Each week we LIVESTREAM the Lord's Day Sabbath School at 10a, Lord's Day morning public worship at 11a, and Lord's Day p.m. singing (3p) and sermon (3:45), and the Midweek Sermon and Prayer Meeting at 6:30p on Wednesday

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

2022.12.06 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 73:1–24

Read Psalm 73:1–24

Questions from the Scripture text: Who penned this Psalm (superscript)? With what word does he begin it (Psalm 73:1a)? What is true? How does verse 1b define “Israel” from verse 1a? But what had been the case with Asaph (Psalm 73:2)? In what did this stumbling/slipping consist (Psalm 73:3a)? What (mistaken) assessment had led to this envy (verse 3b)? What did he think of their death (Psalm 73:4)? What did he think of their life (Psalm 73:5)? What did he think they had gotten away with (Psalm 73:6)? With what apparent results (Psalm 73:7)? How had they been able to speak (Psalm 73:8-9)? Despite what conduct (Psalm 73:8a)? And against Whom (Psalm 73:9a)? And whom else (verse 9b)? Who else seem to prosper (Psalm 73:10a)? With what inheritance (verse 10b)? And what spiritual result (Psalm 73:11)? How does Asaph summarize the first 11 verses (Psalm 73:12)? How had he begun his conclusion about himself in Psalm 73:13? What did he conclude that his conduct had been (verse 13a, 13b)? With what perceived success (v13a)? Concluded from what circumstances (Psalm 73:14)? What was he tempted to do (Psalm 73:15a)? But what would this have done (verse 15b)? What had he previously attempted (Psalm 73:16a)? With what result (verse 16b)? What resolved this pain (Psalm 73:17a)? What did perceiving God in His holiness cause Asaph to understand (verse 17b)? What is the reality of the wicked’s apparent prosperity (Psalm 73:18a)? What is the reality of the wicked’s state at death (verse 18b)? When will this realization come upon them (Psalm 73:19a)? What is the type and intensity of the effect (verse 19b)? What will the Lord’s actions make their indulgent and boastful life to have been like in retrospect (Psalm 73:20)? After having worshiped, what is Asaph’s assessment of his pre-worship condition (Psalm 73:21)? Of his pre-worship response (Psalm 73:22)? Of his current condition (Psalm 73:23-24a)? Of his future condition (Psalm 73:24b)?

What is happening when the wicked seem to prosper? Psalm 73:1–24 looks forward to the opening portion of morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twenty-four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that when the wicked seem to prosper, the Lord is actually preparing them for the sudden and more horrible disaster that they deserve, while trying the righteous so that they may repent of being like beasts toward Him.  

This Psalm is organized around three uses of the word “surely” (Psalm 73:1, where it’s translated “truly,” Psalm 73:13, and Psalm 73:18). These belong to three sections in which the Spirit teaches us that the flesh misinterprets what is happening with the wicked (Psalm 73:1-12), the flesh misinterprets what is happening with the righteous (Psalm 73:13-16), but faith comes to the correct conclusions about both (Psalm 73:18-24) and a right response to God (Psalm 73:25-28).

The flesh misinterprets what is happening with the wickedPsalm 73:1-12. The theme that the Asaph had needed kept before his heart and mind is plainly stated in Psalm 73:1: God is good to Israel. He Who gives purity in heart makes sure that for those to whom He gives it, all other things work together for good (cf. Romans 8:28–32). 

But Asaph was stumbling and slipping (Psalm 73:2) into envy (Psalm 73:3a). Why? Because he was living according to sight (verse 3b, “when I saw”) instead of according to faith (which lives by what is sure: Who God is, what God has said, what God does). 

Psalm 73:3 is stark: the boastful and the wicked are spiritually and morally disgusting; why would he envy them? Because he thought they prospered. He thought that the wicked were comfortable and strong (Psalm 73:4), always untroubled (Psalm 73:5Psalm 73:13b), contented (Psalm 73:7), fulfilled (Psalm 73:10), and always increasing in riches (Psalm 73:12c)—despite being proud (Psalm 73:6a), violent (verse 6b), and arrogant toward God (Psalm 73:8-9Psalm 73:11)!

