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Even though he questioned the value of his innocence, the writer’s perspective is changed when he entered into worship. The wicked are not as prosperous has he once thought (73:18-20). The writer knew his feet were in danger of slipping when he became envious, but the wicked are in a slippery place as well, in ignorance! Because they trust in their wealth and power, they are in the most insecure place imaginable. The prosperity of the wicked is compared to a dream. It is not real and substantive, it is merely a vapor which will pass away when morning comes. The wicked are “unreal” or even naturally unstable, liable to fall at any moment.
We might think it strange that this new perspective might come out of a worship experience since we do not really sing worship songs about the damning of the wicked. This is true in the psalms, however. Assuming the writer did engage in the liturgy of the temple, then there is a strong possibility that he would have sung some of the Psalms which reminded him that God is a righteous judge and would punish the wicked.
The writer’s change in perspective is also seen in his self-evaluation (73:21-24). Like most people who have “come to their senses,” he feels a bit foolish. he calls himself senseless (only in Pss 49:11, 73:22, 92:7, Prov 12:1, 30:2, parallel to foolish, etc.), he compares himself to an animal which has no reason or wisdom at all. In saying this, he is not deprecating himself out of a false humility. Worship has taught him what he really is (a child of God) and his understanding of the way things really are in this world will be driven by that worship experience.
He recognizes that God is always with him, holding his hand as a parent with a small child. The reason a small child can walk or play with confidence is the knowledge that the parent is nearby and watching over them. The psalmist is describing himself as a small child who simply needed to be reminded that his loving parent is keeping watch nearby.
This is a child-like faith, but it is not a simple, unquestioning faith. In this psalm the writer has expressed very grave doubts about God’s justice in the world, perhaps even the ability of God to keep his promises. He has critically evaluated both the world and his faith, and returned to an honest faith in the God who is very near.
The writer’s changed perspective is also seen in his renewed commitment to be near to God (25-28). The last two verses of the Psalm returns to the theme of the first, “But for me, it is good to be near God.”
The writer’s commitment to God is based on God’s presence in his life. He is always with me, he is near. This is an expression of God’s persistence. The image of a young child is particularly good because a parent has to work pretty hard to watch over a child all of the time. A parent must be persistent, since the moment you let your guard down there is going to be crayon on a wall or a spoon in the light socket.
This also expresses God’s sufficiency. God is all that the writer needs; as it turns out, he does not need to envy the prosperity of the wicked since God has given him all that he needs, he is able to be completely satisfied in the presence of God. What more on earth could there be to satisfy me compared to true fellowship with God?
As it turns out, the proverb in 73:1 is correct. The one who is pure in heart is near to God, the external circumstances of the individual do not matter, whether they are wealthy or in poverty, whether they are in good health or suffering greatly. True shalom, the peace which the covenant speaks of, is to be found in nearness to God and only in nearness to God. Conversely, it is a fearful thing to be far from God, as are the wicked. Their apparent prosperity in the present time is nothing, it is in fact not real prosperity at all.
Ironically, in the end, misery is to be far from God, while true shalom is to be near to God.
Like Job and Jeremiah, the writer of Psalm 73 wonders if there is any value to being “pure in heart.” This should not be understood as arrogance, the writer has done what he believes to be all that he can to approach God in the proper way. He claims to be both pure and innocent.
If the proverb in 73:1 is true, then the person with a pure heart ought to be the most blessed because the Lord is near. He says he has “washed his hands in innocence.” This probably alludes to proper ritual purity. He has followed the rituals as commanded and is able to wash his hands, declaring his innocence. Compare the Psalmist’s claim to be innocent to Psalm 26:6 and Isaiah 1:15-16. In both cases, the writer is simply expresses his belief that he has done what God wanted him to do, he believes that he is “near” to the Lord.
It is possible to see this as an extremely self-centered prayer – “Why was I pure? What did it profit me to behave this way throughout my life, if the end is to suffer in silence while the wicked prosper?” Derek Kidner described this psalm as “pathetically self-centered” (Psalms, 260). This is the attitude of the older brother in the prodigal son story, and it is possible it is a thought many of us have had, although we may not allow it to rise to the surface too often for fear of our response!
