Preparation for Advent: Scratching My Head, Asking the Hard Question: “Why Isn’t God Fair?” Asaph’s Song Psalm 73

Psalm 73Revised Standard Version

BOOK III

Plea for Relief from Oppressors

A Psalm of Asaph.

73 Truly God is good to the upright,
    to those who are pure in heart.[a]
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant,
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs;
    their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as other men are;
    they are not stricken like other men.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness,
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.

10 Therefore the people turn and praise them;[b]
    and find no fault in them.[c]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken,
    and chastened every morning.

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have been untrue to the generation of thy children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I perceived their end.
18 Truly thou dost set them in slippery places;
    thou dost make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 They are[d] like a dream when one awakes,
    on awaking you despise their phantoms.

21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant,
    I was like a beast toward thee.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee;
    thou dost hold my right hand.
24 Thou dost guide me with thy counsel,
    and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory.[e]
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee?
    And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength[f] of my heart and my portion for ever.

27 For lo, those who are far from thee shall perish;
    thou dost put an end to those who are false to thee.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all thy works.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

If God is good, shouldn’t we receive more of the Abundant things in our life?

If God is so good, shouldn’t God have given Nimrod and his people an equal opportunity to complete the Tower of Babel, become the envy of the world?

Reality is, How high could they have actually built it before the limits of their primitive technology was reached and the Tower would come crashing down?

When it then had inevitably come crashing down around them and at their feet, would they not have then learned on their own of their folly and not tried again?

Cannot mankind be trusted enough to learn these valuable life lessons on their own – making great efforts to succeed, failing and failing quite badly, even to the point of catastrophic failure, then learning from the mistakes on their own?

1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

Psalms 73:1-2

I remember reading several years ago a young man named Jason Brookins, a Green Bay Packer made a huge mistake.

He misinterpreted his teams request for his playbook.

Jason thought the request was their way of telling him he was cut from the team so without saying a word to anyone, he turned in his playbook, he jumped in his car, filled up the car with gas, began the long drive to his home in Missouri. He was so despondent that he turned off his cell phone and no one could reach him.

But, as with many such stories like this one which are all over social media, his perception was wrong.

Eventually reached by the team at his parents home, the team told him they had no such intentions of releasing him. His name was on a short list asking for him to turn in his playbook so that it could be updated in time for the next practice.

It is so easy for anyone to get out of touch with what is real, what is not. When we lose our perspective of reality, we can say and do some pretty crazy things.

Our perception of reality will always affect our response to reality.

Today, I sit and wonder if some of us, during this holiday season may have lost, or have actually our spiritual equilibrium as a result of some faulty perceptions.

One of the ways we can have a faulty perception of reality is by not having all the information and that includes the facts about life, what is fair, what isn’t.

One of the major issues for all people, in all cultures, societies, backgrounds and times is the inequities of life – Life is not very fair therefore God is not very fair.

Today I would like to introduce you to the 73rd Psalm.

It is important enough that I would like you to quite literally open your Bibles to it, then actually read it and its 28 verses out loud to yourself into a mirror today.

See if by reading it into a mirror, looking at yourself, you do not find yourself identifying with the author Asaph – his heart, soul, his feelings, his emotions.

Insert the thought into your head:

“Life is not being very Fair with me, therefore God is not being very Fair with me.”

I would also would like for each of you readers out there somewhere in the world to get out a new pen and to use a notebook to take down some notes.

The 73rd Psalm was written by a man named Asaph.

We don’t know a lot about him but we an say he was a mature, godly man who served as the worship leader in the temple. Asaph wrote 12 different Psalms.

He was a man of God yet here in this psalm we read of a men who was ready to hand in his worship book to the chief priest, turn around and head for home. He almost walked away from life because his perception of reality was “mixed up.”

This psalm is very personal, and filled with gut-wrenching honesty.

In it Asaph asks the question many of us have asked at one time or another:

If God is supposed to be a just God, and bless believers, why do we struggle with health, finances, and relational turmoil while the unbelievers around us seem to enjoy prosperity? Or, we could ask it this way, why are the wicked so successful, while the righteous, good hearted among us seem to disproportionately suffer?

