Read: Psalm 73; Psalm 37
The problem dealt with in this Psalm is that the wicked prosper, while those who are righteous have trouble. This problem raises questions about God– His holiness, goodness, justice, and omniscience. David addressed the same problem in Psalm 37. Here the psalmist is Asaph, Son of Berachiah, one of the three leaders of music in David’s organization of the tabernacle service, appointed to sound the cymbals in the temple choir, a composer of sacred lyrics (2 Chronicles 29:13-30), and writer of Psalms 50 and 73 – 83.
Think About It: Compare Psalm 37 and 73. What are the similarities and differences in how David and Asaph approach the question of the prosperity of the wicked?
Prayer: That my feet do not slip because of envy or bitterness.
Read: Psalm 73:3 – 12
Asaph observed the following things which troubled him: v. 3 – the prosperity of the wicked; vv. 4 -5 – the wicked are fat and sleek, untroubled (while others are troubled); v.6 – as a result, the wicked are proud, and engage in violence; v.7 they are “fat and sassy”– their hearts overflow with follies, i.e. they keep dreaming up more stupid and foolish things to do; v.8 – 9, they sin with their speech: they scoff, speak with malice, threaten oppression, speak against the heavens (i.e., God Himself), and brag everywhere they go; v. 12 – the wicked are at ease and increasingly wealthy.
Think About It: According to Psalm 73:11, what might people conclude from observing the prosperity of the wicked? What are some examples of the problems noticed by Asaph in the world today?
Prayer: That never a trace of the pride, arrogance, folly, and scoffing of the wicked be found in my heart.
Read: Psalm 73:2, 13 -14; 94:18 – 19; Job 21:13 – 16
The real problem of Psalm 73 is not with the prosperity of the wicked, but with Asaph’s reaction: v.2 – almost stumbled, nearly slipped; v. 3 – envy; v. 13 – concluding it is not worth it to keep a clean heart and innocent hands; v. 14 – feeling stricken everyday and rebuked every morning — that is, having to face difficulties and hardships while knowing that there are wicked people at ease and growing richer made Asaph feel stricken by God.
Think About It: How would I counsel someone who feels that keeping a clean heart and innocent hands is not worth it? Have I ever felt the way Asaph felt?
Prayer: Lord, help me to keep faith that you are on my side and mean to bless me, even when I have to face great hardships.
Read: Psalm 73:15; Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 8:9
Asaph realized that speaking his observations and conclusions about the wicked would be a betrayal of God’s children. He did not want to cause anyone to stumble into the bitterness and anger he felt.
Think About It: Have my spiritual struggles ever become a problem for someone else? Has someone else’s bitterness or anger ever been a problem for me?
Prayer: That I might never be a cause for someone to stumble.
Read: Psalm 73:16 – 17; Revelation 20:10 – 15
Asaph finds the answer to his bitterness and anger over the prosperity of the wicked in God’s sanctuary, i.e., in God’s presence, in his relationship with God, in contemplating God. Asaph’s focus on prosperity of the wicked led to frustration and bitterness. Changing the focus to God, experiencing God’s presence, led to a revelation. As Asaph contemplated God, he began seeing the end of the wicked from God’s perspective. He began to understand that God was active in the destruction of the wicked: v.17 – there will be an end to the wicked; v. 18 – God sets them in slippery places, and God makes them fall to ruin; v. 19 – the wicked are destroyed in a moment, they are swept away by terrors (their end is not going to be pleasant); v. 20 – God despises them as phantoms; in other words, they will melt away like characters in a dream when we awake.
Think About It: Does it matter, in the long run, whether the wicked are punished and the righteous rewarded in this life, or in the next? Does anyone ever really “get away with” anything?
Prayer: Thank God for His righteous judgments.
Read: Psalm 73:21- 24
When Asaph made the focus of his thoughts the prosperity of the wicked, bitterness resulted. He became brutish towards God, like a dumb beast. If meditation centers on the anomalies, the apparent problems, the temporary inequities, then the result will be ignorance, anger, and bitterness. The answer for Asaph was to recognize God’s presence; God held his hand, even as he was sinking in bitterness and anger. Asaph received God’s guidance and counsel, and rejoiced in the promise of future glory. The answer to the problem of the prosperity of the wicked is in the future, when God will destroy the wicked and reward the righteous.
Think About It: Do my thoughts focus on problems, or on the presence of God?
What helps me to focus on God’s presence in my life? How can I do that more?
Prayer: Thank the Lord for holding my hand, guiding me, and giving me the promise of glory.
Read: From Matthew Henry’s commentary on Psalm 73, four biblical theodicies (defences of God):
Job – defends God based on God’s omniscience, Job 24:1 – “Times are not hidden from the Almighty.”
Jeremiah – defends God based on His justice, Jeremiah 12:1 – “Righteous art Thou when I contend with Thee.”
Habakkuk – defends God based on His holiness, Hab. 1:13, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.”
Asaph – defends God based on His goodness, Psalm 73:1, “God is good to Israel,” where Israel is defined as those of a clean heart.
Think About It: What are some other Scripture passages that affirm God is all knowing, perfectly righteous, perfectly holy, and entirely good? To these things ought also to be added, that God is all powerful (Matthew 28:18).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I affirm that You are good all the time, and all powerful, and that You know all things, and that You are perfectly righteous and holy.