Asaph was one of the members of the tribe of Levi whom David put in charge of the worship at the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 6:39). Most of the psalms were penned by David. However, Asaph is the author of Psalm 73. Asaph writes this psalm about the struggle of being righteous.
The psalm begins with a statement of hope and trust, which is important considering the road Asaph is going to take down in this psalm. “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (73:1). This beginning is important because Asaph is praising and recognizing the goodness of God even though he has difficulty understanding the events of the world.
The Doubt of Asaph (73:2-15)
Asaph says that he had some doubts that nearly caused him to slip. Why did his feet nearly slip? Asaph nearly lost his foothold because of the prosperity of the wicked. Asaph is looking around and seeing the success of the wicked. Asaph looks and it seems like the wicked have no struggles and their bodies are healthy and strong. Amid all of this prosperity, these people are committed all sorts of evil. They are callous toward iniquity. They clothe themselves in violence and pride. They are arrogant and full of malice, yet they are prosperous. In fact, the wicked give no concern toward God. They act like God does not know and does not see their wickedness.
This is an interesting view that Asaph takes, though I think we have all thought the same thing at various times in our lives. Do the wicked really have no problems? No, we know that is not true. We just blind ourselves to their problems because we see their prosperity. Do the wicked really have good health? No, they do not have any better health than the righteous. But we feel this way because we sometimes want to see the wicked receive justice now. We witness the righteous having difficulties in life and do not understand how the righteous are not prospering when they are trying to do what is right. The righteous are not ignoring God. The righteous are not scoffing in arrogance. But prosperity does not flood the righteous. We want God to give good health and wealth to only the righteous and strike down the wicked with poverty and illness now.
Verse 12 epitomizes this view concerning the wicked: “This is what the wicked are like—always carefree, they increase in wealth.” It is interesting that we look so longingly toward the world. This is a tremendous temptation against our faith when we have this outlook toward the world. This is why Asaph said that his feet almost stumbled and his steps nearly slipped. The crux of the problem is stated in verses 13-14: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”
The problem is that Asaph is going through a trial. He says that he has been plagued all day long and been punished every morning. Asaph is suffering and he does not understand why because he has kept his heart pure. Because Asaph does not see the wicked suffering like he is suffering, he declares that he has been righteous for no reason. Satan really presses us in the middle of a trial to look around and think that our righteousness has been in vain. This is why many people fall away from the Lord when the trial comes. It does not make sense to serve God if life is not easy. So this is the problem that Asaph is dealing with and it is a problem that we all encounter in a trial.
The Turning Point (73:15-17)
But in verses 15-17 we come to a turning point in the psalm and the turning point in Asaph’s thinking. Deep within himself, Asaph knows that he is wrong for how he is feeling. Verse 15 reflects this because Asaph was unwilling to speak these aloud to God’s children, the people of Israel. He has kept this turmoil to himself, not wanting to cause anyone to stumble. But trying to understand his own circumstances in contrast to the prosperity of the righteous still is causing him difficulty. But his inability to understand these circumstances changes when Asaph enters the sanctuary of God. Going into the sanctuary caused Asaph to see life from God’s perspective. One of the purposes of worship is to put God at the center of our vision. Asaph goes into the courtyard and perhaps he sits down and reads the mighty deeds of God in the scroll of Exodus. Asaph would see the fire burning from the altar, reminding him of his position before the Almighty God, reminding him of his sin, and reminding him of God’s mercy.
Friends, in a trial, one of our first acts we must take within ourselves is to center ourselves on God’s perspective. I cannot stand back and try to justify my circumstances versus the circumstances of other people I know. I cannot try to explain my parent’s divorce. I cannot explain why I have a special needs child. I am looking from a human, worldly perspective when I see the wicked who do not have the problems I have and charge God with being unjust, unfair, and useless. We are greatly tempted to say “why bother serving God” when severe trials come upon us. We must immediately adjust to a godly perspective. This seems to be what Asaph is able to do by going to the sanctuary of God.
Understanding From God’s Perspective (73:18-28)
A new awareness of the wicked (18-20). Asaph realizes that the wicked will not go unpunished. We have such a limited view of our lives because we only look at the here and now. Our time on the earth is the shortest part of our lives. Justice will then be served by God to all people. God will be sure that every person receives their just reward and due punishment. Further, the wicked do not have a better life now. From our vantage point it seems that they have health and wealth. Yet, their health fades just like the righteous and their wealth will not endure. The wicked are not stable in this world. The wicked encounter the same problems in life that encounter and yet have no hope of justification from God at the judgment. God will arise and God will act against evildoers.
A new awareness of himself (21-22). When we put God at the center of our vision, then we realize that our thoughts were wrong and we have falsely charged God. To think that righteousness is worthless and that God will not deal with the wicked is to be senseless and ignorant. Asaph’s response is the same response that Job had at the end of his trial: “Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'” (Job 42:1-6).
A new awareness of God’s blessings of the righteous (23-26). When we open our eyes to the spiritual realm and stop measuring life from the physical then we are able to see the blessings of God clearly. Asaph realizes that God holds him by his right hand. This is a beautiful picture of the Father holding the hand of the child through a difficult time. Any time we are in a parking lot, the girls have to hold my hand until we get to safety. Asaph now sees that God is holding Asaph’s hand to bring him to safety. God will never fail us, regardless of the pain we may suffer. Though everything in this world may fail us, God will not. Put your trust in the unchanging God.
Concluding hope (27-28). The final two verses of this psalm are the conclusion of the matter for Asaph and for the congregation. (1) Those who are far away from the Lord will perish. This is an important, unchanging truth. God will destroy the unfaithful. Therefore, do not be envious of their situation. (2) It is good to be near God. It is better to be near God than to be far away from God. As difficult as it can be to live the righteous life, it is better than leading a life without God. Problems will come to all; do you want God with you or against you when problems come. (3) Make the Lord your refuge. When trouble strikes, go to the sanctuary of the Lord. Set your focus upon God. Put God in the center of your vision. See life from God’s perspective. (4) Tell the world about the goodness of God. God’s deliverance is a powerful evangelistic tool to share with others. Tell them about how God helped you through your turbulent times. (NIV)