Reading: Psalm 73

My dear brethren and sisters, the Psalms are wonderful in that they deal so powerfully with the emotional ups and downs of life in the Truth. They portray before us the mind of the spirit in exhorting each one of us how to deal with those emotional highs and in particular the lows.

This seventy-third Psalm highlights for us the tremendous danger in only focusing upon the horizontal plane—in other words, the here and now. The Psalmist had temporarily lost that vertical focus to his life that is necessary for us to walk forward in faith, as it states in verse two “but as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped”.

Now that word “gone” in verse two is in the passive voice in the Hebrew and is a direct result of the psalmist focusing upon the wrong things, having lost his perspective. As is clear from verse 3 of the Psalm:

“For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”.

This has been a problem for the saints in every age brethren and sisters and indeed who amongst us has not at certain times fallen prey to this very subtle sin. The title of the Psalm is instructive here for the word “Psalm” comes from a root word “to prune”. Do you not prune a plant to maintain and develop growth, so that better quality and great volume of fruit may be brought forth?

Whereas the name “Asaph” comes from a root word to “gather together in assembly”. So when we translate the title we have a song that when meditated upon properly will prune our thinking in order to develop our characters to bring forth much fruit to our Father’s glory. Now this song then is for all those who are gathered together, the ecclesia.

So what Asaph is describing here is a generic problem faced by us all brethren and sisters, especially at those times when we feel the chastening hand of our God upon us. We are being instructed here concerning a very real and present danger. For we live in an increasing age of wealth and materialism on one hand and spreading amorality on the other.

Envy brethren and sisters, is a subtle internal sin, but the scriptures describe it as being truly deadly.

“A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30)

Elsewhere we read that none can stand before envy, for the foolish are slain by it. Indeed the psalmist himself nearly walked away from the truth and our Heavenly Father altogether because of it. In verse thirteen we have this faulty conclusion “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain”, as a result of carnal thinking.

Envy robs us of our peace with God, because it introduces a distortion in that we regard our lot in life to be somewhat unfair. So as we become agitated and discontent with our lot in life and this reflects back upon our Heavenly Father. For even if the providence of the Father did not directly place us in the position or the difficult circumstance that brings on this envy. Our Father indeed has the power to change that set of circumstances and has chosen not too. Thus we judge it is his fault and our envy is justified by our fleshly mind.

The result is that our envy eats away at us from the inside and destroys our stability in the truth and makes a breech in our relationship with our Heavenly Father and possibly with the individuals we envy. For they might even be in the truth, rather than those, outside as I am sure is the case here with Asaph. We can just as easily envy our brethren and sisters, as the next man in the street. As verses fourteen to sixteen show envy is all consuming brethren and sisters:

Verses 14 – 16

“For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me”.

Envying is a work of the flesh and indeed the Eternal Spirit through James summarises the Old Testament warnings with regards to this deadly sin “do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?”

This verse might be translated literally as such “the spirit that dwells within us jealously regards us as his own”.

Now we all know the truth of this brethren and sisters because we daily have to fight against the lusts of the flesh, even though we are just dealing with its residue. For as we have come here today to remember the work of the Father in the son. We recall that supreme sacrifice, which took away the root of our problem in the sacrifice of himself.

Having then been bought with that price of his precious blood we are no longer servants of sin, but servants of righteousness unto God. Yet our old master desires us back and does & will never give up the fight to reclaim us for his own.

Again the Proverbs speak:

“Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of Yahweh all the day long”. (Prov. 23:17)

This “Fear of Yahweh” is we are told elsewhere is the beginning of wisdom brethren and sisters for it tends to life, enables us to depart from evil and instructs us in the knowledge of our God. Note fear comes before the wisdom, so reverence is the primary component that wisdom flows from, thus it is reciprocal and these two strands strengthen one another.

The receiving of ‘wisdom’ results in “fear or awe” of our Heavenly Father, because we experience a more complete understanding of who He is. Through ‘wisdom,’ then the wise man comes to see or behold Yahweh our God, so that a real and fulfilling relationship may take place with our Heavenly Father.

That proverb instructs us to keep our sight and our minds on the vertical plane focusing upon our relationship with the Almighty and the eternal, rather than the temporal.

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal”. (2 Cor. 4:18)

Much of our individual difficulties in the truth come about because we either develop a distorted picture of our Heavenly Father, as Asaph did here.

