The Saint’s Anguish
& The Lord’s Answer

a brief study of Psalm 73, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 23 January 2009

Psalm 73 begins the 3rd division of the book of Psalms. It also begins a collection of Psalms that were penned by Asaph the seer (2 Chr 29:30) and/or a member of the musical guild known as the ‘sons of Asaph’ (1 Chr 25:1). ‘Asaph’ as such may be regarded as a pen-name which may be used by one or more persons in the same godly tradition of inspired poets.

There are 12 Psalms in the Psalter are attributed to Asaph, namely: Psalms 73-83 and Psalm 50.

We have no doubt that Asaph (whether as an individual or as a pen-name for the sons of Asaph), like David wrote in the Spirit of Christ so that every of his songs in the Psalter may be sung meaningfully by those who are united to Christ. They sometimes express the sentiments of Christ (e.g. Pss 75, 77, 78, 81) that we can sing in union with Him as our Head. At other times, they express the desires and conflicts of the Church in a way that Christ our Head may sing in union with us as His body.

Psalm 73 is one such Psalm. It is not directly about the Messiah, but about “His people” (v. 10). It expresses the conflict and perplexity the average child of God would experiences as he walks in this world. It may be entitled, “The Saint’s Anguish and the Lord’s Answer.”

Very broadly, this Psalm has three parts. Verse 1-16 contains the Saint’s Anguish; whereas verses 17-22 contains the Lord’s Answer; and verses 23-28 contains the Saint’s Assurance.

1. The Saint’s Anguish

Anguish or perplexity usually begins with an expectation. If we have no expectations, we will have no perplexity. But expectations have their proper place in the Christian life. While we should not entertain too much expectations for man, it is right and proper for us to expect much from God. Indeed, we have reasons to expect great things from the Lord because He is sovereign, good and just; and He has promised to bless those who walk in holiness.

This is the assertion that our Psalm opens with:

1 Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

This is a biblical truism, which is why it begins with the word ‘truly’. God is always good to His covenant people Israel. And He is especially kind to those who are sincere and holy in their walk.

But experience teaches us, does it not? That things are not always so smooth and clear-cut. Sometimes, while we are seeking to walk in all honesty, we get into all sorts of trouble, whereas unbelievers who live without regard for God seem to be enjoying God’s blessings.

When this happens, it can be a matter of perplexity and often anguish, to the point that we may even be tempted to give up walking with the Lord:

2 But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. 3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Why continue to walk with purity of heart when there does not seem to be any benefits, whereas those who care not for God seem to be prospering in life?

4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.

We expect that the wicked would at their deathbed feel tormented with guilt and frustrations like having constricting bands around their body. But no, many of them seem to die with dignity.

Indeed, the wicked often seems to be free of the common problems that plague mankind (v. 5). And so they become proud and self-confident and continue to do wickedness and violence (v. 6). And they become rich in the things of this world (v. 7), continue to do wickedly (v. 8), and even have the audacity to blaspheme God (v. 9).

When this happens, the Lord’s people,—especially those who have been hurt by the conduct of the wicked,—begin to look back at their lives and wonder if it is worth it to walk the way they did, v. 10—

 10 Therefore his people [i.e. the Lord’s people] return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. 11 And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?

They, the Lord’s people, try so hard to walk in righteousness, and yet they have been rewarded with tears enough to fill a full cup! Does God not know? Does He care about what is going on?

Who are those who prosper in the riches of this world? Who are those who have to suffer? It seems so incongruous:

12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. 13 Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. 14 For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. 

This does not seem right! It seems unfair! But to talk about it like that seems to border on blasphemy, and can be a stumbling block to the children. This is painfully perplexing, verse 15—

15 If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. 16 When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;

Is this your perplexity too, brethren and children? Is there an answer to our perplexity? Surely there is. For consider…

2. The Lord’s Answer

The answer came for the Psalmist not through a still small voice, but either through the preaching of God’s Word or through the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to remembrance something else that God says elsewhere. This reminder was triggered by the use of the means of grace in public worship, v. 17—

17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

What is the answer?

18 Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. 19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. 20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.

The answer is found in the fact that things are not always as they appear. Or,—in the words of the book of Ecclesiastes,—there is more to life than what is visible “under the sun.”

The fact is: God in His longsuffering often allows the wicked to go unpunished in this life. So He appears to be sleeping. But God never sleeps. “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps 121:4). The day will come when He will rise in judgement like a man waking from his sleep.

When that happens, He will deal with the wicked with perfect justice and an unmistakable finality. They would be cast into destruction, consumed by terror and made to experience the Wrath of God for all eternity.

Indeed, we may infer that the wealth and prosperity of the wicked would, as it were, serve as weights to sink them down into the lake of fire. Each day that the wicked does not repent of his sin, each day he does not acknowledge God, he is treasuring up wrath against the Day of Wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God.

The psalmist continues:

21 Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. 22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. 

What a sobering thought. How foolish it is to envy the wicked and to question God.

But thank God that He does not cast us away despite our foolishness. Consider therefore, finally,…

3. The Saint’s Assurance

23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. 24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.

While the wicked may enjoy wealth and prosperity for a season, the righteous is continually before the Lord and constantly being upheld by the power of God. They lead by the counsel of God that ensures that all things work together for their good at any moment in their lives. And not only so, but they are being led to the Celestial City where they would, one day, enjoy the weight of eternal glory for ever and ever.

For this reason, the child of God may enjoy the deepest assurance that there can be no greater and more lasting blessedness than to trust in the Lord and to serve Him:

 25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. 26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.  27 For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. 28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.

There is little that needs to be said to explain this beautiful refrain. The saint,—whose sins are forgiven in Christ, who is thinking aright,—can find no greater joy in anyone or anything, whether in heaven or in earth, besides the Lord. Heaven is joyless without the Lord. Earth is meaningless without Him.

Let us learn in moments when our hearts fail to turn to the Lord and rest in Him. Let us be assured that He will see to it that the saints will be vindicated and the wicked punished. So let us confidently draw nigh to Him to trust Him to live for Him honestly and to testify of Him to all who will hear.


Thank God of this Psalm. Thank for answering the anguish and perplexity in our hearts when we see the wicked prospering while the godly suffering. Thank God for giving us the words to express our vexations and also our confidence in the Lord. May the Lord use this Psalm to encourage us whenever we are confused by the wind and the waves and the roaring of the prowling lion as we journey together to the Celestial City. Amen.

—JJ Lim