The first verse declares God’s glory: Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart (Psalm 73:1). But then the psalmist Asaph immediately confesses that there was a time he doubted that statement, even to the point of almost losing his faith in God! “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped (Psalm 73:2). Here he quickly identifies the root of his doubt: For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:3). Instead of the widespread righteousness that the people had pleaded for in Psalm 72:4, 12-13, Asaph experienced economic injustice with no sign of change. The arrogant prospered and grew in arrogance while humble believers suffered (Psalm 73:4-14).
Without going into Psalm 73 verse-by-verse here (that will be a topic for another video), notice for now that Yahweh saves the psalmist from his crisis of faith. Asaph finishes the psalm noticing not only Yahweh’s righteousness but also His profound mercy. And even though at the beginning he almost could not agree with the statement: Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart (Psalm 73:1), now he can declare joyfully and from personal experience: But as for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works (Psalm 73:28).
But torments of doubt assault faith again in Psalm 74, and not just on a personal but national level: “O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? (Psalm 74:1) Then it describes the complete, long-term destruction of the sanctuary by God’s enemies while He does nothing to stop it (Psalm 74:3-11). The psalmist goes on to contemplate the power, righteousness and salvation of God in ancient times, and therefore cries out to Him now (Psalm 74:12-23), but different from many of the psalms of the first two books, rescue doesn’t appear. The psalmist responds to this crisis by faith, but it’s a faith in-waiting for salvation to appear.
In other words, Psalms 73 and 74 introduce us to the darkest of the psalms, to book three that extends from Psalm 73 to Psalm 89. Just as Psalms 1 and 2 served as a double-paneled door to the rest of the psalms, Psalms 73 and 74 serve as the doorway to a dark basement that frightens anyone who would go down the steps. Psalm 1 said about the blessed man, “In all that he does, he prospers (Psalm 1:3); Psalm 73 answers, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence (Psalm 73:13). Yahweh declares in Psalm 2, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6); now Psalm 74 laments, “They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground (Psalm 74:7). The enthusiasm and hope that started the book of Psalms has ground to a halt in the muddy ditch of tribulation.
It is especially in the third book of the Psalms that we find out that the believers’ cries for Yahweh’s righteousness in Psalm 72 have gone unfulfilled. Psalm 88 is probably the darkest of all; it echoes many of Job’s concerns about Yahweh’s righteousness when he was at the darkest stages of his contemplation. And Psalm 89 begins by declaring Yahweh’s mercy and covenant with His anointed one in a style very similar to many of the psalms of the first two books (Psalm 89:1-37), but in a sudden change that borders on sarcasm, irreverence and bitterness, he accuses Yahweh of having thrown out His covenant with His anointed one (Psalm 89:38-45). The glory, security and hope in the anointed, so firmly declared in Psalms 2 and 72, now are stamped out… but not completely abandoned. The psalmist lifts up only one petition to Yahweh, declared twice: “Remember… Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked (Psalm 89:47, 50). Even in all his disappointment, the psalmist is certain that when Yahweh simply turns to His people, His righteousness must be displayed. He will defeat all His enemies and exalt His anointed one again. Even in the midst of desperation, Psalms 88 and 89 recognize that the display of Yahweh’s righteousness and justice is only a question of timing.
Of course the third book of psalms applies to our walk with Yahweh today. All believers should have our sensibilities shocked as we see and live through injustice in our societies and cry out in agreement with these psalms: How long, O LORD? And we read with longing the response of our Lord, “Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)