Or indeed our knowledge of him is shallow to start with. We really must work both individually & collectively as an ecclesia to communicate the fullness of our understanding of the character and ways of our God. Likewise this is also true of our beloved Master and his current intercessory work.

The psalmist struggling with his discontentment caused by envy with regards to our Heavenly Father and his righteousness, his justice, resolves to take his problem to our Heavenly Father. Thus we read in verse 17:

“Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end”.

The psalmist experienced doubt brought on by the things he witnessed in every day life and indeed in Asaph’s case every day ecclesial life. Now some would say that doubt is evil and sinful, but that is not the case brethren and sisters. Doubt is only a boundary to our current level of faith in that doubts raise questions, based upon our experience or that of others, which we cannot answer or overcome. Thus a boundary or obstacle to our faith developing further is revealed and that is surely a good thing.

Now let me make myself clear here, brethren and sisters doubt if left unresolved will fester and lead, as was nearly the case in the psalmist here to unbelief. Yet doubts faced and overcome will only serve to strengthen our faith.

Let us follow Asaph’s faithful example in how to deal with such conflicts of mind in that he attempted even in his unstableness of mind to draw near unto his God. Prayer, reading, meditation and fellowship are the means to overcome our doubts brethren and sisters. Sometimes we may have to confide in one another and seek counsel from others we know and love for their wisdom in the truth. Indeed let us not be fearful in doing so, for as Asaph’s example shows these issues are common problems.

Asaph’s visit to the sanctuary reconnected his vertical focus; it cleared the fog in his mind and drove away the envy he had been experiencing, because the truth of the situation became clear to him.

There is a lesson here for us brethren and sisters as we come week by week to gather together in an assembly to strengthen and remember that vertical axis to our lives. We need it brethren and sisters Asaph’s example and near folly prove it to us.

Now it is suggested that what Asaph saw within the confines of the sanctuary were the plates of brass upon the altar that recalled to his mind the incident of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Whether this is true or not, we cannot tell, but what is true is that Asaph shows us brethren and sisters how to overcome such conflicts of mind and experience.

Interestingly brethren and sisters there is a parallel in the language with the beginning of the psalm in this final section, as Asaph finally grasps the end of the wicked.

Verses 18 – 20

“Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image”.

In verse eighteen, the Spirit speaks of “slippery places” that is exactly where the Psalmists envy had taken him. Nigh to the point of destruction, as can be seen from the intense emotional reaction in verse twenty-one to his foolishness. The use of both the “heart” and “reins” here indicate the fullness of this shock to his system. Notice carefully brethren and sisters that it is not the fact that he nearly was destroyed by his envying that shocks and shames the psalmist, although I am sure he did indeed feel that way.

Rather I believe that he was grieved in his spirit and felt greatly ashamed, because of the thoughts he was entertaining concerning his Heavenly Father and how far he had moved away from his God. For Asaph had been at the point of charging the Almighty with unrighteousness. The next two verses seem to bear this out:

Verses 22 – 23

“So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand”.

We are reminded here of some words in an earlier psalm “nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish”. Asaph had been thinking like a common animal and this is so true of us all at times brethren and sisters when we only focus upon the temporal and let the mind of flesh run rampant over our apparent circumstances.

Now verses twenty-three to the end of the psalm show Asaph seeking to restore his fellowship with the Father in drawing near to him again.

This focus confirms to me that his greatest shock was how far he had strayed and how much he was out of fellowship with the Father, when he came to his sense. Do we feel like Asaph here brethren and sisters when we become aware of our own straying?

Now notice carefully verse 23 “thou hast holden me by my right hand” and let us take great comfort here brethren and sisters how that although Asaph removed himself from the Father. Our Heavenly Father remained faithfully and providentially at his side.

Hebrews Chapter 13 and verses 5 – 6 record:

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me”.

When the psalmist entered the sanctuary he learned by experience the truth of these words from Hebrews. The imagery here brethren and sisters is important in that Asaph comes to realise exactly how close his God was to him, encamping around him. I am reminded here of a quote by the noted apologist C. S. Lewis who wrote in his book The Problem of Pain this well known line. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains”.
The picture in this 23rd verse is of a father leading a child by the hand along the way, again let us take great comfort from this brethren and sisters. Here we do not have an angry God, incensed at Asaph’s maligning of him. Nor does it show the Almighty displeased and disappointed at Asaph’s failure to understand. Rather we have a loving, patient and longsuffering father passionately caring for his children; carefully leading the psalmist through his crisis of faith to the safety and security of faith renewed.

