THE CHALLENGE OF THE RIGHTEOUS & THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED
Suppose you have a colleague who is also working in the same department or organization or company. He or she gets the promotion. You might think you deserve that promotion more than your friend or colleague.
Or perhaps you think that others are much better looking or much more fashionable than you. God gave you your looks, but how easy it is to walk through life, see others who seem so much more handsome or beautiful, and feel envious of them.
To make it worst, lets say:
When people cheat in exams but end up getting more marks
When people are corrupt but live in comfort
At work when you are overlooked and people are given favoritism because they belong to a particular background or have some connections
People like these enjoy their wicked lifestyle and yet seem to be rewarded for that.
Asaph was one of the members of the tribe of Levi whom David put in charge of the worship at the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 6:39). Asaph is the author of Psalm 73. Asaph writes this psalm about the struggle of being righteous and the prosperity of the wicked.
Psalm 73 comes after that kind of struggle, after a lot of wrestling. It is born out of emotional pain. The God-rejecters or the wicked are wealthy, healthy, and comfortable. Psalmist looked at this dilemma and wrote: “As for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (2-3).
Footing is faith here, and to lose your footing is to lose your faith — or almost to lose your faith. That means he started doubting God’s justice or goodness.
It’s tragically easy for us to lose our footing when we see injustice or the wicked prosper.
What Do You See?
The psalmist clearly is struggling with the prosperity that comes to the wicked.
Verse 4 – They are well fed, they have no pain.
Verses 6-7 – They are prideful and violent with no consequences.
Verses 9-11 – They speak against God and mock him.
Verse 12 – And in all of this, their riches continue to increase.
The ones who openly mock God have more money and less problems than the faithful believers.
Illustration: who can forget Job, the righteous man, who suffered unspeakable horror? The Bible is full of faithful people who suffer while the wicked prosper.
Do you find yourself suffering when evil people continue to succeed? Or maybe the prosperity of the wicked is waiting for you when you open your computer or scroll through your phone. You simply can’t escape the injustice of it all.
Twenty-four hour cable news reminds us that evil often wins, while innocent people suffer unspeakable horrors.
We want, but we do not have.
We feel like we deserve it, but it goes to someone far less deserving.
We work hard for it, but it still escapes us.
All the while, we see the dishonest, the cheat, the liar, the glutton, and the sexually immoral getting what we feel is owed to us. “This really isn’t fair.
2. What Do You Feel?
We are not emotionally neutral to evil, sorrow, and injustice. The psalmist feels the reality of what his eyes see deeply.
Verse 13 – He feels that his efforts to remain righteous and pure are in vain.
Verses 4-10 – He feels indignation.
He feels anger.
Verses 14-16 – He feels despair.
Verse 3 – He feels envious.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Psalm 73 is a real struggle, for a real person.
Definition: Envy is a feeling of unhappiness at the blessing and fortune of others. According to Webster dictionary, it is the painful and often resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else.
In the grip of envy, we weep at those who rejoice and rejoice over those who weep.
Envy is different from jealousy, which orients on what we ourselves own and is not always a sin. For example
God is jealous of our worship because we are his creation, or
You are jealous of your wife's affection because she is your wife – these are not sins.
But envy orients on others and their blessing. That’s why in the Bible, envy is considered sinful and dangerous. “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before envy?” (Proverbs 27:4).
Application: Maybe you feel the same this afternoon. You agree with the Psalmist. You have similar struggles with your faith, you feel jealous, filled with indignation, you think it’s hopeless to work hard, it's vain to remain good…how do we respond to situations like that?
As emotional beings, injustice should make us feel something. But that’s not the end of it.
3. How Should We Respond?
How did the psalmist catch his footing? What helped him to overcome his envious heart?
Three realities kept him from finally stumbling down the cliff of unbelief and to remain envious of the prosperity of the wicked.
a. Seek the sanctuary to Understand (Psalm 73:16–17)
When life seems unfair, or you feel depressed, or you feel like you’re being exploited, where do you turn?
Do you turn to work to drown out your feebleness with more effectiveness?
Do you turn to the mall or for shopping to drown out your boredom with new clothes?
Do you turn to your phone and social media to drown out your depression with a shot of affirmation?
Do you turn to alcohol or drugs to numb your struggle?
These therapeutic band-aids to our challenges cannot fundamentally heal us. They will only cover the pain for a moment.
But, the psalmist turned to the sanctuary, where he began thinking right again. In the sanctuary, in his right thoughts, he found correction for his heart and soul.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Tim Keller says, “In Christianity, you feel better when you start to think properly. Some of you are going to hate that. For some of you, that’s not your temperament. But don’t you see, this man goes into the sanctuary to understand. You will never get out of your spiral unless you go to God saying, ‘The reason I’m mad and the reason I’m depressed and the reason I’m discouraged is because I’m missing something in my thinking.’”
