“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Ps 73:2-3).”
When was the last time you looked at what another person has—family, job, car, home, etc.—and were tempted to be envious? Psalm 73 gives us invaluable insight into other people’s lives, and how appearances are almost never accurate portrayals of what’s actually happening. The psalm also gives us insight into our own lives: they also are not as they appear.
The psalmist begins in v.1 with what can only be seen as a lament at his own failures as a believer: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” And the very next phrase, “But as for me”, makes it clear that, at that moment, he saw himself as separate from the pure and faithful, almost as if he didn’t expect anything good from God. Why? Because he was envious of the wicked.
His view of the wicked is the first illusion of this passage. He goes to great lengths describing them. He says in v.3, “they have no pangs until death”; v.5, “They are not in trouble as others”; v.8, “they scoff and speak malice”. And in v.12 he concludes his tirade of envy: “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.”
This is comforting to us if for only one reason. You and I often operate under the same illusion: that unbelievers who answer to no one but themselves, who live life own their own terms, have it so much better. They don’t have to worship regularly; they don’t need to tithe; they don’t have to abstain from any fleshly desire they choose to indulge. Oddly enough, these “freedoms” sometimes seem so desirable. The desirability of sin and a sinner’s life is, in short, the grandest of all illusions.
But there’s another illusion at work in this psalm: the illusion of the believer’s deprived, lonely position in this world. This is captured nicely in v.21-22, as the writer remembers the condition of his soul as he envied the wicked: “my soul was embittered”; “I was brutish and ignorant”; “I was like a beast toward you”. Perhaps you’ve had days like this, when all the wonderful truths of Scripture that once comforted you have been stolen from your heart.
You can count on this truth in your life: if you’re not walking with the Lord (and even some days when you are), you will not see and interpret your daily life accurately. You will be “beastlike”; you will “envy”; you will become “bitter” (v.21-22). But there’s an end to this illusion. God doesn’t allow His children to remain for long under false impressions.
The psalmist captures the very moment the trance lifted: “I went into the sanctuary of God.” (v.16). He found in worship what he needed most: “discernment.” He realized he had been operating under at least two illusions. First, that ungodly people have easy, desirable lives. And second, that believers are on their own in this world to suffer and be deprived.
Both illusions are corrected when God allowed the truth of His word to sink into his heart. His response in v.18-19 makes this plain: “…you set them in slippery places”; “they are destroyed in a moment”; “they are swept away by terrors!” He sees his own position in life drastically different in v.23-24, “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand; You guide me with your counsel.”
As often as you feel down and lonely, remind yourself, “it’s just an illusion; it will soon pass”. But what is always true regardless of your feelings is that God “guides us with his counsel, and afterwards receives us in glory.” (v.24).