Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form (vv. 17–20).
In the first of several significant lessons, Asaph’s attention was directed to those he had envied. He saw their prosperity and became so envious that he almost changed teams, abandoning God and joining company with the wicked (vv. 2–3). But that was when he held a horizontal perspective. In the sanctuary, Asaph’s perspective turned vertical. He could finally appreciate what God sees and understand what was in store for those he envied—those who prospered while ignoring God.
Absence of Security (v. 18). From the world’s viewpoint, and in their own eyes, these individuals seemed out of the reach of trouble. But from God’s perspective, they were in “slippery places” and headed for destruction. When Asaph saw them as they would be on judgment day, he stopped envying them.
Absence of Anticipation (v. 19). Not only were these prosperous but wicked people headed for judgment, they also didn’t see it coming. Like the people of Noah’s day who resisted God despite years of warning, when judgment did arrive, it would be too late for them to do anything about it.
Absence of Hope (v. 20). When God moves against them, His judgment will be without appeal. In God’s time and wisdom, the principle of retribution that Asaph believed in will prevail. But God will set the time and place.
Along with the rest of Israel, Asaph understood the principle of fair returns. His confusion came from trying to distinguish God’s justice in a period of time marked by His patience and mercy. Only in the sanctuary did Asaph see clearly that the day of reckoning is as inevitable as the fulfillment of God’s promises to those who trust Him. But the timing will be God’s; He sets the clock and calendar of accountability.
Asaph’s new perspective changed his attitude. But the judgment that came into focus for him was certainly no cause for celebration. The coming judgment was a wake-up call. His anger softened and he came to a critical turning point. Now, instead of pointing his finger at those who seemed to be escaping the justice of God, he began to look at himself.
The Beginning of Wisdom
When my heart was embittered
and I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You (vv. 21–22).
In the place of worship, Asaph discovered that his real complaint was not with rebels, or even with God. He had been focusing on the unfairness of life rather than on the One who would one day make all things right.
By allowing such a conflict of faith to overwhelm him, Asaph had been forfeiting the comfort and peace that faith is intended to bring. In verses 21–22, the psalmist’s spiritual return is complete. Notice the progression: Asaph saw what he almost did to himself, and he was concerned (v. 2). He realized what he almost did to his fellow believers, and he was silenced (v. 15). Finally, Asaph clearly saw his attitude and actions as an offense to the God who is perfectly just (vv. 21–22).
Asaph no longer saw himself as justifiably angry or expressing a measure of righteous indignation. He said, “My heart was embittered.” Asaph’s bitterness was directed against God.
“I was pierced within.” Asaph now endured the kind of pain that comes from self-inflicted wounds. Sometimes what we do to ourselves is far worse than anything someone else could ever do to us. We do this by questioning the goodness, character, and faithfulness of God.
“I was senseless and ignorant.” Much like Job, when Asaph’s perspective was changed, he realized that his wisdom paled in comparison to God’s. Job’s words could have been his own:
“I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (job 42:3–6).
For us to question or criticize God’s wisdom, or attempt to judge God’s performance, is to attempt a task for which we are woefully unequipped. His wisdom is both perfect and eternal, and He makes no mistakes. God says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (isaiah 55:8).
When we are tempted to question God’s handling of a situation, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that God’s work in the present can be trusted because He is the only One who has perfect knowledge of the future.
“I was like a beast before You.” Asaph used the word animal in a metaphorical sense, but his words reflect what the prophet Daniel wrote about Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon.
When Nebuchadnezzar proudly celebrated his own wisdom and glory, God gave the king the mind and behavior of a wild animal. Driven outdoors, he grazed on grass for seven years. When God graciously restored the king to his right mind, Nebuchadnezzar made this profound declaration:
At the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (daniel 4:34–35).
We can’t understand all the ways of the God. Like Babylon’s king, Asaph had learned to see himself as unqualified to judge God for being unfair.
The All-Sufficiency of God
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory (vv. 23–24).
Entering the sanctuary allowed Asaph to recapture a high view of God, and gratefulness and confidence overflowed from his heart. With bolstered enthusiasm he declared that God is with us continually. As Asaph reflected on his dark days, he saw that he was never alone. With the knowledge that God would never leave nor forsake him, Asaph emerged from the sanctuary with renewed courage.
This is the same assurance that Christ later gave His disciples when He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (matthew 28:20).
Asaph could depend on God’s presence, and he could also rest in the confidence that the Lord would strengthen him—a comforting truth when life feels overwhelming. This is the same confidence the apostle Paul later expressed when he wrote, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 corinthians 3:5).
Not only did Asaph have the assurance of God’s presence and strength, he could also count on the Spirit of God and the Word of God to lead him all the way home. “With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory” (psalm 73:24). Perhaps Asaph’s most wonderful discovery was that God’s presence, strength, and wisdom would never end. He knew that when life had run its course, God would fulfill His promise of a home with Him forever.
Does that sound like a God who has forgotten and abandoned us? Absolutely not! That is a God who will never leave us nor forsake us (deuteronomy 31:6, 8; hebrews 13:5).
In the closing verses of Psalm 73, Asaph recounted what he learned from his struggle.
1. God Is More Important Than Anything Else in Life.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth (v. 25).
God was ultimately all Asaph had and all he needed. He could rest in God’s care and have the confidence that nothing else compared to his Lord.
2. God Is All the Strength We Need.
My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (v. 26).
In those moments when Asaph would be tempted to rely on his own strength, he had discovered that only in God could he find the unending strength he needed.
3. God Will Be as Fair as He Is Merciful.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You (v. 27).
Asaph had found himself envying the godless and their prosperity (v. 3). He struggled with the apparent inequities of life (vv. 4–12). He even came to the point of feeling that he had lived for God in vain (v. 13).
But in the end, Asaph acknowledged that those matters must be entrusted to God. As Abraham said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (genesis 18:25). Yes, and Asaph had learned to trust that the Lord, in His own timing and wisdom, would deal mercifully but justly with all the wrongs of life.
4. God Draws Near to Those Who Draw Near to Him.
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 (v. 28).
Asaph’s responsibility was not to pass judgment on the world or try to bring about justice on his own. Like James, Asaph learned that his responsibility in all of life was to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (james 4:8).
Asaph’s ultimate conclusion was that God, in His infinite goodness and wisdom, is in control even when we suffer and don’t know why. Although life in this fallen world is hard, God will always be just. By faith, Asaph arrived at a deep, personal conviction of the confession he alluded to as he began his story: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” (v. 1).
Available from Discovery House Publishers at www.dhp.org
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