Theme: Do Not Envy the Wicked
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
1. Envy of the wicked (vv. 2, 3). What Asaph observed was “the prosperity of the wicked” which defies our expectation that virtue should be rewarded and wickedness punished. But that is only one side of the problem and probably the least important. Asaph’s real problem, as he acknowledges, was that he had become envious of the wicked, and it was as a result of this that he had “almost slipped.” In other words, his problem was that he compared their health, wealth and prosperity with his lack of prosperity and was resentful that God would allow such a state to continue.
That is where our problem lies too, isn’t it? I mean, it is not really the intellectual problems that really bother us, though we may express our unhappiness that way. It is that God is not treating us the way we think he should, that other people seem to be doing better than we are, that we have to struggle for a living while they coast along without any obvious trouble. Our problem is envy, and envy is criticizing God. It is sin.
2. A description of the wicked (vv. 4-11). Asaph is honest about his sin, however. So the next thing he tells us is what he thought he observed about the wicked during this time of spiritual slippage. They seem to have no problems, to possess near perfect health, to thrive on pride and be courted by other people, even to the point of being able to dismiss God as having any importance for their lives. “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence…They say, ‘How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge’” (vv. 4-6, 11)?
The wicked seem to get away with their wickedness and even boast about it. That is what is so troubling. Dionysius the Younger, an ancient tyrant of Sicily, plundered the temple of Syracuse, sailed home safely with his loot and then remarked, “Do you not see how the gods favor those who commit sacrilege?” When we are in an envious state we find situations like that galling and wish that God would strike the arrogant person down.
3. A summary (v. 12). Verse 12 is a summary of what Asaph has told us about the wicked so far. “This is what the wicked are like,” he says. They are “always carefree” and “they increase in wealth.” When I think about this summary it seems to me that what Asaph is talking about is what we call “the lifestyles of the rich and famous.”
4. The psalmist’s wrong conclusion (vv. 13, 14). What is the point of being godly, then? Asaph asks. Or as we would put it, what is the advantage of being a Christian if those who are not Christians get what I want and I don’t get it? Indeed, the situation is even worse than that, for not only don’t I get what I want, I have troubles to boot. In fact, it even seems as if I am being punished for trying to be good. “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 (vv. 13, 14).
Haven’t you ever felt like that? Of course, you have. All of us feel that way whenever we get our eyes off God and begin to compare our condition with the circumstances of the wicked.
Yet even at this low point, when he is oppressed by what he sees and is jealous of those for whom he should have no envy, Asaph is still a believing child of God. One way he shows it is by what he says next. He says that although he felt this way, he did not want to say what he was feeling out loud because he did not want to harm the faith of other people, those he calls “this generation of your children” (v. 15). That is an interesting point, because it shows that having doubts like Asaph’s is not incompatible with responsible Christian living. It may have been true, as he says, that his feet “had almost slipped.” But they had not actually slipped, or at least they had not slipped so far as to make him forget his responsibilities as a leader of God’s people.
What was Asaph’s underlying problem?
Why does it bother us so much that the wicked seem to prosper?
What does Asaph seem to conclude about being godly in verses 13-14?
Reflection: Can you think of a recent time of doubt like Asaph’s? Have you ever felt as though God is not treating you fairly? How can focusing on God and expressing your feelings to him help change your attitude? Why is that better than ignoring your feelings and doubts?
Prayer: Identify an area in your life where you feel envious of others. Express your feelings to God honestly, then ask him to change your perspective and help you focus on him.
Application: What steps can you take this week to focus your attention on God, instead of on the circumstances of those around you?