The writer has a legitimate question. Despite being pure, he is plagued and punished daily. Both of these words are associated with judgment. To be plagued is often a violent punishment, the second word is nearly always used for correction or reprimand. The writer is basically saying, “if I am pure in heart and ceremonially pure as well, why am I being punished every day?” Either the writer is not as near to God as he thinks (and the proverb is true), or God is not near to those who are pure in heart after all, and the proverb is false.
He knows if expresses his doubt, he will betray the “children of God.” This is perhaps a hint that the writer is in some sort of leadership role, others are looking to him for answers, how he expresses his doubts will have an effect on the children of God who come to him for spiritual guidance.
It is not wrong to wonder and question, it is wrong to cause others to sin. The writer is therefore struggling with his doubt that the covenant actually works, that being pure in heart has any value at all, and he is wondering seriously if it might not be a better idea to live a life of arrogant wickedness if there is not value to his purity.
The solution to the problem is found in worship: no understanding is found until “I entered the sanctuary of God….” This verse is the key turning point in the psalm. When the writer enters into worship, his perspective changes. Notice the contrast in verses 16-17. “When I tried to reason this thing out on my own, it was oppressive to me.”
This human attempt to understand God’s working in the world is radically changed when he entered into worship – he began to focus on God and God alone. In doing so, he saw his suffering and the prosperity of the wicked from a different angle altogether, but he also saw his own suffering from God’s viewpoint as well.
The fact that our writer enters into the temple to worship ought to be at least some confirmation that he does have a pure heart and innocent hands, since these are the requirement for approaching God’s holy hill (Ps. 24, again).
Genuine Worship is therefore critical to our understand of God and his relationship with the world.
The psalmist confesses he has envied the wicked because of their prosperity (73:2-3). In doing so, the writer expresses what many people are afraid to admit, he is honest before God in a way which distresses the ordinary Christian. This embarrassing openness allows us to explore the issue of the prosperity of the wicked.
The writer uses a metaphor for his doubt – he nearly slips. Sure footing is a common metaphor in the wisdom literature for a wise person, the person who is protected by the Lord (Ps 17:5, 37:31, 40:3, 44:19 73:2, Job 31:7, Prov 14:15). This is very similar to Job’s description of his own righteousness, his feet have never “turned from the path.”
The reason for this doubt is envy, or jealousy of the wicked. Envy and jealously really do not need to be described since they are so common in human interaction. Frequently in the Bible envy ends up in violence. Envy of the wicked is also a common theme in the wisdom literature; the wise person does not envy the wicked, nothing good can come of envy (Ps 37:1, Pr 3:31, 23:17, 24:19).
The focus of his envy is the “prosperity of the wicked.” The word for prosperity in this verse is shalom, commonly used for peace, but the word covers a wide range of meaning. It is a word which describes things as they are intended to be. It is not just that the wicked have made money and bought large houses for themselves while the psalmist is poor and lives in a hut – the wicked person is in a state of shalom, a state which he believes is not proper. The writer ought to be in the state of shalom, not the arrogant, wicked person.
When the psalmist describes the wicked, his point is that these are not the sort of people who ought not be enjoying a state of shalom at all. Each line might be expanded with parallels to the psalms and proverbs, but the following summarizes the description.
The wicked do not suffer. The word in verse 4 translated “struggles” by the NIV is rare, used here and in Isaiah 58:6 where it has the connotation of injustice. The wicked do not experience the sort of hassles that the righteous seem to face daily. The next line refers to physical suffering. Verse 12 describes them as “at ease,” a word some commentators translate as “always in luck” (See wlec;, HALOT).
The wicked are arrogant. “Pride as a necklace” is in contrast to Proverbs, where wisdom ought to be worn as an ornament. The whole section gives the impression of bombast (the word for pride in verse six is “roaring” like the sea.) All of their thoughts are wicked because their hearts are wicked.
The wicked mock God’s knowledge. These people do not deny God’s existence (noon in biblical times was an atheist), but they deny the God of the covenant knows about what they are doing. It is as if they know what they do breaks the covenant but they think that they are outside of God’s view. This is something like a child who thinks they can get away with something because their parents are not watching them at the moment.
So is the proverb in 73:1 true? Experience seems to say the proverb is not true at all, verses 2-12 demonstrate that the wicked prosper despite being far from God.
If this is true, what about the one with a pure heart? Why even bother with the effort of maintaining a “pure heart” if it results in punishment rather than prosperity?
