Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 24

Those who desire God alone, find their strength in God alone. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26, ESV).

A story is told about a man often walked through a cemetery on his way home. One night, though, unaware that a new grave had been dug in his path, he tumbled in. For some time he struggled to get out of the 7 foot deep grave, but finally gave up and settled down for the night.

An hour later, a farmer out hunting came walking through the cemetery and he too fell into the grave. He began a desperate attempt to get out, unaware that there was anyone else in the grave.

The first man listened to him for a while, while he was struggling to get out. Then he tapped the farmer on his shoulder and said, “I’ve been here all night. But I couldn’t get out.”

The farmer got out of there in no time!

How many times have we thought that we can get out of any problem on our own strength? Asaph knew the limitations of life. He said my flesh and my heart will fail. “My flesh and my heart” here means “my whole being.” (See Ps. 84:2).[1] “Fail,” from kalah, means, “to be completed, finished, accomplished, ready; to be at an end.” Yet in this context, it may carry “the idea of exhaustion, being entirely consumed.” (TWOT/OTWS). It does not mean physical death here, but physical exhaustion, a physical failing. It refers to “the physical weakness that sometimes precedes death (see Job 33:21; Pss 71:9; 143:7; Prov 5:11).”[2] The idea here is that our bodies fail. Our physical bodies get exhausted, with many trials and troubles. Life is limited.

But “God is the strength of my heart,” Asaph said, “and my portion forever.” “Strength” is from the Heb. tsuwr, “a cliff; a rock or boulder; fig. a refuge” (Strong) In the Near East, a rocky cliff or rocky summit is a place of protection from the sun and the rains. It can also be a place of advantage during warfare. If you are above ground, on a rocky height, that is an advantage over your enemies below.

Asaph is saying that God is my strength, my stability, my refuge, my protection, and my advantage. He recognized the limitations of life. But he also realized that God is the true source of strength in his limited life.

We don’t have stability in life. But you can say with Asaph, God is my stability. We don’t know how to protect ourselves. But you can say today, God is my protection.

“Portion” is from cheleq, “an allotment, inheritance, part” (Strong). What does “portion” mean here? Remember that Asaph was a Levite. Levites served as assistants to the Aaronic priests. They were the maintenance men of the Temple. As a Levite, Asaph lived by the tithes of other people in Israel (Num. 18:21-24; Deut. 10:9; 18:1-2). The tithes are his portion, his allotment, in order to live. Asaph said that “God is my portion forever.” He is saying that God is my source of life, my sustainer, my preserver, my provider.[3] Say with Asaph today, God is my sustainer, my preserver, and my provider. God is my portion forever.

Note the word, “forever.” Asaph will lose everything on this earth, but God is his inheritance forever. This is the same thing with you and me. We go into this world with nothing. We will come out with nothing. The things you hold dear today will just fade away someday soon. But if you have Christ, you have everything! If you have Christ, you have everything that lasts, for eternity! God is our portion, not just for today, but forever!

[1] John H. Stek, “Psalms,” inThe NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 861.

[2] Robert B. Chisolm et. al, in The NET Bible (n. p.: Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 1996-2007), 999.

[3] Stek, “Psalms,” in NIV Study Bible, 861.


Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 23

Then Asaph wrote some of the most beautiful words in the Psalms. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25, ESV). This verse has launched an inspiring worship song which is sung by millions today. “Desire” is from chaphets, “to find pleasure in, take delight in, be pleased with, have an affection for; to desire . . . The main meaning is to feel a strong positive attraction for something, to like someone or something very much.” (TWOT/OTWS).

Husbands, you can start telling your wives, “I chaphets you.” That is a loaded word. Be careful who you’re using it for. She might believe it!

Here, Asaph, the doubter of God, is now Asaph, the desirer of God. Before, he doubted the sovereign rule of God over all peoples. Now he finds himself worshiping, bending his knees, and bowing before Jehovah, out of pure delight in Him.