Asaph begins with an introduction, a summary statement, and a theological conclusion all wrapped up in verse 1:

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”

Asaph is stating the universal premise for the believer: God is good.

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h389/rsv/wlc/0-1/

The word surely literally means “indeed,” “yet” and also has the idea of exclusivity: “No matter what happens, God and God alone is indeed good.”

While we can surely, indeed and yet count on this certainty, its also, at the same time, indeed and yet, at the very crux of Asaph’s understanding of the problem.

“If God is so fair and even more just, should not we at least have that many more blessings in life than those who do not even bother to care about God?”

The Human Perspective

After stating what he knows is ultimately true, Asaph looks around and from a human perspective wonders what is going on in the first half of the psalm.

Asaph was exceptionally bothered by what he had been taught in Scripture because what he had experienced in the course of life was radically different.

In verse 2, he admits that he had almost slipped.

This verse stands in stark contrast to the certainty of verse 1: But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

God, you might be good, but I almost bailed on you.

Asaph felt like he was trying to walk on moss-covered rocks in a lake.

He came very, very close to losing his confidence in God’s goodness because of four things which he observed and tried very hard to understand around him.

The Prosperity of the Wicked

3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Psalms 73:3

Verse 3 tells us why Asaph almost went spiritually AWOL:

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

The word “arrogant” comes from a root word that means a loud and clear noise.

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h1984/rsv/wlc/0-1/

The idea is that a proud person is one who toots his own horn real loud. It is also used of incessant, ceaseless, nerve fraying, ear – splitting, braying of a donkey.

Notice that Asaph is not upset with the arrogant or the wicked, he is being so jealous of them. He wants what they have. But actually this goes much deeper.

The word “prosperity” does not do justice to the original term: shalom.

This word is pregnant with meaning for the Old Testament believer.

The root of shalom is completion or fulfillment and was often used to describe the deepest peace, wholeness, harmony and physical well-being. The word is used as a greeting today but it is really a blessing asking God for a good life.

It is obvious that Asaph just does not quite perceive this, “feel this,” in the moments when his emotions were so deep and the Psalm was being written.

Why would the wicked have everything which was only promised to God’s covenant people?

For Asaph, it does not seem the least bit fair at all.

He is doing what many of us do when we make judgments based only upon what we believe we see. His perspective is on the present, maybe forgotten the future.

The Peace of the Wicked.

4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong

5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Psalms 73:4-5

In verses 4-5 Asaph wonders why life seems so good for those who have nothing to do with God:

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from the burdens common to man; they are wealthy, they are healthy, immune from any enemies and they are not plagued by human ills.

They perpetually live in the fast lane but they do not seem to crash and burn.

Their life appears painless and easy.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

“Those who so richly deserve the hottest hell often have the warmest nest.”

The Pride of the Wicked

6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.

8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.

9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.

11 They say, �How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?�

12 This is what the wicked are like� always carefree, they increase in wealth.

Psalms 73:6-12

As Asaph looks closer, he sees the unbeliever has no need of God in verses 6-12.

The very people who are often the most prosperous and live the most peaceful lives are also those who are the most arrogant.

They do not need any extra jewelry because their pride glitters like an expensive necklace.

They think very highly of themselves and very little of others.

Verse 7 says that they have no limits.

They have all the time, money, and influence to do whatever they want.

These prideful people make fun of believers in verse 8 and even speak against God in verses 9 and 11.

Their pride has taken them so high that they look down on God and on God’s people.

Verse 10 indicates that this boasting and scoffing has a powerful impact on those who are trying to follow God.

Verse 12 gives a summary of what the wicked are like: Always carefree, they increase in wealth.

Let’s admit something today.

Many of us secretly look up to those who are famous and financially secure.

Many more of us look angrily with great disdain on those who are famous and those who are financially secure far beyond what we perceive is reasonable for one or two persons to have in one lifetime – when there is great hunger about.

