Blind Bitterness | Psalm 73
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Psalm 73
July 15, 2018
A Psalm of Asaph
Good morning! And welcome again to Damascus Road Church. My name is Nate and I get to be one of our three pastors here at DR. My full time job is outside the church, but I do, on average, get to preach about 5 times a year, so it’s a pleasure to be up here this morning and opening God’s glorious Word with you.
We’ll be in Psalm 73 today, so I invite you to turn there in your Bibles. This is our 3rd week in a short summer series on this book that is a Soundtrack for our Souls. If you missed the first 2 weeks on Psalms 1 and 2, you can watch or listen to those online.
QUESTION: Have you ever NOT gotten something you wanted and hoped for. Something you were expecting and maybe even something you felt you deserved b/c you’d worked really hard for it. Kids/teenager, maybe you’d been on good behavior and thought there was a chance you’d get that video game, or chance to go to your friends house for the day or stay up late on a school night.
Adults, maybe it was a better position at work and you’d been performing awesome. Or maybe you’d been exceptionally generous and gracious to your kids and thought they’d overflow with appreciation.
Or all of us - maybe we’ve been faithfully gathering with the church, having regular devotional time, serving in the community - so certainly God would answer our prayers for a healed relationship, someone’s healed body, the house offer to go through or some other blessing.
How’d you respond when you didn’t get what you hoped for or expected, especially if someone else you knew was experiencing ease and apparent blessing? Did some envy pop up? Maybe a little bitterness?
If that’s been you, and I think it has been or will be most of us, then Psalm 73 is a song you’re going to want to get stuck in your head, because the lyrics to this song have some much-needed wisdom for how to best navigate those situations in our lives.
There are a lot of psalms in the Bible that have a rawness to them. There’s no sugar coating of reality. The psalmists bear their souls, even questioning God. And those are wonderful to read because they give us permission to SHARE our deepest, sometimes ugliest emotions and feelings. Too many of us just bottle things up and never let them out.
But others of us are just inclined in the other direction. We’re inclined to “keep it real” and let it all hang out without any sort of filter. For those in that camp, we don’t just need psalms that give us the FREEDOM to SHARE our emotions, but also the POWER TO SHAPE our emotions in ways that don’t minimize any of their authenticity, but also don’t sing lies about our Redeemer.
Psalm 73 has a lot of wisdom for us in that regard. And it’s not the wisdom of a detached, mountain dwelling monk but a faithful follower who falters for a season. And it’s not David, the man after God’s own heart. As Chris mentioned in the intro, these 150 songs were written by numerous song-writers over hundreds of years. David wrote about half of them, but today we’re looking at 1 of 12 songs written by a guy named Asaph. So who is this dude?
Who is Asaph?
Well if you’re like me, you likely only recognize his name, which is a shame because he wrote more of the Bible than Peter, James and about a dozen other authors, and his life had a demonstrably positive spiritual influence on Israel for centuries after he passed on.
In 1 Chron 15 + 16 we learn that Asaph was a member of the tribe of Levi, which is significant b/c that’s the one tribe out of 12 that did NOT get a portion of land when God brought them into the promised land. Rather than having land from which to sustain themselves, the other tribes of Israel were to provide their livelihood as their Levitical brothers ministered to God and made offerings on their behalf.
When David recaptured the ark of the covenant and returned it to Jerusalem, he appointed Asaph to serve as the chief musician and “raise sounds of joy” on the cymbals (1 Chron. 15). That’s right. If there are any past or present band members out there who got stuck on cymbals b/c the drums were already taken, this stud Asaph has your back. He’s makin’ the cymbals cool.
Asaph performed his service so well that he had a 40 year gig under David, and then several decades more under Solomon and possibly Rehoboam’s administrations. And all throughout his career, he so faithfully discipled his sons side-by-side in ministry. that they in turn discipled their sons, and their sons….for generations to come. That’s why we read in Nehemiah that, when Israel returned from her captivity nearly 400 years after the temple was first dedicated with Asaph, who was there leading the Israelites in musical celebration at the foundation of the temple being re-laid - the Sons of Asaph. Dang! That is some man of God and some legacy.
One last bit of helpful context before getting to the text. We don’t know when Asaph wrote this psalm, but given his outrage over the injustice he sees, and given what we know about Israel's history, it was likely late in his life and ministry - during the back half of Solomon’s reign or Rehoboam’s. This is likely the case b/c under David’s reign, Israel enjoyed her golden years of peace and prosperity, and that extended into Solomon’s reign until he turned his back on Yahweh and led Israel into worshipping other Gods. With that, let’s get to our text.
