Voyage’ above the beach at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
I hope to visit London later today (7 May 2022) for a church service and a dinner. But, before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.
In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;
2, reading the psalm or psalms;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Psalm 73 is the opening psalm in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 72.
This is the second of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.
But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.
The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.
Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.
Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.
Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.
Psalm 73 reflects on the tragedy of the wicked, and the blessedness of trust in God.
Divine providence and the internal battle within one’s soul are the two main themes of this psalm. It speaks of the journey of self-realisation about the evils of the world but also coming back and realising God’s plans.
Psalm 73 deals with how the righteous are to respond to corruption within the ranks of the wealth, power and influence. Initially, the good person is scandalised by the revelation that leaders are abusing their power and privilege. But as the psalmist reflects on the nature of God, he comes to understand that even the most powerful authority figures, if corrupt and unchanged, will receive their reward at God’s hands.
In this psalm, the psalmist questions why the wicked seem to prosper. He goes into the sanctuary where the sacrifices are offered and gains a fresh perspective. He observes God’s judgment of evil and accepts this.
This psalm is often categorised as one of the ‘Wisdom Psalms’. However, some commentators are reluctant to use this description because of its strongly personal tone and the references in the psalm to the Temple:
Verse 10: ‘the people turn and praise him’ or ‘his people return here’
Verse 17: ‘the sanctuary of God’
Verse 1 declares: ‘Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.’ Some commentators suggest that these words represent the conclusion to which the psalmist had been led through the trial of his faith.
The American Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that ‘in the canonical structuring of the Psalter, Psalm 73 stands at its centre in a crucial role. Even if the Psalm is not literally in the centre, I suggest that it is centre theologically as well as canonically.’
Psalm 73 was the favourite psalm of the Austrian Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965). He asked: ‘What is that draws me to this poem that is pieced together out of description, report and confession, and draws me ever more strongly the older I become?’
He answered himself: ‘I think it is this, that here a person reports how he attained to the true sense of his life experience and that this sense touches directly on the eternal.’
Psalm 73 (NRSVA):
A Psalm of Asaph.
1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out with fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues range over the earth.
10 Therefore the people turn and praise them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, ‘How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?’
12 Such are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued,
and am punished every morning.
15 If I had said, ‘I will talk on in this way’,
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast towards you.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will receive me with honour.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
27 Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
to tell of all your works.
The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Truth Tellers.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by Steve Cox, Chair of Christians in the Media.
The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (7 May 2022) invites us to pray:
Let us give thanks for the media technologies which allow us to communicate with and listen to people from across the world church.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org