From a Prophet’s Diary
The great appeal of Psalm 73 is n its note of personal experience. It is the record of a man’s encounter with life’s realties, and therefore it finds a responsive chord in our hearts.
The sincerity and forthrightness of Asaph’s confessions pay tribute to his strength of character. Without any embroidery whatever, his great mistake is detailed and the lessons of a great recovery are penned for the benefit of succeeding generations.
There is a sure way back to the sunshine of communion with our Lord: it is that of honestly dealing with ourselves and frankly confessing our failures. We too can rediscover that “God is good to Israel, even to such as be of a clean heart” (v. 1).
It was with this mighty conviction of God’s goodness that the Psalmist emerged from his time of temptation and experienced all the accompaniments of restoration.
Moral Stability Recovered
How much this stability was needed! The picture of stumbling feet and “steps well-nigh slipped” showed how he had staggered as he paused to contemplate the ungodly around him.
The Christian is only safe when “looking off unto Jesus.” Peter could walk the waves of Lake Galilee while his sight was fixed on Christ; but occupation with surroundings resulted in his sinking beneath them (Matt. 14:29-30) .
The hesitating servant of Jehovah left faith for reason when he began to compare the present condition of believer and unbeliever. The ungodly seemed to have all the benefits while God’s people had sorrow and trouble.
But reason divorced from faith in God can only operate on its own limited earthly level, and for the moment, Asaph imagined that all his strivings after holiness had been in vain. “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain and washed my hands in innocency” (vv. 13-14).
While he travailed with this distressing thought, he nevertheless kept his counsel to himself. He made no parade of his doubts and fears. Furthermore, his motive for the secrecy was a laudable one — the fear of stumbling the generation of God’s children.
Too often confidence is obscured and doubt exposed to the double detriment of the weak in the household of faith.
Normally, Asaph was a man of the sanctuary (Ps. 50 and Ps. 77), and when in the turmoil of doubt he visited the place of the presence of God, a great revelation awaited him. “I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places” (vv. 17-20).
The shock-treatment of seeing things from the viewpoint of the sanctuary brought him back to his spiritual senses. Those very things which he had coveted now appeared as the instruments of doom for their possessors. The ungodly with their riches, health, and apparent immunity from trouble, seemed to be firmly entrenched against every emergency; but a moment in the holy places dispelled the illusion.
The “slippery places” will precipitate the proud, presumptuous, and prosperous unbeliever into desolation and the terrors that consume. In that moment of illumination, Asaph left the low level of reason for the higher level of faith; hence, recovery was assured.
A Sensitive Spirit Recovered
“Thus my heart was grieved and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee” (vv. 21-23). To the conviction of God’s goodness is now added that of his own folly. There is deep grief of heart for his ignorance and unbelief, and also a ready confession of his sin.
Such God-given glimpses of divine and eternal values are humbling to the Heaven-bound pilgrim. They are needful, however, to remind us of the vanity of those things to which we are prone to aspire and which destroy our usefulness for God.
Spiritual Powers Recovered
It is inspiring to trace the renewed operations of the sister graces, faith, hope, and love in Asaph, the restored servant of God.
Faith is active, claiming the place of nearness and security. “Nevertheless, I am continually with thee” —although he had digressed. “Thou hast holden my right hand” — the secret of his recovery (vv. 23-24).
Hope is quickened and its vision clarified. “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” The future pilgrimage is assured by his Counsellor and Guide, and he can gladly anticipate the welcome His Lord will give him in the better land. What a contrast to the fate of the ungodly!
Love, too, is throbbing afresh in his heart. Its warm confessions ascend like incense from the golden altar in the holy place. He must tell the Lord of His unrivalled sufficiency to meet every longing and not only the supreme, but the exclusive place in his soul’s affection. “Whom have I …? none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” And He is sufficient too, to dispel every fear and destroy every foe (vv. 26-27).
Place of Service Recovered
“It is good for me to draw near unto God. I have made the Lord God my refuge that I may tell all Thy works” (v. 28). This concluding verse (from the Revised Version) shows that Asaph’s sanctuary experience included not only a vision of the doom of the perishing, a realization of his own ignorance, and a conviction of God’s abounding goodness to His people, but also a determined and holy resolve.
Right there in the sanctuary, he made the Lord Himself his hiding place, with a view to being equipped to tell out the wisdom of God’s ways.
There is absolutely no problem of the Christian life that will not yield to this treatment. In all our perplexities, griefs, disappointments, and losses, let us recall this illuminating episode. “When I thought to understand this, it was too difficult in my eyes, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” It is by faith we understand, and are enabled to say, “Truly God is good!” This then brings a fresh determination to draw near unto God, to hide in His strength, and to go forth to bear witness to His works.
“Alas that I should ever
Have failed in love to Thee,
The only One who never
Forgot or slighted me.
O for a heart to love
Thee More truly as I ought;
And nothing place above Thee,
In deed, or word, or thought.”