Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – Psalm 73 – Prospering wicked

Whom have I in heaven but you? ... God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

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Psalm 73, like Job, asks why bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people.

The psalmist sought to live a life pleasing to God, but around him he sees many whose lives are preoccupied with looking after number one and they are prospering at it – look at the description of them in verses 4-11. He has been tempted with envy of them (vv. 2-3); why can't he enjoy the prosperity they enjoy? So he voices his complaint in verses 12-13:

This is what the wicked are like –
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.

There have been times when I have heard Christians tell me that to be successful in this business or that you have to cut corners and be less honest in quality of workmanship or the handling of finances and declaring of profits. Everybody else acts this way and if you don't you will lose out.

Two things need to be noted from this psalm. Firstly the psalmist says that he was envious and was tempted – his "feet had almost slipped" (v.2). He was tempted, but he did not follow their example.

Secondly, he voices his complaint not to God's people but to God himself. He says if he had spoken to fellow believers of his feeling that there was no benefit to living a godly life it could have acted as a snare to them, encouraged them in envy of the wicked and to abandon trust in God (v. 15).

We need to be very careful of how we share our doubts and fears with fellow Christians. It is always good to share such thoughts with a mature fellow Christian, seeking their help, their counsel and their prayer. But to share such thoughts with young Christians who are learning to follow Christ could be a snare to them. We need to watch our own words and conduct that they do not discourage or become a stumbling-block to others, particularly to those young in faith.

The psalmist tells us that his complaint found its resolution when he entered the sanctuary of God (v. 17). There the psalmist would have been made aware of the awesome holiness of God. He would have been reminded of the reality of human sin that demanded God's judgment and of the sacrifices that alone enabled sinful human beings to stand in the presence of a holy God.

Now he realises that those who live for themselves may prosper in life and die rich, but will, in the end face the judgment of God (Psalm 73:18-20, see also Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31). Trusting in the atoning sacrifice, and seeking to please God, the psalmist is assured that God is always with him (v. 23). God's Spirit will be his counsellor, encouraging and redirecting him when he is tempted to envy the ungodly. In the end, God will welcome him into glory (v.24). So this is now the testimony he gladly shares with all God's people in verses 25-26:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion for ever.

Father God, we thank you for Christ's perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. We thank you that, risen from the dead, he is with us always. We thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit to be our counsellor and guide. Keep us faithful in following the Lord Jesus, knowing that though we may not have the earthly riches which some others seem to enjoy, we have an inheritance of glory which far outweighs all that this world can offer. Help us to have a testimony like that in verses 25 and 26 of this psalm, a testimony that will encourage others also to trust in you.

Peter Misselbrook