Temple Turnaround: God’s Directions for Doubters in Psalm 73 (Part 2)

In part one of Asaph’s temple turnaround in Psalm 73, we saw that Asaph had not always held to the truth that “God is good to Israel” (v. 1). First, we observed that even the faithful may have doubts (a crisis of faith). Asaph almost lost his faith (v. 2) because he was jealous of the wicked (v. 3), who seemed to cruise through life wealthy and trouble-free (v. 12). Despairing of his commitment to Old Testament piety, Asaph was ready to throw in the towel on the life of faith. Second, we learned what to do when you doubt (the turning point). Everything changed when Asaph went to the temple—and that is where we pick up in this second part of Asaph’s journey from doubt to assurance.

Asaph was deeply perplexed by the arrogance and success of the wicked, and he realized he could not make sense of it all in his own strength (v. 16). But when he entered God’s sanctuary (the temple) he experienced a reorienting event. The temple is the location of God’s intense presence, and the proclamation of his promises. Though yet in types and shadows, the temple offered a taste of the age to come. Asaph’s suffering and weakness drove him to the temple, to God, and to the remembrance of his promises. He went to the place where the power of God’s promises overshadowed the weakness of his flesh and renewed his faith by pointing him to the future judgment of the wicked (v. 17). Seeing the final fate of the wicked was like peering past the confusing temporary reality he had experienced to view the ultimate reality. And that leads us to the third and final aspect of Psalm 73—the resolution of doubt.

God’s Faithfulness to Doubters: The Resolution

In verse 18, the third truly marks the final section of the psalm: “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.” Here we are meant to notice the contrast from verse 2: Asaph exclaimed that his feet had nearly stumbled and slipped, but now he realizes that he had been seeing things the wrong way. It is the wicked who will slip and perish, not God’s people. God sets the feet of the wicked on an icy hill, with no moral four-wheel drive to escape their slipping and sliding down to a swift and terrifying judgment (v. 19). For thousands of years, the wicked appear to flourish; but then, in a moment, they will be utterly swept away by the terror of God’s vengeance. The delay in judgment is so long that it might seem as if the Lord was asleep on the job (v. 20); but then, like a warrior roused to war, he will obliterate the wicked with ease.

Where Asaph had been counselled by his own jealousy at the prosperity of the wicked, he is now counselled by God’s promise of vindication and justice. The truth of these promises rightly causes him to self-reflect, and the findings are nothing to be proud of. When he was soured in his heart and jealous of the wicked, it was as if he was impaled in his inner-most being (v.21). His brutishness (read more pointedly: stupidity) and ignorance toward God led him to act like a wild animal (v. 22). This impudence is a severe charge, since in the Old Testament, beast-like behavior is attributed to wicked nations in rebellion against God. Our ignorance of God’s ways and forgetfulness of his promises leads to sinful dispositions and actions. But we learn an important lesson here for our faith: the correct response to the proclamation of God’s truth is to confess and repent of our sins.

Yet, this is only part of the proper response. While we need to confess our sins, we also need to remember and believe God’s promises—namely, the gospel. Through types and shadows, that is exactly what Asaph does from verse 23 onwards. Despite his doubts and rebellion, Asaph firmly professes the truth that he remained with God and that God held onto his right hand (v. 23). Asaph is unable to pull his hand from the powerful grip of his God who guides him by his counsel (v. 24), leading Asaph through this pilgrim life where things can often seem absurd. Not only this, but in light of his temple reorientation, Asaph can also see beyond the horizon of this life into the age to come, where God will take him into glory (v. 24). For us as new covenant people, the glory of this reality is multiplied while we await the hope of the new creation.

These truths lead to one of the most beautiful proclamations in Scripture: “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” (vv. 25­–26). How different this disposition is to Asaph’s at the beginning of the psalm, where he desired the ease and wealth of the wicked! Now, however, he confesses that all he desires is God. Having been reminded of God’s promises in the temple and having regained his perspective, Asaph cannot help but praise God for being all he could desire. Yes, Asaph may doubt; yes, his own strength may fail him; but God is his strength. At Asaph’s weakest, God is his rock and his inheritance.

