Psalm 73:13
Truly I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence.
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Psalm 73:13-14. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, &c. — Hence I have been tempted to think, that religion is a vain and unprofitable thing; that “all my faith, my charity, and my devotion; all my watching and fastings, in short, all the labour and pains I have taken in the way of goodness, have been altogether vain and fruitless; since, while the rebellious enemies of God enjoy the world and themselves at pleasure, I, who continue his servant, am in perpetual tribulation and affliction.” — Horne. True religion is properly and fully described in this verse, by its two principal parts and works, the cleansing of the heart from sinful lusts and passions, and of the hands, or outward man, from a course of sinful actions. And although it be God’s work to cleanse the heart, yet he says, I have cleansed it, because every pious man co-operates with God’s grace in cleansing his heart. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1. And washed my hands in innocency — That is, kept my hands (the chief instruments of action, and, consequently, the rest of the members of my body) innocent and pure from evil practices. I have washed my hands, not only ceremonially with water, wherewith hypocrites satisfy themselves, but also morally, with the waters of God’s grace and Spirit, in innocency or purity. For all the day long I have been plagued, &c. — While their ungodliness hath been attended with constant prosperity, my piety hath been exercised with continual afflictions.73:1-14 The psalmist was strongly tempted to envy the prosperity of the wicked; a common temptation, which has tried the graces of many saints. But he lays down the great principle by which he resolved to abide. It is the goodness of God. This is a truth which cannot be shaken. Good thoughts of God will fortify against Satan's temptations. The faith even of strong believers may be sorely shaken, and ready to fail. There are storms that will try the firmest anchors. Foolish and wicked people have sometimes a great share of outward prosperity. They seem to have the least share of the troubles of this life; and they seem to have the greatest share of its comforts. They live without the fear of God, yet they prosper, and get on in the world. Wicked men often spend their lives without much sickness, and end them without great pain; while many godly persons scarcely know what health is, and die with great sufferings. Often the wicked are not frightened, either by the remembrance of their sins, or the prospect of their misery, but they die without terror. We cannot judge men's state beyond death, by what passes at their death. He looked abroad, and saw many of God's people greatly at a loss. Because the wicked are so very daring, therefore his people return hither; they know not what to say to it, and the rather, because they drink deep of the bitter cup of affliction. He spoke feelingly when he spoke of his own troubles; there is no disputing against sense, except by faith. From all this arose a strong temptation to cast off religion. But let us learn that the true course of sanctification consists in cleansing a man from all pollution both of soul and body. The heart is cleansed by the blood of Christ laid hold upon by faith; and by the begun works of the Lord's Spirit, manifested in the hearty resolution, purpose, and study of holiness, and a blameless course of life and actions, the hands are cleansed. It is not in vain to serve God and keep his ordinances.So in Shakespeare, Richard III:

How fain, like Pilate, would I wash my hands

Of this most grievous, guilty murder done!

And make my hands never so clean - Or, rather, should I cleanse my hands with lye, or alkali. The word בור bôr, means properly purity, cleanliness, pureness; and then it is used to denote that which cleanses, alkali, lye, or vegetable salt. The ancients made use of this, mingled with oil, instead of soap, for the purpose of washing, and also in smelting metals, to make them melt more readily; see the note at Isaiah 1:25. The Chaldee renders it accurately, באהלא - in soap. I have no doubt that this is the sense, and that Job means to say, if he should make use of the purest water and of soap to cleanse himself, still he would be regarded as impure. God would throw him at once into the ditch, and he would be covered with moral filth and defilement again in his sight.

Psalm 73:13Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain - That is, There is no advantage in all my efforts to become pure and holy. It does not assist me in obtaining the favor of God; and it would be just as well to live a sinful life - to indulge in the pleasures of sense - to make the world my portion. Nothing is to be gained by all my painful efforts at self-discipline; by all my endeavors to become righteous. It would have been as well for me - or better - if I had lived a life of sin like other people. The righteous obtain from God fewer blessings than the wicked; they have less happiness and less prosperity in this world; they are subjected to more trouble and sorrow; and to all else there must be added the struggles, the conflict, the warfare, the painful effort "to be" pure, and to lead a holy life, all of which is now seen to be of no advantage whatever. Such thoughts as these were not confined to the psalmist. They are thoughts which will start up in the mind, and which it is not easy to calm down.

