A MEDITATION ON PSALM 73
Throughout the ages, the people of God have asked the questions, “Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?” and “Is it worth living a righteous life in an unrighteous world?” Psalm 73 examines these difficult questions. The psalm shows it is both possible and necessary to walk righteously in an unrighteous world.
Psalm 73 is one of twelve psalms attributed to Asaph (Psalms 50, 73-83). He was a contemporary of King David (cf. Psalm 77 with Psalm 39; Nehemiah 12:46) and was in charge of the music when the Ark of the Covenant was brought up to Jerusalem (I Chron. 15:17-24). Later, he was the chief choir director for the sanctuary (I Chron. 16:4). During the reign of King Hezekiah, some of the songs of Asaph, the seer, were sung (II Chron. 29:30). This indicates that Asaph’s message had a prophetic content (I Sam. 9:9).
Literary Structure and Outline
This psalm is divided into five sections. It begins with the questions raised to the Lord because of the seeming prosperity of the wicked (73:1-3). The middle section reveals the ultimate end of the wicked (73:16, 17). It concludes with a positive response to the Lord (73:28).
I. The Reality of the Righteous. 73:1-3
II. The Rebellion of the Unrighteous. 73:4-12
III. The True Nature of the Righteous. 73:13-17
IV. The Response of the Righteous Lord. 73:18-26
V. The Response of the Righteous. 73:27-28
The Reality of the Righteous – 73:1-3
Asaph begins this psalm with a correct theological statement: “Truly God is good to Israel, to such as be pure in heart.” He had merely to reflect on the history of the nation to see that this was true. The Lord, in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, redeemed Israel out of Egypt and brought them through the Wilderness into the Promised Land (Ezek. 20:5-22). God is faithful to His covenants and good to His people.
To make this more personal, Asaph adds, “to such as be pure in heart.” This purity of heart is not gained by one’s own merits (Isa. 64:6), but it is given as a gift to those who receive the Lord Jesus as Savior (Eph. 2:1-9; Phil. 3:9). God’s goodness gives His righteousness, whereby people may have the forgiveness and sins and the free gift of eternal life.
Turning inward and seeing his personal circumstances, Asaph makes an incorrect theological statement. He believed that “righteousness equals prosperity.” This is a human perspective. One needs simply to look at the life of Job. He was righteous, yet he lost all his prosperity. In contrast, Manasseh, king of Judah, was very wicked, yet prospered and had a long life (II Chron. 33). From God’s perspective, He allowed the king to have a long life because He wanted Manasseh to return to Himself (II Pet. 3:9), and he eventually did (II Chron. 33:11-16).
Christians are only promised persecution for living godly lives and for the gospel’s sake (II Tim. 3:12), yet they have an Example and pattern to follow, the Lord Jesus Christ and His life (I Pet. 2:13-20; 4:12-19). The Apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans that “we know that all things work together for good” (8:28). All things, humanly speaking, may not seem good, but from a divine perspective, all things do work together for good.
The Rebellion of the Unrighteous – 73:4-12
The seeming prosperity of the wicked is manifested in rebellion, first on a human level (73:4-9) and then on a divine level (73:10-12). Humanly speaking, unrighteous people show no outward signs of pain or punishment for their evil doings (73:4-5). Inwardly, their sins are manifested in pride (73:6; cf. Prov. 6:16), violence (73:6), covetousness and greed (73:7), the covering up of their oppression (73:8), as well as blasphemy (73:9). On the divine level, the wicked question the existence of God and ignore Him completely (73:10-12).
The True Nature of the Righteous Saint – 73:13-17
The psalmist takes stock of his spiritual life and looks at it from a temporal perspective. He had cleansed his heart, yet it seemed a waste (73:13). Why should he go on living for the Lord when he is being chastened (73:14)? What he failed to recognize was that chastening is a sign of sonship, and that the Lord loves him (Prov. 3:11, 12; Heb. 12:3-11). Finally, the psalmist acquires the eternal perspective on life (73:15-17). When he went into the sanctuary of God he saw life from God’s perspective (73:17). There was the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat above it. This spoke to him of the redemption which God has accomplished for His people and His love for them. Inside the Ark lay the tablets with the moral law of God engraved upon them. It struck him that God was sovereign and holy, and in His time, He would set things in order and judge the wicked. In the future, it will be the Lord Jesus Christ, at the Great White Throne Judgment, who will judge all those who have rejected Him as their Savior (John 5:22; Rev. 20:11-14). When Asaph saw and understood this, his theology was clarified and he could rest on the promises of God.
The Response of the Righteous Lord – 73:18-26
Upon realizing that the Lord was a holy, righteous and moral God, Asaph knew what the response of the Lord would be, first toward the unrighteous (73:18-20) and then toward the righteous (73:21-26).
In the case of the unrighteous, the proverb will hold true, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18). Judgment is sure to come (Heb. 9:27). From the perspective of a person who has not accepted the Lord Jesus and His salvation, this life on earth is the closest to heaven that the unrighteous will get. After the judgment, they will be confined to the Lake of Fire forever (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:15).
The psalmist saw the response that the Lord will have toward the righteous (73:21-25). In so doing, he confesses his shortsightedness concerning the plan of God (73:21, 22). After this he put his confidence in God because he knew the Lord will sustain him (73:23; cf. John 10:28, 29), guide him (73:24), complete his salvation (73:24), and strengthen him (73:26). He realized that it is only the Lord who can meet all his needs (73:25).
The Response of the Righteous – 73:27, 28
The psalmist’s theology is now in proper perspective so he can respond correctly to the question, “Why should I walk righteously in an unrighteous world?” First, he realizes that the wicked will not always prosper (73:27; cf. 73:3). Second, he is to draw near to the Lord so that his feet will not slip (73:28a; cf. 73:2). Finally, he is to trust in the Lord so that he can declare His works (73:28b; cf. 73:1). Now he can say from experience, “Truly God is good to Israel and to such as be pure in heart.” He should know. He’s seen the goodness, love, holiness and justice of the Lord. His right theology should lead him to righteous living, even in an evil world.