"Envy is more implacable than hatred." So said Franois de La Rochefoucald, whose name is longer than his quotation. It's much easier to remember Asaph and his quotation: "When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you" (Psalm 73:21, 22). Jealousy has a way of destroying the one who harbors it.
Last time, Asaph confessed that his envy of the wicked caused him to almost deny his faith. What was the point of serving the Lord if the ungodly had all the benefits? It seems that the only parties believers had were pity parties. Asaph allowed himself to get all stressed out about this seeming inequity, and his perspective changed to the point where he would've injured other believers, had he mouthed off about his pathetic state (vv. 15, 16).
It was not until he entered the sanctuary of God that he got his bearings (v. 17). When he focused on the Everlasting Lord, he saw the true state of the wicked, and took God's unchanging view of life. He realized that all the blessings that unbelievers enjoyed were temporary, and were not always a measure of God's favor.
Asaph saw the future condition of sinners (vv. 18-20): their feet were slipping, not his; they appear carefree, but will be cast down; they lay claim to heaven and earth, but are mere fantasies. It's only by God's grace that they have anything, but in the end, God will despise them for their arrogance. Paul spoke of these people in Romans 2: 4, 5: "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." God showers the unjust with blessings so that they will turn to Him. We are to do the same: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:44, 45). We are not to envy the wicked, but love them.
Once Asaph suffered the confusion of stress, then saw the condition of sinners, he was ready to sum up the comfort of saints.
Asaph's envy made him no better than a senseless beast (v. 22). His emotions and lusts overshadowed his faith and common sense, and he was reacting to his circumstances instead of his spirit. He was like an animal.
The Lord, however, remained with Asaph (v. 23). Once he entered the sanctuary, once he busied himself with the Lord's work and His people and His word, he caught the Lord's vision and saw what really counts. Not only was the Great God with him in his anguish, but He had promised Asaph a glorious eternity (v 24).
The benefits Asaph envied were nothing compared with the evidence he beheld by the promises of God. He turned his desire from the pennies of earth to the presence of God (v. 25). True, he wasn't as strong as the wicked, but he stood firm in God (v. 26). He realized that a life unfaithful to God is, in the long run, a mere vapor (v. 27). In reality, the ungodly rich have nothing worth envying, while the true believers have nothing to lose. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19, 20).
Interestingly, when Asaph wrote about the blessings of worshiping the true and living God, he never mentioned material wealth. He spoke of counsel, glory, heaven, heart, and refuge (vv. 23-28). Not a mention of the pearly gates, the golden streets, or any other luxuries. His focus was totally on the person of God Himself. This was enough to satisfy him and slay the green-eyed dragon of envy.
It is very easy for us to be like brute beasts, concentrating only on what we can see and feel, and what will tickle our ears and feed our bellies. We seek the world's trophies and trinkets, neglecting the things we can't see, which, ironically, are the most important. As Jesus said, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). Asaph learned the lesson that was reiterated by the Apostle Paul hundreds of years later: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).
Asaph turned around and went from victim to victor. Next time, we will see the conclusion of Asaph's song of prayer.
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