A psalm of Asaph.
1 Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
15 If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
(Psalm 71:1-28 NIV)
Today’s psalm is written by Asaph. We know that Asaph was appointed by David to be one of the Temple musicians (1 Chronicles 15:16-19). This context also gives us the approximate era when Asaph lived as a contemporary of King David.
Verse 1 begins with Asaph proclaiming the goodness of God. As we’ll see in a bit, Asaph also ends with this same proclamation – God is good.
In between, though, Asaph is struggling. Verses 2 – 3 summarize his struggle – the “easy life” of the ungodly seems so enticing.
The temptation is real, isn’t it! It’s very easy to be envious of the “good life” that others seem to have, to think that the “grass is always greener” in their yard than in our own.
Asaph outlines all the benefits of the seemingly good life in verses 4-12. On the surface, their life looks pretty good.
In verses 13 – 14, Asaph has some temporary regrets about trying to live the righteous life, to live the life that God calls him to. In Asaph’s mind, it seems like all this has been a total waste of time and energy when he could have been enjoying all the good things in life instead of denying himself worldly pleasures and following God.
But all those false images of the seemingly “good life” come crashing down when Asaph enters God’s Temple. He now sees life from God’s perspective (vv. 15 – 17).
What triggered Asaph’s sudden change of heart? Was it the building, being in the Temple? Maybe – there were probably reminders of God’s goodness to past generations all around. Was it being among God’s people and receiving encouragement? Maybe – that is often helpful.
The biggest and most influential factor of changing Asaph’s mind was likely worship. As Asaph stopped and set aside all his cares and concerns to worship God, he saw God for who He is, and his temptations and troubles as small in comparison.
Asaph now understands that God’s justice and righteousness prevail (vv. 18 – 20).
When Asaph sees God for who and what He is, then he confesses his sins of envy, bitterness, selfishness, and pride (vv. 21 – 22). When Asaph was in his pity party, he confessed to the Lord that he was acting irrationally, like a wild beast.
And so we need to stop and take note of Asaph’s confession and draw a life principle from his words.
The principle is this: Hurting people hurt other people.
When we’re hurting, we lash out at others – we say things and do things that we would never think of doing if we were in a healthy state of mind.
Does our hurt justify our sin? Absolutely not. It does, however, give us a warning light that there is a problem in our souls that needs attention. We need to take that warning light seriously, go before the Lord, and deal with the issue.
What about others that hurt us? Should we rationalize away their sin, telling ourselves that they are hurting? No. Should we get up in their faces about their sin, telling them to repent and get right with the Lord? That’s one approach, but it will probably generate more hurt and conflict than help. James 1:20 tells us that human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
So what should we do? The best thing, if the person is willing, is to simply hear what’s going on inside them. Often, hurting people simply need a friend to talk to. They don’t need “fixed” or told what to do – they just want someone to listen. God uses that time to speak into the hurting person’s life, and we’re just along for the ride.
Having confessed his sin, Asaph now has a new outlook on life. Asaph no longer thinks that he needs God plus an easy life plus wealth and power plus all the other things that the ungodly have and he formerly coveted.
Asaph now sees and confesses that God alone is sufficient (vv. 23 – 26).
Asaph ends as he began – seeing and proclaiming the goodness of God (vv. 27 – 28). Asaph had seen the enticements of the world and the ungodly and had seen their ultimate fate and God’s justice and righteousness.
In the final analysis, Asaph said, “I choose God.”
Just like Asaph, so we are faced with a choice each day. Will we pursue all these other things, or will we choose God and Him alone?
May we choose wisely, and walk in faith even when it feels foolish and a waste of time to do so.
May we learn from Asaph sharing his story with us today.