Prosperity of the Wicked – Psalm 73

Read the Passage: Psalm 73

Prosperity (73:1–12)

The superscript to Psalm 73 identifies the author as Asaph. Recall that Asaph wrote 12 of the Psalms (i.e., Pss. 50, 73–83), which is second most among the seven named authors of the Psalter. Asaph the son of Berachiah, served as one of David’s three lead musicians (cf. 1 Chron. 6:39; 16:4–5), being a singer and symbol player (cf. 1 Chron. 15:19), as well as a seer and musical composer (cf. 2 Chron. 29:30; Neh. 12:46). Additionally, it is noted that his descendants were part of the Temple choir (cf. 1 Chron. 25:1–9), even after their return from exile in Babylon (cf. Ezra 2:41; 3:10; Neh. 7:44; 11:22). Asaph begins this Psalm with a confession of his envious heart. Specifically, he was jealous of wicked men who are boastful and prosperous. Note that the term “boastful” literally means “self-worshipers” and the word “prosperous” refers to one’s present well-being.

Like many believers who have experienced the trials and tribulations that accompany following God, Asaph questioned the value of his faith in God given the present prosperity of the wicked. Note Jesus taught that believers will experience various types of trials in this life (cf. Matt. 10:22; John 16:33); Paul wrote that maturing Christians ought to expect persecution (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12); and Peter taught that God’s sovereign will for His followers may even be for them to suffer and to die in service of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19). In contrast, the wicked sometimes prosper in this world. Asaph describes the wicked as: having carefree lives and painless deaths (cf. Ps. 73:4–5); holding positions of power (cf. Ps. 73:6); overflowing with material abundance (cf. Ps. 73:7); able to oppress others (cf. Ps. 73:8–9); experiencing popularity (cf. Ps. 73:10), and denying God (cf. Ps. 73:11–12).

Perplexity (73:13–17)

In light of the seeming prosperity of the wicked, which he described in Ps. 73:4–12, in the verses that follow Asaph tentatively concluded, “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued and chastened every morning” (Ps. 73:13–14). It is clear, however, that this statement was just a thought in Asaph’s heart, for in the following verse he wrote, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of your children” (Ps. 73:15). Asaph knew, then, that his deduction was not correct, thus he remained silent, albeit confused. Continuing, he wrote, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” (Ps. 73:16–17). In other words, through the worship of God, Asaph gained a divine perspective, which altered his earlier conclusion.

Proclamation (73:18–28)

With a renewed relationship with God came a new perspective on the seeming prosperity of the wicked. Indeed, Asaph now realized that the present flourishing of the wicked is but a temporary phenomenon, for God is just and the wicked are “in slippery places” (Ps. 73:18). Whereas earlier Asaph had described the wicked in glowing terminology, he now writes of their “destruction . . . desolation . . . [and being] consumed with terrors” (Ps. 73:18–19). The language used here refers to the future judgment of the wicked being thorough, unexpected, and unavoidable. Other passages in Scripture speak of the judgment of the wicked being integrated with their sins. Observe that Paul warned his readers, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Similarly, Solomon taught that the wicked “shall eat the fruit of their own way” (Prov. 1:31).

In Ps. 73:21–22 Asaph is ashamed as he confesses, “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before you.” Ironically, earlier Asaph had been vexed by the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Ps. 73:16); yet, now he was troubled by his prior vexation (cf. Ps. 73:21). Perhaps, too, Asaph was now troubled by the thought of the eternal destruction of the wicked. In Ps. 73:23–24 Asaph expressed his confidence in God’s presence and guidance, despite the previous waning of his own faith. Given the beginning of this Psalm, in concluding this work it is paradoxical that Asaph pens some of strongest words in Scripture concerning faith. In Ps. 73:26, Asaph writes, “My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Such confidence is result of Asaph’s renewed relationship with God.

Application Questions:

  1. Do you ever struggle with your faith as you see the wicked prosper? What areas and issues are most troubling to you in this regard (e.g., wealth, health, success, etc.)?
  2. Why do you think Asaph begins this psalm with a declaration of God’s goodness and a personal confession? What benefits are there to confession of past sins?
  3. Is Asaph’s description of the prosperity of the wicked in Ps. 73:4–12 accurate? Why does God allow the wicked to temporarily flourish in the world?
  4. Is there someone in your life to whom you can express your spiritual doubts? How did Asaph know that his initial conclusion in Ps. 73:13–14 was incorrect?
  5. Have you witnessed the rise, prosperity, and fall of the wicked in the world (cf. Ps. 37:35–36)? What does Asaph mean in saying that God despises wicked?