Some of us are like the preacher who was on a diet and prayed as he drove to work. “Now, Lord if it is your Will for me not to have any donuts this morning You make sure there are no parking places in front of the donut shop.” And he later said, “I ate the donuts because there were two places right up front on only my 8th trip around the block.” (www.sermoncentral.com. Accessed July 17, 2009)

Have you come to a point in your life that you really desire God, that you find pleasure in God, that you delight in God, that you are pleased in God, that you have a strong attraction to God? That, my brothers and sisters, is the mark of the righteous. The mark of the pure in heart is a desire for God and God alone!  The righteous desire God. They delight in His Word. They desire His values. They take pleasure in His will.

Asaph said, “Whom have I in heaven but You? There is nothing on earth I desire beside you, Yahweh.” He’s saying here that there is nothing else in heaven and on earth that he desires except Yahweh and Yahweh alone! How total is his desire of God! How truly in love he is with God! He said there is nothing in the whole universe he desires beside God Himself. He desires God absolutely.

Do you desire God and God only? Many people desire God, but not God only. They desire God and their money. They desire God and their careers. They desire God and the things of this world. But God will have none of that. In the 1st Commandment, Jehovah said, “You shall have no other gods beside me.” Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.” Do you desire God and God only? Is God your only desire in life? Or do you desire the things of this world more than God?

This is what purity of heart means. Asaph said that God is good to the pure in heart (v. 1). And the pure in heart are those who are pure in their desire and delight of God. The pure in heart are those who wholly and totally find pleasure in God and God alone. The pure in heart are those who have turned their hearts from sinning and committed their minds to God, to delight in Him alone. The pure in heart are those who desire nobody else in heaven and on earth, except God alone!

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 22

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand” (Ps. 73:23, NKJV). This is the 2nd division here in vv. 23-26. “Continually” is not an adverb, but a noun, from tamidh, “duration, extension, continuance (Ezek. 39:14), continuity (Is. 21:8)” (TWOT/OTWS). Literally, it reads, “I am in [preposition, im] continuity with you.” This implies security in God. Every saved person, whether he is filled with doubt or despair, is always in continuity with God. Because God Himself holds that person.

“Hold” here is a beautiful word, from achaz, “holding in possession” (Strong). Note the parallel meanings here in vv. 23-24. “You hold my right hand” is parallel in meaning to, “I am always continually with you.” Here, we have what is called, “step parallelism.” The next line adds a new idea to a previous line. Asaph said that he is in continuity with Jehovah. It means that Jehovah holds his right hand. In other words, even though he doubted God, God will not let go of him!

Let me ask you, when you are in deep trials and troubles, did you feel that God was not there? That’s what we feel sometimes. We feel that God is from a distance. But Asaph here says that God is good to the pure in heart. How is He good to the pure in heart? He holds you. He possesses you by your right hand. In other words, He will not let you go!

Then Asaph wrote that the LORD guides him with His counsel. “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Ps. 73:24, ESV). The verb form of “guide” speaks of ongoing guidance. (Hiphil Imperfect) This means that God continues to guide him. He said God guides him continually with God’s counsel.

The noun, “counsel,” here is from etsah, “advise; consultation; purpose, project, plan, design; wisdom, deliberation” (TWOT/OTWS). Despite his foolish conclusions, Jehovah overcomes it with His wise counsel. The LORD leads Him according to His purpose and plan.

I read a true story about 75 convicts. In November I975, 75 convicts started digging a secret tunnel designed to bring them up at the other side of the wall of Saltillo Prison in northern Mexico. On April 18, 1976, guided by pure genius, they tunneled up into the nearby courtroom in which many of them had been sentenced. The surprised judges returned all 75 to jail. (www.sermoncentral.com. Accessed July 16, 2009)

During hard times, we think we know what to do. But we end up in the wrong places! So we need to do one thing—ask God for wisdom. James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom [in times of trials], let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). His wisdom will overcome our foolishness.

