Psalm Seventy Three is the first of the next ten psalms written by Asaph. From the comments made in the first paragraph of Psalm Fifty, we will recall his rank and influence as David’s chief musician Psalm Seventy Three begins with the observation that God is always good to those whose hearts are pure, those whom are free of guile. But then what seemed contradictory in this life shook the psalmist’s faith. He observed that the wicked prosper while living and even dying, as though God was unaware of their evil. He was so shaken by the temptation to doubt God’s goodness and righteousness because of the prosperity of the wicked and the trials of the godly, that his faith was distressed.
“Truly God is good to Israel , even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:1-3).
The psalmist then went on to describe his observations:
For there are no bands (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. (Ps. 73:4-12)
These are the wicked rich, people who are full of arrogance and boastful speech. When they die they do not suffer in proportion to their wickedness, living in prosperity, dying in peace-a sinful life followed by a peaceful death. They are not gaunt and weakened by sickness and disease. They are unburdened by the common problems of humanity. They are exempt from afflictions. They view themselves superior to others and speak as if they own the heavens. They are completely unrestrained in what they say, destitute of sensibility, tenderness, or sympathy. Whatever they want, they get. The more the righteous think about it, the more perplexed they become, as though God cannot solve this problem of unrestrained wickedness-a problem that often emotionally wrings out the righteous. The question is asked: So is there any advantage in trying to live a righteous life? The righteous seem to receive fewer blessings than the wicked, and it appears useless to be innocent or pure.
“Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children ” (Ps. 73:13-15).
So different from the wicked was the psalmist’s lot in life that the wicked did not appear to have an idea of suffering. But the psalmist did not discuss these thoughts with others for fear that they too might lose confidence in God. Whatever might be his own doubts, he believed he had no right to fill the minds of others with distrust and misgivings about God.
“When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me ” (Ps. 73:16).
The impression that the wicked made upon the psalmist surely must have been due to the nature of his own faulty observation. The mental conflict he was experiencing bore heavily upon him, causing anguish and psychological pain. He had nearly found fault with the dispensations of Providence and began to think that the Judge of the whole earth did not do right. As a result, the moral order of the world seemed to be awry. God’s goodness in view of the existence of evil could not be answered in the mind of the psalmist. There were answers that had to be squared with the contradictions of life. How was enlightenment to be attained?
Enlightenment came about from spiritual understanding or revelation that resulted from a renewed contact with God. The psalmist now realized that his knowledge was defective, and God’s Way was unattainable by mere reason. Knowledge could be obtained only by a near approach to God.
The psalmist wrote: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Ps. 73:17).
It suddenly dawned upon the him that the vindication of God’s Way does not as yet arise from any indication that the wicked are not punished in this present life. Rather, it points to a future solution that far outweighs the present contradictions of this existence-a transcendent glory yet ahead for the righteous that far surpasses the attendant suffering now and which remains beyond man’s present vision.
The psalmist could now begin to conclude:
“Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image” (Ps. 73:18-20).
Prosperity, no matter how seemingly secure, is always in a condition of uncertainty, subject to downfall in a moment. Affluence can indeed be a slippery path. It is the end, therefore, that settles the entire difficulty. There is retribution to the wicked in this life, but with exceptions. These exceptions serve to perplex those who are without God. The righteousness of God proves the necessity of a final judgment. The fact is: God pays no attention to the acquisition of the so-called “dreams of life.” The affairs of eternity will be determined by the kind of character possessed by each man. This is what must be examined rather than what appears in this brief drama of life.
“Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand” (Ps. 73:21-23).
The psalmist now realizes how his foolishness and lack of understanding had soured him. His imperfect view about God had caused him much unhappiness. His pain had been self-afflicted, caused by his own reasoning instead of patiently accepting the providence of God. He had acted like an unthinking brute beast.
The revelation he had received and the regret he experienced gave him confidence that he would not be abandoned by God. In spite of all his doubts he had not forsaken God.
Thus he could say:
“Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand” (Ps. 73:23).
Now able to look beyond the present state of man, the psalmist could clearly see what lay ahead:
“Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Ps. 73:24-26).
With full confidence in God’s guidance and influence throughout the rest of his life, and in spite of his own shortcomings and foolishness, the hope of eternity was his motivation in life.
By contrast, the fate of the wicked is entirely different:
“For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee” (Ps. 73:27).
The psalmist concludes:
“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” (Ps. 73:28).
In brief, the experience and lesson learned by the psalmist is an object and beneficial example for all the righteous to follow. We can all profit for what was written in this psalm which serves to remind us to this day of the justice and righteousness of the living God.
” . . . Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed . . . ” (Jude 15).