Psalm 37 and verse 24

“Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for Yahweh upholdeth him with his hand”. (Upholdeth here is an active participle a continuous principle that our Heavenly Father works by.)

Our Heavenly Father is faithful as is evidenced here by the psalmist, yet his faithfulness to us does not negate our responsibilities to respond. For we read elsewhere in the proverbs that “a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again”. To which we can add these words of explanation “the law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide”. Indeed the psalms also instruct us to pray that our Heavenly Father will uphold our goings that our feet slide not, which of course amounts to the Father leading us not into temptation, but delivering us from evil.

From all these passages we learn that we will indeed continue to fail brethren and sisters, sometimes badly. Yet we must in faith accept our Father’s promises and his aid and rise up once more, dust ourselves down and walk forward in faith.

Indeed with the law of God implanted in our hearts, the greater the dwelling of that law the more stable our walk will be. Yet we shall still fall from time to time, the psalmist understanding this point says the following at the beginning of that 23rd verse “nevertheless (but as for me – is the sense here) I am continually with thee”.

Here we see Asaph’s renewed vigour of faith, determination and resolve to cleave to his God, because of his close shave. Glance at verse 25:

Verse 25

“Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee”.

The first part of this verse is an important question, rhetorical yes, but important none the less. When you see a question in the text like this it is meant to cause you to pause and carefully consider the truth implied within. For the entire rest of the psalm revolves around the psalmists’ answer to this question.

If God be for us, who can be against us? Answer no one then let us, as the psalmist does desire our Heavenly Father above all. Now the last three verses of the psalm are life-changing realisations that his painful experience has led him too:

Verses 26

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever”.

Asaph here firstly acknowledges that although his spirit is willing his flesh is weak and his heart is not strong enough for the task unaided. Then comes that little word “but”, which transforms his weakness. “But God is the strength of my heart”, here the psalmist learns an important lesson that it appears only experience yields that our Heavenly Father’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Now this word “strength” is the Hebrew word “tsur”, meaning “rock”. The sense here is of firmness and courage. Our Heavenly Father will render his heart courageous to endure firm unto the end.

It is not enough for Asaph to just to receive strength from the Almighty; he also wants Yahweh to be his portion in the land of the living. The sense here is not only in hoping in our Heavenly Father, but as he earlier spoke of desiring the Almighty. Here we see the psalmist’s desire is no longer for the life lived by those he was earlier envious of, but to have Yahweh alone, as his desire and portion.

His focus is clearly eternal rather than temporal, because despite his weakness of heart, he is now totally resolved to pursue our Heavenly Father above all else and to the exclusion of everything earthly, as is clear from verse twenty-three. Do you and I have this singleness of motivation brethren and sisters? Are we possessed with this same overwhelming desire?

Let us examine our selves in the light of Asaph’s example, since we have surely all fallen foul to his folly at one time or another. Now maybe not to the severity of his example, but nevertheless we have all had similar thoughts and questions. Yet have we each had the same corresponding intense response?

Now if we are honest brethren and sisters this pursuit Asaph now engages in does not really describe ourselves, does it? We can at times reach such a pitch, but it is not the norm to be so driven day by day. The reason we don’t feel this desire for the Father is because we instead pursue all the things the foolish do.

Matthew Chapter 6 and verse 33

“seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”?

Asaph teaches us brethren and sisters that our lives are to be distinct we are to march to be beat of a different drum. In doing so we become lights in this dark and evil age to those who themselves are unhappy with what this life has to offer.

What we are seeing here in the end of this psalm, is that refocusing of Asaph’s passion no longer on the things of this life, but upon our Heavenly Father. Passion provides the motivation to maintain the disciple of pursuing after Yahweh, for what you are passionate about you act upon. Do we each have a passion for our Heavenly Father and the things of his kingdom?

Verse 27

“For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee”.

The psalmist not only understands the end of the wicked clearly now and secondly he repudiates all that glitters in that manner of life. He also acknowledges that they are covenant breakers (adulterers) who have pursued the wrong things and taken themselves away from Yahweh their God. If friendship with the world is enmity with Almighty God, then what is marriage to the world brethren and sisters?

Notice carefully how Asaph dwells here in this verse, upon the consequence of his earlier error of removing himself from the Father’s presence. The thought of it now not only appals him, but strikes fear into his inner man. He no longer desires to be either counted with them or indeed to suffer their fate:

Verses 18 – 20

“Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image”.

