Watching the Wicked Prosper

Psalms 73:3-12 (HCSB)
“For I envied the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have an easy time until they die,
and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others;
they are not afflicted like most people.
Therefore, pride is their necklace,
and violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge out from fatness;
the imaginations of their hearts run wild.
They mock, and they speak maliciously;
they arrogantly threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues strut across the earth.
Therefore His people turn to them
and drink in their overflowing words.
The wicked say, “How can God know?
Does the Most High know everything?”
Look at them — the wicked!
They are always at ease,
and they increase their wealth.”

This portion of Psalm 73 expresses how the unregenerate seem to be devoid of the hardship experienced by the believer in a fallen world. The psalmist sees the “prosperity of the wicked,” that they are “well fed,” that they “have an easy time until they die,” that they “are not in trouble like others,” and that they “are not afflicted like most people.” Such ease then leads the unbeliever into a state of “pride,” allowing their “imaginations of their hearts,” to “run wild.” As a result, they “set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth,” saying things like, “How can God know? Does the Most High know everything?” The psalmist then reiterates, “They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth.”

At the beginning of the psalm, the writer opens by saying how good God is to “the pure in heart.”

Psalms 73:1-2 (HCSB)
“God is indeed good to Israel,
to the pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my steps nearly went astray.”

Only someone who has been changed spiritually can open with how great God is, even though the wicked around them seem to be blessed. It is only a changed heart which can withstand the seemingly uneven or unfairly granted comfort that the ungodly experience, despite the lives they lead. The psalmist, however, admits that his “feet almost slipped” and that his “steps nearly went astray” in witnessing the ease by which the wicked seemed to enjoy.

What the writer describes is probably one of the hardest things that we (Christians) must endure, this side of advent two…

Watching the Wicked Prosper

It is at this point that the psalmist then, in a most candid fashion, rhetorically asks (as we all do sometimes) why things are the way that they are…

Psalms 73:13-15 (HCSB)
“Did I purify my heart
and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long
and punished every morning.
If I had decided to say these things aloud,
I would have betrayed Your people.”

How easy it is to become pessimistic.

Yet, the psalmist does recognizes that such an attitude is a betrayal of what it is to be a person who is counted among those labeled as “Israel,” whom God is “good to” (as described in the opening verses). It’s something that we must remind ourselves of when the wicked prosper around us, that we are “the Israel of God,” as Paul said to the churches in Galatia…

Galatians 6:14-16 (HCSB)
“But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation. May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God!”

So, how does the psalmist find the answer?

Psalms 73:16-17 (HCSB)
“When I tried to understand all this,
it seemed hopeless
until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.”

It is not until we enter into God’s sanctuary, do we then understand. That is when it all starts to make sense. It is then that we no longer see the wicked as prosperous, but as one whose destiny is the opposite…

Psalms 73:18-20 (HCSB)
“Indeed, You put them in slippery places;
You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream,
Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.”

Just like the writer, we must have a different response to what we see, because their “prosperity” is a facade. It reminds me of what Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount…

Matthew 7:13-14 (HCSB)
“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”

The psalmist then demonstrates how to get back on track…

Psalms 73:21-28 (HCSB)
“When I became embittered
and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish;
You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do.”

May we not be “stupid,” having no understanding like an “unthinking animal” toward God as we watch the wicked “prosper,” but instead make Christ our refuge, so that we can tell all about what He does…

Godspeed, to the brethren!