Part 1: Sunday School Truth - (Orientation)
 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart
 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
This, I believe is the main idea of the psalm. It’s the distillation of the life experience that Asaph is about to sing out for us in a song of tragedy and triumph. Truly GOd is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. And if that’s all that was in the intro, we might have skipped the track. But he hooks us, the listener, by telling us he almost crashed hard. We’re suckers for drama so we decide to listen further.
Like a lot of well created songs, we’re about to go on an emotional journey with him. In giving the intro to Psalm 2 last week, Chris highlighted one framework many psalms follow, which is in 3 parts: 1-Orientation: The singer is oriented to God in relationship, but then 2) suffering a crises leaves him disoriented and then 3 - he comes around to a resolution and reorientation with God. You’re going to see that that framework applies well here. Asaph makes a journey from believing simplistic truths about God to beholding the simple but unchangeable Truth who is God.
This cyclical nature of walking with God is normal and natural I think. I’ve seen it in my own life and you likely have in yours. I was a moralistic kid growing up. In my understanding, Jesus died for me sins b/c He loved me, but I’d better obey or I’d lose His favor and love. Then I got snared in pornography in my adolescent years and lived with that dark secret until I was 18 years old. I lived with a horrible self image all those years - seeing a scowl on Jesus face, in my mind, when I’d try to draw near to Him, knowing deep down I wasn’t the great kid everyone thought I was. That was disorienting.
But then I got scholarshipped to go to a Young Life camp that opened my eyes wide to the forgiving, 2nd chance, relational love of GOd. I was re-oriented with a richer understanding and hope. That hasn’t been only cycle of doubting God’s goodness and then being reoriented to a richer knowledge of the Father’s love and goodness, and I’m sure there will be more to come in my life.
Part 2: Bitter Envy & Unmet Expectations - (DIS Orientation)
 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
When I first started studying this, I thought it sounded generic. Yep, I’ve read psalms like this one about 100 times before. The righteous suffer, the evil prosper. Woe is me. Way to be original Asaph. You really captured a new human expression there!
But have you ever listened to a song before, and it was fine and good, but then when you heard the artist share about why they wrote it during a particular time in their life, and what they were going through. All of a sudden you enjoyed the song more because it had so much more meaning. You could better understand, if not relate to, the life experience they were singing about.
When I first read this, i thought Asaph was singing about some evil nation oppressing Israel. But as I dug deeper, this song really came alive. Remember, Asaph served under David for 40 years. David’s reign really was the golden age of Israel due to his anointed leadership. They’d extended their northern frontiers to the river Euphrates and their southern borders to the Red Sea.
On top of this, Asaph, had no doubt heard countless times what God promised David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13,
 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
This is a messianic promise to David. How ecstatic must Asaph have been, when David’s son King Solomon completes the long awaited temple and Asaph gets to dedicate it to God. This is IT. The fulfilment of God’s promises. The Zenith of His favor and of Israel’s kingdom!
Except the golden age quickly tarnishes as Solomon turns his back on God and leads Israel in worshipping idols and foreign deities. Israel’s leadership is corrupted from the top down such that the vast majority of people are only living for themselves and inflicting injustice on their kinsman. Those like Asaph who try to remain faithful bear the brunt of this evil and wickedness. This is a painful turn of events for a man who has faithfully served God and country for decades.
HIs visceral response is envy and bitterness. “You mean I’ve sunk decades of my entire career and civic life into trying to walk the right path after you and this is what I get for it? Abuse, injustice, ridicule, poverty. That equation makes no sense. Apparently I’ve completely wasted nearly my entire life.
That begs some questions - why do you attempt to follow and obey God? Not why OUGHT you but why DO you. Why in the world are you here this morning? Why did you bother to put on jeans and drive here instead of stay home in pj’s and have a laid back morning?
Do you obey in hopes of some sort of material blessing? Are you trying to follow God to impress your boyfriend or girlfriend or to quiet a persistent spouse? Is it just b/c that’s how you were raised and you don’t know any other way?
Another way to ask. What are our unspoken expectations from God for your obedience? Expectations that if you were to voice them you’d feel foolish, you’d be embarrassed, but they’re expectations nonetheless. What are you hoping to put God in your debt for? Long life? A better marriage? A peaceful home. A more fulfilling job? More obedient kids?
Expectations are HUGE. The New York Times reported a while back that the Danish are the happiest people in developed countries b/c of their low expectations. With low expectations, it doesn’t take a lot to exceed them, and when they are exceeded, there’s a heightened satisfaction. That’s not a invitation to lower every single one of our expectations, but it’s food for thought. Expectations are powerful.
EX - honeymoon dinner in nanaimo. Nailed it!
What if rather than expecting a moderately easy, care-free life b/c our hope is in Jesus and we’re trying to follow Him, what if we took Jesus and Paul at their word when they guaranteed us that life would be filled with trial and opposition:
- John 16:32–33  Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered... I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- 2 Timothy 3:12  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, - not really a tattoo verse, but maybe it should be?