We are jealous of those who seem to live and thrive without boundaries, of those who can so arrogantly do whatever they want, whenever they want.

Some of you teenagers who I pray are reading this, are angrily wondering right now if following God, the Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit is really worth it.

Asking in their hearts and souls: “Why should I or anyone else live for God, Jesus or Holy Spirit when our friends seem to be doing all right without Him?”

Asking from deep within their own hurting hearts and traumatized souls: “why God?” “why Jesus?” or “why Holy Spirit?” with so much inequality everywhere.

The Self-pity of the Righteous.

13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.

14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.

Psalms 73:13-14

In verse 13, Asaph basically believes that there is no advantage to holy living.

He is starting to tune out spiritually when he writes: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.”

From a human perspective, there seems to be little reward for righteous living.

The Living Bible puts it this way: “Have I been wasting my time? Why take the trouble to be pure?”

In verse 14 Asaph wonders why he is being beat up upon while the prideful are prospering.

He turns to self-pity as he describes the emotional deluge that has come over him: “all day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”

His afflictions last all day and when he wakes up the next morning, there is a boatload of new problems waiting for him to nag and wear away at his soul.

At the end of verse 14, Asaph is filled with turmoil, confusion and despondency.

What begins as envy in verses 2 and 3 results in agonizing self-doubt.

The Unfairness of it All.

15 If I had said, I will speak thus, I would have betrayed your children.

16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.

Psalms 73:15-16

16 Asaph responds to these feelings in a number of ways that are important to us to remember when we are depressed, tired, weary, and feeling the pressure.

The first thing he does is to remember that he is part of the community of faith and that he must be careful what he verbalizes: If I had said, I will speak thus, I would have betrayed your children.

He could not talk to others about his doubts because it would have done more harm than good.

Asaph is concerned for spiritual infants.

He doesn’t want to do anything to lead them astray so he chooses to keep quiet.

If he had spoken openly about his deep doubts he would have betrayed younger believers by introducing ideas which, deep within his heart and soul, he knew weren’t true because they were incomplete – they were absent the Grace of God.

Proverbs 17:28: Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

This is admirable but it does not solve his dilemma.

His second approach is equally futile.

Verse 16 says, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.”

Keeping things inside only made him want to explode.

He was miserable because he could not talk to others and he was overwhelmed because he could not figure it out on his own.

From the Trial of God to the Triumph of God

17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Psalms 73:16-17

As we come to verse 17 we see a noticeable shift in Asaph paradigm as he goes through a reality check.

In the first half of the psalm, he is viewing life from a human outlook.

In the second half, he reframes his understanding of reality by looking at heaven viewpoint.

The first section of the Psalm deals with the trial of faith, and the last part of the Psalm addresses the triumph of faith.

We can delineate the difference this way:

Trial of God (2-16) vs. Triumph of God (17-28)

Focus on self Vs. Focus on God

Locked into present vs. Longing for the future

Slipping away vs. Secure forever

What is it that changes everything for Asaph?

The same thing that will transform our perspective: worship.

Verse 17 is the hinge point of the psalm: “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”

I really like how the Message translates this:

Then I understood the whole picture.

When we just look at those around us, and when we judge God according to our own experiences, we can never have the whole picture.

Everything is put into proper perspective when we go into the presence of God.

The prosperity of the wicked had filled up his vision, but from now to the end of the psalm, God Himself, the God of the sanctuary, becomes his #1 focal point.

The word sanctuary is plural and refers to holy places. In the Old Testament, the sanctuary was a set place with certain regulations about how to approach God.

According to the New Testament, God has now taken up residence within believers. 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

We do not have to make a pilgrimage to a special spot in order to enter the holy place but it is important to have some places where you can meet with God and gain an regain His perspective again.

If we don’t gaze at God, we will default to our human perspective and end up becoming envious, jealous and bitter.

God’s point of view is understood when we meet with Him in His Sanctuary.

When we are reminded of His attributes, His character, and His power, we see, experience both God’s judgment of sin as well as His solution offered to sinners.