The first line of Psalm 73 may have been a popular proverb at the time the Psalm was written. At the very least, it is a common theme in the Psalms. Those who are the true worshipers of God are pure in heart. In Psalm 24, for example, only those who have clean hands and a pure heart may ascend the holy hill of God (Ps 24:3-4). In Psalm 51:10 David famously asks God to create a clean heart and a right spirit within him.
But Psalm 24:5-6 goes on to say that the one who has clean hands and a pure heart will be blessed by God; they can expect that the blessings of the covenant will come their way. The converse of this would be that the one who is not pure in hear will not receive the blessings, but rather the curses of the covenant. A “pure heart” is therefore a way of describing a total commitment to God (Kidner, Psalms, 259).
This proverb reflects the covenant relationship which Israel has with God. In Deuteronomy God promised he would bless the nation when they kept the covenant and that he would punish them when they broke the covenant (curses and blessings). If a person did make a good-faith effort to keep the Law and followed the Law when they encountered impurity, then they ought to experience physical prosperity. God ought to give the good health and peace because they are “pure in heart.”
Is it really true that the Lord is good to those who are pure in heart? Is it really true that the Lord sends curses on the wicked? The Psalmist has some doubts about the truth of this proverb in the rest of the Psalm. This doubt is common: how many truly wicked (or exceedingly shallow) people are wealthy and powerful? How many people who have dedicated themselves to God’s work are poor and oppressed?
For me, I am less upset when an evil person succeeds than when a shallow, useless person succeeds. Like the Psalmist, I feel like shouting, “hey God, are you paying attention to these people? Read their twitter feeds and judge them with hellfire!”
If verse one is true on some sort of universal “proverbial” level, is it fair that a long time servant of God dies painfully with inoperable cancer when a mass murderer lives out his years in relative comfort? This is the issue the psalmist explores in Psalm 73.
Psalm 49 describes the fate of the wealthy. Wisdom literature in general has a great deal to say about the folly of relying on one’s personal wealth. Despite this, it seems like contemporary American culture (especially conservative evangelicalism) ignores the biblical associate of wealth and folly. I am tempted to inset a Donald Trump joke here, since there are far too many Christians who are fooled into thinking his wealth means he knows something about running a country (or worse, his wealth means he is blessed by God). If anything, American politics should demonstrate the truth of Psalm 49, reliance on personal wealth and power is folly.
The wealthy are described as cheating the worshiper. To “cheat” or “deceive” is the noun עָקֵב, the root behind the name Jacob. The basic meaning is “heel,” Jacob was the second of the twins born to Rebekah and was given the name “heel grasper” since he was born grabbing the heel of his brother. To “raise one’s heel against” another person is a threatening sign, Ps 40:10 uses this phrase to describe a betrayer, Jesus quotes that Psalm in John 13:18 to describe Judas.
These wealthy people trust in their riches (49:6). Rather than trusting in God, the rich are confident that they can weather any economic problems which come along. Remember Y2K? Some people stocked up on food and water “just in case.” If the worst possible things happened on that date, they could have “boasted” in their own preparedness, they survived because they earned it and deserved to survive.
The fate of the wealthy is the same for the poor, they will both die (49:7-12). Wealth cannot ransom a person from the grave. This line (v.7) begins with a rare interjection which is not in the NIV and is usually translated “alas!” The word (אָח) is a cry of pain, almost like a guttural scoffing noise. The syntax here is significant (infinitive absolute with an imperfect cognate, the same sort of construction in the famous “you will surely die,” Gen 2:17). The ESV uses “truly” to get at the meaning here, the point is the certainty of this not happening: “he most certainly cannot buy his way out of Sheol!”
People who boast in their wealth have foolish confidence (49:12-13). It is not wrong to have wealth, nor does this psalmist praise poverty. The problem is that people who have wealth place their confidence in the wealth, often to their shame. Wealth can disappear in an instant. Their confidence is described as “foolish” (כֶּסֶל). They are relying on something which is unreliable. Imagine if you had an uncle tell you that he was going to help you pay off all your debts because his new business was just about to make a huge profit. He is only waiting for his Nigerian contact to wire him millions….most of us would understand that this is relying on something which is foolish. Perhaps one of the reasons they have such high confidence in their wealth is that they have an entourage of people telling them what they want to hear! There are people following behind approving of their boats, giving more confidence to the wealthy person.