Hear me out, I’m not proposing we find ways to make our lives more difficult or that we seek out persecution. I’m asking the question what if we let the eternal kingdom of God rather than the american dream inform and conform our expectations? What if we let the ESV rather than the TV determine our dreams.
The result would be that when hardship does show up in our lives, we be much more prepared to fight off envy and covetousness and comparison and dig to find out what it is that God is sovereignly purposing that hardship to achieve in and through us. OR, when hardship doesn’t come and we’re living life on easy-street, we’re pleasantly surprised experience a lot more heartfelt gratitude for the material comfort we enjoy.
Part 3:A Rock and a Hard Place (Still Disoriented, but less dazed) v15-16 & 21-22
Continuing on in the song, we hear:
 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task….skipping down to v21
 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Full of envy toward the unrighteous and bitterness toward God, amazingly, Asaph has the presence of mind to realize the number of souls who would be negatively affected, betrayed, if he were to upload to Youtube or ITunes this visceral venting. This was the original song he set out to write. It would have been so easy for him to have an “if you can’t beat em, join em” attitude. How much more worse could his rejection of God impact other Israelites in this current cesspool of corruption?
He’s caught between a rock and a hard place because he has a deep sense that he can’t betray and mislead all these other followers of God by telling them obedience is foolish, but at the same time, he can’t make any sense of current affairs. It doesn't add up. His bitterness has caused his blindness. He can’t see the deeper reality where God is at work. He’s fixated on the political and temporal realms and is oblivious to eternal realities. Sin distorts our thinking. Bitterness blinds us to greater realities.
Asaph said in verse 16, “when I thought how to UNDERSTAND this…” I’m no Hebrew scholar, but Strongs concordance tells us the hebrew word used here for understand is the word ‘khu·shav' (chasab). Some of the main ideas of the word are to think, to plan, to calculate. It was an accounting term. Asaph was doing exactly the opposite of what his old boss Solomon told Israel not to do in Prov 3:5 - He wasn’t trusting in the Lord with all his heart, but instead, he was leaning on his own understanding.
I don’t want to be too hard on Asaph here because his envy and bitterness is very natural and understandable. His circumstances were turned completely upside down through no sin or fault of his own and rather than continue to fight for what’s right, it seems easier to go over to the dark side.
I don’t want to be too hard, and yet we have to call envy out for what it is. It’s sinfully wicked. It’s hazardous to our souls and most of all it’s an affront to God. God was pretty clear to Israel, through Moses, in Exodus 20 when he gave the 10th commandment “ you shall not covet,”. So envy is sin.
What’s especially sinister about covetousness or envy is that it’s so subtle and hard for others to detect and lovingly warn you about, unlike pride, drunkenness, lust, hatred. If you see me regularly yelling at my kids, you can tell I have a problem with anger. If you smell alcohol on me and see me staggering, you know I’m drunk. You can often tell when someone is excessively proud by their speech or lack of consideration for others. But envy can be sinisterly subtle and therefore go unaddressed for a long time.
And envy is an affront to God b/c it speaks lies about who He is and what He has or will do. Asaph in his envying of the rich and wicked is saying God isn’t a generous provider. God isn’t someone who keeps His promises, or he’s too impotent to bring them to fruition. God is stupid and doesn’t have the full grasp of the situation and more. Anytime we’re aware that we’re ensnared by envy is a good time to pause and ask God to show us what lies we’re believing about Him and what truths we need to replace them with. EX: Job, Beauty, money
Part 4:God’s Nearness Needed
God mercifully grants Asaph some repentance sucn that he begins to hate existing in this state of envy and bitterness. He realizes what a brute he’s been, so he yields, relents and turns to the one place he’s found deep abiding peace before - the nearness of GOd in His sanctuary.
 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
What a difference yielding to GOd makes. What a difference confessing with your heart, “Father - your ways are higher than my ways, and your thoughts higher than my thoughts. I want to understand, but more than that, I want peace. Would you give me your peace to trust you. “
Asaph draws near to God and we read in verse seventeen that he DISCERNED their end. This is the Hebrew word ‘Bean’ and it’s so different then khushav. Bean means to discern, perceive, to observe. The primary meaning is to have insight. The word does not refer to mere accumulation of data, but rather of superior knowledge.”
Asaph gets revelation. He gets answers from God that he couldn’t have arrived at himself. They don’t add up mathematically in human terms. They seldom ever do. When we do our math, our cost-benefit analysis, we have these parenthesis that we think are the sum total of the equation. Those parenthesis are birth and death. Those parenthesis are M and E - what’s in it for me and mine? Our frame of reference is too limited. Our perspective too self-focused. We’ll never get the insight and discernment we need until we yield and expand our equations to include the one who is Alpha and Omega. Beginning and End.
