This Bible study on Psalms 73 contains outlines, extensive cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, lessons to learn, and applications.  Visit our inductive Bible studies for more studies on this and other books of the Bible.

A Psalm of Asaph – Why do the wicked prosper?

Outline

I. The premise: Faith but confusion (1-3)
II. Asaph is astounded by the success of the wicked (4-15)
III. The wicked will face judgment (16-22)
IV. God gives the believer strength (23-28)

I. The premise: Faith but confusion (1-3)

Discussion Questions

  • What foundational belief do we see Asaph holds in verse 1?
  • In what way had Asaph almost stumbled?
  • What confusion and doubt did he face as he looked at the world around him?
  • Do we see similar cases of the wicked prospering now?
  • How can this be disturbing to our faith?
  • Have you ever faced doubt or confusion when people more wicked than you are more successful in some area?

Teaching Points

1. Asaph believes in God – From verse 1 we see that Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, is a firm believer. He is not writing as someone who is hostile to the Lord or an agnostic. He knows all the history of what God has done for Israel. And He believes it. As we move forward in the Psalm, it is important to know that Asaph is a sincere believer who has some struggles, not an unbeliever who cannot bring himself to accept God’s plan.

2. Asaph still had moments of doubt and confusion trying to understand what was happening in the world around him. – In verse 2 we get a glimpse of the struggles of Asaph. His feet came close to stumbling and his steps almost slipped. Here we learn a few important lessons about believers:

A. Real believers can have real doubts or struggles – Followers of God are not robots. We have real emotions. There are ups and downs in our spiritual lives. Sometimes our faith is stronger and sometimes it is weaker. There are times when we look at the world and have zero interest in worldly or material things compared to following after God. Other times those same things hold an attraction or allure for us. There are times of strength and times of weakness.

Application: Knowing this, we should encourage other believers in their times of struggle or doubt rather than judge them. It may not be helpful when brothers or sisters around us express confusion about God’s plans to attack them as being weak in faith. Instead we should rally around the person and try to help him through the tunnel to the light at the other side.

At the same time we must realize that we too are weak sometimes. When we face those moments, we should get help. Like Asaph, prayer is a good first step. It doesn’t help to try to deny the feelings you are having. Instead you should seek to have these resolved in a correct way.

B. True believers will not lose faith completely in the end. Asaph “came close” to stumbling. And his feet “almost” slipped. While he was tempted, he did not completely fall away to the point of no return. If a person allows his doubts to completely overcome him and drive him away from the Lord (and he doesn’t come back), he was not a believer to begin with.

3. Asaph realized the wicked prospered and he wanted that same success – Here in a nutshell is the struggle which Asaph faced. Wicked people around him were successful, perhaps even because of their wickedness. They were prosperous and became rich. Their lives were easy and smooth. Seeing them seemingly escape justice and be rewarded for their sins made Asaph jealous in that a part of him wanted to the same easy life which they had.

It is not shocking that a real believer would give in to moments of temptation about this. Imagine a believer in a Muslim country in the Middle East. He is caught and thrown into prison, where he is daily tortured. Meanwhile he sees others renounce the faith and be rewarded with posh lives and rewards for ratting out other believers. The temptation to to turn away from God and reap the riches would be strong.

Application: All of us face temptation. Yet we would do well to remember 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

II. Asaph is astounded by the success of the wicked (4-15)

Discussion Questions

  • What observations does Asaph make about the wicked’s successes?
  • In what ways were they successful?
  • How did they seem to prosper?
  • Were these observations about wicked people accurate? Do you see examples of this today?
  • Why is this hard for many believers to understand?
  • What observations does Asaph make about the character of the wicked?
  • How does he compare his own situation to theirs (verses 13-14)?
  • What does verse 15 mean?

Teaching Points

1. Asaph observed the wicked leading smooth and easy lives –

Asaph describes in great detail the luxurious lives of the wicked. They were fat because they always have plenty to eat. That may not seem like a such big deal now when food is much more readily available than it was in those days. But in those days there were not many fat people. And fatness was generally a sign of wealth, a person who could afford to eat whatever they wanted. Asaph even says that their “eye bulges from fatness.” What a vivid description!

