In the weeks leading up to today, I have wondered if I ought to skip Psalm 73. After all, I’m studying this psalm in depth with a group of ladies from my church, using a book that has been written on the same. A question arises in my mind: What can I say about Psalm 73 that I have not gleaned from this study? But when the moment came that I had to decide for sure whether or not to include Psalm 73 in my blog, another thought came to me: Why not tell my readers what I have gleaned from this study? After all, if it has benefitted me—and it has—then perhaps it will benefit you as well. And perhaps you’ll want to get a copy of the book for yourself. At the end I’ll tell you the name and where to find one.
A Psalm of Asaph
The writer of this psalm was a man named Asaph. I can identify with him on many levels. He was a musician. I am a musician. Not only was he a musician, but he was a chief musician, a choir director of sorts. I have served as director for women’s choirs, children’s choirs, teen choirs, and even assisted in the leading of the church choir and worked closely with the church choir director. And Asaph got discouraged.
1 Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
What a wonderful opening line for the psalm! And it is so true! Yes, God is good to Israel. God is good to those who are of a clean heart. God is good. Period.
2 But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
Oh, Asaph! “God is good—but…” Have you said that? I have. God is good, but I don’t feel it. God is good, but where is He? God is good, but I am so lonely. God is good, but life is so hard. God is good, but….
3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
This is not how things were, but how he perceived them to be. Do you ever look at your neighbors as they take their boat out to the lake of a Sunday morning and wish you could sit back and enjoy life the way they do? Does it look as though they are always laughing and having a good time while you are always working and never getting ahead?
6 Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. 7 Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.
They wear their pride conspicuously, like a gaudy necklace. They are conceited to the point of an insensibility to the needs of others, and this attitude surrounds them like a garment. They are full to the brim with all the provisions they could hope for. They are the proverbial “guy who has everything.” At least, that is the way they appear to Asaph.
8 They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. 9 They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
These people have no regard for God or God’s people. They deride religion. They have no use for God. God, in their opinion, did not help them when they were in trouble, nor did He take them to the top of society. They got there on their own, without His help, so they have no need for Him.
10 Therefore His people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. 11 And they say, “How doth God know?” and “Is there knowledge in the most High?” 12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. 13 Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
God’s people look upon the pride and prosperity of the wicked in wonder and disbelief, shedding tears, and asking, “How can it be that God sees all this and yet allows it to go on? Why should the ungodly prosper while I, who faithfully serve God every day, must do without? It’s not fair. It’s not worth it. I might as well quit.”
15 If I say, “I will speak thus,” behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
Up to this point, Asaph had kept his doubts to himself, and he feared that if he voiced them, he might shake the confidence others had in God or betray the faith of those who had gone before him. Obviously, he did make his thoughts public when he wrote this psalm, but not until after he had fully processed them and God had resolved the conflict in his heart. In that manner, he could identify with others who were experiencing the same the secret doubts and yet at the same time offer them hope.
16 When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.
These thoughts troubled him deeply, and still he kept them to himself. And then Asaph turned to the one source for truth—God alone. He went to the house of God, and God opened up his eyes.
18 Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down into destruction. 19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. 20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when Thou awakest, Thou shalt despise their image.
It may seem as though the ungodly have it made in this life, but oh, the end is coming for them, and it is not a pretty one! Someday they will have to answer to God for the choices they made, most of all for their choice to reject Him as their God.
21 Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. 22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before Thee.
When Asaph remembered what awaits the wicked in eternity, suddenly he was ashamed that he had been envious of them at all. The pleasures they have are momentary at best. They are fleeting, fickle, and shallow. Asaph is far better off to suffer a little now and to be eternally rewarded in heaven.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand. 24 Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
So what if life isn’t perfectly comfortable? Better to live in a cottage with God than in a palace without Him. Asaph learned this and rejoiced that he was continually in the presence of his Maker. God held him by his right hand, a symbol of strength. God guided him with counsel and promised him a home in Glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. 26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
At the beginning of the psalm Asaph longed for companionship. Now he realizes that in Jehovah he has everything he needs. When he is physically weak, God is there to strengthen him. When he is emotionally weak, God is again there to strengthen and sustain him. You and I have the same confidence.
27 For, lo, they that are far from Thee shall perish: Thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from Thee.
God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. However, He gave each of us a free will, and many will choose to reject Him. As a consequence, they will perish—not because God wants it that way, but because it has to be that way, because man made his own choice. To worship any other God besides the one true God is to commit spiritual adultery.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Thy works.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. I picture two lovers on the sofa, each one snuggling close to the other. When there is nothing between you and the Savior, the fellowship is sweet, just like that. You want to be close to Him, and He to you. You draw strength, warmth, energy from His presence there next to you. And there is mutual joy. Yes, we have joy in the Lord, but did you know that He also takes joy in us?
Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God in the midst of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing.
Asaph turned his frown upside down when he recalled how rich he was in the things that money cannot buy. He got a right perspective on both life and eternity when he took his eyes off his circumstances and put them back on God. And best of all, he kept his secret doubts between himself and God alone until they were fully resolved, for he knew that only God had the answer anyway.
If you wish to pursue a more in-depth study of this psalm, I encourage you to purchase a copy of the book Secret Doubts by Dr. Tim Zacharias. It is organized into twelve short chapters that guide you through the process of overcoming secret doubts. Each chapter concludes with some thought-provoking questions which you may use to dig deeper into God’s Word either on your own or collectively in a small group setting. Having experienced secret doubts himself, Dr. Zacharias wrote the book to help others find their way Scripturally through tough times. I am not being paid to endorse the book; I just like it well enough to want you to have one too. It has encouraged me, and I know it will do the same for you.
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Photo taken in Sapphire Valley, NC, 2011