This psalm was written by Asaph, one of the leaders of the worship of God in Solomon’s temple. He wrote it to explain how he received a proper perspective on an intense period of trouble he had gone through.
He begins by repeating a general principle that is always true: ‘Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart’ (v. 1). No doubt, Asaph already knew this was a true theological statement about the faithfulness of God. Nevertheless, true theological statements can be forgotten by us when things go wrong, and Asaph found himself falling into this trap.
His problem was caused by envy of the wicked, especially of those who had got on well in life and were proud of their status. He was particularly concerned about their indifference to human need and of their contemptuous dismissal of God (vv. 3-12). Such was their arrogance that even God’s people began to doubt that God cared any more. In contrast to the wicked, Asaph had tried to live a holy life and only found it accompanied by daily troubles and rebukes (vv. 13-14). Clearly, this was not a good perspective on what was happening to him or his society. So how did he get away from of it?
The first thing Asaph did was to remember his responsibility to other members of the people of God (v. 15). The psalmist realised that it was not right to unload his negative assessment of life on to other believers. He knew that he had to build them up rather than flattening them. In this, he is a reminder to us that it is wrong to discourage one another by our inadequate assessment of what is going on. If all we have is that kind of analysis, we should keep our tongues quiet.
The second detail regarding Asaph’s response was that he stopped analysing the situation from his own perspective (v. 16). He realised a basic but healthy aspect of life: ‘The world does not revolve round me.’ If we find ourselves bogged down by what is going on, stop thinking about it.
Thirdly, Asaph went with his problem into God’s presence and discovered how to view life (vv. 17-26). We should do the same, and we do so by reading what he says about life in his Word. There we are reminded that those who are secure in themselves are actually sliding down into ruin, a ruin which will be so complete that they will lose everything in a moment. They will discover that the God they despised will deal with them effectively and turn the tables on them. Is there anything worse than being despised by God?
This discovery enabled Asaph to assess himself. He realised that bitterness had demeaned him, making him like an animal. It is not surprising that the Bible warns us many times about the awful consequences of a bitter spirit. Sometimes we focus on how it affects others, but we should not forget that it has destructive effects on our own spiritual levels.
Going into God’s presence gave Asaph not only an understanding of himself but also a reminder of who God was and what he would do for his people. He is their Guide who is always with them, leading them by the hand, instructing them how to live, until he takes them into his presence at the end of life’s journey. God is their supreme Portion and his splendour even makes the wonders of heaven look small to them, never mind what earth has to offer to them. In addition God is the Provider of whatever strength they will need for every inch of their journey through life, and when life here is over he will remain their eternal Possession.
Why should Asaph doubt such a God even if life gets hard? The psalmist realised that what matters is our future destinies (v. 27), and until then he determined to remain near to God. This closeness to God gave to Asaph the ideal position from where he could speak about God’s capabilities and so encourage his people (v. 28), which of course is what Asaph has done for the benefit of countless millions through this psalm. That too is the place that we should find before we attempt to analyse life and then express our assessment to others.