“Glory” here (v. 24) does not mean going to the glory of heaven. It is from the Heb. kavodh, “weight, honor, esteem, glory (Gen. 31:1; 1 Kgs. 8:11; Mal. 1:6).” (TWOT/OTWS) In the chapter, Asaph talks about the honor and esteem of the wicked. He talks about their prosperity, pride, and power, which gives them worldly honor. Now Asaph talks about Jehovah Himself who will give him honor. The LORD Himself will hold him in high esteem.

Before men, you may be nobody. But before the LORD, you are esteemed highly by Him. The LORD will receive you in honor and glory. He will hold you in high importance.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 21

When Asaph entered the sanctuary, he saw the throne of God, and then he saw his heart.

Remember that day when Jesus told Simon to put out into the deep waters and let down their nets for a catch of fish? Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5, ESV). Peter was tired. He was also disbelieving, lacking faith in Christ. What happened next? Luke wrote that after they threw the nets into the water, they caught a large number of fish. Their nets were breaking with all of the fish. They had to call other fishermen to come and help them. After that incident, Simon Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8, ESV).

That’s what happens when we see God in His holiness. We begin to see ourselves in our sinfulness (Isa. 6:1-6). After Asaph entered the sanctuary, he saw himself. He confessed in v. 22, “I was brutish  . . . toward you” (ESV). “Brutish and ignorant” are metaphors of a “beast.” “Brutish” here is from wlam, from alam, “to be tongue-tied . . . be dumb, put to silence” (Strong). Have you faced a silent cow, or a silent dog, or a silent cat? It looks tongue-tied, silent, and ignorant about your ways. This is the picture here of Asaph. He called himself, “ignorant,” which is an interesting word. It is a compound of the verb, “know,” and a particle which negates the meaning of the verb, “know.” And so Asaph was saying literally, “I was NOT knowing before you, Lord.” “I did not know, Lord.

There’s an old story of a man who was walking at night, and saw another man searching for something near a lamp post. Approaching, he asked the man what he was looking for, and the man, without looking up, replied, “My watch”. The first man asked, “Well, precisely where were you standing when you dropped it?” “Over there somewhere.” Incredulous, the first man said, “Well then sir, why are you looking for it here?” “Because sir, the light is better here!” (www.sermoncentral.com. Accessed July 17, 2009)

Like that man, Asaph was looking at the wrong place. He didn’t know where to look. Asaph seemed to be saying, “I was ignorant, Lord, about your judgment of the wicked. I did not realize that You will still vindicate your people.” He was ignorant until he entered the sanctuary of God.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 20

A young woman went to a fortuneteller. The fortuneteller said, “Dai, magminyo ka. Pero for the first 10 years, mag-antus ka.” (Young lady, you will get married. But for the first 10 years, you will suffer.)

The young lady asked, “After 10 years, unsay mahitabo nako.” (After 10 years, what will happen?)

The fortuneteller said, “After 10 years, ma-anad na ka.” (After 10 years, you will get used to it.)

Can you imagine grieving for the first 10 years of your married life? That’s what happened to Asaph. “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart” (Ps. 73:21, ESV). “Pricked” (ESV) is from shanan, “to pierce through (as with grief Ps. 73:21)” (TWOT/OTWS). “Heart” (ESV) is not singular, but plural, “my reins” (KJV) or “my reins” (NKJV), from the Hebrew, kilyah, “kidneys,” “fig. the mind (as the interior self)” (Strong). Asaph’s envy and bitterness against the wicked really pierced his mind and heart.  It pierced him with so much grief. The verb form of the Hebrew expresses a continuing piercing of grief in the past.