And washed my hands in innocency - That is, It has been of no use that I have washed my hands in innocency. The word "innocency" here means "purity." He had washed his hands in that which was pure; as, pure water. To wash the hands is emblematic of innocence or purity. See the notes at Psalm 26:6.

13, 14. The Psalmist, partaking of these troubles, is especially disturbed in view of his own case, that with all his diligent efforts for a holy life, he is still sorely tried. Hence I was sometimes tempted to think that religion was a vain and unprofitable thing, at least as to the happiness of this life, which yet God had promised as a reward to piety. True religion is here fitly and fully described by its two principal parts and works, the cleansing of the heart from sinful lusts and passions, and of the hands, or outward man, from a course of sinful actions, And although it be God’s work to cleanse the heart, yet he saith,

I have cleansed it, because every good man doth co-operate with God’s grace in cleansing it. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:1 7:1.

Washed my hands in innocency, i.e. kept my hands (the great instruments of action, and consequently the rest of the members of my body) innocent and pure from evil practices. I have washed my hands, not only ceremonially with water, wherewith hypocrites satisfy themselves, but also morally, or with the waters of God’s grace and Spirit, innocency or purity. Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain,.... Which supposes that his heart had been unclean, as every man's is, and which appears by what is in it, and by what comes out of it; that it was now cleansed, not in an absolute and legal sense, as if it was wholly free from sin, for this no man can say; but in an evangelical sense, being purified by faith in the blood of Christ; that he had himself some concern in the cleansing of his heart, which seems to be contrary to Proverbs 20:9 and besides, this is the Lord's own work, Psalm 51:10 wherefore this may be considered as a wrong and rash expression of his; for as he was wrong in one part of it, its being cleansed in vain, so he might be in the other, in ascribing it to himself; though it may be allowed, consistent with what is before observed, that a believer has a concern in the cleansing of his heart; for, being convinced of the impurity of it, he owns and laments it before the Lord; and, seeing the fountain of the Redeemer's blood opened, he applies to it, and to him for cleansing; and expresses a love unto, a great and studious concern for purity of heart as well as life; and, under the influence of divine grace, is enabled to keep a watch over it, whereby, through the same grace, it is preserved from much pollution; and by fresh application to the blood of Christ, is cleansed from what it daily contracts:

and washed my hands in innocency: that is, "in vain", as before; which denotes the performance of good works, a course of holy life and conversation, which when right springs from purity of heart; See Gill on Psalm 26:6, now the psalmist under temptation concluded that all his religion and devotion were in vain, all his hearing, and reading, and attending on ordinances, all his concern for purity of heart and life; since those who showed no regard to these things prospered in the world, and increased in riches, abounded in ease and plenty, and seemed to be rather the favourites of heaven than religious men; and this temptation was strengthened by the following observation.

Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
13. Verily] The same word ak as in Psalm 73:1. R.V. Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart. If the wicked prosper thus, his endeavours after holiness have been wasted. There is no reward for the righteous: nay (Psalm 73:14) his own reward has been chastisement. He would not have claimed to be sinless any more than Job (cp. Job 20:9), but he has a good conscience. For the second line cp. Psalm 26:6. The metaphor is derived from the ceremonies of the Levitical ritual. See Exodus 30:17 ff.; cp. Deuteronomy 31:6.Verse 13. - Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. Such was the psalmist's first instinctive feeling, when he noticed the prosperity of the wicked. The Prayer book Version inserts, between this verse and the last, the words, "and I said;" which is correct, though somewhat free, exegesis. Compare with the expression, "I have washed my hands in innocency," Job's remarkable words, "If I wash myself with snow, and make my hands never so clean" (Job 9:30). The reading עונמו, ἡ ἀδικία αὐτῶν (lxx (cf. in Zechariah 5:6 the עינם, which is rendered by the lxx in exactly the same way), in favour of which Hitzig, Bצttcher, and Olshausen decide, "their iniquity presses forth out of a fat heart, out of a fat inward part," is favoured by Psalm 17:10, where חלב obtains just this signification by combination with סגר, which it would obtain here as being the place whence sin issues; cf. ἐξέρχεσθαι ἐκ τῆς καρδίας, Matthew 15:18.; and the parallelism decides its superiority. Nevertheless the traditional reading also gives a suitable sense; not (since the fat tends to make the eyes appear to be deeper in) "their eyes come forward prae adipe," but, "they stare forth ex adipe, out of the fat of their bloated visage," מחלב being equivalent to מחלב פּניהם, Job 15:27. This is a feature of the character faithfully drawn after nature. Further, just as in general τὸ περίσσευμα τῆς καρδίας wells over in the gestures and language (Matthew 12:34), so is it also with their "views or images of the heart" (from שׂכה, like שׂכוי, the cock with its gift of divination as speculator): the illusions of their unbounded self-confidence come forth outwardly, they overflow after the manner of a river,