What a reorientation! In verses 27–28, Asaph declares things to be as they truly are: those far from God will perish, but those near to God experience the goodness of his presence and protection. Demonstrating further contrast with his doubts in verse 2, Asaph provides another “as for me” (v. 28) which identifies Asaph not as a foot-slipping wicked one, but as one of God’s people to whom God is good (v. 1). Asaph has made God his refuge—the language of full-throttle faith and assurance in God’s promises.

What Psalm 73 presents is the movement from a place of intense doubt to full assurance. Asaph learns that although wickedness may seem to get the upper hand in this life, ultimately God will do right and he will hold onto his people until the day of vindication. Yet, it is important to note how Asaph came to that conclusion. He did not reason himself there in his own strength—rather, God spoke from his temple and reminded Asaph of the future. And that is the case for us too. When we go to church, we experience the powers of the age to come such that our faith is strengthened, our doubts diminished, and our hope restored. This is the nature of the Christian life: living with present power in this world because of the power of the world to come. For Asaph, access to God in his temple was the engine of that power. How much more does Lord’s Day worship power the life of faith for us today. While this age seems disenchanted, when we attend church, we see the glories, beauty, and peace of the age to come.

Because we are members of the new covenant, we experience an even greater reorientation than Asaph when each Lord’s Day we draw near to the Lord in his sanctuary and receive the means of grace. God is present each Lord’s Day by the power of the Spirit to renew our faith through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. In attending worship each Lord’s Day and trusting in God’s promises, we make him our refuge in an upside-down world until he puts an end to all wickedness and unrighteousness. We now know this will happen at Christ’s return, when he will judge the living and the dead. Until that day, our doubts do indeed melt away in his presence, because of the good news of the gospel. What Asaph saw in the temple as a shadowy sketch (Heb 8:5), we see in sharp focus in the preaching of the gospel.

This gospel is the glorious news of the forgiveness of sins and the provision of eternal life because of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. What to Asaph seemed repulsive—the apparent failure of the retribution principle in that the wicked prospered and the righteous suffered—becomes the unexpected means of our salvation. Our Savior, though perfect in righteousness, was treated as the wicked deserved, in order that sinners may be counted as just in the eyes of God. Jesus’ enemies prospered against him, securing his death; yet he never faltered or doubted, because it was his divine mission to suffer and die for the sins of his people. Jesus looked into the face of the hell our sins deserved and entered head-on into his judgment-death on the cross for our sake. What seemed to be the ultimate failure of the retribution principle in fact brought about both the justice of God against sin by imputation of our sin on Christ, and the righteousness of God by imputation of Christ’s righteousness on sinners.

And having succeeded in his divine mission, Christ’s sacrifice was accepted by God, who raised him from the dead. Christ then entered the eternal sanctuary as assurance that we too will one day enter heaven. Until that day, he speaks the promise of that future age from heaven, each Lord’s Day. He reminds us that the shape of this life is like the cross—suffering, then glory. As he preaches to us from glory, our faith is strengthened while we await that age to come. This is the reorienting message of the gospel, the ministry of Christ to doubters, and the firm hand that will never let us go.

©Alex Hewitson. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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Posted by Alex Hewitson | Saturday, December 2, 2023 | Categorized Biblical Exposition, Biblical theology, Psalms, Saturday Psalm Series | Tagged Bookmark the permalink.

About Alex Hewitson

Alex Hewitson (MDiv, Westminster Seminary California) is the Ministerial Intern at Covenant Waterfall Presbyterian Church in South Africa, and a lecturer of Biblical languages at Mukhanyo Theological College. Before seminary, he had a career in business as a Chartered Accountant (SA). He enjoys refereeing on the Squash World Tour, and owns a coffee shop.

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