Maybe he couldn’t sleep at night sometimes. He tried to understand why good things were happening to bad people. Then he began to doubt. But let me ask you, in his disappointment and depression, what was he really doubting? I think he was doubting the goodness of God to His people. How do I know? Because that’s how he concluded in v. 1 and repeated in v. 28. “Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart . . . 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 Your works” (Ps. 73:1, 28, NKJV).

He doubted the goodness of God. He doubted the sovereignty of God. He lost faith in the controlling justice of God to the wicked. He stopped trusting in the mercy of God to the righteous.

Until one day, when Asaph entered the sanctuary. I think Asaph came to God just as he was—embittered and all. It’s okay to come to God just as you are—with all your bitter complaints. There’s an old hymn that says, “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. And that thou biddest me come, to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” That’s what Asaph did.

It’s okay to enter into worship with all your distress in life, with all your bitterness. God will still accept you, if you come through Christ!

What are you facing today? Enter into the sanctuary of God. The sanctuary of God is the holy place of God, where you meet God and God meets you. There, you call on God in prayer. There, you meditate on His Word. There, you will see things differently.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 19

Asaph began this chapter with a Point of Faith, declaring that God is good to Israel, esp. to those who are pure in heart (v. 1). He arrived at this conclusion after a Period of Doubt and Despair (vv. 2-12). Last Sunday, we noted Asaph’s Process of Faith (vv. 13-28). He Engaged in a Struggle (vv. 13-16). Then, he Entered into the Sanctuary (vv. 17-20).

Today, we will see how Asaph Expressed His Passion for God (vv. 21-28). There are 3 strophes or divisions here from vv. 21-28. Verses 21-22 is one strophe. Verses 23-26 is another; and verses 26-28 is the last strophe in the chapter.

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Ps. 73:21-22, ESV). “Soul” (ESV) is from the Hebrew, lebab, or leb, which refers to “the feelings, the will and even the intellect” (Strong). Asaph said that his soul was “embittered” (ESV). “Embittered” is from the Hebrew, chamets, meaning, “to be sharp, to be sour, be salted, to be leavened . . . be bitterly moved (Ps. 73:21).” (TWOT/OTWS) The root meaning of this word refers to fermentation. In those days, when you leaven the bread, you ferment it. To make the bread rise, you include a form of yeast. Asaph said that his heart was filled with bitterness. Like bread, it became leavened. He became embittered with the leaven of sin in his heart. The Hebrew verb form here speaks of putting oneself in the state of bitterness. (Hithpael Imperfect) In other words, he embittered himself.

What made him embitter himself? Look back at v. 3—“For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (ESV).  When he looked at wicked people around him, sinning freely and willingly, without any worry or fear of God, Asaph became envious. The bacteria of envy filled his heart. He became depressed, despondent, and disappointed.

This is what happens when you look at the conditions around you When you focus on the things that happen to you, you will become discouraged, depressed, and disappointed.

Starting today, stop looking at the things around you. Start looking up to God. Don’t look at things from your perspective. Look at it from the perspective of God. See things through the eyes of faith in the promises of God. And you will begin to see things differently. You will walk by faith.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 18

Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms” (Ps. 73:20, ESV). Literally, it means here, “As a dream to awaken.” (Hiphil infinitive)

An elderly man moved into a retirement community. It wasn’t long until he had made a number of friends among the other residents. There was one lady he was especially attracted to and she was attracted to him, also. They spent a lot of time together. Finally one evening he proposed, asking her to marry him.

The next morning he woke up remembering his proposal, but he couldn’t remember her answer. So he went to her & said, “I’m really embarrassed to admit this, but I know I proposed to you last night but I can’t remember if you said ’Yes’ or ’No.’”

“Oh, thank goodness!” she replied. “I remembered saying ’Yes’ to someone but I couldn’t remember who asked me.” (http://www.sermoncentral.com. Accessed July 4, 2009)

Have you dreamed a dream that caused you to awaken? After you awoke from your dream, do you still remember it? Sometimes I remember my dream, but most of the time, I forget it.