The first thing Asaph came to understand was that he was not seeing the whole picture. Tim Keller gave a helpful illustration. He points out that a square and a cube are not the same thing. You can see the whole square from one vantage point but to see a cube you need to view it from several sides. We have a tendency to look at life as if it were a square when in reality it is more like a cube.
Think about someone who is looking to buy a house. You know that you can’t learn everything you need to know about a house from looking only at the front. You need to walk around the house and see it from all sides. You can’t tell how deep it is or what is in the back of the house until you walk around it.
This is also true of truth. The reason we get confused, the reason we fall into heresy or false thinking is because we are trying to make things too simple! We are looking at truth two dimensionally rather than three dimensionally. When we look at three dimensional life from a two dimensional perspective our conclusions are often mistaken.
As Asaph began to see truth this way he began to understand that he was defining prosperity and blessing two dimensionally. He was so focused on the present that he failed to see the big picture.
R.C. Sproul says:
For the believer, there is no such thing as tragedy because in every situation God is working for our good. He is teaching us, drawing us close, deepening our faith, and giving us hope. Even death is not a tragedy to a believer because it is the doorway to Heaven, the highest, deepest, and most lasting blessing there is. On the other hand, for the unbeliever, everything is a tragedy. All those things we “envy” about their lives are actually making them feel more and more that they don’t need God and those “blessings” are effectively moving them further from God and closer to their own eternal destruction. There is no greater tragedy.
Let’s read verses 18-19:
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
b. Be patient with God’s plan (Vv. 20–22)
When we envy the wicked and grow jealous of the circumstances of those who do not honor God, we are like dumb animals in our ignorance. That’s the blunt reality. And the solution is not only in knowing about God, but also in knowing more about the future actions of God.
God will punish the wicked. He will right all wrongs. He will bring an end to their flourishing. And although I cannot see God’s vengeance now, I know it is drawing close. The wicked will be swept away in a moment.
Scripture says, the wicked are in a slippery place, their fall can happen anytime – Eg. Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi – seem to be enjoying their stolen wealth but are on the run now.
Read Verses 20-22:
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
c. Regain delight in the presence of God (vv. 23–28)
On the surface, this appears to be a psalm all about the mind and philosophical dilemmas for thinkers. But it is more than this. The psalmist struggles with heart disease, not merely a misunderstanding of the mind. Envy and doubt are signs of heart failure.
The Psalmist is asking: What do I really, really want? What do I crave?
In all his doubting of God’s wisdom, in his doubting of God’s power, the Psalmist is pressed to ask the really hard, fundamental questions of his life.
Why does the Psalmist say what he says?
Why did he almost lose his footing?
Why do we slip like the Psalmist?
His answer is our answer, as well: Because I want something more than I want God.
The solution to the Psalmist’s envy and jealousy is also our solution: to be satisfied in God. The Psalmist’s story leads us to beautiful confessions of God’s sufficiency. Compared to this world’s health and wealth and comfort and prosperity, “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (v. 25).
Friends, I will face injustice, I will be overlooked, I will not enjoy the success I deserve, I will not be rewarded for my hard work – but in spite of that, my joy and identity is not rooted in the outcome of my life and work but in God himself.
Keller writes: “Live for beauty — but beauty fades. Live for money — but money fades. Live for success — but success fades,” “If you don’t have God, you really don’t have anything, because everything is just slipping away from you. Therefore, it may be shaky to believe in God. But it’s more slippery not to.”
In his envy of the wealth and success and prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist discovered what he really wanted or needed. His heart was not after God but after something else. And he realized what he needed most. He wanted or needed God.
After he allows himself to struggle, he begins to see that simply wallowing in the injustice will get him nowhere. It only leads to despair. So he runs to God (Verse 17). It is only here, in God’s presence, that he is able to see himself and the wicked rightly (Verses 17-20).
I want us to turn to God and find in him the joy and satisfaction that can last far beyond the circumstances of life, so that we would testify along with the Psalmist: (Psalm 73:25-26).
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.
So what did the Psalmist see in the sanctuary?
The Psalmist did not enter an AC sanctuary room with a glossy pulpit, disco lights, and a smoke machine. No, the Psalmist more likely stepped into God’s sanctuary to the sight of knives and priests flicking blood off their fingers. As blood poured out of the bowl’s brim, the Psalmist witnessed a stunning optic of God’s justice for sin: the blameless bull or animal suffering the punishment of death for guilty sinners.
The sanctuary was where fresh bull blood was drained, sprinkled, and poured. There the Psalmist was confronted with a foretaste of the cross.
In the sanctuary, the truth of God’s redemptive mercy came rushing back.