1 Truly, God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
This Psalm is unique in that the writer states his conclusion in his introduction. He had come to the conclusion that God is good to those of a clean heart. He does recall a time, however, in which he had forgotten this fact. We could aptly title verses two through fourteen, “Where Was God?” for the writer’s words describe a period in his life when he felt that God had withdrawn Himself from the world and forsaken His people.
As has typically been the case throughout history, the society in which this writer lived was dominated by wickedness. The evil of those surrounding the Psalmist was compounded by their attitude that either God didn’t know about their sinfulness or else didn’t care. Their arrogance influenced the Psalmist to question his own service to God. “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” Surely faithfulness was a waste of time. Either God was too weak to act or just wholly unconcerned about both the wicked and the righteous. This is the frame of mind in which the writer found himself. As he had said in verse 2, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.”
When the Psalmist turned his attention from the world and turned his eyes toward God, he saw the truth. He saw that while the wicked may prosper in this life, they will be cast down in eternity. He saw how the scales may appear to be tipped toward a life of disobedience while on earth but then realized that the rewards of eternity are far greater than anything this world might have to offer. He repented. He turned back to God. He expressed shame for his foolishness and ignorance.
What does the Psalmist’s situation have to do with finding comfort when we’re facing life’s troubles? Very simply, he wondered about God’s care just like we might do in our struggles and grief. “Where was God?” is a typical question on the hearts if not on the lips of those who suffer. “Where was God when my spouse died?” “Where was God when my child was maimed in a car wreck?” “Where was God (fill in the blank)?” The temptation is to conclude that either He doesn’t care or, if He does care, perhaps He is just too weak to do anything to help. Perhaps there is no hope. Perhaps we’ve either been abandoned or the One in whom we have put so much trust just can’t deliver on the promises that He has made.
Other chapters in this book deal with how to overcome this doubt. Suffice it to say here that it can be overcome. This chapter is about an underlying theme of Psalm 73. The writer wondered. He questioned. He doubted. In spite of all of this, God was patient with him. The Psalmist wasn’t struck dead after writing the last letter of verse 15. God was patient with him.
Wondering about God’s care is not uncommon in the Psalms. Psalm 10:1 reads, “Why standest afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble. Psalm 74 begins, “O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?” Psalm 79 opens with the writer describing the affliction that Jerusalem was experiencing at the hands of the heathen. He could not understand why God had not yet intervened (Psalm 79:5). Certainly we can feel the frustration of these writers. Perhaps we can even sense an aggravation with God’s timing. These writers are neither the first nor the last to want things to happen on their schedule rather than on God’s. In spite of their bewilderment and outright questioning of the Lord’s ways, they were treated with patience by the benevolent God who created them.
It’s interesting to listen to people’s observations about incidents recorded in the Bible. Some will read the complaints of Israel in the wilderness after they were freed from Egyptian captivity (Exodus 15ff) and sneer, figuring that these people should have known better. Some will look at the often seen faithlessness of even the apostles as they walked with Jesus when He was in the flesh and smugly shake their heads in disgust over the weakness of those men who had been hand-picked by Jesus. Thankfully, none of us has been charged with filling God’s role. While we might look down our noses at the recorded demonstrations of weak faith, God, who was there when each event occurred, showed patience and allowed for growth, just like He does when we demonstrate weakness in our faith.
One word that is used in the King James translation to express God’s patience is “longsuffering.” In the Old Testament the word can be found in Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15 and Jeremiah 15:15. New Testament usages as the word regards God’s longsuffering toward mankind include Romans 9:22, I Timothy 1:16, I Peter 3:20, II Peter 3:9 and II Peter 3:15. The Greek word that is used in the New Testament passages is a compound word. The first half is the word from which we derive our English word, “macro,” meaning large in scale, scope or capability. The second half has to do with heat, anger or passion. In the compound word translated “longsuffering,” we see our God as one who is great in withholding His anger. He does not respond in the heat of a moment. As Peter wrote in II Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Regarding God’s response to Israel’s complaints and unfaithfulness in the wilderness the Psalmist wrote, “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.” (Psalm 78:38-39). In the throes of Judah’s sorrows, Jeremiah wrote, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23). God was patient with the frailties of His creation.
As was mentioned in another chapter, when dealing with life’s challenges, we typically talk about the need for time to work through them. It’s because our situation is so new, so unfamiliar that we need some time to adjust. In the death of a loved one, for instance, that first night of not having him or her around or that first time that you want to talk to him or her but cannot are scenarios that require adjustment. We have to get used to this uncharted territory in our lives. Some choose to get angry over these unwanted and sometimes unexpected changes. Some question God’s goodness and even challenge Him. Thanks be to God that He knows the hearts of those who feel these very real, very human emotional pangs.
Of the many wonderful attributes of our God, one is that He never turns His ear from any of the prayers of the righteous (I John 5:14-15). We are invited to cast our cares (anxieties) upon Him (I Peter 5:7). We can tell Him anything, expressing the deepest feelings from the most remote chambers of our hearts. We can speak to God openly like Habakkuk did in his dilemma (Habakkuk 1:2ff). We can tell Him of our confusion regarding our situation as the writer of Psalm 73 did. Our God understands and we go to Him through our mediator, Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2:5) who Himself walked in our shoes, as it were, and “was in all points tempted like as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15). In fact, because of Christ, we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). God allows us and even encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him. “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8). He listens patiently, making allowance for our human imperfection. “Like as a father pitieth his children,so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14).
The Lord inspired the writer of Psalm 73 to put down in words the feelings that had filled his heart in a desperate period of his life. In so doing, God showed that He appreciates His people’s lack of understanding and even doubt when we are afflicted. Of course, it should be pointed out that God’s patience can be exhausted. While He showed an incredible measure of longsuffering to Israel in the wilderness, eventually He wearied of the rebellious attitudes and refused many of the Israelites entrance into the promised land of Canaan (Numbers 14). The apostle Paul wrote that God “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained…” (Acts 17:31). He also wrote that the Lord will exact punishment against those who “know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 1:7-9). Even Christians can go too far away from God and lose their souls (II Peter 2:20-22). We must not allow our questioning to turn into disbelief. Instead, may we do as this Psalmist. Even though at one point he wondered about God’s care for him, he nonetheless relied on the faith that he had built through God’s Word and ultimately concluded that God is good. If we do like him, we will see that God is caring for us as much in our challenges as He does in our times of peace. May we say with Habakkuk, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). Let us be thankful that we serve the God who makes a way for us to escape our troubles (I Corinthians 10:13) and who patiently allows us time to work through them.
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