“When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.” Psalm 73:16f

It is a rare event when the morally upright man fights on a level playing field. It seems that forces for good always fight at a disadvantage because the very nature of good does not allow morally unrestricted warfare. The enemy of good never seems to have a conscience and his mind is unfettered so that his schemes to harm are unbounded. The evil mind has a formidable advisor in Satan himself.

Fortunately, Satan is not omnipotent, neither is he omnisapient. Baked in the cake of every evil thought, device, and stratagem is its own bitter self-destruction because it is congenitally blind to the strengths of virtue. Evil’s unbridled, darkened nature also fosters ungoverned hubris which mistakes self-absorbed thought for being in the right, especially since “might makes right.” It is because of moral vacancy that “there is no honor among thieves.” Evil men see moral goodness as weakness and, therefore, a confirmation of their personal superiority as well as a certain portent of final overwhelming victory.

A quick read of Psalm 73 demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun; the nature of evil and evildoers has not changed in all these millennia. The psalmist amply describes the advantage that evil seems to possess from the outset of any contest with good. The prosperity (v. 3), fearlessness (v. 4), strength (v. 4), unlabored conscience (v. 5), pride (v. 6), violence (v. 6), resources (v. 7), abundant plans (v. 8), and sheer braggadocio (vv. 8f) captivate the attention of the author.

His trust in God falters when he looks into the face of a seemingly carefree enemy. His heart struggles in the realm of faith. Verse 1 says, “Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart.” This he knows with all his heart. Despite this knowledge he notices in verse 7 that the enemy seems to “have more than heart could wish.” He is so shaken that he opines in verse 13f, “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning.” All his thoughts conspire to cause him to claim in verse 21, “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind.” He could not take any more of his despairing thoughts: “My flesh and my heart fail” (v. 26).

No such concerns even darken the mind of the evildoer. Verses 10–12 illustrate what goes on in the camp of evil. The followers of evil are characterized by thirst after more power and corruption, all drinking from the same fountain (v. 10). Though they may give head-nods to gods, or even the True God, they live as practical atheists, denying any consequence for their actions (v. 11). They essentially live under the rule “How would God know?” and declare in the strongest of terms, “there is absolutely no knowledge in the Most High!” In verse 12, the author almost sounds like he is giving one more plea to God by pointing out, in case God had not noticed, “Behold, these are the ungodly.” They are ever tranquil and amassing wealth.

The grace-awakened saint never has it so easy. His decisions are tougher to adjudicate and the consequences given their fair weight. Self-evaluation is an ever-present duty, and the psalmist starts early: in verse 2f he writes, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful.” He is quick to confess and fully recognizes God’s diagnosis of his heart. His usual steady step had landed on soft and slippery muck and the slip surprised and shocked him. This is the danger that faces every believer who faithfully and daily puts on the armor of God in the hope of standing firm and true.

Hidden throughout the psalm is the author’s phrase “but as for me.” It serves to show how God begins to refocus his thoughts and reground his faith. It occurs in verses 2, 22, 23, and 28. The psalmist recognizes he almost slipped in verse 2. Then in verse 22 he states that his spiritual common sense had left him and he had played the fool. In verse 23f his sense returns, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” By verse 28 he breathes freely, “But as for me, nearness to God is good!”

The pivotal section of the psalm is our opening text, verses 16f. He drew near God as he entered His sanctuary. Then he understood the end of the wicked and the eternal reality of their jeopardy (verses 18–20, 27). Yawning before every enemy of God, and good, is eternal destruction and desolation (John 3:16ff).

There are four truths about God for His chosen people that serve to re-center the psalmist’s faith, found in verses 23f.

  • Knowledge of God’s presence,
  • Knowledge of God’s sustaining grace,
  • Knowledge gained from God’s solid guidance, and
  • Knowledge that God secures the ultimate victory for your soul.

These are the four daily reminders that will keep you centered as well!

Make God all you desire for “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 25f). Only when your trust is solidly in the Lord God are you equipped to declare all His works in the hideous face of an enemy who always seems to have the upper hand (v. 28)! Trust and obey.