Their lives were smooth and easy. They didn’t encounter many trials or difficulties like others did. Everything seemed to bounce their way and they jumped from one success to another.

Asaph says in verse 7 that the “imaginations of their heart run riot.” In other words, they get whatever they want. All of their hopes, dreams, and fantasies seem to come true.

In verse 10 he says that they have “waters of abundance.” And even their deaths are relatively painless (verse 4).

Was it really like this or was Asaph imagining things? It is probably a combination of both. Immoral people sometimes do prosper more in the short term. Their sinful ethics allow them to extort others or cheat or lie in order to get material gain. Oftentimes this type of behavior does result in worldly wealth.

At the same time, it is easy to see things in a way that reinforce what we already expect to see. If Asaph was struggling inside, he may have been prejudiced. And this bias would tend to warp what he saw, magnifying the easy life of the wicked and the difficulties of the righteous. We too may look at others and think “you have it so easy all the time,” when in fact we may just be ignoring things in their life which are not easy.

2. The wicked sinned again and again with seeming impunity –

The sins of the wicked were evident. It wasn’t as if they merely appeared righteous. They weren’t righteous and everybody knew it. Asaph talks about their pride, violence, mockery, arrogance, rebellion, and evil words. Perhaps the worst of their sins is recorded in verse 9. They “have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth.” Verbally they mock God and speak out against Him. Without any fear of God or His divine judgment, their arrogance grows. And even though they so openly laugh at God, yet they still grew more and more prosperous.

3. We also see many things which seem unfair and unjust today –

We can see the same thing happening today. Around the world, fear of God is decreasing. People are more and more confident to speak out horrible things against God. And at least in the short term they still seem to be successful. Richard Dawkins for example has said some exceedingly arrogant and evil things against God. I will not quote all because I dare not even type out everything he said, but one of the least offensive in his quote is that God is a “capriciously malevolent bully” and a “homophobic racist.” His net worth is probably at least $10 million. Asaph saw many like Richard Dawkins spouting off with their mouth and only raking in more money.

A lot of wicked people are successful. President Trump for example has said many horrible things, has been divorced multiple times, and has had affairs. And yet he is extremely rich and powerful.

4. Asaph felt that he did what was right for nothing –

See verse 13. Asaph says “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence.”

What would you say to Asaph if he were here now? Asaph, at least for the moment, was focusing on material wealth and prosperity, which does not satisfy. He was thinking in lines of what he “could get” from his actions.

1 Timothy 6:8 says that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”

One time someone asked me, “If I believe in Jesus, what do I get?” He was wondering if following Jesus would help him get a better job, or make more money, or become rich. This is the same trap that the false teachers in the previous verses were falling into. Many people look at religion as a means of gaining wealth.

Paul says that in fact being godly does result in great gain, but that gain is not material.

So what does someone who is godly gain? Write down whatever you can think of:

  • Good friends (Proverbs 27:17)
  • Joy (John 15:11)
  • Peace (John 14:27)
  • Forgiveness (John 1:12)
  • Eternal life (Matthew 25:46)
  • Victory (Romans 8:37)
  • Security (Proverbs 10:24)
  • A clear conscience (Hebrews 13:18)

Money and materials do not bring contentment or happiness. These come from a proper relationship with God, nothing else. Anytime a person tries to shortcut or find their own way to happiness it won’t work.

5. He rebuked himself and wouldn’t speak his concerns out loud –

When Asaph felt like this, he kept it to himself. In verse 15-16 we see that he restrained himself from mentioning his doubts out loud. He was afraid that his weak faith would affect other believers and even mislead the next generation. Asaph was was a descendant of Gershom of the tribe of Levi. He is one of three who was commissioned by David to be in charge of the singing to worship the Lord. In other words, he was a worship leader. He knew as worship leader he had a lot of influence and he didn’t want to use that influence in the wrong way.

There is a time and a place to express doubts. Asaph practiced self-control and he would go to the right place to deal with his feelings, namely to the Lord.

