The Wild Places Bible Guide – 18
April 3, 2019
Wednesday, April 3
Psalm 73 (CEB)
73 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are have a pure heart.
2 But me? My feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped
3 because I envied the arrogant;
I observed how the wicked are well off:
4 They suffer no pain;
their bodies are fit and strong.
5 They are never in trouble;
they aren’t weighed down like other people.
6 That’s why they wear arrogance like a necklace,
why violence covers them like clothes.
7 Their eyes bulge out from eating so well;
their hearts overflow with delusions.
8 They scoff and talk so cruel;
from their privileged positions
they plan oppression.
9 Their mouths dare to speak against heaven!
Their tongues roam the earth!
10 That’s why people keep going back to them,
keep approving what they say.
11 And what they say is this: “How could God possibly know!
Does the Most High know anything at all!”
12 Look at these wicked ones,
always relaxed, piling up the wealth!
13 Meanwhile, I’ve kept my heart pure for no good reason;
I’ve washed my hands to stay innocent for nothing.
14 I’m weighed down all day long.
I’m punished every morning.
15 If I said, “I will talk about all this,”
I would have been unfaithful to your children.
16 But when I tried to understand these things,
it just seemed like hard work
17 until I entered God’s sanctuary
and understood what would happen to the wicked.
18 You will definitely put them on a slippery path;
you will make them fall into ruin!
19 How quickly they are devastated,
utterly destroyed by terrors!
20 As quickly as a dream departs from someone waking up, my Lord,
when you are stirred up, you make them disappear.
21 When my heart was bitter,
when I was all cut up inside,
22 I was stupid and ignorant.
I acted like nothing but an animal toward you.
23 But I was still always with you!
You held my strong hand!
24 You have guided me with your advice;
later you will receive me with glory.
25 Do I have anyone else in heaven?
There’s nothing on earth I desire except you.
26 My body and my heart fail,
but God is my heart’s rock and my share forever.
27 Look! Those far from you die;
you annihilate all those who are unfaithful to you.
28 But me? It’s good for me to be near God.
I have taken my refuge in you, my Lord God,
so I can talk all about your works!
Points of Interest
- For most psalms, this one included, we don’t know when and where they were written, but they give voice to feelings we can have in wild places, in this case feelings of envy and resentment.
After opening with the religious cliché that God is good to good people, the writer considers all the ways that seems not to be true. Good people suffer problems big and small, and sometimes really bad people appear to prosper. It’s not clear which is more frustrating – the ease with which the wicked accumulate wealth and triumphs or the seeming futility of virtue and humility.
- Trying to make sense of this injustice doesn’t help. Knowing that envy and resentment are wrong (“unfaithful” is the poet’s word) doesn’t change anything either. What brings a shift in the poet’s experience is a thought that appears during worship. Sticking with the practice of worship even when life and God don’t make sense ends up helping.
- The first turn point away from resentment is remembering that bad people will suffer. Maybe this has to do with God’s judgment in the afterlife, maybe with some kind of karma, or maybe just that the principle of reaping what we sew catching up with people eventually. Here’s one thing I have observed, though. Think of a prominent person who seems to get away with misdeed after misdeed. I have someone in mind. I know many people who resent this person and want to see him suffer. But I have never heard anyone wish they could be this person. I certainly wouldn’t.
- There’s maybe a second, more important turning point in the psalm. More than just a shift in perspective about bad people, there’s a shift in perspective about where God is in our lives. Long-term resentment and bitterness has a connection to stupidity and ignorance – it emphasizes the animal in us. A hope that God is with us is connected to different conditions – satisfaction, whole-heartedness, and inner peace.
- At the end of the poem, the psalmist returns to the same simple, binary faith that life messed with earlier. (God is good to me, but “you annihilate all those who are unfaithful.” Ouch.) For this particular person, that conviction seems comforting and kind of hard to shake, I guess. More interesting to me is that satisfaction and freedom that have replaced resentment without any change in circumstances. I’m attracted to whole-hearted gratitude that stands up in the face of my own wild places, and others’ successes, even the ones they may not deserve. The psalm takes us from the burning ashes of Jerusalem to captivity in Babylon. We’re invited to picture the branches on which the stringed instruments hang, un-played, while the exiles weep by the riverside.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for your church, that it will cultivate a community of gratitude and inner peace, freeing people (yourself included) from comparison and resentment.
Spiritual Exercise of the Week
Words of Doubt or Lament – Too often we don’t express to God our questions, our doubt, and our anger. This week, though, we still remember the wild places of exile – loss, grief, disappointment, out of control seasons, anxiety born of change. Whatever challenges you’re facing, speak out loud to God, or write in your own mini-psalm, your questions, doubt, or anger. When you’ve said or written what you have for today, sit in silence for a moment, and see if you sense or feel anything from God.