Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, I attempted to pick up the discipline. I got part-way through that month, and so after a long hiatus, am determined to get going. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the 17th of January 2024, here’s Psalm 73:
1 Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
15 If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
What is this Psalm about?
Psalm 73 combines a number of Psalm-genres, with aspects of wisdom, lament, thanksgiving and ‘songs of confidence’. Attributed to Asaph, one of the Levites assigned by David to lead sung worship in the temple, it contrasts the truth that God is good (v1) with the present experience of one of God’s people (v2) and the seeming good life of the wicked (v3-13). The second part of the Psalm sees a sort of repentence and new awareness in the Psalmist (v14-22), a recognition of life with God (v23-28) and the hope for the future. It is thus a Psalm that resonates with God’s people.
What does this Psalm teach about God?
God is good to his people, Israel (v1), has a sanctuary (v17) and has a final destiny in mind, and these two themes bracket the Psalm and are teased out in various ways. Verse 24 teaches us that God guides his people now, as well as having a good end in mind. Verse 26 is a reminder that God strengthens his people, and verse 28 holds together the intimate relationship that God has, as well as his Sovereign Lordship, protection, and action.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I feel that Psalm 73 echoes a common experience of God’s people – certainly one I resonate with from time to time. Seeking to live obediently and intimately with God, sometimes the ‘prosperity of the wicked’ seems to be somewhat unfair, and simultaneously attractive. Yet Psalm 73 reminds us of God’s present help and ultimate sanctuary, as well as (I think) showing us that it is quite appropriate and realistic to dwell in one space, as long as we live with an eye the truth, and move towards it. There is a progression for the Psalmist here, from complaint to realisation of the truth, that can challenge us.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 73
Lord, I easily envy the arrogant, and often am jealous of the prosperity of the wicked. Help me to remember that for me, it is good to be near you, God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge, help me to trust you now, I will tell of all your deeds. Amen.