Wealth does not follow a person to the grave (49:16-17). The idea that one leaves their wealth behind when the die common in most cultures, “you can’t take it with you when you go.” This is a common theme in the Hebrew Bible as well (Ps 39:6; Job 27:16, 17; Eccl 2:18, 21, 26; Jer 17:11; cf. Luke 12:20). The wealthy used to name territory after themselves, but after they have died they will live in a bit forever without any hope of returning to the land they once claimed. All of the honor the wealthy expect will not continue after death. The ESV translates יְקָר as “pomp,” probably because the word is used to describe precious stones on a number of occasions (Jer 20:5; Ezek 22:25, Job 28:10). The word appears four times in Esther to describe the honor given to Mordecai when the king honors him. The wealthy expect to be treated with a higher level of honor simply because they are wealthy.
In summary, the writer of the psalm paints a realistic picture of the “rich and famous” foolishly relying on their wealth instead of the God who gave it to them in the first place. The riddle might be, “how can rich people be that stupid?” But before we quickly condemn the celebrities for being foolish, we need to recall that “wealth” is a matter of perspective. Everyone in our church is wealthy compared to the rest of the world – that we have shelter—multi-room homes with indoor plumbing and usually multiple toilets, heat and air conditioning, reliable electricity, cable TV, phone service, internet, etc.
While it is easy to condemn “those rich people,” it is quite easy for us to rely on our own wealth rather than look to the God who is the real source of our blessings.
How did a wisdom Psalm function as a worship song? Psalm 49 is an example of setting a wisdom theme to music, although these themes are not typically part of modern worship. When was the last time you heard a praise and worship song on the futility of wealth or the shortness of this life? This is true for traditional hymns or contemporary worship. There may be good theology in a song, but rarely is there anything akin to wisdom literature in a worship service.
Yet it is not clear how a worshiper would use this song as a part of Temple worship. Older commentaries assume wisdom psalms are late additions to the psalter, Mowinckel (1955) “posited a close relationship between a school of the wise and the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the post-exilic period which led to the production of wisdom psalms.” The main assumption is that wisdom as a genre is post exilic and completely separate from the religious life of Israel. Wisdom is a secular education, not a religious experience.
Our culture has many songs that can be described as educational (from the ABC song to song which set scripture to music, many folk songs have proverbial wisdom in a story format). Most songs we sing in church teach us things, even if we do not think of them as educational. There are quite a few hymns which are decidedly Calvinistic, or hymns which have the theme of the gospel clearly presented. This song is therefore worship, although it is worship that intends to develop wisdom in the heart and mind of the worshiper.
It is possible that the song was used for teaching people about the dangers of wealth. One of the most common themes in the Bible is the dangers of relying on one’s own wealth. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible have a great deal to say about the rich, they gnaw at the bones of the poor (Micah 3:1-3) or steal from the poor by seizing their property (Micah 2:1-2), or impose fines and taxes (Amos 5:11) or cheat them in the marketplace (Micah 6:9-12). This psalm stands in that same tradition, although the psalmist approaches the “problem of wealth” from the perspective of a wisdom teacher. He invites us to ponder a “riddle” about the wealthy in order to teach us something about our own relationship with our wealth
This is a worship theme which would never work in contemporary “praise and worship” music. Most of this music is about the worshiper’s relationship with God, and while some songs are about the Cross, most are about the warm feelings Jesus gives us or how he helps us through our troubles. I cannot imagine a song warning people to avoid accumulating wealth would be very popular on the P&W circuit. Not do I hear very many sermons about doing good things with wealth (usually sermons on money are thinly veiled plagiarisms of Dave Ramsey rather than preaching what the Bible says about wealth!)
Bibliography: Katharine J. Dell, “‘I Will Solve My Riddle to the Music Of The Lyre’ (Psalm XLIX 4): A Cultic Setting For Wisdom Psalms?” VT 54 (2004), 466.
Psalm 49 is a wisdom song with many similarities to both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom literature is primarily found in the books of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, although proverbs and “wise sayings” appear in virtually every book of the Hebrew Bible.
It is somewhat remarkable that wisdom routinely warns about the dangers of wealth (the theme of this Psalm). It is not that wealth in and of itself is wrong or evil, but that the person who is wealthy tends to be corrupted by that wealth, relying on their own resources rather than on the God who gave them their wealth in the first place. Since Solomon is the source for much of the wisdom thinking in ancient Israel, he is the perfect example of a man who was deluded by his own wealth.
