A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:24-26

You guide me with your counsel,
     and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

The psalmist turns his attention from his depressing circumstances and thoughts to focus by faith on his Providential Creator and all he has in him. His God is guiding him with deliberation and prudence through this life. What is unclear to the psalmist is fully clear and purposeful in God’s actions. In the end of the way, his God will surely bring him to a glorious state. Above all the din and discouragement of this world, God resides and rules. In the din and discouragement of this world, nothing is to be desired more than God for he is place of secure refuge for the mind when body and mind are at an end and spent. He ever remains the inheritance of his people when all else is gone. This was the driving focus of faith that Christ exercised (Hebrews 12:2), and now it is the firm promise he has made to his people (John 14:1-6).

LORD, when I focus on the stresses and distresses of this fallen world and its course, I can become depressed and imagine life is not worth living unless I go its way. However, you have revealed in your word all I need to know you and have a life worth living that ends in a glorious condition with you. Keep me focusing by faith on you, trusting you are leading me to that end you have purposefully planned and are working out for me step by step. “Thou my everlasting portion, more than friend or life to me, all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee. Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be; gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee. Lead me through the vale of shadows, bear me o’er life’s fitful sea; then the gate of life eternal may I enter, Lord, with Thee. Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee; all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee.” (Fanny Crosby). Amen.

A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:21-23

When my soul was embittered,
     when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
     I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
     you hold my right hand.
The psalmist describes his natural response to the prosperity of the wicked while he suffers. His mind is soured and embittered with vexation and indignation. His innermost desires and affections were pierced and wounded. As a result, he confesses his brutish insensibility to this adversity. His only sustaining hope was the uninterrupted presence of his God who held fast to him. Interestingly, Christ’s final words on the cross were “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). In addition, he promised his people – his sheep – that “they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand [or] out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
LORD, I am prone to being sorely vexed by the inequities of this life – the prosperity of the wicked and the hardships of the righteous. Often life does not make sense to me. All I have is the promise of your securing and sustaining presence. May that be enough and relieve me in my distress. “Darkness and doubts had veiled my mind, and drowned my head in tears, till sovereign grace with shining rays dispelled my gloomy fears. In vain the tempter frights my soul, and breaks my peace in vain; one glimpse, dear Savior, of Thy face revives my joys again. Hence from my soul, sad thoughts, begone, and leave me to my joys; my tongue shall triumph in my God and make a joyful noise” (Isaac Watts). Amen.

A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:18-20

Truly you set them in slippery places;
     you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
     swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
     O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
The psalmist now perceives the end of the wicked – how the Lord “rewards” them. Though the wicked think they are safe and secure in their ways, in reality God has set them in slippery places where he will cause them to fall into ruin. In a brief moment they will become an astonishment, being brought to their end and terminated with destructions. The Lord – believed to be unaware of the wicked by all – will suddenly “awake,” “open” his eyes, and treat the wicked and their shadowy splendor with contempt. Scripture records various examples of this judgment – e.g. Goliath, Haman, Belshazzar, the foolish farmer (Luke 12:13-21), Herod Agrippa I (Acts 20:21-23). The scripture warns of this sudden destruction of the wicked for the encouragement of God’s people – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, Luke 21:34-35, 2 Peter 3:8-10, Revelation 18:7-8.
LORD, may this word be fixed in my heart by examples of your historic, sudden intervention in judgment of the wicked and by your ultimate promise of dealing with them in the Second Advent and consummation of Christ. In this I can have peace in the interim (John 14:27, 16:33). “The day must come, the judgment day, on each fond idle dreamer, on every wanderer from the way, on every dark blasphemer! The Christ will come in dread array, each eye behold, each heart obey, His Judge or his Redeemer! … We may grow hard, and not revere each old prophetic token, too willful and too proud to hear what God Himself hath spoken; yet shall the Son of Man appear, and strongest hearts shall fail for fear, and wrath and pride be broken!” (William Hull). Amen.

A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:14-17

For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

The psalmist describes his perplexity with the present course of life. He is experiencing what he thinks the wicked should experience; conversely, they are experiencing what he should experience due to his seeking to live a pure and innocent life. Day after day, from the sunrise of each day, he experiences affliction and chastening. Yet, he understands that if he speaks in this way of comparison, he would be unfaithful to God’s people (past, present, and future). Still, his thoughtful meditation had a wearisome effect upon him … until he enters the holy place of the Mighty God, and there discerns the final outcome of the wicked. Whatever Asaph experienced and wrote about himself, Jesus Christ experienced to the fullest. He was thoroughly a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He was the absolutely pure and innocent One who suffered physical and mental anguish while his adversaries flourished. When he suffered, he opened not his mouth. He did this in behalf of his people past, present, and future lest they be discouraged and defeated. He persevered for the joy that was set before him of sitting at the right hand of the throne of God to intercede to the uttermost for those who come to him and when he would make his enemies his footstool.

LORD, turn my eyes upon Jesus when life seems upside down and backwards. He is my pure and innocent One, the author and finisher of my faith. Keep me focused on the end of all things when he will make all things right by his sovereign power. This will keep my heart from being troubled (John 14:27, 16:33). By your grace, may I leave an example for others to follow by following him. “Days are filled with sorrow and care, hearts are lonely and drear; burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near. … Troubled soul, the Savior can see, ev’ry heartache and tear; burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near. Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary; burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near” (John Moore). Amen.

