Misplaced Envy

Psalm 73 grapples with a universal question: Why is it that the wicked seem to prosper in this world? 

The psalmist writes (in verses 3-10), “For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek.  They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people.  Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment.  Their eyes swell out with fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.  They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.  They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth.  Therefore the people turn and praise them, and find no fault in them.”

Why is it that good people often suffer and bad people get rich? 

Yet Derek Kidner remarks, “The psalm will show the relative unimportance of circumstances in comparison with attitudes, which may be either soured by self-interest (verses 3 & 13) or set free by love (verse 25)….The light break in as he turns to God…and to Him as an object not of speculation but of worship.” 

When we turn to God in worship, our perspective changes.  Though we might not enjoy the earthly prosperity of the wicked, we begin to take stock of what truly matters and of the riches we have in God for eternity.  As the psalmist reflects on his initial envy of the prosperous wicked in light now of his relationship with God, he declares (in verses 22-28), “I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you.  Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  and there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you.  But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.”

The message of Psalm 73 is summed up well in a story from the Middle East about a king who was very wealthy by worldly standards, but whose his material wealth was not enough.  The king longed for spiritual contentment as well.  One night the king was roused from a deep sleep by a loud stamping and stomping on his roof.  Alarmed, he shouted, “Who’s there?”

A voice from the roof answered, “A friend.  I’ve lost my camel.”

Perturbed by such stupidity, the king shouted back, “You fool!  Why are you looking for a camel on my roof?”

The voice from the roof answered, “You fool!  Why are you looking for God’s contentment in silk clothing and lying on a golden bed?”

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