Psalm 73 represents possibly one of the most important spiritual breakthroughs portrayed in the psalms. The writer has an experience which is similar to that of Job and Habakkuk. If we can understand this movement, if we can grasp the point where the writer arrives by the last section of this psalm (which is the section we have recorded) in contrast to where he begins, then we have understood the essence of biblical spirituality.
The psalm begins with a declaration of an unconditional and central biblical truth: God is good to his people (vs. 1). This is what the psalmist believed and yet he was in a situation where it was impossible to see this goodness in any way. He explains how he was being plagued and punished with suffering every day without respite (vs. 14). He saw no sense in this at all, no patterns, no reasons, no sense at all. He had walked faithfully in the ways of God and he had kept himself devoted and pure. And yet this is what happened to him. Moreover, as he suffered he saw godless and wicked people all around prospering and enjoying all the blessings of life. When he tried to understand this he says that it was oppressive to him (vs. 16). He found himself envying their position and despising his own (vs. 3). What was the point of walking with God when there was no indication of any sense in the whole thing? Everything seemed arbitrary and it seemed that an arbitrary and cruel fate was tormenting him mercilessly. And so he says he nearly lost his foothold. He nearly abandoned his faith to go and live like the ungodly (vs. 2). And why shouldn’t he? What is the point of walking in the ways of God when there seemed no reason to do this? He says: ‘Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence’ (vs. 13). He admits that his thoughts were so bitter and confused that if he would have said anything before God’s people he most probably would have betrayed them by telling them to give it all up (vs. 15).
Such was the torment of this man. And we read that it took him at last into the sanctuary of God in one last ditch effort, it seems, to see if God was there (vs. 17a). And this is where he receives an astonishing revelation. Like in the case of Job his questioning climaxes in an encounter with God that transforms his entire perspective. The significance of this revelation is that he is given a glimpse, as it were, into eternity. He sees the eternal torments of the wicked and he also sees the true blessings of the righteous. Up to this point in the history of the unfolding revelation of God there had been little mention of the eternal realm. God taught his people in stages and revealed more and more to them as they matured as a people in their faith and grasp of what they had already been taught. This is an early encounter with a realm little known until that time. But now God opened it up to him and suddenly he is horrified by the very fate of those whom he had envied (vss. 18-20). In the light of this revelation he realises how senseless and ignorant he had been before (vs. 21-22). How could he have envied these people? But the most important thing he had be senseless and ignorant to was this: He had not realised to any extent of what God had given him. He had expected to see God’s goodness manifest in such shallow materialistic ways and yet such things are incomparable with what he now sees before him. It seems that at this moment, as he waits in the presence of God, he sees what his portion in life really is. It is God. And so the last six verses of this psalm are the expression of a man who is freed from every need and who clings to the God whom he has now rediscovered. There is an old Spanish proverb that says, ‘the richest man is not the one has the most, but the one who needs the least.’ And here a man is transformed from poverty to a wealth, contentment and joy that the world knows little about in its endless addiction to fill what only God can fill. He desires nothing but God, and so he is free, truly free, because he has arrived at what his heart has always needed and wanted. He expresses in his life the simple essence of biblical spirituality: to love God with all one’s being and to be so content in God that one is free from all the desires of life that drag us down. There is nothing in life more profound than this and I encourage everyone who reads this to do everything it takes to get to the point that verses 23-28 of Psalm 73 portray.