“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through 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. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 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.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 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 God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 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.” (Psalms 73:1–28 ESV)
I love the honesty of Scriptures – the writer acknowledges the reality of how it seems that wicked people often times seem to have relatively few problems and walk in relative ease. “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalms 73:3 ESV) This can even cause us to be envious. This is a psalm to push us to contentment, even when it seems like those who do not follow God are walking in prosperity. It cautions us not to be tempted to follow their lead.
Verses 4-12 reveal some of the ways that their lives are prosperous & easy – they have plenty of food & resources and seem to be spared the futility & troubles that the rest of humanity walks in. Verse 6 is a turning point: “therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.” (Psalms 73:6 ESV). Because their lives have been relatively easy, because they have had few difficulties they become prideful – as if they had spared themselves from these difficulties due to their own abilities. This is like Romans 1:28-31 where there is a failure to acknowledge God and His goodness. When we take credit for the good in our lives and don’t give it to Him we become glory thieves. We have natural abilities that we did not generate on our own. We did not choose the families that we were born in or that we were exposed to the gospel. We could have just as easily been born in complete poverty where the gospel is not preached and anarchy is the law of the land. We did not choose that.
There is a point at which we have to ask ourselves if difficulty & suffering that ultimately strengthens our faith is worth it or do we really just want an easy, comfortable life. Do we want comfort, security & ease or Jesus? They seem to be mutually exclusive. The psalmist’s logic goes like this: because their lives have been relatively painless & prosperous they have become prideful at their circumstances & now they walk in all sorts of hard hearted “follies.” They look down upon others, oppress them & pridefully brag against God & others. ““How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”” (Psalms 73:11 ESV). The writer concludes like this: “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Psalms 73:12 ESV). We have to begin to see some of the difficulties in our lives as a gift of grace to us because it causes us to see Him more clearly.
Why is it that we seem to think that we can have prosperity & fail to see how prosperity can create problems in our pursuit of Jesus. You can’t chase both at the same time (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). If you have a life of relative comfort, ease & prosperity be grateful, but be aware of its power to draw you away from singular devotion to Jesus!
There is a tinge of bitterness and jealousy at the prosperity of the wicked – it doesn’t seem right or fair! “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 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.” (Psalms 73:13–15 ESV) A true heart of bitterness is revealed. Who hasn’t felt this way when life seems to be going so unjustly? Our bitterness in situations like this spill into all areas of our life – and is normally rooted in a bitterness towards God. Honesty & bitterness at what seems to be unjust is welcomed by God. Is He not the Sovereign omniscient Lord of all? He knows what’s in your heart, you might as well tell Him! Jesus’ death bought you the right to confidently approach God as Father and share what is really going on inside of you. There is no more hiding or pretending for the Christian.
What we see revealed was the psalmist’s real motives. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean.” The singer reveals that what he really wanted was God’s blessing. Isn’t this true of us – don’t we desire God’s blessing & protection more than we desire His presence? This is especially true when life is difficult; don’t let the bitterness sit in your heart, let it diagnosis your idolatrous desire for God’s goodness and protection more than His presence. The bitterness in verses 13-15 are really aimed toward God if you peel the layer of the onion all the way back to its core. Life has not gone the way that we wanted, expected or planned and we are mad at God because He has not given us what we really think that we need or deserve. The beauty of the gospel is that we get reconciled with God – that is it. We get God, nothing else is guaranteed which frees us from bitterness and anger.
We feel like the psalmist when we believe that God has abandoned us? Brutish ignorance is the result of a bitter heart that feels like it has been treated unfairly (verses 21-22). And yet, the psalmist is careful not to let his bitterness spill over onto others so as to undermine their faith (especially the faith of the next generation, see verse 15). This is wise counsel, but it still does not deliver us from bitterness. Trying to understand this is a wearisome task on our own; it is futile, meaningless. We can mull it over, try to figure it out and weigh it on all sides, we can wear ourselves out trying to understand, but the answer is not in us; the answer is not found under the sun.
It is wearisome, futile & meaningless until we come in to the presence of God. Perspective becomes clear in the presence of God, we get above the trees in order to see the forest, we are comforted at His presence, we see that there is a larger & grander plan than just us. In His presence, trusting God doesn’t seem meaningless any longer. The psalmist starts to sound like Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 3:17-19) as his perspective shifts. The smallness of creation becomes apparent when we are in the presence of the infinite Almighty.
The Psalmist turns the corner as a result of being in the presence of God (v23). He realizes that he is with God because God is his sustainer, protector & guide. Whom do we have in heaven besides God (more specifically Jesus, who is interceding at our right hand)? The heart has shifted from dwelling upon the horizontal to seeing the vertical realities as it proclaims “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalms 73:25 ESV). Is this your singular affection? This is what happens to the heart that has been in the presence of God – to gaze on the beauty of majesty, albeit veiled, always produces a peace that surpasses all understanding & a heart that sees Him as the supreme treasure worth trading everything for. Sanctification involves us getting ourselves to the sanctuary and begging God to reveal Himself.
Regardless of what happens in this world even though our heart & our flesh fail us, we find that God is our strength and our portion – He is enough, regardless of what is happening around us (v26). Tough marriage, difficult child, physical ailment, financial stress, relational breakdown, overall futility in life? Go to the sanctuary and beg God to reveal Himself and stare until you see it. When He reveals His majesty, your perspective will begin to change. Things end badly for those who don’t desire 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.” (Psalms 73:28 ESV). This life is brief, pursue Him as the supreme Treasure that He is!