The writer invites all people to hear his wisdom. He uses four words here which describe this type of literature.
Wisdom (חָכְמָה, ḥākmâ). This is the common word for wisdom and can have the sense of technical skill or “applied knowledge.” It is not enough to know how to do something (intellectual knowledge). To be wise, a person must apply that knowledge in some useful way.
Understanding (תְּבוּנָה, tebunah). Like wisdom, this noun can have the sense of skill of cleverness, often in the context of being quick to understand something. It is used of the craftsmen who worked on the Tabernacle (Exod 31:3, 35:31, 36:1). This understanding is the result of meditating in one’s inmost being, dwelling deeply on a subject until one has an understanding of it. The verb הָגוּת is only found here in the Hebrew Bible, but may be related to “sighing” or ‘rumbling.”
A proverb (מָשָל, māšāl). While Christians tend to think of a proverb as a short saying, the Hebrew word is used for a wide variety of types of literature, including parables. The point of a proverb is to cause someone to think or ponder the saying or story. The writer invites is to “incline an ear” to the proverb, a phrase which is akin to “let the one who has ears, hear.”
A riddle (חִידָה, ḥîdâ). This word sometimes appears in parallel to a proverb / parable, Ezek 17:2, for example. It is used for riddles in the modern sense (Judg 14:12-19, Samson’s riddle), but also for ‘hard question” (1 Kings 10:1, the queen of Sheba’s tests of Solomon’s wisdom). In fact, solving “riddles” is one of the qualifications of a wise man (Dan 8:23, describing Daniel’s abilities). The word is related to the verb “to lock up,” so it is appropriate that the writer says he will be “opening the door” on a riddle, that is to say, solving the riddle.
Wisdom in Psalm 49 is for all people. The writer claims to teach a universal principle of life which applies to all people at all times, not just the covenant people of Israel. This universal aspect of wisdom literature is why many Christians (and non-Christians) consider Proverbs their favorite book of the Old Testament.
In most Wisdom literature, the one who has hope in the Lord will succeed even if the wicked seem to prosper now. Psalm 37 describes the wise as “waiting for the Lord.” This refers to placing hope in the Lord to keep his promises of loving care for his people as well as rendering righteous judgment. The verb (קוה) refers to hope directed at a target, and “expectation of fulfillment” (HALOT). Perhaps “have confidence” is a better translation since this is an expression of certainty.
The wicked, on the other had, will fade from memory, while the righteous will endure forever. The foolish have “spread themselves out like a tree,” appearing prosperous. The noun translated as “green laurel tree” combines “native” (אֶזְרָח ) and “leafy” (רַעֲנָן). They were like a tree which is native to an area so that it flourishes and has thick leaves. Tanner suggests the wicked are doing well and “showing off” (NICOT, 352 n. 28).
Imagine if you planted a banana tree in your backyard in Michigan in August. It would be warm and humid enough for the tree to flourish for a while. You could even make your yard look like the banana plant belonged there, maybe landscape the yard to look like Hawaii. But what happens when fall comes and the temperature drops? Or when the snow starts? The banana plant will naturally curl up and die since it simply does not belong there!
In most of the wisdom literature, the fool appears to prosper for a time and eventually their foolishness catches up with them and they naturally are forgotten. Memory of their existence will simply fade away. It will be like they never were!
The righteous, on the other hand, will continue to dwell in the good land the Lord has given them. The Lord will continue to be their fortress of protection (v. 39) and he will continue to deliver them (v. 40). The Lord is like a mountain fortress (מָעוֹז) which is for the enemy impossible to capture.
Perhaps the hardest part of living out a life of wisdom as described by this Psalm is to not worry about the current state of the world. It is very easy to look at the way things are going in the world, this country, this state, the local politics of the our city or town, and think the whole world has gone wrong. This is not true, the world was always wrong! It is simply no worse now than it was when a sage wrote this wisdom psalm.
The Lord guarantees a future for the righteous, then ones who have committed to live in this good and safe pasture. The foolish have willingly wandered from that good place and do not enjoy the promises of the Lord. Ultimately, these foolish wicked will receive exactly what they have asked for and deserve.
So, do not fret! The wise person understands there is nothing in this word which has escaped the Lord’s attention and he will set things right. Our responsibility as the people of God in the present age is trust in the Lord’s sovereign lordship of this world and to rest in our certain knowledge he will judge fairly.
