Asaph, one of the musicians in King David’s court, writes a beautiful psalm–Psalm 73. It is a wonderful psalm. It is a psalm that brings its reader into his realm. His thoughts are deep and they are telling. They tell us how we, too, can fall into the same trap that Asaph almost fell into. He points out two thoughts that I think are very relevant for each of us today. First, he lets us know that sometimes we look upon the wrong people. Second, he tells us how we ought to fix ourselves upon our Savior.
We sometimes look upon the wrong people. 73:1-14
Asaph first acknowledges who God is. His character is that of goodness. Everything that God is and does is good. There is never a time when He is not good and Asaph knows this to be true. God is good to those who are pure in heart. Who are the pure in heart? They are the ones who are free from being in a state of sin and guilt. The reason for this freedom is because of the goodness of God who has shown His grace, His mercy, and His willingness to save His people. Those who are pure in heart are not pure based on what they have done, but it is purely based on the One who is good, and that is God alone.
Even though Asaph knows this goodness of God, he admits to almost falling into temptation. He says that he did not allow himself to stumble but came close to it–he caught himself before he fell. His self-control was waning because he began to lose sight of the goodness of God that he knew. What was the temptation? To look and admire those who were boasting and prideful in themselves and the wealth they enjoyed. Jealousy began to swell inside of him and he asks God this question: “Why should the people who oppose God be better off than those who trust Him?” It is an age-old question that many have asked. Sometimes this question is asked this way: “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?”
As Asaph looks on these arrogant ones, his thoughts digress to the point that the believes they do not even feel pain when they die as others do. They do not struggle like mortals who are suffering and being afflicted all day long. And what seems even more disconcerting to Asaph is the attitude of these boasters–the wicked. He thinks they should at least–to some degree–show a smidgen of gratitude and a dash of humility for all the blessings they have. But this is not the case. Rather than boasting in God who has blessed them, they boast in themselves using words that destroy, being violent and malicious, and even brandishing their pride as though their pride was a chain around their necks. Instead of being grateful, they turn their wicked words against heaven, meaning they turn their wickedness toward God asking of Him, “Does God even know what we are doing?” And in the ease of their wealth, these boasters pay no attention to God who has given them the ability to create, expand, and build wealth.
Asaph is conflicted. He’s conflicted within his soul because of the propserity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous. He gives way to his melancholy cry of despair. He is at the lowest point of his thoughts. While the wicked drink all day from a full cup that never appears to run out, Asaph feels as if he is plagued and afflicted all day long. He would be satisfied if he had been able to see the people of God doing as well as the wicked, but to no avail. His eyes were turned toward the wicked, the boasters, the arrogant, those who waged war against God.
We need to fix ourselves on our Savior. 73:15-28
He quickly changes his tune. Asaph overcomes his doubts by considering the very destiny that these boasters will inherit. It is not wealth they inherit, but rather it is misery. Asaph acknowledges his former thoughts and concludes how they and his words, had his own people heard him speaking in this way, would have damaged them and would have pulled them away from God. He realizes the pain it could have caused his people so he is now pained with his own thoughts of wanting to be like the wicked. And this pain is intensified as he considers their end. He comes into the sanctuary and right away he realizes the end of the wicked is the judgment of God against them. God will set them in dangerous places where they will stumble and fall, and they will come to a place of ruin and suddently be destroyed. The judgment bringing them to waste will come in a moment and destroy them, bringing sudden terror to them. When God finally sets things right, the wicked will be like fantasies, like dreams, counterfeits of reality. This is the negative aspect of the solution to Asaph’s temptation: he understands the destiny and judgment of the wicked and wants no part in it.
He now becomes convicted of his own glorious destiny. He confesses his perspective had been dulled by his own bitterness. It pierced his spirit deeply and grieved him. It was as if stinging pains had infiltrated his soul and he was pained by the sourness of his thoughts. He admits he became senseless toward God and did not realize just how his feelings were affecting his thoughts. He feels stupid for looking upon the wrong people and feels as if he becomes animal like by wanting what they have instead of remembering the goodness of God.
Asaph now recognizes his true position before God. He is always with the Lord because the Lord has a firm hold of his right hand. He will never be let go even in the midst of the struggles he faces with feelings and false thinking. God brings Asaph with Him and leads him in the right way. He leads him all the way into glory and good favor with Him. He convicts Asaph of the temptation and almost allowing himself to fall into sin. God loves His people and shows them His goodness so they do not rely upon themselves but upon Him. Asaph acknowledges that God is his only possession in heaven and earth. There is none like Him and he desires no other. He knows that his strength comes from God who cares deeply for him even when he is weak.
He then closes this psalm with chilling words. As a reminder to his readers, Asaph speaks of those who are far from God. What will happen to them? They will perish. These are the wicked–the boasters, the arrogant–who betray or desert anything having to do with God. These wicked will cease to exist as we know them and will be silenced. As they continue to prostitute themselves through idolatry of the wealth they have, the violence with which they have clothed themselves, with the pride hanging around their necks, God will surely come upon them in fierce, quick judgment.
But Asaph’s confession, confidence, and reassurance is that God is keeping him secure. Nearness to God always helps believers maintain a balanced perspective on material things and even on the wicked. The nearness of God is good because God is good in perfection without limitation. Asaph has made the Lord his refuge, his shelter from the dangers of becoming a boasting, arrogant, wicked person. As his shelter, he turns to others and speaks of God’s wonderous works: His work of creation; His work of giving life; and, His work of redemption.
What does God’s work of redemption look like today? It works in the same way that it always has. His good work of salvation comes through the Person and Work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised again according to the Scriptures. All who turn to Jesus Christ, seeking the forgiveness of sins, who believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, and who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord, shall be saved! This is what the Bible teaches us. This salvation is the good work of God. This salvation is the shelter form danger for all who believe. This salvation is the nearness of God in every believer’s life.
Asaph knew that looking upon the wrong people would bring him down to ruin, but when he fixed himself upon his Savior, he ended up having the proper perspective.