III. The wicked will face judgment (16-22)

Discussion Questions

  • How did Asaph feel as he thought about this question? (16)
  • Where did he find the answer?
  • What lesson do we learn from this about where to search for answers to life’s tough questions?
  • What answer did he discover to this problem?
  • What will finally happen to the wicked? When will this happen?
  • Who will cause it to happen?
  • What do these verses teach us about God’s character?
  • How do we see Asaph’s attitude changing in verse 22?
  • How do we see prayer changing his feelings and attitude as you go through this chapter?
  • How does prayer change us?

Teaching Points

1. Asaph searched for answers by coming to the Lord –

See verse 17. “Until I came into the sanctuary of God.” Asaph didn’t haphazardly toss his feelings everywhere. He went to the sanctuary (perhaps the temple or a place of worship or meditation). There he took his feelings directly to God.

Application: We learn an important lesson here. It is normal to have times of doubt, but the way in which we deal with that doubt is very important. Take your feelings to God. He knows how you feel anyway. Be honest with yourself and with God about the struggles you are facing. Like Habakkuk did before, when we take our questions to God, we can find answers and calm assurance in God’s ultimate goodness.

2. He realized that the wicked would face final judgment and destruction for their sin –

The answer Asaph received was simple. In verse 17 he says, “then I perceived their end.” He goes on to say “you set them in slippery places. You cast them down to destruction. They are destroyed in a moment… utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakens.”

Eventually, sooner or later, the wicked will receive justice for the wrongs they have done. They will not take their riches with them after death. One day each person will face God as the judge and have to give an account for everything he has done. The security that their riches seem to provide is short-lived and no real security at all. While their lives seem to be smooth and easy, destruction comes upon them in a moment. Asaph’s description reminds us of Jesus’ parable about the rich fool, who did not know that he was about to die and all of the things so carefully stored up would avail him nothing. Money is but for a moment. A life built on things of this world is on a slippery slope. Only a life built on the rock of Christ is safe and sound.

3. Asaph confesses his wrong attitude in responding to this situation –

Verses 21-22 –

When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.

Here Asaph confesses his ignorant attitude. He admits that his feelings got the best of him. He allowed his jealousy of the easy lives of the rich to cloud his thinking and he started raving like a beast without knowledge or understanding. In his frustration, he allowed his mind to get carried away and his thoughts did not glorify God. However, he still did take these to the Lord and received an answer. Finally he repented.

Application: All of us may sometimes be like Asaph. At times we may allow our frustrations to warp our attitudes even to the point of speaking out or thinking things against God’s plan, in some ways challenging his goodness or justice. If we ever realize that we have gone over the line, we need to immediately repent. Job is another example of this. In his frustration at the problems he was facing, he said things which wrongly impugned God’s character.

IV. God gives the believer strength (23-28)

Discussion Questions

  • What resolution does Asaph make?
  • What lessons has he learned about God?
  • Have you reached the point where you can honestly say what Asaph said in verse 25: there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you?
  • What is the final result for the wicked?
  • What is the final result for the righteous?
  • What applications can you make from what you have learned in this chapter?

Teaching Points

1. Asaph resolves to commit himself to the Lord –

In verses 23-24, Asaph recommits himself to the Lord. He has examined both sides of the case. He knows that wickedness may come with certain short term benefits. But in the end the godly are the ones who will be rewarded. Therefore he once again resolves to throw in his lot with God. Instead of abandoning his faith and following after the world, Asaph’s faith crises ends up leading him to an even closer relationship with God.

Application: There are times in our Christian life when we need to come back to God and make new commitments. Re-committing ourselves to him and telling Him this in our prayers from time to time is very important.

2. He acknowledges that God is always with him and he will one day be rewarded –

Verse 23 – You have taken hold of my right hand.
Verse 24 – With Your counsel You will guide me.
Verse 24 – Afterward you will receive me to glory.
Verse 28 – As for me, the nearness of God is my good.

In short, Asaph says that “God is enough” for him. God is the best and to be cherished higher than anything or anyone else. A relationship with Him is to be desired above all else.

Application: We should echo the thoughts in the song “More Precious Than Silver.”

“Lord, You are more precious than silver.
Lord, You are more costly than gold.
Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds, and
Nothing I desire compares with You.”

4. The wicked will perish in the end –

Verse 27 – Those who are far from You will perish.

Application: Do not be jealous of the wicked, their lives, or what they own! They and all they own will perish in the end!

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