Psalms For Life
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Psalm 73

On the good life

The power of arrogant evildoers raises hard questions for us today, as in ancient Israel. But behind those questions is a still more basic one: what does it mean to live the good life?

An Asaph psalm.

How good God is to Israel
to those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me
my feet had almost stumbled—
I nearly lost my footing
3 envying the arrogant as I did
seeing how well-off evildoers are.

4 They live pain-free lives
their bodies healthy and strong.
5 Not struggling like the rest of us
not suffering like ordinary people
6 they wear pride like a necklace
and cover themselves with violence like a cloak.
7 So bloated are these tycoons
they have more than their hearts wish for.
8 They sneer and spout pure poison
and from their lofty position
they threaten to crush the little guy.
9 Making boasts that reach to high heaven
these bigmouths strut around
as if they own the earth.
10 So God’s people keep going back to them
drinking in every word they say.
11 They say, “What does God care?
And what does the Most High know?”
12 That’s what the wicked are like—
always amassing power and wealth
with never a care in the world.

13 I’ve clearly kept my heart pure
and my hands spotless for nothing
14 seeing that I’m beaten down all day long
and each new day begins another round!

15 But if I’d openly subscribed to that
I would have betrayed all your children.
16 Yet whenever I tried to make sense of things
it was way beyond me.

17 That is, till I entered God’s sanctuary
and saw where their path leads.

18 Truly, you put them on slippery ground
and make them fall to their doom.
19 How suddenly they’re ruined
utterly swept away by terrors!
20 On rousing yourself, Lord
you’ll totally reject them
like one shakes off a nightmare on waking.

21 When I was devastated
I was emotionally wounded.
22 I became senseless and ignorant
a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I’m always with you:
you hold onto my hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel
and will afterward receive me with honor.
25 Who have I in heaven but you?
And there’s no one I desire on earth beside you.
26 My body and spirit may fail me
but God is the source of my inner strength
my reward forever.

27 Those far from you will certainly perish
you’ll destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But me?
The closer I am to God
the better life is.
I’ve made Sovereign YHWH my refuge
and will recount all you’ve done for me.


From the first psalm on, the Psalter claims that God-seekers are enviable, contradicting the nearly universal belief that self-seeking gets us ahead. This psalm straddles that fault line by recounting Asaph’s crisis of faith. Having envied the self-indulgent rich who arrogantly think the rules don’t apply to them, he almost agreed that pleasing God was a lost cause since it brought him only trouble, while self-seekers all seemed to live trouble-free lives.

Faith often raises hard questions. Under a just leader, evildoers are punished and the innocent thrive. So why does God let the egotistical rich get richer at the expense of the poor? Ready to trash his Torah faith, Asaph encounters God in the sanctuary and is kept from acting like a dumb animal and betraying his faith community.[1]

When Asaph begins that encounter, the wicked are secure while he’s on slippery ground. When he emerges from it, the wicked are on slippery ground while he’s secure. But dramatic as that shift is, it’s only his perspective that changes. His outward situation remains the same. Still, he sees that—for all their wealth, ease, and acclaim—the wicked don’t know peace. What truly makes life good is God’s presence, his shelter, his power enabling his people to please him, and the peace that comes with it.

Delighting in you, Lord, I look to you alone for blessing. Thank you for holding onto me when I’m tempted to seek wealth instead of you. Your hold on me matters more than mine on you. Help me live always in your presence, protection, power, and peace. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray these words:

Who have I in heaven but you?
And there’s no one I desire on earth beside you.

 

[1] The psalm’s chiasm underscores Asaph’s life-changing encounter with God:  A. Asaph in relation to God’s goodness and the self-seeker’s end (vv. 1-3), B. The self-seeker’s prosperity (vv. 4-12), C. Asaph’s regret (vv. 13-14), D. Asaph’s realization (vv. 15-16), E. ASAPH’S GOD-GIVEN EPHIPHANY (vv. 17), D. Asaph’s realization (vv. 18-20), C. Asaph’s regret (vv. 21-22), B. The God-seeker’s prosperity (vv. 23-26), A. Asaph in relation to God’s goodness and the self-seeker’s end (vv. 27-28).

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.