It was only in the sanctuary of God that Asaph could understand the precarious predicament of the wicked and the sweetness of God’s grace and mercy in his own life.

The mysteries of life only make sense in the presence of the Majesty of God.

One of the results of revering God is that instead of focusing on the present, we are transported to eternity.

It is only then we can fully maximize, completely appreciate the gravity of a final eternal destiny apart from God.

When we look at life through the eyes of eternity, we will see four things:

The Ruin of the Wicked.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.

19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!

20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

Psalms 73:18-20

In verses 18-20, Asaph’s reality is reframed as he is finally able to see that God has placed the wicked on a very slippery ground. In verse 2, he felt like he was sliding away, but now he recognizes that unbelievers will be cast down to ruin.

Slippery ground originally referred to a piece of polished marble that was very slick.

From heaven’s perspective, lost people will lose their footing and have a quick ride to the bottom.

The word “ruin” was used of a desert or an area decimated by a storm.

When God’s judgment comes, unbelievers will be wiped out.

Verse 19 is the destiny of those who do not know Christ: How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!

Friends, listen carefully. Instead of jealously longing for the things that lost people have, we should have a holy horror about where their final destiny is.

Verse 20 warns us that they are living a dream, or a fantasy, that will eventually turn into a nightmare.

Judgment is real and we should not try to sugar coat the awful truth of eternal punishment.

It’s important to remember that people often get things majorly turned around.

We think that when a person dies that they leave the land of the living and go to the place where dead people go.

When we come into the sanctuary of God, we see that this is the land of the dying, and when we take our final breath here, we go to the land of the living.

The Repentance of the Righteous

21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Psalms 73:21-22

In verses 21-22, Asaph owns up for his myopic vision:

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”

The word “grieved” is used to describe the expanding, bubbling nature of yeast as it works its way through bread.

It is also used of vinegar, which helps to describe his expanding and sour attitude toward God when he looked at life through his human glasses.

His spirit was bitter, which can literally be translated, “my kidneys were sharp with pain.”

When he wanted what the wicked had, he was being eaten up on the inside.

When controlled by bitterness, Asaph behaved like an animal.

He uses a term for a grazing animal that lives with his head hunched down, seeing only the grass, and never looking up to observe the sky.

Like an animal out to pasture, so Asaph was viewing things only from a human perspective.

One of the things that separate us from brute beasts is that animals cannot contemplate the future; they live only in the present.

When Asaph looked only at the here-and-now, he was like an ornery ox that had and quite literally desired no concept of any eternal realities.

The Rewards of the Righteous

23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalms 73:23-26

I love the first word of verse 23: “Yet”

After confessing that he was bitter, senseless, and ignorant, he immediately recognizes that God has not cast him away:

“I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”

This verse delineates two rewards:

God’s presence and God’s protection.

God is always with us, no matter what we do, or think. And, He holds on to us.

We are His possession. 

Isaiah 41:8-10 RSV:

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you,
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Psalm 73 Verse 24 describes two more rewards:

God’s guidance and God’s glory:

“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

God promises to counsel us and lead us through life. And, then when our time on earth is finished, He will take us into glory. We can forever rest in God grip.

We can 100% rely on His guidance and we can reflect on the glory to come.

In Psalm 73 verse 25, Asaph is finally at the point where God has always wanted him to be:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

If you an I cannot say this with integrity today, then our perspective is more human than heavenly.

Until you and I can get to the point of saying, “God, you are all I want because you are all I need, then we are going to wonder why life does not seem fair.

Is God all you need and want?

Is God all I need and want?

Is God all the Body of Christ needs and wants?

No matter what happens to you, to me or to the church, or what we each see in others, are we able to declare with Holy Spirit conviction, we’re 100% satisfied in God, with God, in Jesus, with Jesus, and in Holy Spirit, with Holy Spirit?

Asaph knew nothing was more valuable than what he already had in God.

Do you?

Do I?

Does the Body of Christ?

In Psalm 73 verse 26, Asaph can say that no matter what happens to him, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

The word “strength” means, “rock.”

