10th Psalm post: Psalm 73

Brueggemann places Psalm 73 at the center of the book. I wonder what he means by that? What does that mean for a poem to lie at the center of the “book of psalms”? Moving away from the Torah/wisdom and rule of God’s king introduction, one quickly (and as several have commented–quite overwhelmingly) encounters the burden of numerous laments. After psalm 73 that road continues through the “hopeless” ps. 88 and the monarchic failure of ps. 89. Only then does the turn occur, slowly at first–God reigns even if it does not appear so–but then gathering momentum until the resounding praise of pss. 146-150.

So right in the middle, sort of, one finds Asaph’s struggle to make sense of a life lived with God but among a crooked generation that succeeds regardless of Moses’ numerous “disobedience leads to a curse” promises.

Thus his “my steps almost slipped” (v.2) evaluation: is Moses wrong? does crime pay? God where are you?

My proverb: the righteous are those who know they’re not, the wicked are those who think they are (righteous) fits verses 11-14, Asaph does well for God, while God abandons him; the wicked, who don’t care about God’s reaction to their evil behavior, prosper.

The psalm turns on the next several verses. But those verses receive new meaning if one examines the Hebrew text. What the translations render as past actions: “I came into the sanctuary” (v17), “you set them” (v18), “my heart was embittered” (v21), are actually prefix forms, which reflect non-completed actions. These would be better rendered: I would come into, you would set them, My heart would be; each describing habitual actions, those enacted over and over again.

What this means is that Asaph is just like we are. His “cure” was not readily achieved with a quick trip to the temple: walk in, see God, walk out, know, believe, and manage life better. Would that it was so simple! On the other hand, what happens to us, happened to him. When discouraged, he would go to the temple, there he would be encouraged, then the would manage life better–for a while–but then the cycle of discouragement would return. The wicked prosper, he doesn’t; they cheat, he suffers; they party, he struggles–God what’s up??

But God proves faithful, again and again, as many times as necessary Asaph returns to God, who encourages, who promises, who provides in spite of all the evil that never seems to come to its (divinely) appointed end.

The question is: can we live by faith or must we see to believe?


17 Responses to “10th Psalm post: Psalm 73”

  1. Matthew Lashway Says:

    the righteous are those who know they’re not, the wicked are those who think they are (righteous), this is truly how i feel the psalms and the laments connect to me and i feel this generation. we are a generation of fakers and as followers of God it kills me to watch the hypocrites prosper. so I need to up the ante and live fully by faith, but that is almost impossible in a human mindset.

    • Boom, roasted. You got us.

    • The comment about our generation is spot on. Those who do not understand the bible or what righteousness is (as I certainly used to myself) think that it means to be spotless. The truth though is to be righteous is to have spots that all can very much see, but to testify to the goodness of God.

    • Bradley Zembower Says:

      You hit the nail on the head; It is hard to live fully by faith in a human mindset. We only see such a small portion of the picture and we think it’s all about us. Even if we didn’t live by faith and God allowed us to “see” to believe…we still wouldn’t see because we are blind.

  2. Faith challenges my mind, my reason and my patience. it seems a fool’s errand to some but somehow in longing and working for the kingdom-come you collide with His presence.

    • I like the “longing” thought you put forth. As we grow in our relationship with God, we begin to have yearnings for his presence. What actually happens is that we reperceive him. We have tunnel vision because of egocentric living. When we take a big breath and exhale, our vision broadens and becomes more aware that God is there. We can long for him in trouble and peace alike. “Longing”; nice thought.

  3. I love that it is an unfinished action and a continuing habit. The psalmists werent perfect beings writing things we can attain to. They were human beings writing about the cycles and processes we all live in. That’s great comfort, and even greater comfort that this is all inspired by the God who also wrote that when we are faithless, He is faithful. His desire is not for the wicked to perish, but for the wicked to repent and turn from their ways.

    • Matthew Lashway Says:

      so right man, unfinished action it is indeed and i love how you pulled out that it is in cycles. We were once the wicked to, and we turned, God totally would like to see the same cycle repeat itself

    • kayla lyn Says:

      I agree Josh. It is super encouraging to know that God really does want everyone to repent and turn from their ways. When we do come back to Him, He is there with open arms, excited to see us and welcome us home. God is faithful even in our unfaithfulness. What a great God.

  4. The answer to your question is: yes. Living by faith is a gift from on-high. We all have it. It is a matter of exercising it. That is hindered when we do the second – live by sight (proof). Throughout my few decades as a believer, I have gone through the cycle mentioned innumerable times. I used to feel awful when I fell into “sight” mode. I have since gotten over it. God is not disappointed when I do this. He turns his head (because he is alongside me) and tells me to keep on walking. He is always there to guide; not whack. When I refocus on the life he desires for me, the walk of faith results. Struggles continue, but hope is not lost.

    • I agree Brian, we like to walk by sight and not by faith, because we are that type of creature. But when we’re born again, that should all change, notice I said should. Some of us like to hold on to that one thing from our past, and it is the one thing we should let go. Believers, we should walk by faith and not by sight.

  5. kayla lyn Says:

    It is definitely difficult to live by faith. It is not easy to see the present state of our world and the prosperity of the wicked and proclaim (let alone live) that God is reigning- that God is in control. One of the main reasons why people won’t turn to God is that they have a difficult time with us saying that God is King while the evidence is pointing to Satan being king. That is because we live by faith. We as Christians are called to live that crazy, radical life that says God is King, even when it doesn’t look like it. We are called to live like the Psalmist who said that reigned even when Israel was presently under a foreign king. That takes a lot of faith and a lot of security in who God is and who God says you are because everyone else is gonna tell you that you’re crazy!

  6. You are right Dr. Snyder, if it was that easy. Some folk believe it is that simple, and they walk out as though all is well. I don’t whether it is having faith or it’s just plan ole ignorance. Their is something we must do, but most of us don’t want to have to do anything to receive the rightness of God, they just think it grows on a tree out back. If we learn how to depend on Him and seek His face, then all would be well with our soul.

  7. I don’t know how much we can always live by faith. If we are living by faith it is on the sight of others; the sight of the testimony of God in their life. We live daily and are encouraged daily by trusting in God and being in community with others who do. It’s hard to understand life when we have to look bad and this is part of what makes us righteous – that we are open about our failure but open about God’s faithfulness, love, etc. It’s all ihteresting.

  8. andrewkata Says:

    I personally think its all about the faith. I think faith helps push for a more genuine relationship with Christ. When Christ came to teach and to save the lost he never told the people he was the son of god. I think that is because if people had faith in him actually being the Christ it was a true faith not just a faith that he can fix all our problems.

  9. Ryken Ruuspakka Says:

    I was especially struck by verses 13-14. The writer seems to indicate that he is innocent yet still suffers in contrast to the rest of the Psalm which is about the wicked. Why does God desire us to be pure in heart, upright faithful, and righteous only to allow such trials in our lives? The writer states in verse 13 that it is “All in vain I have kept my heart clean…. For all day long I have been plagued…”

  10. Bradley Zembower Says:

    I think we have to live by faith. When we “have to see everything” before we will believe then we look no different than the rest of the world. No one will want Christianity if it looks the same as everything else. It is hard to stomach the fact that the wicked prosper and the righteous can fall on hard times to say the least. However, I find it comforting that the Psalmist is talking about issues that are still very relevant to today. Why does our generation get so upset and struggle with entitlement so much? Yes the wicked prosper; they always have, but they will end one day. And besides, I used to be wicked until God delivered me from my sin. Maybe that’s what He wants.

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