Daybreak: Psalms 73:1 through 74:23
“But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.” (Psalm 73:28)
In the summer of 1949, Reverend Billy Graham had a well-loved and respected preaching partner who started doubting the authority of the Scriptures. This man told Reverend Graham that the evangelist was fifty years out-of-date, and that informed scholars no longer accepted the Bible as being inspired by God. As a result, Reverend Graham began wondering if the Bible really could be trusted completely. He searched the Scriptures and pondered the attitude of Christ regarding them, realizing that never once did Christ indicate doubt as to their veracity in any way. Still, the questions lingered. At last Reverend Graham concluded that he had to know if he could trust the Bible or he could not go on preaching.
One evening he took a walk in the moonlight near the San Bernardo Mountains. Coming to a private woodsy area, he dropped to his knees with his Bible open in front of him. There, at his makeshift altar, he poured out all his frustrations and doubts to God. As he prayed, the Holy Spirit came and emphatically witnessed to his spirit that the Bible can be wholly trusted and is indeed the inspired Word of God. With tears flowing, he sensed the presence of God like he had not felt in a long time. When he got up from his knees, he knew the spiritual battle in his soul had been fought and won.
Reverend Graham’s former preaching partner went on to take many classes in theology. After a long struggle with doubt, he eventually declared himself an agnostic — and his spiritual failure caused many to stumble and fall spiritually. Near the end of his life he stated that there was no way to be sure about the fact that God exists. In contrast, Billy Graham went on to preach the inspired Word of God around the world. In the years since then, his preaching has reached millions and undoubtedly many have made Heaven as a result of his ministry.
Asaph, the author of our focus verse, also had a struggle believing God’s promises when he saw the wicked prospering and God’s people suffering. He began to wonder if he had wasted his time in his attempts to keep a pure heart before God. However, before giving up on his faith he decided to spend time in the sanctuary with God, just as Reverend Graham did at his altar in the woods. Asaph and Reverend Graham both regained their spiritual balance and were firmly grounded in the faith.
The devil would like to create doubt in the minds of every child of God. If he can insert a question here and there, he knows he has gained a foothold. His goal is to eventually flood our souls with confusion and uncertainty, and overwhelm us. Let us purpose to guard against every attempt by the enemy of our souls! When he assails, we must do what Asaph and Billy Graham did: draw near to God and ask for His divine help to overcome, that we may confidently declare all His works to those around us.
These two psalms begin Book III (the “Leviticus Book”), which is comprised of seventeen psalms. The titles of each of the psalms in Book III include personal names; eleven of them are accredited or dedicated to Asaph, who authored the two psalms in today’s text. Asaph was a priest from the tribe of Levi who served in Jerusalem as the chief worship leader during David’s reign, through the reign of Solomon, and into the reign of Rehoboam. He probably composed much of the music for David’s psalms. Ezra identifies him as the ancestor of the Temple singers (Ezra 2:41).
Psalm 73 expresses Asaph’s spiritual struggle when he observed how the wicked prospered, and concludes with his changed viewpoint after receiving a divine perspective. Its theme is similar to that of Psalms 37 and 49. Psalm 73 is identified as a wisdom psalm, comparable to the wisdom literature in the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.
Asaph began by acknowledging that he found his spiritual footing threatened. Verses 4-9 record his troubling observation: that the wicked were well-nourished and strong, their deaths seemingly painless, and they experienced fewer troubles and afflictions. They wore their pride like a chain around the neck, and their acts of violence encompassed them like a garment. Their speech was lofty and corrupt, including threats of oppression against the inhabitants of Heaven and earth.
Based on what he had seen, Asaph wondered if he had “cleansed his heart in vain” (verse 13) — if his efforts to live upright and holy had been futile, since he was continually plagued by trials and afflictions. Seemingly his inward conflict had become almost unbearable. However, his perspective changed after he entered the sanctuary and comprehended that God’s judgment was just. The Hebrew meaning for the word awakest in verse 20 denoted God’s “beginning to act,” and inferred that the prosperity of the wicked would only be a lingering dream when God initiated judgment against them. In verses 21-22, Asaph’s enlightenment brought immediate and humble confession of his lack of faith. He expressed a renewed determination to place His trust in God, ensuring a place in glory at the end of his life. The psalm closes with Aspah’s conclusion that drawing close to God was spiritually beneficial, and would result in him declaring God’s mighty works.
Psalm 74 is a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. This psalm was one of thirteen Maschil songs, which means “causing to understand.” The superscription in Psalm 74 does not cite the historical setting, and commentators differ on when the stated events occurred. Some suggest that if it was authored by the Asaph who was a contemporary of David, it could be prophetic in nature. (This is not improbable, since Asaph was also a “seer” or prophet.) Others believe it may have been written by an Asaph from a later time period. Whatever the time frame, the fact that these words were uttered as a prayer to God indicates a deep faith in the face of terrible adversity.
Verse 7 declares that the Temple had been set on fire and the place where God’s name was glorified had been brought low. Many scholars believe this may have been a reference to the destruction of the first Temple by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 586 B.C. The word translated “synagogues” in verse 8 was the same Hebrew word used for “congregations” in verse 4, and may have signified the various places where people worshiped throughout the land.
The garments of that time had folds instead of sleeves, making it possible to conceal the hands within the folds. In verse 11, the psalmist implied that God had concealed His right hand and needed to “pluck” it out on Israel’s behalf.
The “dividing of the sea” (verse 13) was a reference to the Red Sea, while the “dragons in the waters” and “leviathan” were symbolic of Egypt. The “fountain and the flood” may have referenced the flow of water that God provided from the rocks at Horeb and Kadesh. “Thou driedst up mighty rivers” alluded to the parting of the Jordan River when the Israelites marched into the Promised Land. The word “turtledove” in verse 19 was a term of endearment, and the psalmist beseeched God not to deliver His beloved people into the hands of a savage enemy.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines – Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. Book I (1:1 — 41:13)
II. Book II (42:1 — 72:20)
III. Book III (73:1 — 89:52)
IV. Book IV (90:1 — 106:48)
V. Book V (107:1 — 150:6)
A Closer Look
- According to Psalm 73:2-5, what caused Asaph to say that his steps had “well nigh slipped”?
- In Psalm 74, why did the psalmist expound on God’s previous deliverances of Israel?
- As Christians today, in what ways do we face some of the same problems that Asaph faced? What can we learn from Asaph’s prayers in these two psalms?
When we seek the Lord in times of doubt or troubling circumstances and draw near to Him in prayer, our faith is strengthened and we are enabled to hold on.