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Don't want anything but God! Really?
The psalms express deep human sentiments and passions. Some are very positive exaltations of God. Other call into question God's ways. Some are very well known like Psalm 23 and others are avoided altogether. There are psalms that call down judgment on the wicked and others that express confussion on the part of the godly.
Jesus quoted the psalms often indicating that He accepted them as God's Word. So did other New Testament writers. In what sense are they authoritative for us? While all the human sentiments may not be worthy of the godly, they are honestly owned and expressed to God who along can make difference. So we learn that it's OK to talk tough to God as long as it's respectful Him. We also learn that as we speak forthrightly to him our attitudes change so that in the end we offer thoughts that are in line with God's.
"There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you." A love-sick suitor? Sounds like a melodramatic line from an opera. Frankly, I have trouble with over-the-top assertions like this. It pushes my cynic button. Give me a break!
Maybe that's why it jumps off the page every time I read it in Psalm 73. Yes, it's in the Bible. It was penned by Asaph as part of a psalm that has become one of my favorites. I like Asaph for his honesty and boldness. The God Asaph worships is big enough to handle the man's bitter complaint, patient enough to let him work through his issues, and loving enough to bring him out at a bright place. Asaph didn't create such a god. God created him and presents him to us in Scripture for our encouragement.
Indeed all the psalms play a very special role in the life of the believer. They teach us how to talk to the Almighty. See comments to the right.
The name, Asaph, appears often in Scripture but I doubt that they all refer to the same man. The Asaph that wrote this psalm is probably the chief of the Levites appointed by King David to be ministers before the ark of the Lord. They were to "invoke and to thank and to praise the Lord." (I Chronicles 16:7)
In the latter days of the prophet Samuel the ark was captured by the Phlistines. Seven months later it was returned to Israel where it wound up the in the care of Abinadab of Kiriath-jearim. Over forty years later King David decided it was time to bring the ark to Jerusalem. But disaster struck. Instead of transporting the ark on the shoulders of specially appointed Levites, they hoisted it onto a cart. Along the way the oxen stumbled causing the cart to lurch to one side. Uzzah instinctively reached out to steady it. That would be his last move. God struck Uzzah dead and David angrily abandoned the project for a while. Three months later a better informed and humbled king arranged for the ark to be transported in a fashion worthy of the God whose presence it represented. Not only was it borne on the shoulders of the priests, but they stopped often to sacrifice to the Lord. There was such a celebration that King David danced before the ark as it made its way into the city.
With the ark safely returned, the celebration continued. King David distributed bread, meat and raisins to all his people and arranged for continual praise to be offered before the ark. He even wrote a song for the ocassion (I Chronicles 16:8-22, Psalm 105). Asaph was at the center of all this celebration.
The bad prosper while the good suffer!
In his own words, Asaph put it this way. "I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." (vs.3) For the next twelve verses Asaph grouses over the wicked getting fat, being snide and arrogant, preening about as though they would live forever and hurling insults at God himself as well as at any who might worship him.
Then Asaph does something few would think of when in a fit of the angries. He "went into the sanctuary of God." (vs.17) It would by at least another forty years before Solomon built the temple. What sanctuary would Asaph enter? Probably the tent where the ark was temporarily housed. Or maybe this psalm was written in Asaph's old age after the temple was built. In any case what happened is that Asaph looked at his issues from God's perspective. That's when things began to change. No, not his circumstances; his attitude.
He realized that whatever good the wicked experienced was temporary, that justice would one day be meeted out. Further, he realized that his own attitude was more akin to that of beasts in the field than to human beings created in the image of God.
"When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you." (vs.21,22)
Finally, he is stunned to learn that despite his brutishness God had not abandoned him.
"Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand." (vs.23)
Read it for yourself
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.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:25-28)
If some are on a slippery slope how should Christians relate to them?
Given Asaph's newfound godly perspective what seemed over the top now sounds perfeclty admirable. Remember that this is poetry. Poetry expresses ideals, heart longings and feelings. Having learned that the wicked are on a slippery slope, that his own attitude sucks and that God remains faithful and loving, Asaph states the obvious. "There is no one but God who meets my deepest needs. And even when my secondary needs and frivolous desires are met by people, they are empowered and instructed by God whether they know it or not."
So he concludes, "I'm sticking with God like white on rice! Can't have a better cover."
One of the hardest things to watch is people you love living in a manner that is godless and self-destructive. It's one thing if the wicked are off on another continent. It's another when they are in your own household or school or business. You've come to know them and respect them. We often fail to recognize the issue and if we do, we feel incompetent to address it. I'm eager to hear from you either in the poll to the right or below in the comment section.
© 2013 Frank P. Crane