The Book of Psalms

Friday: A Paradigm Shift for Asaph


Theme: Seeing from God’s Perspective
In this week’s lessons we learn how the psalmist moves from doubt to faith in the goodness of God.
Scripture: Psalm 73:1-28
We have followed Asaph from his introductory statement of faith in the goodness of God, through his steep descent into doubt and near unbelief, to the important turning point as a result of which he began to see things from God’s perspective. Here we see him coming back. This radical reordering of his thinking, described in verses 18-26, touches on three main areas.
1. A new awareness of the destiny of the wicked (vv. 18-20). The first new perception is what we have already referred to, namely, the final destiny of the wicked. The wicked seem secure, but they are not actually secure. They are on slippery ground, and it only takes a gentle puff by God to blow them off their proud golden pedestal down to ruin. Having learned to look at those he had envied from God’s perspective, the psalmist now sees that they are no more stable than a fantasy. They vanish like a dream when we open our eyes from sleep in the morning.
2. A new awareness of himself (vv. 21, 22). The second area in which Asaph gained a new awareness of the way things really are concerned himself. He saw that in questioning God’s just handling of life’s circumstances he was not being wise, but was rather being “senseless and ignorant.” Indeed, he was behaving as “a brute beast” before God. This is a profound insight, for whenever we fail to learn from God and instead begin to trust our own contrary judgments on anything, we start to think like animals, which have no real awareness of God. And we begin to act like animals too! That is, we come beastlike in our behavior.
This is as far as Job got in his struggles with Asaph’s question. For when God finished interrogating Job, Job confessed that God’s ways were utterly beyond his understanding and he despised his pride and repented.
3. A new awareness of God’s presence and thus also of God’s genuine blessing on the righteous (vv. 23-26). Having gone into the sanctuary and having recovered a true spiritual balance with new insight into the destiny of the wicked and his own lack of spiritual understanding, Asaph now also recognized that God has been with him all along and indeed always would be with him. Moreover, he saw that this was a true blessing against which the worldly blessings of the wicked are as nothing.
These verses are the very apogee of his testimony, and they are filled with some of the finest expressions of true spirituality in all the Bible. They must be read. They deserve to be memorized by every true Christian. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 23-26).
Verse 25 is a particularly fine expression and has been a blessing to many over the ages. Charles Wesley (1707-1788), the great Methodist hymn writer, was thinking about it on his deathbed and actually composed a hymn based on it as his final testimony. Calling his wife to him, he dictated:
In age and feebleness extreme,
What shall a sinful worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart;
O, could I catch a smile from thee,
And drop into eternity.
Many Christians have been able to echo the psalmist, confessing that in the final analysis the only thing that really matters for us is God. He is all we have, but he is also all we need. He guides us here, and afterward he will receive us into glory (v. 24).
The final two verses of this psalm contain Asaph’s testimony, a summary of what has been stated previously: first, that the wicked will perish in the end, and second, that God will be with the righteous and they will be with him. In great understatement, Asaph declares, “But as for me, it is good to be near God.”
Here is a final observation which I hope you will be able to remember and take with you. It concerns the progression of the dominant pronouns in the psalm. In the first section, as far as verse 12, the emphasized pronoun is “they,” referring to the wicked. So the psalmist has his eyes fixed on them. In the second section, verses 13-17, the dominant pronoun is “I.” Having seen the prosperity of the wicked, the psalmist looks at himself and falls into the unjustified comparisons we have been studying. In the third section, verses 18-22, the dominant pronoun is “you.” Here the psalmist has stopped comparing himself to other people and is thinking about God. Then, in the final section of the psalm, verses 23-28, “you” and “I” are combined. Here Asaph says, “you [meaning God] have set your hand upon me” and I for my part want “nothing on earth” but you.
You and I need to learn that lesson in the deepest possible way, for if we learn it, all of life will be transformed and we will find ourselves always content in God. Remember that heaven and earth will pass away (Matt. 24:35), but that those who know God and do his will abide forever.
Study Questions:

Explain the radical reordering of Asaph’s thinking.
Trace the three steps of Asaph’s ascent back to faith in God’s goodness.
In what sense do we need a new awareness of ourselves?

Reflection: How does knowing the destiny of the wicked change your perspective of your own situation? How does an awareness of God’s presence and knowledge of his blessing on the righteous affect your attitude toward circumstances surrounding you now?
For Further Study: The fullest demonstration of God’s goodness is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “None Like Jesus.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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