The Delay of God’s Justice (Psalm 73)

It often doesn’t feel like God is a just Judge, right?

I mean, it often looks like the wicked triumph. It looks like evil gets its way. The prosperity of the wicked is exactly the issue that the author of Psalm 73 is grappling with. His faith is shaken: “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling/My steps had almost slipped” (Ps. 73:2). The life of faith in the Bible is often described as a journey, as walking with God. And here the author says his feet almost slipped off the path: he almost lost his faith in God. Why? Because he envied the wicked! He saw their prosperity and success and he wanted it.

The Problem: The Success of the Wicked

[4] For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
[5] They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
[6] Therefore pride is their necklace;
The (garment of violence covers them.
[7] Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
[8] They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
[9] They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
[10] Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
[11] They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
[12] Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Two major descriptions of the wicked come to the forefront in these verse. The first is that they are “fat.” That might seem weird to us, but back in the ancient world, being skinny was not beautiful. If you were skinny, that meant you worked out in the field all day and didn’t have enough to eat. Being fat was beautiful back then, because it meant you were rich and didn’t need to labor in the field. You could just sit around in your palace or house all day and have servants wait on you. Being fat indicated a life of ease and comfort.

The second description is that the wicked are arrogant. They are “clothed” in arrogance, everything they do is for their own self-promotion. They also speak out against God; they pontificate as if they are truly knowledgeable about matters in which they no nothing. “Behold, these are the wicked: always at ease and they have increased in wealth.” The success and prosperity of the wicked causes the psalmist’s faith to be shaken. He wanted what they wanted, and the wicked seemed to get everything they wanted without God.

Not only does the success of the wicked cause the psalmist’s faith to be shaken, but it also affects him by making his faith seem pointless:

[13] Surely, I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And I washed my innocent hands [in vain].
[14] And I have been struck every day,
Punished every morning.
[15] If I say, “I will speak in this way”
Then, listen: I would have betrayed a generation of your sons.
[16] When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my eyes,

What benefit is there in following God, if the wicked win?  Why follow God when the bad people get all the good stuff anyways? “I have cleansed my heart in vain. And I washed my hands in innocence.” In his view, it is pointless to confess and repent of sin. Why should he care about dealing with sin, when the wicked triumph over the righteous. He also has kept his hand innocent in vain. The hands are often used to represent a person’s behavior. The metaphor pictures innocence as the water in which the psalmist has washed his hands. In other words, his behavior is totally “submersed” in innocence. He is blameless and righteous. But he also sees such blameless living as vanity, because the wicked who are not innocent are “winning.”

It’s easy to envy the wicked and think our faith is pointless. But the point of faith isn’t to be successful. The point of faith is to glorify God by enjoying Him! Some people say, “You know, I’ve tried the whole ‘Jesus thing’ before, but it didn’t really work for me.” And lurking behind that kind of thinking, is the idea that God owes us. He owes us success at work. He owes us a healed loved one. He owes us the kind of marriage we want. And when that doesn’t happen, we think God has failed. But God doesn’t owe us anything. If we got what God truly owed us, we’d all be punished for our sins. But God gives us grace in Christ Jesus. All the other stuff—a good marriage, success at a job—that may or may not happen. What we can be assured of is that God will forgive us our sins in Christ Jesus and promises us a glorious future with Him in the new creation

The Resolution: The Inevitable Justice of God

There is resolution for the psalmist.  Although the success of the wicked shakes his faith, and makes his faith seem pointless for a time, it is not forever. He comes to realize that the success of the wicked is temporary. God’s justice will be executed.

 [16] When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my eyes,
[17] Until I came to the sanctuary of God.
Then I understood their final destiny.
[18] Surely, You have set them upon a slippery place.
You caused them to fall into deception.
[19] Oh! How they will become a desolation in a moment!
They came to an end. They perished because of sudden calamity.
[20] Like a dream when you wake up,
When you wake up, O Lord, you will despise their form.
[21] When my heart was embittered
And my kidneys were pierced through,
[22] And I was stupid and did not know,
Then I was like an animal before You.

God will bring justice in His timing. That is what is important to remember. God will punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous in His timing, not ours. The truth is that God’s justice will come quickly when viewed from the perspective of eternity. Notice that it is God who sets the wicked “upon a slippery place.” He will bring down justice. He causes them to fall into ruin. This is not merely God’s passive judgment—a handing sinners over to their sin. This is God’s active justice, where He does, in fact, judge them.

Sometimes God’s justice comes swiftly. If you become addicted to meth, you will see terrifyingly real consequences in this lifetime. Some sins take a while for God’s full justice to be manifested. But this doesn’t mean that God won’t judge that sin. He will! There’s a great quote from the movie Inside Man about the inevitability of God’s justice: “The further you run from your sins, the more exhausted you are when they catch up to you. And they do. Certain. It will not fail.” But God is gracious to give people time and opportunity to repent:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 2:9).

Notice, also, that the psalmist receives resolution to his struggle when he enters into the sanctuary of God to worship Him. In the Old Testament, God purposefully confined His glorious presence to the temple. Coming into the temple was the place for the Israelites to have “access” to God. It was the place of worship and atonement. It was also the place of corporate gathering. Once the psalmist entered the sanctuary, he then finally understood the final destiny of the wicked. When Jesus came, he fulfilled all those expectations of the OT. He is our temple. He is our sacrifice. When we come together as the people of God, we—the church—are now God’s sanctuary. And as we worship together and hear God’s Word together we can find assurance in our faith and answers to our questions.

This is especially important for those of you who struggle with doubt. Worship has a special function to reinforce our faith and give us insight into the truth. It’s a lot like witnessing, when you share your faith, you become convinced, “Hey, I actually believe this stuff!” So too, with worship, when you pour your heart out to God—and see others doing the same—then your faith is strengthened to believe in God’s justice. When we see God’s perspective on the matter, we know that He will one day bring down His justice.

Trust in God, He is a Just Judge. It may seem like evil has won the day, but it hasn’t, for God will bring His justice against all unrighteousness and wickedness.

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