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Basic Bible: Asaph’s Lament

Psalm 73:1-3, 12-13, 16-18, 21-26

Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians. When David had the ark of God brought into Jerusalem and set in the tent which would house it, he appointed Asaph and other Levites to “minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record, and to thank and praise the Lord” (I Chron. 16:4). Psalm 73 is one of twelve psalms which bear Asaph’s name. It is among the psalms that were recorded before the Lord in the temple-tent by the Levites ministering there.

The words which flow from Asaph’s mouth are of his heart. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (v. 1). This statement, while true, is also Asaph’s conclusion. It is a conclusion produced by Asaph’s thinking upon consideration of the wicked and the manner in the Lord deals with the wicked.

In verse 2, Asaph confesses that he almost did not come to this conclusion. He states, “. . . my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped.” Asaph’s slippage was the result of wrong-thinking. He looked at the prosperity of the wicked and was envious.

Asaph witnessed that which all men have witnessed. All have seen individuals who cheated and, seemingly, benefited from their wrong doing. In verses 4-11, Asaph refers to them who prosper as “they.” Asaph notes that in addition their ill-gotten gains, “they” also mock God (see v. 11). They do not believe that they shall be held accountable for their wrongs. In verse 12, Asaph refers to the wicked as “the ungodly” — as ones possessing no regard for God.

Beginning with verse 13, Asaph reflects upon his own thoughts and actions. He states that he has cleansed his heart and washed his hands in vain. He had done all that he could do to purify himself but his efforts were to no avail. He could not help but think of the manner in which the wicked had profited. He could not erase the images in his mind of the ungodly mocking God.

He confesses, “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me” (v. 16). What is the “this” which was too painful for Asaph to bear? “This” was all that had worked to cause his steps to well-nigh slip. “This” is the trap in which he perceived himself to be caught. He could not deny the evidence — the wicked and ungodly often enjoy good lives. He could not deny that his own life was often hard — he perceived himself to be plagued and chastened by God. He felt that he could not talk about “this” because his perceptions may not be shared by others. Asaph was so alone. He was separated from the ungodly and separated from those who reverenced God.

“This” all changed when Asaph went into the sanctuary of God. Asaph went into the house of the Lord and his perspective changed. He stopped looking at things from the viewpoint of himself. He acquired a new measuring stick. He looked at the ungodly from an eternal perspective and he understood their end. Asaph gained understanding because he connected with eternity.

“Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins” (v. 21). God gave Asaph new understanding. Asaph saw himself as he had never before seen himself. He saw himself as foolish, as ignorant, as an untamed beast before God. Asaph saw more than himself. He saw God holding his hand. He came to an amazing realization — God was with him when he was envious of the wicked. God was with him when he looked to his own understandings. He realized that he was not alone when he thought himself to be alone.

Asaph had been guilty of wrong-thinking. He was guilty of questioning God’s justice. Asaph had wandered far but all the time, the Lord held fast to his right hand (v. 23). Asaph came to know God as he had never before known Him: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (v. 24).

What a difference between the Asaph who had well-nigh slipped (v. 2) and the Asaph who now declares with confidence that God shall guide him and shall afterward receive him into glory. This difference in Asaph occurred because he went into the sanctuary of God (v. 17).

Asaph was the chief musician to minister before the ark of the Lord (I Chron. 6:5). Asaph would have been in the temple-tent on a daily basis. It would seem, based upon his proximity to the ark of the Lord, that Asaph should never have been far from the Lord. Being physically present in the sanctuary of God does not mean one is spiritually present. Asaph was without help and in uncertainty until he yield himself to God’s understandings.

Asaph turned from wrong-thinking to right-thinking. His right-thinking is revealed in verses 25 and 26. We see the new understanding which the Lord has given to him. Asaph sees himself as he is (and all men are). He sees himself as totally dependent upon God. Asaph now trusts in the Lord, and in Him only.

All believers are called to do as Asaph did. All believers are called to put wrong-thinking aside and embrace right-thinking. All are called to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). Let us be as Asaph.

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