Theme: When the Wicked Prosper
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
There are lots of buzzwords in the English language today. In fact, “buzzword” is one of them. But there are others, words like “online,” “down time,” “market driven,” “politically correct,” and others. One of my favorites is “paradigm shift.” A paradigm is a fully worked out conjugation of a verb or declension of a noun, showing the word in all its forms. It is a complete framework. So a paradigm shift is a radical change from one system or way of looking at something to another. In other words, it is a change in a person’s world or life view. Asaph had such a paradigm shift, and Psalm 73 is his record of it.
Who was Asaph? Asaph was one of the members of the tribe of Levi whom David put in charge of the worship music that was performed at the Tent of Meeting before Solomon built the great temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 6:39). In time, he seems to have become the leader of this group and then the father of an entire clan of temple musicians. David gave some of his psalms to Asaph, and these were performed by him and his associates (1 Chron. 16:7). Asaph also composed psalms himself. One of these is Psalm 50, from the second book of the Psalter. The other psalms which are said to be by Asaph are Psalms 73-83, which lead off the Psalter’s third book. Of the six remaining psalms in this third section (Psalms 84-89), four are by the “sons of Korah,” who were also temple musicians.1
One thing that makes Asaph attractive is his honesty, honesty about himself and what he saw around him. What he saw and what bothered him so much is that the wicked seem to do very well in this world, much better than the godly, and this is not what we should expect in a moral universe directed by a sovereign God. If God is in control of things, the plans of the wicked should flounder. They should even be punished openly. The godly alone should prosper. But that is not what Asaph saw, and it is not what we see either, is it? Instead of the right thing happening, we see scoundrels getting rich. Utterly degenerate persons, like particularly vile rock musicians or movie stars, are well paid and sought after. Even criminals get rich selling their crime stories.
Why do the wicked prosper and the godly have such a hard time? This is the same question that was raised in Psalm 37 and in Job. However, in each of these places a different answer is suggested. In Psalm 37 the answer is to wait, to trust Jehovah, believing that in the end the wrong will be set right even in this world. David says, ”Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away” (vv. 1, 2).
In Job there is no answer, at least none given to Job. It is simply that God is above us and we dare not, indeed we cannot, question him. God makes this point in chapters 38-41, demanding in a thoroughly exhaustive manner whether Job can explain even one of his manifold works of creation, not to mention his ways with the righteous and the wicked. Job cannot, and the conclusion comes when he confesses, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).
In Psalm 73 the answer is none of the above, not ignorance, nor trust in the eventual judgment of the wicked in this life. It is a perception of the ultimate end of the wicked, beyond this life, and the blessed reality of God experienced by the righteous here and now.
In providing this answer, Psalm 73 is probably the most perceptive treatment of this theme in all literature. But the reason is that Asaph is so honest in his questioning. He looks at the world with open eyes and then comes to God for the answer to his problem.2
1In the second book of the Psalter, Psalms 42 and 44-49 are also titled “Of the sons of Korah.”
2For a good discussion of the answers to the problem of the apparent successes of the wicked in Psalms 37, 73 and in Job, see J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 3-7. Original edition 1823-1879.
What is a paradigm shift?
Who was Asaph?
What was Asaph honest about in this psalm?
Why do the wicked prosper while the godly have such a hard time? Compare the answers given in Psalm 37, Job, and Psalm 73.
Reflection: Like Asaph, are you bothered by the prosperity of the wicked in a universe directed by a sovereign God? How is God calling you to live in the midst of these difficulties that are hard to understand, especially when they affect us personally?
For Further Study: James Boice’s published series of sermons on the Psalms is a great resource for small group or Sunday school topics. Order this three-volume set from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and receive 25% off the regular price.