Have you ever felt envious of the wicked? Have you ever felt like bad people are living the good life while good people are struggling. Ever wonder if it was really worth it to try to follow God? In Psalm 73 Asaph honestly admits his frustration at the prosperity of the wicked.
With Psalm 73 we begin Book 3 of Psalms. Book 3 is the darkest of the five books in Psalms. Psalm 73 is a Wisdom Psalm that engages themes similar to those found in Ecclesiastes and Job. It is attributed to Asaph, one of the worship leaders during the time of David.
I am always surprised by the complexity of the psalms. I used to think they were just simple ancient poems. But now I realize the amazing complexity and beauty of these wonderfully creative works of art. It is hard to even begin to capture all the creativity in this psalm so this will be a little longer post than normal.
The psalm divides into two parts based upon the direction of address: the first part, verses 1-17, is spoken to people, the second part, starting at verse 18, is primarily a prayer to God. The meaningful center is found at the center of the chiasma (see below) and captures the struggle of the psalmist.
For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. Psalm 73:14-15
In addition to the meaningful center of the psalm as a whole, each of the parts appear to have their own meaningful center. Verse 9 captures the attitude of the wicked:
They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Psalm 73:9
And verse 23 captures the attitude of the psalmist at the end:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. Psalm 73:23
The psalm begins with what appears to be a short proverb and the rest of the psalm is a commentary on this proverb. This commentary is developed as a chiasma - the thoughts mirror themselves from the middle outward.
I Envied the Wicked (Psalm 73:2-3)
The Wicked (Psalm 73:4-9)
Does God Notice? (Psalm 73:10-12)
Righteousness Is in Vain (Psalm 73:13-14)
Then I Met God (Psalm 73:15-17)
Their End Is Sudden (Psalm 73:18-20)
The Righteous (Psalm 73:21-26)
I Rejoice in You (Psalm 73:27-28)
I Envy the Wicked
The first verse appears to be a proverb, or at least an accepted truth, that becomes the topic of the psalm.
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. Psalm 73:1
Then immediately after stating this "truth", the psalmist essentially says, "It doesn't look that way to me!" The rest of the psalm is Asaph's struggle as he tries to reconcile the apparent conflict between this proverb and his own experience.
Here is the problem: if God is good to the pure in heart, why does it look like the wicked prosper more than the righteous?
In these verses Asaph describes the prosperity of the wicked.
- They have no troubles.
- They grow fat and proud.
- They speak arrogantly towards God and others.
They Think God Doesn't See
Asaph concludes his description of the wicked: they have it so good that they don't even think God notices their evil actions. It surely looks like they are the ones who have it "good".
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. Psalm 73:12
My Righteousness Is in Vain
While the wicked flourish, Asaph says, "I am stricken." It is worse than useless to try to be righteous.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. Psalm 73:13
We are reminded of Ecclesiastes, where the Preacher says, "vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:1)"
Why bother trying to be pure if the wicked get all the good stuff in life?
Then I Met God
We have reached the middle of the chiasma (mirror) and now Asaph responds to each previous section in reverse order.
He knew his conclusion in the last section was evil but he couldn't figure it out. "It seemed to me a wearisome task." (Psalm 73:16)
But everything changed when he began to worship.
When he meet God in worship he had a vision of the end of the wicked and suddenly he knew it was not all in vain.
Their End Is Sudden
A change of address signals that we have entered Part 2. The first part was all directed towards the people. The attention now changes from talking to people to talking to God.
These verses respond to Psalm 73:10-12. The wicked may think God doesn't notice, but in reality justice is coming and it will be sudden! When God "awakens" it will all come crashing down. It may not be today, it may not even be here on earth, but they will pay for their sins.
The wicked are living on borrowed time and at any moment it could come to an end.
Asaph continues to mirror what he said earlier. Now he responds to Psalm 73:4-9, where he talked about the prosperity of the wicked.
The wicked may be arrogant, but Asaph realizes he was foolish and did not understand. What didn't he understand?
Yes, the wicked do seem to experience "good", if we see it as temporary health and wealth and pride of life. But it will soon be gone. The righteous, on the other hand, experience something so much better - eternal life - a life spent in the presence of God.
This contrast is not only seen in the chiasma but also in the contrast between Psalm 73:18-20 and Psalm 73:23-24. The wicked stand on slippery ground, but the pure of heart have a solid foundation. God holds their hand, guides them and receives them into glory!
Asaph once envied the prosperity of the wicked but now, having seen God, all he desires is to live in God's presence. The things of earth no longer call to him.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. Psalm 73:25
Notice also the contrast between Heaven and Earth in in verse 25 versus Psalm 73:9. The wicked think they own earth and have nothing to fear from heaven. The righteous have nothing they desire on earth and find all they need in heaven.
I Rejoice In You
The psalm ends by returning to the beginning. The original proverb is true once we understand what it really means to receive "good" from God.
Asaph's Final Conclusion: The evil person will perish with nothing; the righteous will experience the good of being near to God forever. Therefore praise God!
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. Psalm 73:28
The reason we think the wicked experience good is because we define it incorrectly! Good does not equal health and wealth and pride of life. Good equals being near to God.
I think many, many Christians define "good" incorrectly and the consequence is confusion and anger toward God. They have their eyes on the earth and have completely missed the most important thing. They are asking God for more of the earth and wondering why they don't receive it.
God is not calling us to seek a better life. God is calling us to seek Him. He is the better life. He is eternal life.
What are you seeking? God or your own earthly pleasure?