As a Levite, he knew all about a portion because his livelihood was dependent upon the tithes and offerings of God’s people (much like pastors today).

This portion, can also be translated as his “allotment” or “inheritance.”

While his present needs are taken care of through people’s faithful stewardship, his eternal inheritance is rock solid because God Himself is His 1000% portion.

Ultimately, no matter what happens to him, God Almighty is his max allotment.

Can you, I, the Body of Christ say what Habakkuk declared in Habakkuk 3:17-18?

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Heavenly Perspective: The Responsibility of Believers

27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

28 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.

Psalms 73:27-28

Asaph concludes by saying he’ll fulfill two key responsibilities of every believer.

First, he will stay near to God.

Look at the first part of verse 28:

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge…

Since genuine happiness, genuine Shalom is only found in a close relationship with God, it only makes complete sense for us to get as close to Him as possible.

His nearness is “good,” which means, sweet and pleasant.

Asaph has learned first-hand that the greater our nearness to God, the less we will be affected by the attractions and distractions around us. 

James 4:8: Come near to God and he will come near to you.

Will you draw near to Him right now?

Will I draw near to Him right now?

Will the Body of Christ, the Church, draw near to Him right now?

Our second responsibility is to tell others about God.

We see this in the very last phrase of the psalm: “I will tell of all your deeds.”

Before Asaph worshipped he concluded that it was not worth it to follow God.

He was filled with envy and decided to not tell other believers about his doubts.

Please do not miss this connection.

As long as he was discontented with God he could say nothing at all.

Envy is the enemy of evangelism.

But in the second half of the psalm he reaches a different conclusion.

Once he sees the final destruction of the wicked he no longer craves what they have and now he can speak from a place of genuine and joy – filled – Shalom!

Listen carefully.

Many of us do not or will not tell others about Jesus not because we do not know how but because somewhere deep down in our hearts and deep in our souls, we do not really genuinely believe what we have is better than what others have.

Worldliness is devastating to our witness because we secretly desire to be more like lost people than we desire that they come to an eternal relationship in God.

We want what they have more than we want them to have what is ours – Christ!

One of the best motivators for evangelism is to come into the presence of God and allow Him to shift your paradigm.

Think of the people you go to school with.

Think of your immediate family, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and friends who do not know, accept, Jesus Christ as their Lord and their Savior.

Are you somehow even .01% attracted to their lifestyle?

Do you wish you could do the same things they do?

Do you wish you could have their toys?

When you, I, the Body of Christ, the Church, look in the mirror, read, pray this long and absorbing text from Psalm 73 through, take a long look at eternity,

Do we ask ourselves this question:

Where will we be when the finality of God’s judgment lands on us with a thud?

Not Home Yet?

Not Home EVER?

Hmm …..

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Truly you are good dear Lord.. your mercies are new this morning.. great is your faithfulness.. I praise you.

Purify my heart Lord.. keep my feet from stumbling and make my steps sure.. cleanse me of envy, arrogance and wickedness.

Help me to see life from your perspective Lord.. open up my eyes to the true riches of life.. give me a humble heart and drive pride far from me.

Forgive me for speaking foolish and hurtful words.. cause my mouth to speak nothing but good things.. guard my speech from foolish words and divisive chatter.. give me the desire to encourage and lift others up.

Infuse the earth with the knowledge of the Most High.. cause the wicked to understand your goodness.. bring them to repentance dear Lord.

You have given meaning to my life Lord.. all else ends in vanity.. nothing else can make my heart clean.. you are the only one Lord.. your blood is sufficient.

I remember that time when my soul was embittered.. when I was troubled in heart.. when I was brutish and ignorant.. when I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless you saved me from a dark future.. you have kept me continually with you.. you hold my right hand.. you guide me with your counsel.. and after death you will receive me to be with you forever.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but you God are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

It has been good to be near you Lord.. you have been a blessing of refuge to me.. I will tell of all your sweet works in my life.. there is no one like you.

Glory be to you Lord Jesus! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen

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