Those Far From God — Johnny O. Trail

Psalm 73 deals with a theme that is common to those who seek a godly existence.  Throughout all of history God’s people have wondered, “Why do the wicked prosper and the servants of God suffer?”  The psalmist understands the struggle that the faithful have in finding God’s presence in situations where wickedness seems to prevail.  The psalmist, like all other inspired writers of God’s holy word, approached people and situations in an honest fashion—even when things seem to be running contrary to God’s plan.

This psalm is written as a “confessional address” to God.  The general structure is a question of faith aimed at instructing God’s followers to avoid disparity between the prosperous wicked person and the faithful ones who are suffering even though they are living in a devoted fashion to God and His commands.1  The psalmist does not want to be guilty of misleading God’s people in the matter of the wicked prospering.  He says in verse 15, If I had said, I will speak thus, behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.  This is true of all who attempt to speak on behalf of God.  We must make sure we represent Him correctly from His word.

Suffice it to say, we live in a world that is covered in spiritual darkness.  Wickedness prevails because the world prefers darkness over light (John 1:5).  Since Satan wants people to prefer things over God, the ways of the worldly will always seem easy and thriving.  The psalmist says in verse 12, Behold, these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches.  Moreover, wicked people are very shrewd at practicing ungodliness (Jer. 4.22).

This psalm is an inclusio.2  That is, it contains thoughts that are bracketed by the idea of God’s goodness despite the struggle that the psalmist had reconciling the righteousness of God with the iniquity that he observed around him.3  He says, “Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart” (v. 1b).  Per the inclusio, the closing of this psalm says something almost identical: “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” (v. 28).

One of the beautiful things about this psalm and the Bible as a whole is the honesty that is contained therein.  Instead of sugarcoating a world lost in wickedness, the psalmist bemoans the affluence of the wicked and wonders about the judgement of God.  In their arrogance, the wicked assume God is unaware of their evil practices.  The psalmist asks, “…How does God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches (v. 11). Ultimately, their logic is flawed.

When one judges happiness by worldly standards and carnal delights, he is judging situations through the wrong microscope and he will always arrive at the wrong conclusions.  The psalmist says, “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3).  The psalmist understands, as should Christians, that this can create doubt regarding the judgment of God and a view that engenders envy of those who prosper in the wake of ill-gotten gain.  The psalmist says, But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped (v. 2).  His honesty is refreshing to any person who has grappled with the same theological question.

In the Christian realm of reasoning, our mistakes can be a blessing.4  The psalmist reasoned about his fault while meditating in the presence of God and arrived at a conclusion that drew him nearer to God:  Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end (v. 17).

When one fails to meditate upon the spiritual and moral challenges that permeate our world, he will always end up with the wrong conclusions.  Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning.  If I had said, I will speak thus, behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end (73:13-17).  Like the psalmist did in a temporary fashion, one can be left with the conclusion that serving God is done in vanity.

The problem that the psalmist started with in contemplating the wealth of the wicked is the standard of judgment.  When Christians judge worldly people and Christian people by the standards of humankind, there will always be a sense of disparity in worldly blessings. This might be the meaning behind Christ’s observation, “…For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Lk. 16:8b).  Thus, there “seems to be a naivete among God’s people that often hinders their worldly success.”5   This was a myopic understanding of the nature of blessings.  The psalmist saw their current prosperity and forgot their terrible future.  He saw their outward display of peace and missed their discomfited souls.6

At the close of his mediation, the psalmist is embarrassed by his lack of discernment and worldly examination of prosperity.  He says, Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You (vs. 21-22).  Any consideration of problems devoid of God’s instruction, causes one embarrassment. It is foolish to envy evil people.7

While worldly people might prosper according to worldly standards, their ultimate judgment is tragic.  For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry (73:27).  The psalmist had rather be near God and suffer with His people than be far from Him and “perish.”

In closing, the greatness of God is not defined by the prosperity of the wicked.  It is not defined by the suffering of the pure in heart.  The good portion is to be understood exclusively in the presence of God—whether in suffering or in prosperity.8  This is a sharp distinction between a carnal view of “good” and God’s idea of “good.”

That which is seen is not the final word in judging true righteousness and evil.9  There will be a day when God’s judgment will reign above all worldly wisdom and standards of carnal success.  John wrote, “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12).


1Mays, James Luther (1994).  Psalms, Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, Louisville, pg. 240.

2 “[In] biblical studies, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle, also known as bracketing or an envelope structure, which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section…”

3Tucker, Dennis W. and Grant, Jamie A (2018).  The NIV Application Commentary:  From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, p. 60.  “This common Hebrew poetic technique is known as an inclusio—basically a bracketing function that draws the reader’s attention to the key theme of the poem or text…we should remember that this poem is ultimately about a god who is good.  Even when confronted with the inconsistencies of life and the judgment of God, the reader is encouraged to remember that this God is a good God.”

4Campbell, Roger, ed. (n.d.). Spurgeon’s Daily Treasures in the Psalms, “Wrong Conclusions.” Kregel Publications.

5Coffman, Thomas Burton (1992).  Psalms, vol. 2.  Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, pgs. 2-3.


7Ash, Christopher (2020).  Psalms for You.  The Good Book Company, UK., p. 147.

8Mays, p. 243.

9Ash, p. 146.

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