalm: “Truly God is good to Israel.”

The truth about the temporal prosperity of the reprobate ungodly is expressed in verse 27: “For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.”

Psalm 73 is not a passage to appeal to in support of the teaching that the good gifts of God to the wicked are common grace. On the contrary, the Psalm gives the deathblow to the theory.



Rev. Martyn McGeown

It is absolutely true that the reprobate wicked live in a world full of God’s gifts. Asaph writes about that in Psalm 73. Looking around, he witnesses the prosperity of the wicked: “Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (v. 12). Worse than the prosperity of the wicked is the adversity of the righteous: “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (vv. 13-14). It seemed to Asaph that God favoured the wicked and that their prosperity was “grace” to them. Such a thought drove Asaph almost to despair: “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (vv. 2-3). How did Asaph retain his spiritual sanity? Not by subscribing to “The Three Points of Common Grace”—that might have driven him over the edge!—but by considering the purpose of God in the prosperity of the wicked: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction” (vv. 17-18). The prosperity of the wicked is God’s sovereign, inscrutable way of placing the ungodly on a slippery slide by which He brings them down into hell. “Good gifts”—certainly! “Abundant prosperity”—absolutely! “Common grace”—by no means! Asaph’s conclusion is clear: “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (v. 1). Asaph knows that God is good only to Israel, that is, only to those who are of a clean heart. The child of God needs to know that for his own comfort. Common grace advocates rob the child of God of that vital consolation. If God’s favour is found in prosperity and the child of God suffers adversity, the child of God’s feet will slip when he hears of “common grace.”

… A brutish man does not know this, and a fool does not understand this (v. 6). The modern advocate of common grace does not understand it either. Asaph confessed his brutishness and folly in Psalm 73, when he was temporarily bewitched by the prosperity of the wicked: “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee” (v. 22).



More to come! (DV)

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