The psalm starts with a confident assertion that God is good to his people and that he promises blessing to those whose hearts are pure (v. 1). However, knowing this, the psalmist’s everyday experience did not seem to prove this axiom true. He explains the “slippery slope” he almost found himself tumbling down (v. 2). He uses the image of almost losing his footing (spiritually, of course). His problem? — the prosperity of the wicked.
They seem to enjoy life to the fullest and go about life without the slightest care in the world. They go on ignoring the authority of their Creator doubting His knowledge of and rule over them. Their godless, even anti-God, lives seem to bear no consequences. They are “always at ease, they have increased in wealth” (v. 12). These observations lead the psalmist to imagine that his holiness and devotion to God have been vain. We like the psalmist think, “Will my problems ever end? Why does God hate me? I feel that He is against me. He chastens me every day in some way or another” (v. 14).
Asaph’s thoughts troubled him greatly. Only when he went into God’s presence and met with Him in His house did his perspective of the wicked change. He says, “Then I perceived there end” (v. 17). In the end the wicked will be destroyed. In the end, in a moment, their rebellious, ungodly lives will be justly rewarded. They will be “utterly swept away by sudden terrors!” and God will “despise their form” (vv. 19-20). He compares the temporary prosperity of the wicked to dreams or “fantasies” (NIV). As the Bible Knowledge Commentary states, they are “counterfeits of reality.”
After this reminder of the wicked’s lot, Asaph recognized his previous conundrum as “senseless and ignorant” (v. 22). His foolishness overwhelmed him. When the truth is known regarding the wicked, we too must not envy them, but pity them. As Spurgeon says, “No envy gnaws now at his heart, but a holy horror both of their impending doom, and of their present guilt, fills his soul. He recoils from being dealt with in the same manner as the proud sinners, whom just now he regarded with admiration” (The Treasury of David, Vol. 2, p. 251).
In the midst of his trials and problems, he now recognized that he is “continually with” the Lord, that God has “taken hold of my right hand.” He trusted that God would guide him with His counsel and “afterward receive me to glory” (v. 24).
That Sounds Familiar
This process of thought is familiar to us. We allow our minds to fall to the depths of doubt and confusion about God’s justice in the world today. We are greatly troubled. Then God in His grace reveals Himself to us in His Word and through His body, the church. We remember God’s promise that “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex 34:7). We recall those memory verses from Psalm 139,
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Vs. 7-10
We gain perspective from the inspired words of Paul,
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Cor 4:17-18
We all must focus our minds on the truth, which at times may seem beyond reason. Commenting on verse 13, Spurgeon says, “Thus foolishly will the wisest of men argue, when faith is napping. Asaph was a seer, but he could not see when reason left him in the dark; even seers must have the sunlight of revealed truth to see by, or they grope like the blind” (The Treasury of David, Vol. 2,p. 249).
This realization brings this psalm to a climax. “God now” and “God forever” fulfills our every desire, comforts our every sorrow. Asaph exclaims,
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever Vs. 25-26
The obvious answer to the question, “Whom have I in heaven but You?” is no one. Heaven is the abode of God. It is where he rules sovereignly over this universe (Ps 115:3). It represents the only eternal, everlasting place. It is where believers will be forever. This world will pass away (1 Jn 2:17), but heaven (because of God) will last forever. Friends, family, and colleagues may fail us, but God is our God forever. Possessions and accomplishments will pass away with the world, but our knowledge of and relationship with God will continue without end.
I hope we can say with Asaph, “Besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” Our “desiring” God should be characterized by both desire and delight. Matthew Henry comments, “We must delight in what we have of God and desire what we yet further hope for” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. 3, p.421). This is being consumed with God.
It is time we recognize with complete, life-changing acknowledgement that our flesh and heart may fail. Some of us readily understand the frailty of our human body. Our prayer lists reflect the shortness of life and the complications of living in a sin-cursed world. We cannot depend on our strength, ability, or endurance. But our hearts will soon follow suit. Our bodies suffer and our spirits follow. We cannot look to the power of the human spirit. It will fail in time. But this doesn’t need to matter, because God is the strength of our hearts, and we will have Him for all eternity.
“Strength” here is literally “rock.” Notice what Asaph was doing in verse 2 – slipping with no footing. Here he is pictured standing firmly and solidly on the Rock. God is our heart’s Rock, that cannot and will not be moved. Meditating on the reality of His presence now and forever provides solid ground for us to stand on.
In verse 27 and following, Asaph reaffirms the lesson he has learned. God has destroyed the wicked of the past, and those who are currently living unfaithfully to Him will perish. “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.” The KJV says, “But it is good for me to draw near to God.” This is prescription for our disease of doubt as we observe the world today. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jam 4:8). Do as the psalmist did. Go into the sanctuary. Pursue God and the things of God. Immerse yourself in His Word. He desires to be found and for His truth to be known. God is with us. He is in control. He loves you and will bring about His promises to you. In a day when so many people, things, and ideas seek to claim our focus, God is the only reality we can bank on for eternity.
So make Him your joy and strength. Make Him your hope. Make knowing Him and His ways your life’s quest. For now is the only time we have to prepare for eternity.