Do not worry about the wicked (v. 1-2). Fret and envy seem like two different ideas in English, although they are used parallel here in Psalm 37. To “fret” in Hebrew (hitpael of חרה) as the sense of burning with anger, a “passionate intensity, a consuming indignation” (Ross, 805, n. 28). Maybe a contemporary English equivalent would be “don’t get steamed about what the wicked are doing.” Beth Tanner (NICOT, 348) suggests, “Do not let your anger burn concerning the evil ones.”
The main reason the wise person does not need to worry about the wicked is their fate will soon overtake them. The whole Psalm will repeat the coming judgment of the wicked, here they are described as like the green grass. Considering a Middle Eastern background for the Psalm, the wicked are like the beautiful green grass that quickly grows after the spring rains, but as soon as the rains stop and the heart of summer comes, they fade away. Recall again Psalm 1, the wicked are like bushes in the desert, far from springs of living water. It is a simple natural fact people who appear to prosper in their wickedness will fade away in the heat of the coming judgment.
Rather than fret, the wise will trust in the Lord (v. 3-6). To “trust in the Lord” in this context means to trust God to sort out the difficulties of life. He will judge these wicked people who appear to be prosperous at the proper time.” Beyond trusting the Lord to sort out the unfairness of life, the righteous will delight themselves in the Lord. The verb translated “delight” (ענג, hitpael imperative) can have the sense of “pamper” or “refresh,” probably “take pleasure” in this context.
There are some things we tend to relish, whether a nice cup of coffee with a piece of fresh apple pie (you fill in your own personal favorite, this one is mine). These are not things we get all the time, so when he get them we take a great deal of pleasure in eating them slowly, savoring every bite. Perhaps there is a sense of jealous pleasure here as well, since if we really like the dessert we do not want to share even a bite with anyone else.
I think this is not the way most people think of their opportunity for communion with the Lord. Most Christians are not jealous of their time at church, or protective of their time in the Bible. There are few people I know who jealously guard their time at church, most try to find ways to avoid worship in the interest of “family time.”
Yet Psalm 37 says the righteous delight in the Lord because they are ultimately committed to him.
Allen Ross points out the psalmist does not compare his righteous heart to the wicked person. Most people would expect the writer to say “but not so me!” after this picture of the person who lives in total ignorance of impending doom. (Something like Godwin’s Law—as long as there are Nazis, I will always be righteous.)
Rather than compare his righteousness with the wicked, the Psalmist describes the Lord as the Ultimate Righteous One. To reject the deep, steadfast love of the Lord, is foolish indeed!
The Love of the Lord is Steadfast (v. 5). Steadfast love (חֶסֶד) of the Lord refers to his covenant faithfulness and loyalty his faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה) is honesty or trustworthiness. There is a great deal of rich theology in the Hebrew Bible based on the idea of God as loyal, his hesed toward his people is foundational for understanding much of the story of the people of Israel. God will be faithful to his promises despite human sin and rebellion. Sometimes the Hebrew Bible uses a marriage metaphor for this loyalty (Ruth, Hosea).
God’s righteousness (צְדָקָה) and judgments (מִשְׁפָּט) complement each other as well. God is wholly righteous in his character so that all his decisions are perfectly just. If he has decided to reward or punish, we can be assured his decisions are correct.
The psalmist compares God’s love and justice to the heights and depths of creation. These lines imply God’s character is built into the very fabric of creation—there is no place anyone can escape God’s love and justice! (McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” NIB 4:823). His love and faithfulness reaches to the skies and clouds, as high as the eye can see.
God’s righteous judgments reach to the “mountains of God.” This metaphor indicates God’s righteousness is like mountains which will not erode and pass away, they are permanent fixtures in the heavens.
The “great deep” (תְּהוֹם) refers to the bottom of the seas, the “primeval oceans” or the opposite of heavenly mountains. If the highest place in all creation is the “mountains of God,” then the ultimate lowest place is the deepest sea. Like other texts which contrast the highest heaven and the lowest place in sheol. The point here is that all of reality is infused with God’s righteousness and justice.
For many scholars, both God and “depths” evoke Canaanite mythology (Jacobson, 342, for example). El is the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, and the Hebrew word for depths is similar to Tiamat, the god of chaos. The Lord’s love and justice are so great they permeate creation, but they are also far greater than any of the gods worshiped by the nations.