The historical setting of this chapter is during the Babylonian Captivity (Ps. 73). Asaph, a Choir Director of the Israelites, got depressed when he saw the prosperity of bad people, while seeing the poverty of good people. While he saw the bad people around him, he lost sight of the goodness of God.
Asaph began this chapter with a Point of Faith (v. 1). He said that “God is good . . . to those who are pure in heart” (v. 1). Then, he recounted his Point of Doubt (vv. 2-3). At that point of doubt, he was depressed, disappointed, and despairing. Because he saw the Prosperity of the Wicked (vv. 3-7, 12). He saw the Pride of the Wicked (vv. 6-7b). Then he saw the Power of the Wicked (vv. 8-12b). Today, we will study how he went through the Process of Going Back to Faith in God—the Process of Faith (vv. 13-28).
The Process of Faith
1. He Engaged in Struggle. I’d like to point out three things here about Asaph’s struggle with holiness.
The Uselessness of Holiness. At one point of his life, he thought that being holy was useless. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (Ps. 73:13, ESV). The phrase, “kept my heart clean” here is from zakah, “To make clean, make pure, keep clean, keep pure” in the Piel stem. (BDB) Asaph confessed all known sin in his heart intensely. He was really serious about living a holy life. He stopped looking at women with lust. He stopped lying and cheating and stealing.
“Innocence” here is from niqqayown, from the root, naqah, “(Qal) to be empty, be clean, be pure” (BDB). Here it means, “Freedom from guilt, innocency; Freedom from punishment” (BDB). Asaph was free from guilt feelings, because he has purified his heart from all known sin. Nobody can accuse a finger at him or punish him.
But he said that it’s all “in vain.” “Vain” is from riyq, “emptiness; figuratively, a worthless thing . . . to no purpose” (Strong). Asaph said I purified my heart from all sin, but it’s a vain, empty, worthless, and useless exercise. Because, for Asaph, the wicked keeps on sinning and sinning; but they’re prospering anyway.
The problem of Asaph is that he stopped looking at the Savior, and started focusing at the sinner. He started saying, “If it doesn’t pay to be good, why be good? If it pays to be bad, why not be bad?” You could hear him say, “Maybe it’s better to die a sinner than live like a saint.”