(Note: On the other hand, Redslob (Deutsch. Morgenlהnd. Zeitschr. 1860, S. 675) interprets it thus: they run over the fencings of the heart, from שׂכה in the signification to put or stick through, to stick into (infigere), by comparing קירות לבּי, Jeremiah 4:19, and ἕρκος ὀδόντων. He regards משׂכית sdrag and mosaic as one word, just as the Italian ricamare (to stitch) and רקם is one word. Certainly the root זך, Arab. zk, ḏk, has the primary notion of piercing (cf. זכר), and also the notion of purity, which it obtains, proceeds from the idea of the brilliance which pierces into the eye; but the primary notion of שׂכה is that of cutting through (whence שׂכּין, like מחלף, a knife, from חלף, Judges 5:26).)

viz., as Psalm 73:8 says, in words that are proud beyond measure (Jeremiah 5:28). Luther: "they destroy everything" (synon. they make it as or into rottenness, from מקק). But חמיק is here equivalent to the Aramaic מיּק (μωκᾶσθαι): they mock and openly speak ברע (with ā in connection with Munach transformed from Dech), with evil disposition (cf. Exodus 32:12), oppression; i.e., they openly express their resolve which aims at oppression. Their fellow-man is the sport of their caprice; they speak or dictate ממּרום, down from an eminence, upon which they imagine themselves to be raised high above others. Even in the heavens above do they set (שׁתּוּ as in Psalm 49:15 instead of שׁתוּ, - there, in accordance with tradition, Milel; here at the commencement of the verse Milra) their mouth; even these do not remain untouched by their scandalous language (cf. Jde 1:16); the Most High and Holy One, too, is blasphemed by them, and their tongue runs officiously and imperiously through the earth below, everywhere disparaging that which exists and giving new laws. תּהלך, as in Exodus 9:23, a Kal sounding much like Hithpa., in the signification grassari. In Psalm 73:10 the Chethb ישׁיב (therefore he, this class of man, turns a people subject to him hither, i.e., to himself) is to be rejected, because הלם is not appropriate to it. עמּו is the subject, and the suffix refers not to God (Stier), whose name has not been previously mentioned, but to the kind of men hitherto described: what is meant is the people which, in order that it may turn itself hither (שׁוּב, not: to turn back, but to turn one's self towards, as e.g., in Jeremiah 15:19)

(Note: In general שׁוּב does not necessarily signify to turn back, but, like the Arabic ‛âda, Persic gashten, to enter into a new (active or passive) state.))

becomes his, i.e., this class's people (cf. for this sense of the suffix as describing the issue or event, Psalm 18:24; Psalm 49:6; Psalm 65:12). They gain adherents (Psalm 49:14) from those who leave the fear of God and turn to them; and מי מלא, water of fulness, i.e., of full measure (cf. Psalm 74:15, streams of duration equals that do not dry up), which is here an emblem of their corrupt principles (cf. Job 15:16), is quaffed or sucked in (מצה, root מץ, whence first of all מצץ, Arab. mṣṣ, to suck) by these befooled ones (למו, αὐτοῖς equals ὑπ ̓ αὐτῶν). This is what is meant to be further said, and not that this band of servile followers is in fulness absorbed by them (Sachs). Around the proud free-thinkers there gathers a rabble submissive to them, which eagerly drinks in everything that proceeds from them as though it were the true water of life. Even in David's time (Psalm 10:4; Psalm 14:1; Psalm 36:2) there were already such stout spirits (Isaiah 46:12) with a servûm imitatorum pecus. A still far more favourable soil for these לצים was the worldly age of Solomon.

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