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DOES THE SUCCESS OF THE WICKED TROUBLE YOU?
by Philip Owen

             Asaph, David’s chief musician, had a major problem, one so great that it threatened to derail him:  “my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped” (Psa. 73:2, please read the entire psalm in order to understand the necessarily brief comments here).  Many of us have probably wrestled with the same dilemma.

            Asaph’s Riddle.  In the space of fourteen verses (2-15), Asaph laments the prosperity of those he variously (and correctly) terms “the foolish” (v. 2), “the wicked” (v. 2); and “the ungodly” (v. 12).  His observations of their sinful attitudes and actions and the prosperity that results from them puzzle him.  After all, they thrive in their wicked “prosperity” (v. 3).  There are “no bands [“pains”] in their death” and “their strength” remains “firm” (v. 4).  He is nonplussed because, “they are not in trouble as other men” or “plagued like other men” (v. 5).  And as a consequence, they are filled with “pride” and prone to “violence” (v. 6).  At this point, Asaph’s language exhibits what he has already admitted as the root of his problem:  “I was envious” (v. 2); for he says that “their eyes stand out [“bulge”] with fatness” (v. 7) [Now that is fat!]; and “they have more than heart could wish” (v. 7).

            But Asaph isn’t done yet.  “They are corrupt,” and filled with the success of their own achievements, they “speak wickedly concerning oppression,” and “set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth” (v. 9).  In other words, they tout their ungodly success everywhere.  And still they “prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (v. 12).  The coup de grace in Asaph’s opinion is that “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hand in innocency” (v. 13).  For though he has faithfully obeyed the law and served the Lord, his efforts have gone unrewarded:  “For all day long have I been plagued, and  chastened every morning” (v. 14).  Asaph’s assessment of the wicked is accurate, but . . .

            God’s Revelation.  Considering all these things is “painful” (v. 16) for Asaph; he can’t bear the thought of the wicked seeming to prosper while the righteous undergo constant struggles.  Asaph remarks, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (v. 17).  And God shows Asaph that he is looking in the wrong places and at the wrong things.  “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places:  thou castest them down into destruction” (v. 18).  They will be destroyed “in a moment” and will be “utterly consumed with terrors” (v. 19).  And Asaph realizes that he has been looking at life as only temporal and forgetting that God works eternal purposes.

            “Thus,” Asaph confesses to God, “my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.  So foolish was I, and ignorant:  I was as a beast before thee” (v. 22).  And so, having turned his eyes from the world to God’s sanctuary, to the Word, and to the Lord Himself, Asaph pours out a fountain of praise and thanksgiving to a God who is just and righteous, who does judge sin, but who is abundant in grace to the righteous:  “I am continually with thee:  thou hast holden me by my right hand” (v. 23).  Can any temporal bauble compare with the wealth of continual fellowship with the Lord?  Furthermore, Asaph exalts, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (v. 24).  And from that blessed thought proceed the question and confession:  “Whom have I in heaven but thee?  and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (v. 25).  The prosperity of the wicked is temporary; natural things are nothing.  “It is good for me to draw near to God,” Asaph concludes (v. 28).  What about us?

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