Psalm 73:1–12 (ESV)
1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
People of faith may experience crises when their understanding of God’s goodness does not match their experiences of life.
Understanding the Word
Two psalms worth exploring together are Psalms 73 and 77. These psalms are critical for building a sure foundation for life and faith in the midst of trouble. Although these psalms offer no easy answers, they do point the way forward when life stops making sense. Personally, these psalms have greatly impacted my life and sustained me at key moments.
Psalm 73 marks a critical point in the book of Psalms. Psalm 73 narrates a crisis of faith and its renewal. It stands at the beginning of Book III, approximately in the middle of the Psalter. It tells a story that includes a lament, a response by God, and a grateful psalmist fully practicing a dynamic faith. Scholars debate the precise nature of Psalm 73, but it presents the life experience of the psalmist and offers wisdom and instruction for the community of faith.
Psalm 73 unfolds in three movements: crisis (vv. 1–12), turning point (vv. 13–17), and resolution (vv. 18–28). The psalm opens with a proverb that sounds like a statement of faith: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” In the New Testament, Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). In our day, we often affirm, “God is good all the time; all the time God is good.” In the big-picture view of Scripture and life, all of these statements are true. The problem occurs in seasons of life when God’s goodness is not obvious or felt. This is the issue at the heart of the psalm.
Verses 2–3 describe the problem the psalmist faced. It is a crisis of faith. In contrast to the optimism of verse 1, the psalmist declared how his feet almost slipped. In other words, he came close to losing his faith. The reason was simple. His view of God’s goodness diminished because he became jealous and envious of the seeming prosperity of the wicked. How can the wicked, who live far from God, appear happier and more prosperous than a faithful member of God’s people?
Verses 4–12 go into specific detail about the psalmist’s observations of the well-being of the wicked. The psalmist’s plight is a common one. We gravitate to faith in part for security. But what happens when our faith does not translate to a material life better than that of those who pay no attention to the things of God?
The psalmist observed that the wicked have no struggles but instead enjoy plenty of food and increasing power. Yet they practice evil. They are prideful, gluttonous, full of evil intentions, and irreverent toward God. These realities made no sense to the psalmist. He struggled, lacked resources, and felt powerless despite his commitments to living faithfully to the God of Israel, whom he confessed is good to the faithful.
1. Reflect on times in your life when you struggled in your faith due to hardships and suffering.
2. What parts of the Bible or gospel are the most difficult to believe when you are going through challenging times?
Are you interested in studying and living with the Psalms in a deeper way? In Part II of his OneBook Daily-Weekly journey through the Psalms, Dr. Brian Russell introduces readers to Books Two and Three of the Psalms (Psalms 42-89). Through eight weeks of workbook and video teaching, participants will have an even stronger grasp of how these wisdom books can help inspire a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. Get the study in our store here.