Asaph was a true worshiper of Israel’s God. He was likely a singer in the ancient temple and 12 psalms in the Psalter are attributed to him.
Once, in a creative moment he began writing as follows: Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart (Psalm 73:1). Call that his topic sentence.
But, in spite of this noble burst of faith, he has a problem that nearly sweeps him off his feet. He is envious over the successes of the wicked, and the wicked appeared to him to be everywhere.
They have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong (verse 4). (Yet) they are violent and prideful (verse 6); malicious (verse 8). And, in spite of it all, he says, They scoff and speak with malice (verse 8).
He says: They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by common ills (verse 5).
Add that Asaph’s own condition seems quite opposite to theirs. He says: Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued, I have been punished every morning (verse 13).
He complains of pain he has to endure every morning (verse 14). Was he suffering the aches and pains of the aged?
Suddenly the light goes on. When I tried to understand all this, he writes, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny (verses 16, 17).
We might say, Asaph went to church. It was where the law of God was read, psalms were sung, where God made himself known to the hearts of worshipers. Good things can happen when the tempted go to church.
There, in the light of the eternal he saw how unstable the life of the wicked really is, even when it seems indestructible. Surely you place them on slippery ground, you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! (verse 18).
It is not that God is presented as vengeful or vindictive; rather it is that any chosen style of life is judged by its end. Wickedness has consequences, not always at the moment, but sooner or later.
Truth about the nature of life is revealed in worship. And with it often comes insight. Here, Asaph acknowledges his folly: When my heart was grieved / and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Call it not only insight but also repentance — a drastic change of mind.
He can find peace of mind and an action plan now: Those who are far from you will perish, you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. / 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 (verses 27, 28).
And his destructive envy evaporates. It is cleansed. He is free to renew the joy of his faith: 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 (verse 26).
Photo credit: eflon (via flickr.com)