Psalm 73 is not typically listed alongside those traditionally regarded as the penitential psalms. When we think of psalms of repentance, we usually bring to mind Psalm 51 or perhaps Psalm 38. Even so, in this song, Asaph expresses deep regret for his sin. His are not sins of adultery, violence, or actions of blatant disobedience; but rather, Asaph’s transgressions involve wrong thinking–sins of resentfulness toward God.
He begins by proclaiming the truth of God’s goodness toward the pure in heart. But then he confesses his envy for the wicked. He imagines that this life contains no trials nor tribulations for those who give no care to holiness; their pride continues unchecked, and they mock God and those who fear Him.
“They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.” (Psalm 73:11–12)
Not only does his error extend to the wicked, but he also attributes his despair to his own pursuit of godliness, lamenting that such pursuits are useless.
“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long And chastened every morning,” (Psalm 73:13–14).
As Charles Spurgeon so aptly puts it, “Poor Asaph! He questions the value of holiness when its wages are paid in the coin of affliction.”
Thankfully, revealed truth sheds its light on the defect in his thinking, and he recognizes his foolishness.
“When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight; Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end,” (Psalm 73:16–17).
He sees that the riches of the wicked will not save them from the destruction that awaits them. It’s not their riches that condemn them–it is their disregard for the ways of the Lord. They will awaken from the fleeting dreams of this life to the realities of eternity.
Envy of the wicked is a temptation that relentlessly haunts and badgers us as we navigate our way through a lost and fallen world. Asaph’s struggle is not unique. We look around and see a system that rewards corruption, where a devotion to God is mocked and scorned. How do we guard ourselves from coveting the prosperity of the wicked? The answer is right patterns of thought—right thinking.
Just like Asaph, God’s truth must return us to this kind of thinking. The word of God is the key that unlocks the door of repentance, and repentance begins with a change in our thinking. Specifically, a change in our thoughts, or view, of God. When Isaiah experienced a first-person encounter with the majesty of God, he was stricken with an overwhelming realization of his own wickedness. He saw God in the heights of His holiness, and himself as a lowly creature among lowly creatures, (Isaiah 6:1-5).
Everything we do or say, sinful or righteous, begins with a thought. This is why Paul consistently admonishes us to seize control of our thought life. Read Romans 12:1-2, or Colossians 3:1-2 and notice that Paul emphasizes right thinking as essential to living a transformed life.
Unfortunately, we can be so easy on ourselves in regards to our thought life. We live under the illusion that our thoughts are secret. But the plain truth is that God sees every thought, whether wicked or honorable. So, as we daily confess our sins , let us not neglect to repent of those thoughts that command our hands, our feet, and our tongues.
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB95)