LESSONS FOR LIVING Psalms 73–78
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11–12).Book III of the Psalms, a collection formalized at the time of the Exile, features the teaching psalms (maskil) of Asaph, a Levite who led a choir that praised God.
Asaph shared lessons for living in psalms which explore jealousy of prosperous wicked (Ps. 73), and puzzlement over the silence of God (Ps. 74). He proclaimed God as near (Ps. 75) and as known through His people (Ps. 76). And Asaph celebrated the Lord as a God of miracles (Ps. 77), of whom we learn through Israel’s history (Ps. 78).
Understanding the Text
Psalm 73: Benefits of Faith. Asaph was overtaken by jealousy at the prosperity of the wicked. Only a change of perspective enabled him to grasp the benefits of faith. (See DEVOTIONAL.) Psalm 74: The Silence of God. When disasters come God’s people can only cry out to a God who has been silent. “Why have You rejected us forever?” Ps. 74:1–2. The psalm posed a question that each of us is driven to ask at times. Why is God silent? Why hasn’t He acted? Why does He seem to reject His people? “Your foes” Ps. 74:3–8. In powerful images the poet described the ruin of the sanctuary in Jerusalem in 587B.C The defeat of Judah seemed to the psalmist to have been an attack on God Himself. “We are given no miraculous signs” Ps. 74:9–11. Why, then, did God permit the enemy to mock Him? Why did God hold back, and not destroy them? Asaph questioned, but had no answer to offer. The silence of God was beyond explanation. What are we to do when we too feel crushed, puzzled, and anguished because God permits us to suffer? Asaph had one suggestion only. “But You, O God, are my King” Ps. 74:12–23. That suggestion is to affirm God as Sovereign, to remember His mighty acts in history, and to call on Him to defend His people and His cause. We can never explain a present silence of God. But we can always remember that God has spoken in the past, and will speak again. Then, reassured by a fresh vision of how great our God is, we can continue—to wait. Psalm 75: God Is Near. God, who will act in His own time to judge the earth, is near. “Your Name is near” Ps. 75:1–10. God’s name, standing here for His self-revelation, is “near” in two senses. (1) God is near now, for God upholds the moral pillars of the universe by raising some men up and bringing others down. His sovereignty is displayed in the fact that He chooses “the appointed time” for such judgments. (2) God is also near eschatologically, for a day is approaching when God will “cut off the horns [power] of all the wicked.” Psalm 76: Where God Is Known. The Lord is to be feared by those who see His works among His own people. “His name is great in Israel” Ps. 76:1–3. The people of Israel knew the true God, and exalted Him. “You are” Ps. 76:4–10. The God Judah knew was characterized by majesty, power, and a righteousness expressed in His judgment of sinful men. “Make vows . . . and fulfill them” Ps. 76:11–12. Asaph called on the people around Judah to submit and bring tribute (not “gifts”) to God, who is to be feared. This brief psalm reminds us that the God we know reveals Himself to others through us. Psalm 77: God of Miracles. When we are in distress, we too can remember that our God performs miracles. “When I was in distress” Ps. 77:1–9. Asaph spoke of fervent, anguished, and continual prayer (vv. 1–3), which brought him no comfort at all (vv. 4–6). Sometimes prayer, the means by which we cast our burdens on God, actually increases the pressure we feel. When an answer to prayer is delayed we begin to wonder if God will ever show us favor again (vv. 7–9). The theme fits the experience of the Jews who were taken captive to Babylon (cf. Ps. 74). The national disaster forced God’s people to reevaluate their relationship with the Lord, and question the basis of their hope in Him. Distress may force you and me to reexamine the foundations of our faith too. When this happens, our faith ultimately will be strengthened. “To this I will appeal” Ps. 77:10–15. Asaph chose to remember “the deeds of the Lord,” His “miracles of long ago.” The key here is not simply that God is all-powerful, but that God has in the past used His power to redeem His people. It is the same for us. When distress drives you and me to doubt, we are to recall what God has done for us in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates God’s power. But it is the fact that the Son of God died and was raised, for us, that seals our confidence and hope. “The waters saw You, O God” Ps. 77:16–20. In powerful images Asaph revisited the redemption of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea. We too can find our comfort and our hope in images, but images of Jesus on the cross, suffering for us, crying out to God to forgive His persecutors, promising paradise to the thief who believed in Him. Psalm 78: Memories. The message of God to Israel was engraved in the history of that people. Each act of God revealed more of the Lord; each event was a sermon directed to the people of today. This psalm is a sermon intended to help Israel trust in God and forsake the stubborn ways of her forefathers (vv. 1–8). In the wilderness, God’s people were judged when they willfully put the Lord to the test (vv. 9–31). Despite the fact that later generations forgot His miracles and were disloyal to His covenant, God was merciful to them (vv. 32–39). Despite the love displayed in the Exodus and Conquest (vv. 40–55), Israel continued to rebel against the Lord, and was justly punished (vv. 56–64). Then, despite Israel’s faults, God chose David to shepherd His people (vv. 65–72). The lesson of the psalm is clear. In David, Israel was granted a fresh start. God’s people had to learn from their past, and follow David’s example of faithfulness to the Lord if they hoped to avoid future disaster.
What Good Is Faith, Anyway?(Ps. 73)
Probably you can understand Asaph’s feelings. He’d tried all his life to be a good person. He’d tried to serve God. But all he’d gotten in return was sickness, hardships, and more troubles than he cared to name. Of course, what really bothered Asaph was that he knew people with no faith at all who were healthy and strong, rich and carefree! No wonder Asaph was discouraged, and had begun to feel that “in vain have I kept my heart pure.” What good is a faith that doesn’t work in this world? What good is a faith that seems to bring more plagues and punishments on the believer than the world’s wicked have to endure? The psalm tells us that Asaph struggled with these thoughts in silence. And then, suddenly, one day in God’s sanctuary, Asaph found his answer! Asaph realized that the troubles he experienced were gifts from God, and that the easy life granted the wicked was actually “slippery ground”! What Asaph gained was a perspective that you and I need to keep constantly in mind. The easy life of the wicked is no reward, for it leads them away from any dependence on God! Why turn their thoughts to the Lord when they feel no need of His help? Yet, one day soon, they will be “swept away by terrors,” for they will awaken to realize that this world is the dream, and eternity the reality. And Asaph? Asaph, now ashamed of his earlier jealousy of the wicked, realized that the very trials he had hated had led him again and again to God in prayer. Only through his troubles had Asaph discovered God as “the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
The very difficulties that drive us to God are overwhelming evidence of His love.