That’s exactly what Asaph is talking about here. The wicked come to an end in a moment. Like a dream that you soon forget after you wake up, so are the wicked. They become like nothing, like a dream that disappears into nothingness.

Asaph said, the Lord will “despise” the image of the wicked. “Despise” is from bazah, “to regard with contempt” (BDB); “to think to scorn” (Strong). God hates the wicked (Ps. 1:3-6). He scorns the wicked. We hear a lot today about the love of God for the world. That is true (John 3:16). But we don’t hear much about the wrath of God for the wicked, which is also equally true. God despises and hates the wicked.

God said to Asaph, ‘When you look at the wicked, don’t look at what they have, look at where they are headed.[1] The truth is that if you are righteous in the Lord today, you are on the right side of life! If you are wicked, then you are on the wrong side of life!

Psalm 37:37-38 says, “Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (ESV)

Did you read that? Mark these words. There is a dark futureunrighteous. But there is a bright future for the righteous.

The wicked will be horrified sooner than later. But your future is a future of peace in God. The wicked will be cut off. But you will live forever.

Look at life with the eyes of faith. Look at life from the perspective of God. The best way to look at life is to see all of life as under the control of a sovereign, holy God. The prosperity of the wicked is under the hand of God. The suffering of the righteous is also under the hand of God. But in the end, God will uphold the righteous, and destroy the wicked.

[1] James Merritt, “When Your Faith Goes on Trial,” http://www.sermonsearch.com. Accessed July 3, 2009.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 17

In the sanctuary, God taught Asaph 3 things.

He Discerned Their End. Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (Ps. 73:17, ESV). “Discerned” here is from biyn, “To understand, know (with the mind); to observe, mark, give heed to, distinguish” (BDB). Inside the sanctuary, as he listened and learned from the Word of God, God made him see the end of the wicked. God made him distinguish between the temporal and the eternal. God replaced his doubts with faith. He discerned that God is not blind. He understood that God is in control.

He Declared God’s Judgment.Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin” (Ps. 73: 18, ESV). The verb, “set,” is from shiyth, “To set, station, appoint, fix” in the Qal stem (BDB). The verb here means that the subject will perform the action. (Qal stem) God Himself has stationed the wicked in slippery places. He Himself has appointed them in slippery places. He has fixed those slippery places for the wicked.

The noun, “slippery,” is from cheleq, “smoothness (of the tongue” (Strong); “smooth part” (BDB). If you stand on a smooth part of the floor, what will happen to you? You fall down. That’s what will happen to the wicked, Asaph said. God Himself will put them on a smooth, slippery ground. And they will fall down to ruin.

You say, “Pastor, can God do that?”  Oh yes, He can! And He will. He will do that to the wicked!” Because the verb, “make them fall down,” from naphal, means, “To cause to fall, fell, throw down, knock out, lay prostrate; To overthrow” in the Hiphil stem. (BDB). God Himself will cause the wicked to fall down in ruin. He Himself will cause them to knock down. God will cause the overthrow of the wicked. Sooner or later, they will fall down in ruin. And the noun, “ruin,” is mashhuwah, “desolation, destruction” (Strong); from the root, mshow’ah, “wreck, waste” (Strong).

You see the picture here? God Himself will cause them to fall down to destruction. God Himself will waste them. God will wreck them.

He Determined Their Quick Destruction. “How they are destroyed in a moment,swept away utterly by terrors (Ps. 73:19, ESV)! Asaph uses another Hebrew word here for “destruction,” which is shammah, “A waste (of land, city, etc); Appallment, horror” (BDB). This word means 2 things: waste and horror. The word “appall” means shock, disgust, or horrify. God will bring waste, shock, horror, and disgust in the lives of the wicked.