Asaph gets the insight not just from drawing near to God in his prayer closet or on the mountain top, as good as those things are. He goes in to the sanctuary of God. The place where God’s people gather. People with their own hurts and hopes, their fears and frustrations, their praises and petitions.
See prior to coming into the sanctuary, Asaph doesn’t mention actually calling out to God nor does he reach out to other believers. He’s been isolated. He hasn’t given others the opportunity to enter into the pain of his song of bitter envy over dashed expectations and offer him a new song, or even just a new verse or a transition from the minor key to a major key.
I went through a period in high school with a very low self image, in part b/c I was trying to be my girlfriends emotional savior and I repeatedly failed at it. So I felt like garbage. In that period I engaged in self-harm and contemplated suicide several times. One of the main songs of my soundtrack at that time was Metalica’s Enter Sandman, which can be great, energy pumping music to lift weights to, but is horribly dark and depressing. It only added to my despair, whereas I needed someone to step in and change the soundtrack of my soul.
Do not be isolated from gospel community! Is this band perfect. No way! We miss the tempo. We’re off key often. But healthy, local churches are the primary means that God has appointed for you and I to not slip and stumble in life and even to grow and thrive. And gathering on Sunday mornings is a great 1st step, but don’t stop there. Join a mens or womens dgroup now. Join a RoadGroup when they start back up in the fall. Just reach out to someone and say, “hey, could I buy you a cup of coffee, or do you mind if I give you a call?” Know and be known by others
Part 5: Our Gospel Hope
We’re in the final stretch of the psalm. We’ve looked at this common cycle of life to go from feeling oriented to God to becoming disoriented and then re-oriented as we yield to Him. We’ve considered that maybe some of our bitterness and envy in life comes from holding unspoken expectations that have more to with the American Dream than with the Annointed King. We’ve seen how we can’t get ourselves out of that bitter envy through human accounting - we need to humbly submit ourselves to God’s good and sovereign grasp over all of life and eternity.
Let’s pick the song back up at v 21
 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
 I was brutish and ignorant;
 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
So we know what we ought to do and ought not do, but where do we find the will and the hope and the strength to walk in those ways. We find it in the same place as always - in the good news gospel of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Jesus and His cross sing a better song.
Asaph had high expectations for what the nation of Israel would establish. Jesus had low expectations, knowing what the creation of earth would demolish. Asaph FELT forsaken by his God, and would have deserved it, since there is no one righteous. Jesus actually was forsaken by the Father, though completely sinless, so that you and I can draw near to Him as our refuge.
Asaph learned this better song in the sanctuary of God. Hear how he confesses and sings, “I was brutish and ignorant; Nevertheless, I am continually with you;you hold my right hand.” I felt abandoned but I never was. Christ is continually with me, holding me by the hand or even by the scruff of the neck if necessary, but He doesn’t let go. He is lovingly strong and sovereign in His salvation.
V25-26 are the best parts of this gospel song that should give so much hope to you wherever you’re at this morning. Verse 25 is the worship song lyric that you and I have sung dozens of times. It’s a lyric of full surrender and devotion and delight in God that we feel when we encounter God in a new way and have a mountain top experience. And it’s right and it’s beautiful.
And it’s often not true of me or of you...not in the mundane stuff of every day life. When problems fall away and life becomes comfortable and pleasant, we tend to drift away and our desire for other things tends to increase in an unhealthy way. So God is so gracious to give us the first part of v 26. I’m a failure from time to time. My flesh and my heart have failed in the past and may fail again. I’m not proud of it. I’m grieved by it, but that’s my reality this side of eternity.
But God. But. God. Ephesians 2:1–5
 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins ... and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”
But. God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Even through failure, even through doubt and confusion, even through sin and bitterness, he will sustain us, His levitical priests, the one’s whom He has chosen to live a life praise and worship before Him, so awed by His boundless mercy that we can’t help but pick up our cymbals and smash them together as loudly as possible in praise of Him.
TRULY GOD IS GOOD TO ISRAEL to those who are pure in heart, pure because Christ is the strength of their heart. Asaph, not in spite of but through disappointment and bitterness, has gone from believing simplistic truths about God to beholding the simple but unchangeable Truth who is God.
- If you don’t know Him, put your trust in him today
- If you do already know him, what would enjoying more of His nearness look like. What would making Him more of your refuge look like? What relationship or possession or status or image have you been coveting that you need to repent of? Is there bitterness you need to confess to God or to another person? Take action! God is with you and you’ll experience and enjoy more of Him as you get out of your head and step out in faith to what he lays on your heart.