Have you ever wondered if the prize is worth the pain? Asaph expressed a similar concern in his song, Psalm 73: Is life worth it? Does it really matter that I have tried to live for God? The anguished question is clearly read in verse 13: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence.”
Asaph’s despair is clear. His anguish captures the essence of Solomon’s despair in the book of Ecclesiastes. When he cried, “All is vanity,” Solomon was reflecting on the value of life (1:2). Asaph strived for personal integrity and faithfulness. But now, in his despair, he wondered if his efforts had been pointless. The tremendous weight of resentful anger lies behind the words of verse 13. When it seems as if God is not in control, our doubts can make us want to give up.
Asaph became so disillusioned that he felt integrity and morality just weren’t worth it. In recompense for his spiritual commitment he was “stricken all day long and chastened every morning” (v. 14).
The Four Feathers tells the story of Harry Faversham, a young man in the British army in the late 1800s. During that time, when the British Empire touched every inhabited continent, a man could bring no greater honor to his family than to serve in the military. Harry answered this calling and earned respect in his regiment.
Then came the day his unit received word that they were being deployed to quell an uprising in the Sudan. Harry was terrified. The thought of combat and the horrors of war paralyzed him with fear.
So Harry resigned his commission. The impact was sweeping. Rejected by his three fellow officers, they each sent him a white feather—their symbol for cowardice. His fiancée, who longed for him to be a hero, spurned him and also sent him a feather. And he was estranged from his father, a military man, who declared that he didn’t even know Harry. One single, fear-filled choice had a powerful, destructive impact on all the relationships in Harry’s life.
Asaph was David’s chief musician, a man of spiritual influence, a songwriter, and a prophet (1 chronicles 16:5; 25:2; 2 chronicles 29:30). Such a position entailed both privilege and influence. He was a spiritual leader in Israel and felt the weight of that responsibility. Yet he found himself doubting the goodness of God.
Notice Asaph’s reaction to his revelation: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children” (v. 15). He wanted to shout his disapproval of God’s handling of life (“thus” refers to vv. 13–14), but he stopped short. Poised at the edge of a canyon of disbelief and hopelessness, something slowly began to pull him back. But what was it?
Asaph’s Sense of Responsibility
Asaph wanted to vent his anger and frustration at the injustice and unfairness of life—to shout at the God who permitted it. But he resisted acting on all that was in his heart because he sensed the disillusionment and damage it could cause in the people of God who looked to his example. This is what he meant by the phrase “betrayed the generation of Your children” (v. 15). He knew that his questions, and especially his reaction to them, could and would have far-reaching consequences.
This was a critical point in Asaph’s journey. Here wisdom and faith flanked his agonizing questions, giving him perspective. Even in the middle of his struggle, Asaph tempered his reaction by reflecting on the effect his simmering envy, anger, and doubt could have on the lives of others.
Asaph’s Silent Suffering
Asaph couldn’t reconcile his doubts with his faith, but he was unwilling to endanger others by declaring what was in his heart. So he chose another path: “When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight” (v. 16).
Asaph chose to suffer in silence. He saw the unfairness of life that caused him to struggle with his own fragile faith and must have wondered: Are there answers for my questions? Is there relief for my suffering? Will justice reign in the world? Will it ever all make sense?
There are questions that we simply can’t answer. Sometimes we don’t find the solutions we need until we find ourselves in the presence of God Himself. Asaph continued to struggle; “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end” (v. 17).
Sanctuary is a place set apart for spiritual protection, rest, and renewal. We all need such a place—a hiding place where our hearts and minds are restored and strengthened for the struggles of today and the challenges of tomorrow.
In the Old Testament the word sanctuary refers more to an idea than a place—the idea of the presence of God (see isaiah 8:14). It is what David longed for in Psalm 23 when he anticipated “quiet waters” (v. 2) where the Lord his Shepherd would restore his soul. It’s what Christ Himself sought when He moved away from the crowds, the work, and the disciples and went to a mountain alone to spend time with His Father. Asaph discovered sanctuary was the place where he would find answers and restoration.
Asaph went into the sanctuary of God and found new perspective and understanding. Until he entered the sanctuary, Asaph had been overwhelmed by the unfairness of present circumstances. But in the presence of God, everything changed. With his focus on God and not his own circumstances and perceptions, things came into clearer focus. In the sanctuary, Asaph saw the inequities of life from a different point of view—the day when justice prevails.
According to Derek Kidner in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, the resolution began when Asaph turned to God “not as an object of speculation, but of worship.” Bible commentator Roy Clements adds: “Worship puts God at the center of our vision. It is vitally important because it is only when God is at the center of our vision that we see things as they really are.”