Psalm 73 — Psalms of Asaph
Asaph is an important guy in the Bible. We talk about the Psalms of David, but Asaph gets equal billing with David as a psalmist in key points in the story of the Jerusalem, at the reforms of Hezekiah and at the rebuilding of the temple and city of Jerusalem. Asaph even gete the title of seer, or prophet in the former. Yet Asaph only wrote 12 of the psalms in the canon, so there has to be a significance to these writings. This is about the second of those psalms:
King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. 2 Chronicles 29:30 NIV2 Chronicles 29:30 NIV
For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. Nehemiah 12:46 NIVNehemiah 12:46 NIV
Asaph had a long career. Appointed by David as one of the chief musicians in the Temple, and still serving under Solomon. Asaph’s role was prophetic, his job was to listen to the prayers concerns and laments of the people, and to give God’s relpy. The Psalms of Asaph, Psalms 50 and 73–83 are both communal laments and words of prophesy.
A psalm of Asaph.
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 afterwards 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 for ever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;Psalm 73 NIV UK
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.
The psalmist Asaph said he nearly stumbled. I did stumble. Four years ago when the Brexit vote came in I reacted to the hate. Strangely the hate came from the Brexit supporters. That the leave campaign had been run in a way that created division was a contributing factor. This hare was also shown in 2016 by an increase in racist attacks as some people believed that their racist views were what Brexit was about. Unfriending and unfollowing on Facebook and Twitter helped me in clearing out the haters, the ability to block the haters was what saved my sanity. I am sorry to say that I fell into the trap of replying to hate with hate, I should never have done that.
But there are some people who supported Brexit who never followed the hate line. Those I followed then I still follow now as I think debate is important. If that is you I treasure your input even if we disagree. Social media can become an echo chamber
But what has that to do with Psalm 73? Like Psalm 50, the previous psalm from Asaph, Psalm 73 starts and ends with a 2 verse introduction and 2 verse conclusion. Like Psalm 50 it is split into three sections where the middle section is, to me, the most important. Unlike Psalm 50 this middle section is very short.
The three sections of Psalm 73 are:
- Verses 1-12 focus on they/them, the wicked, it also takes the form of a rant. Ranting to God against God is OK, even in worship.
- Verses 13-17 focus on I/me
- Verses18 to the end focus on you, and is addressed to God.
- The words of this Psalm reflect wisdom literature, especially the book of Job, but its literary style resembles a thanksgiving song. How can a rant against injustice also be a song of thanks?
You cannot reason with people who have no wish to be reasonable, even a short time on social media will show you that. Some people leave social media if it becomes too stressful, if that is you then I do not blame you. I play Dragon Mania Legends, there is nothing like a bit of mindless slaying of fictitious dragons to calm me down. If that fails there’s sudoku. But Facebook and Twitter have become my prayer book. There are always people on there who need prayer.
Bad people get away with it. That is still the case. Asaph is a temple musician, his job is not just to play the music, but to be God’s mouthpiece in giving God’s answers to prayer. He listens to the concerns of the people and is unable to give an answer until, as he says, “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”
That final destiny lies with where they are with God, and God says the riches they get and the life they leave is nothing. Nothing compared to what God has and nothing compared with those God says he is for — God is for the poor, the widows and the orphans. But that is for the future. Here in the now of living on Earth while bad people thrive there is also a consolation. Asaph was able to say, “I am always with you” not because he worked in the Temple, the bad people, presumably went through the motions of attending the Temple feasts and keeping up appearances, bur he is always with God because God comes close to those who do his will and are repentant in those times, many times, when they get things wrong.
There is injustice in the world. God is a god of justice, ranting against injustice is giving thanks to God.