Psalm 73 is one of my most favorite Psalms and one that God has used repeatedly to encourage my heart and bring me back to a right perspective when my mind is starting to run out of control. For me, it is the perfect mix of relating to natural human feelings, conviction from the Lord in such a direct way yet with such kindness, and the decision we face to turn to the Lord for a heart change, remembering Who we serve, Who our portion forever is, and that it’s good for us to be near to God.
Asaph started this Psalm stating that God is good. He was about to immediately go on in about his wayward way of thinking and complaining but all the circumstances hadn’t changed his right view of God’s character and goodness. Now I can’t say exactly why this was, but I’m assuming that Asaph had seen a many a time how God had been good and it was engrained in him as an unfailing truth. I know for myself, I have seen my faithful God show His goodness in so many ways in my life and I may get distraught, depressed, complain, and feel hopeless but I know that I know that God and His character are unchanging and He will always be good. He is literally the One person I know will always be the same and will always be good to me.
As Asaph continues in the very next verse, he tells us that he almost stumbled by looking at the circumstances around him and that his heart was breaking within him and turning bitter, even to the point of envying the wicked! We already know that his perspective was wrong, both in thinking how “easy” the wicked have it and in envying their supposed care free and wealthy lives. However, how easy it is to get in that same mindset that he was in.
In a nutshell, he was saying that the wicked don’t have any problems or hardships until they die, that they have plenty of food and look good, and that because of this they’re so prideful. He states that they’re a violent bunch, full of folly, scoffing, malice, and threats of oppression, running their mouths against God thinking God isn’t Who He says He is. Asaph concludes about the wicked that they have life easy and just keep increasing in wealth. He then goes on to conclude about himself that he has kept a pure heart in vain. Notice that some of the things he said about the wicked are true. They are prideful, violent, full of folly, scoffing, malice, threats of oppression, and run their mouths against God, thinking God isn’t Who He says He is. That’s our sin nature in action right there and it’s completely true. Mixed in with those truths are statements that are outright not true at all. The wicked aren’t living on easy street and rolling in dough like they just picked it off trees. Sure some are wealthy and it may look like they did nothing for it, but we know from history that often times they had to do bad things to acquire that wealth and they constantly strive and toil for it, which Solomon in Ecclesiastes says is vanity and ultimately unfruitful - they don’t enjoy the fruit of their labor since they’re constantly striving for more and it goes to someone else when they die. The false view continues with him saying that he kept his heart clean in vain.
Ever wonder how a man of God got to thinking like this and where he got these ideas from? The father of lies, satan (yes his name is purposely left uncapitalized because I don’t think that little snake deserves his name in proper English form), works in this combination of truth and lies in order to deceive. It’s his classic m.o. from the garden to now. Remember when he came to Eve in the garden? That crafty snake was raising the question of what God actually told her and Adam and twisted the truth, deceiving Eve. He said that their eyes would be open, being like God and that they would know good and evil. Yes there was truth in what he said but it was dripping with deception making knowledge of good and evil sound like something to be desired when in fact it would bring them separation and death.
In the same way with Asaph, this has satan’s fingerprints all over it by mixing truth with deception once again. And because of our sin nature, he likely didn’t even have to whisper much to Asaph before Asaph’s thoughts went wild and down a rabbit hole of lies and skewed perspective, which ultimately made him question the worth and validity of his own heart’s purity. It’s thankful that Asaph did have sense enough not to voice these thoughts, just as he said in verse 15! He knew that had he spoken these aloud, he “would have betrayed the generations” by spreading that false and ungodly perspective. The weight of that, thankfully kept him silent. Yet there was still his thoughts and perspective that needed to be resolved somehow.
In verse 16, he purposed to find an understanding of these thoughts and was burdened just at the thought of this, which he called a “wearisome task”. Then that wonderful word…until. He thought it a wearisome task UNTIL he went into the sanctuary of God. Going into the sanctuary of God would not have been a new thing to Asaph, yet we may wonder why he didn’t just do it sooner. Honestly, I can totally relate to him and entertaining thoughts like that for way longer than I should or even want to. The trigger? We know that the enemy will throw those darts at us, but if we’re not keeping that shield up to quench the darts, they will hit us and if not pulled out quickly, they will begin to penetrate deeper and spread the poisonous thinking. The trigger of not squashing those thoughts and taking them captive to obedience of Jesus Christ is, at least for me, usually is looking inwardly and selfishly. I get so self-focused that the truths that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me get shot down in my head very quickly and I keep thinking on the tainted view the enemy planted. It’s so destructive and can get so bad so quick if I don’t stop and give it to Jesus straight away and just let Him bathe me in His truths so I can refocus my perspective to align with His.