Even when the wicked are outwardly prospering, none of these things are even internally true of them. And what is coming upon them will remove even the illusion of outward prosperity. But the flesh falls for illusions and stumbles.

The flesh misinterprets what is happening with the righteousPsalm 73:13-16. Perhaps an even more dangerous delusion is the idea that the righteous are cleansing their own hearts (Psalm 73:13a) and washing their own hands (verse 13b). This is the language of flesh, not faith. It is boastful and proud before God, just like the wicked are!

And of course those who are proud before God will miss that they already have Him. The self-righteous, who think that they themselves are producing spiritual good, interpret God’s fatherly discipline (Psalm 73:14, cf. Hebrews 12:5–7) as unkindness.

But the truth is that God’s people are His children (Psalm 73:15b). Asaph realizes that his perspective was a lie (verse 15a). Thankfully, God had spared him from hurting others, but this hadn’t kept living by sight from hurting himself (Psalm 73:16). 

Beholding God’s holiness makes all the differencePsalm 73:17. What made the difference? How is Asaph now praying and singing this from the overall perspective of the Psalm? “Until I went into the sanctuary [the holiness] of God” (Psalm 73:17a). This is what made him “understand” (verse17b).

The holiness of God’s value puts so-called “prosperity” into perspective. What can a man possibly have that would compensate them for not having God? If it’s worthless to gain the whole world and lose one’s own soul, then how much more worthless it is to gain the whole world and lose the holy God!

The holiness of God’s character makes the punishment of the wicked certain. This holy God is not letting anyone get away with anything. The nature of His providence to them in the present is determined by the certainty of the His punishment of them in the end.

Faith comes to correct conclusions about what is happening with the wickedPsalm 73:18-20. With “their end” (Psalm 73:17b) now correctly brought into view by the holiness of God, Asaph doesn’t see the wicked as being raised on high but set up to fall to destruction (Psalm 73:18). The illusion of prosperity makes their punishment that much more shocking (Psalm 73:19a) and horrible (verse 19b). The prosperity will have seemed as real and as short as a dream (Psalm 73:20a–b). “Image” in verse 20c is from a root meaning “shadow.” The point is that not only is God heightening punishment by their prosperity, but also heightening their humiliation by shattering their proud appearance as being a mere apparition.

Faith comes to correct conclusions about what is happening with the righteousPsalm 73:21-24. So, was Asaph really cleansing his own heart and washing his own hands (Psalm 73:13)? With God’s holiness now in view (Psalm 73:17), he realizes that his grief and vexation had been exposing exactly the opposite: he was a foolish, ignorant, beast (Psalm 73:22). He was acting like someone who did not know God at all!

But, praise be to God, the real story of a believer’s life is not what is coming from the believer, but what is coming from God. He was not living as one who knew God, but still God was continually with him (Psalm 73:23a). When a believer comes into the holiness of God, and realizes that he is being given to know the God Who knows him, our entire perspective on life changes. God is always right there with me to hold me up. “You hold me by my right hand” (verse 23b). God is always right there with me to teach and direct me. “You will guide me with Your counsel” (Psalm 73:24a).

And the believer’s past and present are foretastes of the future. “And afterward [You will] receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24b). The great reward of heaven is already with me, and already helping me, and He Himself will personally receive me to Himself at the last! How great will that glory be, and how great that grace is already!

What wicked seem to prosper? What would your flesh say about them? What would faith say instead, in view of God’s holiness? What is your flesh tempted to say about you? What would faith say instead? What difficult circumstances are you in? How do faith and flesh disagree about them?

Sample prayer:  Lord, surely You are good to Your people, Your Israel of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t let us be like beasts who do not know You, but take us by the hand, and guide us by Your counsel. Make us to enter into Your holiness and know that we are continually with You! Make us to speak as those who walk by faith, not by sight. Make us to encourage a generation of Your children rather than be untrue to them. Give us a glimpse of that glory to which You will receive us in the end: the glory of personally knowing You Yourself, and being received by You Yourself, in Jesus Christ our Lord, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP73A “Yes, God Is Good to Israel” or TPH73A “Surely, God Is Good to Israel”

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