evil vs good

February 26, 2017

Image result for picture of good fighting evil

PSALM 73 WHY THE WICKED PROSPER AND THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER; PART ONE

THIS POST WILL SEEM LONGER THAN IT IS BECAUSE OF ALL THE SCRIPTURE GIVEN.

PSALM 73

1 Surely God is good to Israel,

To those who are pure in heart!

2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,

My steps had almost slipped.

3 For I was envious of the arrogant

As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 For there are no pains in their death,

And their body is fat.

5 They are not in trouble as other men,

Nor are they plagued like mankind.

6 Therefore pride is their necklace;

The garment of violence covers them.

7 Their eye bulges from fatness;

The imaginations of their heart run riot.

8 They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;

They speak from on high.

9 They have set their mouth against the heavens,

And their tongue parades through the earth.

10 Therefore his people return to this place,

And waters of abundance are drunk by them.

11 They say, “How does God know?

And is there knowledge with the Most High?”

12 Behold, these are the wicked;

And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure

And washed my hands in innocence;

14 For I have been stricken all day long

And chastened every morning.

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”

Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.

16 When I pondered to understand this,

It was troublesome in my sight

17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God;

Then I perceived their end.

18 Surely You set them in slippery places;

You cast them down to destruction.

19 How they are destroyed in a moment!

They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!

20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused,

You will despise their form.

21 When my heart was embittered

And I was pierced within,

22 Then I was senseless and ignorant;

I was like a beast before You.

23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;

You have taken hold of my right hand.

24 With Your counsel You will guide me,

And afterward receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;

You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.

28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

That I may tell of all Your works (Psalm 73:1-28, NAU).

Some may think of the psalmists and their words as “long ago and far away,” but it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to see the relevance of Psalm 73 to Christians today, and more specifically to American Christians in times like these. Let’s begin by taking a “bird’s eye” view of the entire Psalm, and then consider the message God has for us in these inspired words. Verse one is Asaph’s affirmation of faith in God’s goodness.  In a sense, it serves as both Asaph’s introduction and as his conclusion. It indicates where Asaph is headed in this psalm,1 and it is where Asaph will end up when all is said and done. From verses 2-14 Asaph confesses his sin (of envying the wicked) by describing how he viewed his circumstances from a merely human point of view. In verses 15-17 we see the point to which his observations led him – the temptation to give up his pursuit of God to live a sinful lifestyle that seemingly led to prosperity – and the turning point that set him straight in his thinking. In verses 18—26 Asaph is now able to view life through different eyes, and thus to articulate a divine perspective on the very things that had once troubled him. This led him to a greater love for God. Verses 27 and 28 summarize the outcome of his transformed thinking regarding living in a fallen world, where the wicked appear to be the winners and the righteous appear to be the losers.

Asaph2 is the psalmist here, and he confesses that at one point in time he was very unhappy with what he saw going on about him in Israel: the wicked appeared to be blessed, while the “righteous” seemed destined for suffering:

3 For I was envious of the arrogant

As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 For there are no pains in their death,

And their body is fat.

5 They are not in trouble as other men,

Nor are they plagued like mankind (Psalm 73:3-5).

Parenthetically, let me say that it is very difficult to see life clearly when seeking to do so through the tear-filled eyes of self-pity. Asaph overstates (all right, he exaggerates) the prosperity and ease of the wicked, and the suffering of the righteous as well. Nevertheless, his words accurately convey the way he once viewed life.

Asaph is right about one thing: from a merely human perspective, the wicked do seem to be succeeding in their sinful pursuits. Worse yet, they are emboldened by their apparent success. They flaunt their opulence, and they are more than willing to resort to violence. Through Asaph’s eyes, they take great pleasure in doing so. Indeed, they are inspired by their “success” to devise even more wicked schemes.

6 Therefore pride is their necklace;

The garment of violence covers them.

7 Their eye bulges from fatness;

The imaginations of their heart run riot (Psalm 73:6-7).

The success of the wicked makes them arrogant toward their fellow men; they even become arrogant toward God:

8 They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;

They speak from on high.

9 They have set their mouth against the heavens,

And their tongue parades through the earth.

10 Therefore his people return to this place,

And waters of abundance are drunk by them.

11 They say, “How does God know?

And is there knowledge with the Most High?” (Psalm 73:8-11)

Asaph notes that the wicked seem to have concluded either that God is ignorant of their sin, or (worse yet) that He is indifferent toward it.

Before I become too critical of Asaph here, it would be good to consider some of the reasons for his mental and spiritual torment. Asaph knew that God is righteous, that He hates sin, and that He punishes the wicked. He also believed that God had promised to bless the righteous. This assurance of God’s hatred of sin, judgment of the wicked, and blessing of the righteous is based upon God’s words in the giving of the Law of Moses:

15 “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; 16 in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. 17 “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. 19 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; see also Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28).

In Asaph’s mind, God seemed to be doing just the opposite. God appeared to be blessing the wicked, while at the same time He was punishing the righteous. God’s actions were perceived as inconsistent with His promises.

Looking back on his agony of soul, Asaph admits that his motivation and thinking were sinful:

1 Surely God is good to Israel,

To those who are pure in heart!

2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,

My steps had almost slipped.

3 For I was envious of the arrogant

As I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:1-3).

Asaph was envious of the wicked. Expressed in different words, Asaph had more affection for the gold (God’s material blessings) than he did for God. As I look at God’s commandments in the Law I see great emphasis on loving God, which motivates one to obey His commands. God is more emphatic about loving Him and thus obeying His commands than He is about the material benefits of obedience. Notice how a love for God should motivate our obedience to God, resulting in blessing, while turning from God (to other gods) leads to disobedience and judgment.

13 “It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, 14 that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. 15 “He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. 16 “Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them. 17 “Or the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you (Deuteronomy 11:13-17, emphasis mine).

I can understand why the psalmist would be perplexed. Didn’t God promise to bless His people for their obedience to His law, and to punish those who disobeyed? We should remember that Asaph had written these words in Psalm 50:

14 “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

And pay your vows to the Most High;

15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble;

I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”

16 But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes

And to take My covenant in your mouth?

17 “For you hate discipline,

And you cast My words behind you.

18 “When you see a thief, you are pleased with him,

And you associate with adulterers.

19 “You let your mouth loose in evil

And your tongue frames deceit.

20 “You sit and speak against your brother;

You slander your own mother’s son.

21 “These things you have done and I kept silence;

You thought that I was just like you;

I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.

22 “Now consider this, you who forget God,

Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.

23 “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;

And to him who orders his way aright

I shall show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:14-23).

Asaph’s earlier words in Psalm 50 certainly seem to promise salvation and blessings to the righteous, and judgment to the wicked. No wonder that Asaph is perplexed by what he sees. It would appear that God is not playing by the rules or, worse yet, that He is unaware or unconcerned by what is going on. Asaph is troubled to the point of considering giving up on persevering in the face of adversity.

If Asaph’s first confession is that of his envy of the material prosperity of the wicked, his second confession is that he began to think of his faith and obedience as a useless waste of energy:

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure

And washed my hands in innocence;

14 For I have been stricken all day long

And chastened every morning.

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”

Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children (Psalm 73:13-15).

This kind of thinking tempted Asaph to cast his faith aside and join the wicked in their evil pursuits (and thus to join them in their prosperity).

Part two tomorrow, Don’t throw in the towel.

God bless from scumlikeuschurch@gmail.com

 

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