How can that thought process be stopped? James tells us to submit to God and that we should resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). This takes will power but we know that no temptation will overtake us (1 Corinthians 10:13), so we need to determine in our hearts to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus. Once Asaph determined to stop that destructive thought process and went into the sanctuary of the Lord, he began the process of changing his perspective. He says that he discerned their end and in detail through verses 18-20 sees that truly the wicked will come to ruin and be destroyed and that their lives are quickly fading.
Yet that truth didn’t just fix everything and now he’s on his way like a jolly dude. In verse 21-22, we see his conviction of wayward thinking. He admits that he was bitter, being convicted to the knowledge that he was brutish, ignorant, and beast-like towards God. The remaining of the chapter he goes on to edify himself with truths of God and in worship of God, but this little 2 verse section where he is convicted in his heart and admits his wrongdoing is huge and something that can’t be skipped over. This was a pivotal turning point and a requirement before he could move on not only in his changed perspective but in his relationship with God. He had sinned in following this thought process and embracing lies and there needed to be conviction and repentance.
As Christians, we are saved and become children of God. That is irrevocable and God tells us this fact in many places within the bible, that we are sealed and no one can snatch us from His hand (Ephesians 1:14-15; John 10:28-29). However, we can still break relationship with Him because regardless of the fact that our positional standpoint as His children is locked in, sin still separates. I think of it like my relationship to my husband. If I wrong him in some way, I need to be convicted of the wrong and go to him admitting what I’ve done in order to reconcile our relationship. If I don’t, there will be that separation of the close relationship we normally have. Once I do, he forgives me and our relationship is restored. So Asaph was convicted, which he described as pricked in his heart, and he admitted his wrong ways directly to God.
The next section of verses in the chapter go on to beautifully and worshipfully speak of the amazing truths of our God and how we ought to respond to Him. He says,
“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.” (Psalm 73:22-28).
I love that Asaph starts this section off with “Nevertheless” because it’s a testimony of our God’s great love, mercy, and grace! We are such sinful people, but when we come to God humbly and repentantly, nevertheless He allows us to be with Him continually through His Holy Spirit, guiding us through this life in which after He will receive us to glory with Him forever. We are homesick for heaven because of God and our spirits desperately desire Him here and now. We know that as human beings on earth now, are hearts and flesh will fail us, both in our sinful nature but also ultimately in physical death. But God. God is our strength and enables us to overcome and just as the Levites’ inheritance was God Himself, for us too, God is our portion for all eternity. When the wicked perish and are eternally separated from God, we will be in His presence forever, never to be separated from Him.
When thinking of this, it makes me think of why we get this amazing gift. The one an only answer is Jesus. Jesus didn’t just die for our sin, He became our sin. Although He never sinned Himself, our sin was thrust on Him in exchange for His righteousness and He became sin taking that death punishment for us. When from the cross He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was feeling the utter torment of being separated from the Father for the one and only time ever. He had always been in perfect connection and communion with the Father because He and the Father are One, but at that moment in time, Jesus was separated. That thought brings tears to my eyes. Not only because He didn’t have to do that, He chose to for us, but because all the people that chose to deny Him and the gift of salvation He so freely offers to them, will feel that same torment for all eternity as they’re separated from our good, holy God. That breaks my heart! And at the same time, I feel immeasurable gratitude, awe, and reverence towards my God.
Asaph ends in verse 28 by saying, “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.” For us, as God’s children, it is good for us to be near to Him. We are called to be in this world but not of it, renewing our minds so that we can do God’s good and perfect will (John 17:14-16; Romans 12:2). In order to do this effectively we must make God our refuge. He is a strong tower that stays the same and standing even when the waves of life come crashing so we can find refuge in Him and we should. If we do make Him our refuge we will be standing against the darts of the enemy, not always and every time but more often than not, and we get the honor of telling of all His works. God uses us as earthen vessels, filled with His Spirit, to testify of Him and His works but in order for us to do this we need to make Him our refuge and when the waves are crashing against us, keep our eyes firmly fixed on Him trusting that He is sovereign and working things for our good. Ultimately, our only concern with the wicked people of this world should be to love them, sharing the good news of salvation with them as faithful ambassadors of Christ. Being in the world requires daily washing in the Word. Yes, there will be times when our thoughts run wild, but rather than speak in our folly and betray the generations, we need to run to Jesus for a refreshed perspective. If we make it our habit to be near to God, making Him our refuge, and testifying of Him and His works, then regardless of our unchanging hardships, our perspective will be aligned with His more often than not.