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Psalm 73

On the good life

The evil arrogance of wealthy powerbrokers raises some hard whys for us now no less than in ancient Israel. But behind those questions is a more basic one: what does it mean to live the good life?

An Asaph psalm.

How good God is to Israel
to those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me
my feet had almost stumbled—
I nearly lost my footing
3 envying the arrogant as I did
seeing how well-off the wicked are.

4 They live pain-free lives
their bodies healthy and strong.
5 Not struggling like the rest of us
not suffering like ordinary people
6 they flaunt their pride like a necklace
and cover themselves with violence like a cloak.
7 These tycoons are so bloated and bilious
they ooze depravity and delusions.
8 They sneer and spout pure poison.
And from their lofty position
they threaten to crush the little guy.
9 Making claims that reach to high heaven
these mouths talk as if they own the earth.
10 So God’s people turn away to them
drinking in every word they say.
11 They say, “What does God care?
And what would the Most High know?”
12 That’s what the wicked are like—
always amassing power and wealth
with never a care in the world.

13 “Truly, I’ve kept my heart pure
and my hands spotless for nothing
14 seeing that I’m beaten down all day long
and each new day begins another round!”
15 But had I openly subscribed to that
I’d have betrayed all your children.
16 Yet whenever I tried to make sense of things
it was way beyond me.
17 That is, until I entered God’s sanctuary
and saw the end awaiting them.

18 Truly, you put them on slippery ground
and make them fall to their doom.
19 How suddenly they’re ruined
utterly swept away by terrors!
20 On rousing yourself, Lord
you’ll totally reject them
like one loathes a nightmare on waking.

21 When I became bitter
about my brokenness and pain
22 I was senseless and ignorant
an animal before you.
23 Yet I’ve always been with you—
you’ve held me by the hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel
and will afterward receive me with honor.
25 Who have I in heaven but you?
And there’s no one on earth I desire
besides you.
26 My health may fail me
my spirits may flag
but God is the source of my inner strength
my delight forever.
27 Those far from you will certainly perish
you’ll destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me
the good life consists in being close to God.
I’ve made Sovereign Yahveh my refuge
and will recount all you’ve done.

The Psalms claim that God-seekers are enviable,[1] contradicting the nearly universal belief that self-seeking gets us ahead. This psalm straddles that fault line by recounting Asaph’s crisis of faith. Having envied the self-indulgent rich who arrogantly think the rules don’t apply to them, he almost labels pleasing God futile, a lost cause, since it brings him only trouble, while the rich live trouble free.

Faith often raises hard questions. Under a just king, evildoers are punished and the innocent thrive. So why does God let the egotistical rich get richer and richer at the expense of the poor? Ready to trash his Torah faith, Asaph encounters God in the sanctuary and is kept from betraying his faith community.

Asaph begins that encounter with the wicked secure, himself on slippery ground. When he emerges from it, the wicked are on slippery ground while he’s secure. But dramatic as that shift is, only his perspective changes, not his outward situation.[2] Still, he sees that—for all their wealth, ease and popularity—the wicked don’t know peace. What truly makes life good is God’s presence, shelter and power enabling his people to please him both individually and corporately, and the peace that goes with it.

Delighting in you, Lord, I look to you alone for blessing. Thank you for holding onto me when I’m tempted to seek wealth over you. Your hold on me matters more than mine on you. Help me live always in your presence, protection and power, enjoying the peace that comes with that. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

Who have I in heaven but you?
And there’s no one on earth I desire besides you.

[1] Psalm 1.

[2] J. Clinton McCann Jr. (2015) 505.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.