My Favourite Stories #61

The Man Who Saw Too Much!

Asaph was a Levite (from the tribe of Levi) who was commissioned as a young man by David to be a singer, poet, and musician in the house of God. (1Chron15:17-19, 16:5-7, 25:6. 1Chron25:1.)  2Chron 5:12 and 2Chron29:30 adds that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions. He would have been an older man as he transitioned to the reign of Solomon. He was involved in the dedication of Solomon’s temple. In this time frame, Asaph would have seen a lot of corruption and intrigue that would have included: Saul’s obsessions and apostacy, David’s infidelity and murder, Absalom’s rebellion, Joab’s political exploits, as well as all the things that troubled David as he faced the exploits of his political enemies. He wrote 12 psalms. Psalm 73 is in my top 3 favorite psalms. This psalm is a reflection of Asaph’s spiritual struggle.

This deep and thought-provoking psalm may be best understood by the dominant pronouns within. When Asaph is troubled by the prosperity of the ungodly (vs1-12), the dominant pronoun is they. When he describes his own frustrated thinking leading to the resolution (vs3-17), the dominant pronoun is I. When he finds resolution of the problem (vs18-22), the dominant pronoun is You, in the sense of God. When He proclaims the assurance of his faith and fellowship with God (verses 23-28), the dominant pronouns are a mixture of You and I. Read the Psalm and try highlighting the progression.

The theme is the perennial problem of reconciling God’s moral government with the observed facts. How can an infinitely powerful God be good and yet allow the wicked to prosper and the righteous to go unrewarded? As you read this psalm ask yourself, “How do you respond to corruption?” Especially if that corruption is in the church! If the righteous go unrewarded and the wicked are enriched, surely there is something wrong with the moral government of the world? This is what caused Asaph’s feet to ‘almost’ stumble & slip.’ (V2). Looking at others can cause our feet to spiritually stumble. Having Doubts is not incompatible with faith.

We live in a world where fairness and justice are not always evident. We all want to believe that crime doesn’t pay, but sometimes it does. When Asaph wrote psalm 73  he acknowledged he was not looking at the big picture. I his psalm he meditates on the perennial problem of reconciling God’s moral government with observed facts. Immoral people gain fame and fortune. Asaph was struggling with the fact that the great promises of God didn’t seem to apply to him. Envy is a sickness that only faith can heal!

After the fire of Rome Nero launched a wave of persecution of Christians. In the year of his own crucifixion (AD68), Peter wrote 2Pet3:10ff. His example tells us to navigate the turmoils of life in the shadow of the cross and keep our sight focused on the promises of God, even if present reality seemingly denies them. Nero committed suicide, 6 months after he ordered Peter’s execution. Paul had been martyred by Nero the year before.

It shows that having doubts like Asaph’s is not incompatible with faith. It may have been true, as he says, that his feet ‘had almost slipped.’ But they had not actually slipped, he was just asking questions. Such deep questions cause one to question the moral order of the universe. After all, one asks, what good is there in being good? If the wicked enjoy the same prosperity as the ‘pure in heart,’ then what is the reward of godliness?  

If God is in control of things, the plans of the wicked should flounder and be openly punished. The godly alone should prosper. But that is not what Asaph saw, and it is not what we see either. We see degenerate scoundrels getting rich! The faith that Asaph clung to was also contradicted by what he saw within the walls of the palace. This was the same faith believed so strongly by Job’s friends, – the same faith that prompted the question of the disciples, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John9:2)

Fermentation should be done in the dark. Fortunately, Psalm 73:16 tells us Asaph kept his doubts to himself.   It is a pitiful thing that an heir of heaven should have to confess ‘I was envious,’ but worse still that he should have to say, ‘I was envious of the arrogant’ V3. The following verses are Asaph’s reflections on the seemingly good life of the wicked. In v11 he asks, “Does God even know what’s happening” NLT. Finally, in vs15-17 he finds a new perspective. The crisis seemed to build and build for Asaph until he went into the house of the Lord. Asaph, as a Levite, had access to the newly constructed magnificent temple-sanctuary. There he gained an outlook on his problem that he did not have before. There he was able to see things from an eternal viewpoint, and he then ‘understood their end.’ The temple of Solomon was apparently sensationally spectacular, but what did he actually see there that was beyond his senses? He saw in visual, and pantomime form the whole plan of salvation, from Eden lost to Eden Restored; he saw the gospel in type pictured in the sacrifices. He saw portrayed the fate of the wicked and the judgment of God upon a planet in rebellion. He recognized the present conditions will one day change and justice will be done! The sanctuary message teaches us to trust in the goodness and the justice of God. Suddenly, the wicked were the ones in ‘slippery places’(v18). The wicked will eventually fail, and the righteous will prosper. Our doubts can be based on circumstances or ignorance of God’s providences. Take a look at the end!

This world (your life) is but one act in the great drama of the ages and success or failure is determined by how the drama proceeds to the last act. Who in the end prospers and who fails? With an eternal perspective from the house of God, Asaph understood that the good life of the ungodly is really as fragile as a dream(v20), and they will soon wake to the reality of the ‘destruction,’ ‘desolation,’ and ‘terrors’ that are their portion.

Asaph realizes the glorious destiny that is his. After going into the sanctuary (Solomon’s temple,) Asaph confessed before the Lord his sinful lack of understanding. He felt foolish that he had forgotten the obvious truths of eternity and God’s eventual justice. Asaph rightly observed that animals seem to have no concept of eternity. They live their lives for momentary pleasures, satisfying natural urges. When Asaph forgot about eternity, he was truly ‘like a beast before’ God.

Vs23 – 25 are pure gold! Using the imagery of a father and child he says, “yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.” (NLT.) Being held by his right hand, to Asaph, meant that he was with God and that God was with him. What wonderful words; to be led to a glorious destiny! Here is a deliberate contrast with the fate of the wicked. Suddenly the only thing in life that he desired was God. 

 ‘It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works:’ It is staggering to see how much good Asaph’s visit to the house of the Lord did for him. It gave him understanding and an eternal perspective. The ‘wicked’ pass to oblivion, but the trusting soul continues forever.

He saw the great benefit in drawing near to God, which he doubted before (v13). It may seem good to unsaved eyes to go to their alcohol, social merriment, and the cares of vanity, but to me, says the psalmist, it is good, pre-eminently good, that I should draw near to God. 

His conclusion: v27-28, distance from God is death, but His abiding presence is eternal life. Before you draw another breath, contemplate the glorious destiny that you have in Christ, to use the wording of the NASB; allow him to take your right hand … and guide you and afterward receive you into glory. What else do you have of value?

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