Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction... Their present life is only a dream that is gone when they awake. When you arise, O Lord, you will make them vanish from this life. — Psalm 73:17-18, 20
Do you remember Idi Amin, the infamous butcher of Uganda? Later in life, he was heard to be sitting by a pool in Saudi Arabia, watching satellite television. How about Papa Doc, the ousted Haitian dictator? He settled down in a nice villa in the south of France. Some people sure land on their feet!
Wherever Asaph the psalm writer looked, he saw that “the proud... prosper despite their wickedness” (Psalm 73:3). They seem to be immune from pain, they enjoy good health, they appear to be trouble-free, they make money effortlessly, they have “everything their hearts could ever wish for” (73:7)—and all the time they “scoff and speak only evil... they boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth” (73:9).
In stark contrast, Asaph, who had tried to live rightly before the Lord, testified, “All I get is trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain” (73:14). He had to admit, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness” (73:3).
It was a great mystery to him that the lives of the godless were trouble-free, while the lives of the godly were trouble-filled. This mystery so perplexed Asaph that he found himself being dragged down with envy, even questioning, “Was it for nothing that I kept my heart pure and kept myself from doing wrong?” (73:13). Like the godly people around him, he was “dismayed and confused,” asking, “Does God realize what is going on?” (73:10-11).
“Then one day,” Asaph wrote, “I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked” (73:17). Going into the place of worship and into God’s presence removed Asaph from a purely materialistic, secular environment, which had deeply permeated his thinking, and refocused his attention on such spiritual issues as “destiny” and the meaning of this “present life” (73:17, 20).
When material benefits and secular pleasures dominated his thinking and became the criteria by which he evaluated the “good life,” he knew nothing but despair and disillusionment. But when he remembered that life is more than things, he recognized that those who have it so good really aren’t having such a good time after all—“their present life is only a dream that is gone when they awake” (73:20).
But Asaph still needed reassurance that the godly life is the right life. He began to think realistically: “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak” (73:26). He should have said “will fail” and “will grow weak.” That led him to think about heaven and generated a triumphant exclamation, “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth” (73:25).
With heaven in his thoughts, Asaph was back on track—sadder and wiser, stronger and settled, calm and collected, contented and confident. And no longer envying the godless—more likely—he was pitying them. A visit to God’s sanctuary can do that!
For further study: Psalm 73
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.