Skip to content
Jan 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 29, 2013 – Psalm 73


Psalm 73

Two Perspectives On the New Year

Psalm 73

INTRO: This psalm incorporates an art form that may be hidden from us

Mary Douglas referred to it as “ring composition”

Douglas, “The minimum criterion for a ring composition is for the ending to join up with the beginning.”

– the text develops a thought in one direction (from the top of the circle, downward)
• it reaches a turning point, then moves backward through the thought to the beginning
○ the outline above is my rough attempt to show the general pattern of Psalm 73

Mary Douglas, “Friends ask me, what does it mater? Why is it important to know the construction? This leads to another point: in a ring composition the meaning is located in the middle. A reader who reads a ring as if it were a straight linear composition will miss the meaning. Surely that matters!”

The poet tells us his story – he takes us on a journey
– he begins the poem with, “God is good” and “But as for me” (vv. 1-2)
– he ends it with, “But as for me” and “God is my good” (v. 28)
• these form the clasp that hold the ring together
• in between, he narrates the bitter struggle he had with the ways of God

V. 1, He begins with a positive, upbeat statement

Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart.

He drew this conclusion  from his personal experience
– there are two interrelated ideas that need definition:
• in what way is God “good”? That is, what is the nature of his goodness?
• what is it to be “pure in heart”?
– the poet will eventually reject materialistic and religious answers to these questions

Vv. 2-3, He immediately contradicts his positive, upbeat statement

But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped. (etc.)

He did not always believe God was good to his people
– his steps brought him to the edge of a sheer cliff
• his perception was that “the wicked” had the good things
– the Hebrew word for “prosperity” is derived from shalom – peace, security
• it is the state of having one’s needs met, being in good health, and when all else is going well
– it’s difficult for us to know intensity of his envy (the same word is translated zeal)
• anyway, it was eating at him

Vv. 4-12, What’s so “good” about life of the wicked?

The poet lists their fortunate circumstances and how that affects them

They have more than enough and they are immune from trouble
– this is obviously a warped perspective, but there is some truth to it
• a person totally focused on wealth, with no constraints can acquire riches
– notice the metaphors (vv. 6-7)
• they wear pride and violence like clothing and accessories
• they publicly display their surplus of abundance in their bodies and their unrestrained hearts
– their speech reveals how high their ego soars (vv. 8-9)
• regarding life on earth, they mock and oppress the poor
• regarding heavenly beings–talk as if up there with them

The poet seems surprised at their lack of conscience
– he decides, it’s because they think God does not know
• he’s so great, the universe so vast, and we’re so small that God is unaware of, or uninterested in human activity
– v. 12, “Behold” – he tells us to look at the picture he’s painted

Vv. 13-16, The futility of the religious life

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence.

What does he mean by cleansed my heart and washed my hands?
– he has obeyed God’s law – followed the Torah, obeyed the rules, been “a good boy”
• he has not stolen anything, exploited anyone, lied, or cheated in order to enrich himself
• he is asking, “Where has that gotten me?”
– in verse 5, he said the wicked are not “plagued”
• using the same word in verse 14, he says, “I am plagued all day long!”
• furthermore I wake up every morning to God’s “chastening”
○ that is, discipline, correction
• many times believers wonder, “Why me? Why am I the one who gets caught? Who gets disciplined?”
○ but God does not spank the neighbors’ kids (Hebrews 12:4-11)

The poet is struggling with what seems like a contradiction
– one that he must face every day
– the contradiction between God’s promises and the real world as he experiences it

The poet has been going over his records, with his calculator
– does it make good business sense to follow God’s ways?
• does it add up? what do I have for my efforts?
– although we sympathize with him, we must see this is  mercenary religion – and it ruins us
• “I thought God would make my life better!”
• Paul warned Timothy to watch out for “men deprived of the truth . . . who suppose godliness is a means of gain”
○ there are gains, but they are not materialistic the better of our lives is not more stuff at a higher price
– always calculating the material profits and losses of walking with Jesus will impede our spiritual progress

Regardless, the poet is on the right track, v. 16
– he has not made the turn yet, but he’s “pondering”
• and the goal of his pondering is to understand
– perhaps we never make the turn he made
• we carry our thoughts and feelings around, but we don’t argue them out with God
• we don’t sit with them long enough or ponder them deeply enough to perceive God’s response

Vv. 17-20, Something happened to the poet in the sanctuaries

Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.

Within my own little world, life is not fair (God is not fair)
– I compute infinite values according to a finite scale
• I get angry, sad, disappointed, and envious, because nothing adds up or makes sense in my little world
– to see more clearly, I must climb outside my world
• I need a vantage point above or beyond my current mind-set

God’s sanctuary provides us wit that alternate view point
– the sacred space is located within our world, yet it is touched with transcendence
• from there I can see beyond myself
• I can see beyond my location in time
– the broader perspective I gain from returning to sacred space, where heaven intersects earth and eternity intersects time changes everything
• this is what purifies the heart
• in scripture, the heart, like the eyes and ears, is an organ of perception

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Vv. 21-22, A brief look back – where he went wrong

Notice the emotional words: embittered and pierced
And  the cognitive words: senseless and ignorant
– “pierced within” is stabbed in my kidneys – “a kidney punch” – debilitating
• the pain of his disappointment, confusion, and frustration was profound and went deep
– when we are pure emotions, we are “like beasts”
• the activity in our animal brain interferes with the higher order processes of our uniquely human brain

Vv. 23-28, Further insights that close the circle

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.

“Nevertheless” – in spite of what I felt and assumed, and the way I acted

Martin Buber observed that God answered the poet with a gesture, “. . . as in the dark a father takes his little son by the hand, certainly to lead him, but primarily in order to make present to him, in the warm touch of coursing blood, the fact that he, the father, is constantly with him.”

Whereas the wicked “talk big” in the earth and against the heavens, the poet has a different experience of heaven and earth(v. 25)
– if he has nothing else on earth, he has God
• and in heaven he has a Friend, an Ally, a Rock

Now we know how to define the good of v. 1 — it is defined by verse 28
– people can indulge themselves in many good things, yet never know or experience the good
– the thinking of wicked creates distance from God –
• so when we think as they do, we lose heart
• to come to our senses is to be awakened to God

CONC: This psalm presents us with two perspectives on the future

Not that of the righteous and the wicked
– both perspectives in the poem are held by one person
• in the first part of the psalm, the poet was floundering in the perspective of fear
• by the end of the psalm, he was rejoicing in the perspective of faith

Our perspective determines our outlook and attitude
– which, in turn, shape our future
• faith gives the future a particular shape and it is very different from the shape fear gives it
• it is not merely that we can decide today what 2014 will be, but we inevitably will decide
○ either by intention or by default

“Nevertheless I am continually with you” this awareness obviously stretches into the future
– so despite the contradictions that swirl around us, we are not alone
– and the One who holds our right hand will continue to walk us through life

“And afterward receive us to glory”



Leave a comment