A psalm of Asaph.
Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, ‘How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?’
This is what the wicked are like –
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.
Those who are far from you will perish;(Ps. 73:1-28 NIV)
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
This Psalm states clearly what we have been able to observe in the Psalms to this point. We have seen the lament brought into the presence of God and the perspective from the sanctuary changes the Psalmist’s mood. Here in v17 the Psalmist said
till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.(Ps. 73:17 NIV)
The Psalmist’s concern in this Psalm is with the appropriate response to evil and injustice in the world. It is a wisdom Psalm comparing the way of the wicked to the way of the righteous.
The Psalmist is looking back at a point when he had struggled with the prosperity of the wicked. He begins the Psalm by acknowledging that God is good to His people, to those who are pure in heart. He probably never abandoned that view, but there was a point in his life when he almost backslid. He describes this as his feet slipping and losing his foothold in life. He envied the arrogant and wicked when he saw how much they had prospered. He wanted to have what they had.
It is a wrong thought to have, but the lesson to learn is to bring these negative feelings into God’s presence. The Psalmist is concerned with the state of a person’s heart. He refers to the heart 6 times, v1 the pure in heart, v7 callous heart, v13 I have kept my heart pure, v21 my heart was grieved, v26 my heart may fail and God is the strength of my heart.
He almost failed but God had strengthened him. The cause of his concern was that the wicked seemed to get life very easy. They appeared to have no struggles, they enjoyed good health and lacked the common burdens and ills experienced by everyone else. Their prosperity and good life gave them a sense of pride. Through their hard work and tough decisions they gained exceptional wealth. It caused them to look down on others who they believed could also make it in life if they weren’t so lazy. They used violence to oppose anyone who got in their way. Out of their callous hearts they brought iniquity. Their conceitedness knew no bounds. They became so powerful that they decided what God was like. They despised the weak who believed in God. They got to where they are without God. They set the rules for what people could do, they threatened others and instilled fear in them. Many people admired these bullies and flocked to them, lapping up their every word. They have prospered unhindered, bullying their way to the acquisition of wealth for so long that they felt confident that God hadn’t a clue to what was going on. As a matter of fact, they went as far as saying ‘how could God know anything?’ They didn’t deny the existence of God, but they lived as practical atheists. Their business acumen has helped them and they didn’t need God, in fact God would probably have been a hindrance to them. They were accountable only to themselves, they made the rules and broke them if that suited them.
Meanwhile the Psalmist has been struggling with many trials and difficulties. He has lived keeping God’s law, trusting in God. Has it all been a waste of time? Was all the praying, reading, worshipping, all in vain? Has he wasted his life and opportunity by keeping his heart pure? The wicked have better homes, better food, more fun, more possessions and a better social life. In contrast the Psalmist has been plagued all day long and punished every morning. What is the point of it all? Serving God does not appear to be worth it. It is likely that it is his thoughts that are plaguing him, in particular the injustice of the haves and the have nots.
The Psalmist was glad that he had not previously shared these thoughts with the people of God, because that would have betrayed their faith in God and perhaps caused them to doubt. He had done his best to understand the prosperity of the wicked. Try as he may, it just tortured him as he could not find any answer, and his thoughts, and the ease of the wealthy wicked, just oppressed him. He was outraged by the injustice of it all.
He brought his questions, his emotions, his anxiety into the presence of God, into the sanctuary and that changed everything. Not quite! The wicked were still wicked, they still prospered. What had changed was that he was able to see things from God’s perspective. When he entered the sanctuary, he was able to grasp the final destiny of the wicked. Their prosperity and reign of terror is only for a little while. In righteousness the Lord will deal with them. They are the ones who are on slippery ground v18, not the Psalmist v2. The Lord had prevented the Psalmist from falling, but the wicked will be cast down to their ruin. Their end will be sudden and swift, they will be destroyed and swept away by the terrors of having to account to a holy God. The Psalmist had thought that the wicked had perpetual enjoyment, but now he can see that their existence is as brief as the existence of a dream once you awake. They are here today and gone tomorrow. The coming of God’s righteous judgement brings all things into perspective. The good life that the Psalmist thought the wicked enjoyed was a mere fantasy.
The Psalmist confesses his foolish thoughts. Yes he admits his heart was grieved and his spirit embittered. Allowing himself to slip into this state of mind was an act of irrational thinking. Not to be ruled by wisdom made him like an ignorant fool, behaving like a brute beast.
People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish.(Ps. 49:12 NIV)
People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.(Ps. 49:20 NIV)
The Psalmist had lacked understanding but thankfully he remembered enough to come before God in prayer. He starts to count his blessings. He is always with the Lord, and the Lord is always with him holding him by his hand. The Lord counsels the Psalmist, helps him to see things in proper perspective. God guides him now, and then afterwards will take him into glory. The glory is God’s presence, which the Psalmist enjoys now, but it is a mere foretaste of what is to follow. The glory of God changes the Psalmist, as he is able to live in the joy of the Lord. God is his supreme desire. Who else has the Psalmist got in heaven, or what desire on earth could compare with the Lord? He had desired the lifestyle of the wicked, but the glory of the Lord’s presence has corrected the desires of his heart.
His body may surrender to weakness, illness or death, his heart may finally beat its last, but God is the strength of his heart and his share and inheritance forever. Eventually our bodies will fail, but there is something that endures – the Lord will take us into glory.
To have allowed his heart to long after something that was perishable was wrong because it was temporary, and those who had these possessions were far from God and they would be destroyed. The Psalmist is not far from God but near to God, which is a good thing. It was wise to make the Sovereign covenant LORD his refuge. The Psalmist resolves to tell others that they too might know and be blessed.
Almighty Sovereign LORD we bow humbly before You, forgive us Lord for allowing many different thoughts to distract us from the glory of Your presence. We have overindulged in self pity and allowed our anxieties and disappointments to take up many hours of thinking and mulling over unwholesome thoughts. Lord help us to bring our thoughts and fear into Your presence that we may learn to have the proper perspective on that which is troubling our hearts. Lord be merciful to us and save us from ourselves, because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.