Every parent knows that when things are out of kilter, the children will ask, “Why does this happen? It’s not fair.”
The Psalmist in Psalm 73 confronts a circumstance exactly like that. He’s been confronted with a problem. How will he answer it for himself? How will he answer it for those for whom he’s responsible in the congregation and in his own family?
Psalm 73 begins with the Psalmist’s conclusion; he tells us up front what he’s learned. This happens a lot in the Psalms:
Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart! (Psalm 73:1)
The Psalmist has learned that God is the covenant God who keeps His word to those whose hearts are devoted solely to the Lord.
A Community of Worship Helps us Stay on the Right Path.
The Psalmist describes his dilemma in verses 2-12. He came to a near disaster, and it was his own fault. He doesn’t blame God:
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:2-3)
The Psalmist goes on to describe the wicked for several more verses. They’re arrogant, and they’re not plagued like the rest of mankind. Not only do these mighty and lofty men wear jewelry symbolic of their high position, but they also wear violence like a garment to cover them:
Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them. (Psalm 73:6)
Verse 7 says of the wicked, “Their eye bulges from fatness…” This may be translated in a couple of different ways. Either the Psalmist is saying that the wicked are in the peak of health, or he might mean their eyes bulge out with greed. Their imaginations run riot; they imagine and plan and plot to get whatever they want. They even believe they can curse God and get away with it.
The Psalmist struggles with this: “Surely in vain I’ve kept my heart pure.” (Psalm 73:13) He nearly stumbles here as he is tempted to join himself to the wicked—and then he comes back:
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children. (Psalm 73:15)
In other words, “I would have been a traitor to Your cause and to Your people, and all those who listen to me would know about it.”
Nobody lives by himself. All of us, great and small, are watched by others. When a person of influence falls, it harms the heart and conscience of everyone who’s watched. If we claim to know the one true and living God and yet live out a kind of practical atheism, we betray the Lord and His people.
Authentic Worship Changes Our Perspective.
The turning point in this Psalm comes in verse 17:
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
The Psalmist comes into the temple. He sings the songs of faith, and he hears the story of how God has been good to Israel. He hears the promises that one day the Lord will judge.
When the Psalmist enters into God’s presence, his perspective changes. He is reminded that God is the God of mercy and justice, and that the wicked will be cast to destruction. Judgment will fall upon them suddenly; “They are utterly swept away by such terrors.” (Psalm 73:19)
The word “terrors” here may even refer to demons. There’s a passage in the book of Job where the people are made to march past Mot, the Canaanite god of terror. He’s the lord of the terrors, the lord of the demons.
The wicked will be utterly swept away by sudden terrors. The Psalmist is reminded of this, and he regrets his earlier frustration:
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
Then I was like a beast before you. (Psalm 73:21-22)
In other words, “I was ignorant, I was like an animal before you. But now that I’ve been in Your sanctuary, I experience your presence. When I nearly fell, You took hold of my right hand. Now I rely on Your wisdom, Your statutes, Your will, and Your counsel. You will guide me and in the end, when the wicked perish, You will receive me into your presence.”
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory. (Psalm 73:24)
The word glory refers to the light that is characteristic of God’s presence. Even when you can’t see God, you can see His glory. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle in the wilderness, and it filled Solomon’s temple. Small wonder that when Paul describes the resurrection body of Jesus, he calls it a glorified body because it is shot through completely with the unfiltered presence of God. The body of sin is done away with and the resurrection body can never die again.
Worship enables us to share the gospel.
When Israel went into the Promised Land, the Promised Land was divided up among the 12 tribes, except for the tribe of Levi; Levi got no portion of land. Deuteronomy 10:9 says that Yahweh the Lord was Levi’s portion. Remember that when you read verse 26:
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The Psalmist has experienced the presence of God, and he wants to share that experience with others:
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 73:28)
In worship, we uniquely experience the presence of God. The Scriptures teach us that the Lord is everywhere, of course, but He’s uniquely present in worship. He inhabits, we’re told, the praises of His people, and He is unusually present in the preaching of His word. In worship, we experience the presence of the risen Christ in an unusual way. May we, like the Psalmist, seek always to tells others about Christ’s powerful and unusual presence in worship.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Kingsland Baptist Church on June 16, 2013. A video of his original remarks may be viewed here.