And God will waste them quickly. The adverb, “in a moment,” is rega, from the root, raga, “a wink (of the eyes), i.e. a very short space of time:–instant, moment, space, suddenly.” (Strong) And so God will bring them quick destruction. God will quickly lay waste to the wicked.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 16

2. He Entered the Sanctuary. “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (Ps. 73:17, ESV). Did you read that? Asaph was depressed, despairing, and disappointed. Till one day, he entered the sanctuary. “Sanctuary” is miqdash, “Sacred place, sanctuary, holy place” (BDB). Now it could not refer to the Temple; because all Israel was under the captivity of Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed at this time. I think “sanctuary” here refers to the place of God’s presence. It is a place where you and God alone are there. It is a place where you spend time with God in prayer and meditating on His Word. Asaph entered into this sanctuary.[1]

Now only when he entered the sanctuary, did God reverse his thoughts. It was not until he withdrew from the world and entered into the holy place of God’s presence, that God reformed his thinking. It was in those moments with God “were his eyes opened to the holy plans and ways of God (Psa 77:14).”[2] Brethren, the secret to a strong faith and walk with God is the secret place of quiet time with the Lord! When you find yourself not knowing what to do, go and enter the sanctuary of God! Spend quiet time with God, praying to Him, and meditating on His Word! And you will know the ways of God!

The story is told of a family that moved into a new community. They were promptly visited by two elders and the pastor of a nearby church who cordially invited them to attend the services on the Lord’s Day. The man assured them that he would come just as soon as he got straightened out. Several months passed, and he still hadn’t put in an appearance, so the minister called again . . . But he received the same reply. The fellow hadn’t yet gotten everything straightened out. A few weeks later he died . . .

Later when a member of the congregation asked the pastor if the man was a Christian, he answered, “He never attended services here, and no one can recall ever hearing him give a testimony of his faith in Christ, so I can’t say. I only know he was a man of his word. He promised to come to church just as soon as he got straightened out – and he did!”[3]

The church is not a perfect place to solve your problems. But if it’s a church where the Pastor preaches the Bible and points people to Christ, then it’s a better place than any other place in the world.

The problem of Asaph is that he saw things from his point of view. He did not see things from the point of view of God. But when you read and listen to the Bible in a Bible-based, Bible-teaching church, then you will begin to see things from an eternal perspective.

How about those days when there’s no church meeting? You enter His sanctuary, the presence of God. Every day, practice a quiet time, a time of devotion to God, and meditating on His Word. That is the best place and time to commune with God, to let God change the way you see things.

[1] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, Bible Speak CD. See also Clarke, Commentary, Power Bible CD.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, Bible Speak CD.

[3] Allan Carr, “Jesus: the Resurrection and the Life,” http://www.sermonnotebook.com, accessed May 10, 2009.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? – 15

The Weariness of Holiness. “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task” (Ps. 73:16, ESV). The noun, “wearisome task” here is just one word, amal, “toil, labour” (BDB). Asaph says that when he tried to understand the problem, it was tiring, wearying, and exhausting. Just like the Aramaic class. After 2½ hours of reading and translating Daniel 3:1-10 in Aramaic, I got so tired mentally and physically. Sam, my classmate, who was good in Hebrew, lay down on the sofa and rested. It was a tiresome task.

The verb, “thought,” indicates an intense action. (Piel stem) Asaph was thinking intensely, deeply, and strongly. Yet the more he thought about it, the more tiring it became. You see, if your thoughts are detached from the Word of God, those thoughts won’t bless you. But if your thoughts are based on faith in God and His Word, then those thoughts will do you a lot of good. Paul talks about “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NKJV). Our thoughts should be shaped by the Word—not by the “word of faith” which some prosperity word-of-faith preachers teach—but by the written Word of God which gives us faith. It should be held captive to obeying Christ.

The problem with Asaph is that his thoughts and analysis of the problem were detached from God and His Word. They were skewed. And so it has become a tiring exercise.

But the good news is that one day, God brought Asaph into a spiritual realization in his journey back to faith in God.