He has finally learned to “abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good”. A lesson again that appears that only experience teaches us. Finally we read in verse twenty-eight his grand conclusion:

Verse 28

“But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Adonai Yahweh, that I may declare all thy works”.

The psalmist’s mind is still focused upon this distance between him and our Heavenly Father. Is this something we ever give attention too brethren and sisters?

He realises that security in the truth is based upon this closeness to Almighty God, in developing a more intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. This drawing near has benefits not only in this life, but also in relation to the age to come, as is clear from verse 24:

Verse 24

“Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory”.

Thus applying the counsel of our Heavenly Father in his word and in giving our selves unto prayer is the means by which, we like Asaph can draw near. Undoubtedly Asaph was also thinking of coming into the sanctuary as a means of drawing near and that is equally true of us brethren and sisters as we meet here today.

James Chapter 4 and verse 8

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you”.

Notice we have to draw nigh first and our Heavenly Father and he will respond in kind. For He desires brethren and sisters to dwell in the high and lofty place with those that draw nigh. This high and lofty place spoken of in Isaiah is undoubtedly the temple of the age to come atop the mountain of Zion, which is to be lifted up in the topographical changes yet to take place in the earth.

In returning to James for a moment this drawing nigh is an aorist active imperative in the Greek. So it is an ongoing command and with the imperative comes a sense of urgency in our need to perform it brethren and sisters.

Returning to this twenty-eighth verse of the Psalm we find two results of Asaph drawing near to his God. Firstly he places his trust in Adonai Yahweh, note the use of the title here it has a dual application (due to the way it can be translated). It speaks in the first instance of our Heavenly Father – He who is my ruler and therefore sovereign over the psalmist’s life. Secondly it speaks of He who will be rulers in this secondary application it harks back to the end of verse twenty-four “and afterward receive me to glory”.

Then finally we find the second result, that of declaring all Yahweh’s works. Now brethren and sisters for this recounting and relating of our Heavenly Father’s deeds to be effective. We need to live the message our selves for our declaration to have an impact upon those with whom we have to do!

Now it is interesting brethren and sisters that this reaction is common amongst those whom Yahweh restores. We only have to think of David who said in Psalm fifty-one:

Psalm 51 and verses 12 – 13

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee”.

Or in Psalm 71 and verse 18:

“O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come”.

It is incumbent upon us brethren and sisters to so recount and relate to one another and to our children and to any others who show an interest in the deeds of our Heavenly Father. Asaph is no longer concerned with his own security in the truth alone; he is now concerned for his brethren and he desires to make an impact in their lives. We might ask the question what sort of impact are we having on one another for God brethren and sisters?

Brethren and sisters as we now turn our thoughts from Asaph to the one we are gathered here to remember, our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us briefly review this last section of the psalm again with the Master in mind. For the full fulfilment of verses twenty-three to twenty-eight are found firstly in the Master himself and then in a secondary sense, as typified by Asaph in those gathered together in the beloved.

Unlike Asaph Christ was continually with his Father and as the Apostle John records. “He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him”. The Father literally was his guide for we read in Isaiah “morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear”, so that he became the word made flesh.

Indeed the Son having faithfully completing his sacrificial work, we are shortly to remember was received into glory. “Into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us, we read in Hebrews”. Whilst in the days of his flesh the Master desired none upon earth, only his Father and the fulfilment of his will indeed was able to say: “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me”.

We remember in the garden brethren and sisters that our Master was indeed touched with the feelings of the infirmities of the flesh in that he likewise suffered temptation. “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”.

In Luke’s record we find the Fathers immediately response “and there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him”. Thus Yahweh was indeed his strength of heart and his portion brethren and sisters. Indeed verse twenty-seven finds fulfilment in A.D 70 with the destruction of that generation, which rejected the son and consequently his Father, their God.

The Lord Jesus Christ shows his nearness, his proximity (oneness) with the Father and his purpose, by his implicit trust. In that he was willing, as we remember now to “humble himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the stake”.

Psalm 40 and verses 8 – 10 declare:

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Yahweh, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation”.

Yet with regards to the Lord Jesus Christ the final line of this psalm is yet to have its richest fulfilment. For in the age to come, it is recorded in psalm twenty-two: “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him”.

Brethren and sisters as we now partake of the emblems “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith and Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering. Let us follow Asaph’s faithful example and declare all the works of our Father exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching”. That in the mercy of our God we might find ourselves gathered together in that great congregation to both witness and take part in our Master’s declaration of praise.

Wayne Marshall