A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:10-11

Therefore his people turn back to them,
     and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
     Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Identifying the people referenced – “his people” – is difficult; who is “his”? Does this refer to those among God’s people that apostatize, or to people in general, or to people associated with the wicked?  Whoever they are, they turn back to the wicked and their ways. The rest of verse ten is likewise difficult to understand. Those who turn back either do so positively to receive and approve of the fullness of the wicked, or they are done to negatively by the wicked sucking out of them and draining them thoroughly. Who is speaking in verse eleven? Is the “they” the wicked or those who return positively to the wicked? Whoever “they” are, they think and utter a denial that “god” observes what is being done, likely since they do what they do without his intervention. Certainly, people in general or even the professing people of God can be drawn away to the ways of the prospering wicked to approve and participate fully with them. When God does not intervene immediately, people can be emboldened to think he will not intervene at all and so continue in their wicked ways. Those who do turn back to the prosperous wicked and their ways often become the ones who are drained by them of their very life. The prosperous wicked are impudent “leeches.” In reflecting on the life of Christ, comparing the people’s reaction on Palm Sunday with their reaction before Pilate a few days later is interesting in light of these two verses.

LORD, the ways of the wicked that go unchecked and the other people who turn to them and their ways are distressing to your faithful people. Seeing their prosperity and hearing their rejection of divine intervention are hard to bear. However, they must not be allowed to divert your people from you and your ways though the outcome seems far away. Remembering past history of the wicked, what they did, and what happened to them must be considered in the present and trusted for their future outcome. Increase my understanding and faith in you regardless of what the “majority” do. Whatever the world of the wicked drains out of my life, may I be confident you will abundantly replenish forever. “When our minds are in a tumult, and the world seems going wrong, when our nerves are chafed and fretted, and the day is far too long, when each moment seems a burden, and this life too hard to bear, we can tell it all to Jesus, He will every burden share. … Can we not, like little children, tell our doubts and fears to Him? He will lead us thro’ life’s mazes with sight clear, where ours is dim. Oh! the blessed peace of knowing we are safe in His dear hands! All our poor mistakes and failures we are sure He understands” (Nellie Willis). Amen.

A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:6-9

Therefore pride is their necklace;
     violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
     their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
     loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
     and their tongue struts through the earth.

The psalmist gives an extensive and oppressive description of the lifestyle of prominently wicked people. They are characterized by arrogancy, oppression, lust for prosperity, and spiritual insensibility. They speak as if they are the highest authority to justify their manner of living and treatment of others. They gain what they so boldly and blatantly seek at the expense of others; their plans prosper. People like this have been common throughout history and continue to this day. Jesus pronounced woes upon such people (Matthew 23). They are a problem that can greatly distress God’s people if they focus upon them.

LORD, how perplexing are those people who rise up in power and exercise it arrogantly and abusively and gain outward prosperity. When they are prominent and focused upon, they cause your people much distress. However, they will not prevail forever. You know how and will “oppose the proud and give grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). “Those that walk in pride he [God] is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37]. Christ by his resurrection and ascension stands as the encouragement of his people to patiently persevere when such people prevail. “Though all the powers of evil the will of God oppose, His purpose will not falter, His pleasure onward goes. Whate’er God’s will resolves, whatever He intends, will always be accomplished true to His aims and ends. Then hope, my feeble spirit, and be thou undismayed; God helps in every trial and makes thee unafraid. Await His time with patience, then shall thine eyes behold the sun of joy and gladness – His brightest beams unfold. Give, Lord, this consummation to all our heart’s distress; our hands, our feet, e’er strengthen, in death our spirits bless. Thy truth and thy protection grant evermore, we pray, and in celestial glory shall end our destined way” (Paul Gerhardt). Amen.

A Pilgrim’s Progress through the Psalms – Psalm 73:4-5

For they have no pangs until death;
     their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
     they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

The psalmist describes the issue that is particularly painful to him, causing his envy. Though he sees the general pattern of struggle in most common and mortal people, yet some – especially those who have forsaken God’s way and boastfully go contrary to him (v.3) – have no struggles but appear to have every blessing up to their dying – no problem, no fear. He appears to think that this should rather be the experience of those who follow God’s way – “skies always blue and a flower strewn pathway all their life through” – and it usually is not.

LORD, the prosperity of the ones who are living thoroughly contrary to you and your way is a difficult trial to bear. Unless your people keep eternity in view, this can become a crippling thought in their walk through this life. Having good things in this life without apparent difficulties is no sign of your approval or the rightness of such a life (Luke 16:25, Luke 12:15, James 5:1-6). Contentment in you and your promises must subdue thoughts of envy regarding the prosperity of the wicked. May this be so in me – no envy; keep me counting my blessings in Christ now and to come forever. “When you look at others with their lands and gold, think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold; count your many blessings—money cannot buy your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done! Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your many blessings, see what God has done” (Johnson Oatman, Jr.). Amen.