The care-free lifestyle of the wicked is tempting, but intimacy with God must be your standard of what is good.

Psalm 73:3 expresses a feeling that most Christians experience after they have been saved for a while: "I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked." Job expressed the same thought in Job 21:7-20. This is especially challenging in a culture where sinful lifestyles are celebrated.

Psalm 73 addresses the issue of why the wicked prosper, but without answering the question. It answers the deeper question of why the righteous envy the wicked and what the solution is for that.

Why the Righteous Envy the Wicked

The lifestyle of the wicked seems free of care. Verse 3 uses the word "prosperity," which is the Hebrew word shalom. This word describes a life full of peace and comfort and is usually used for the blessing of righteous living. Verse 12 repeats that the wicked are "always at ease."

  • The wicked are well-fed and pain-free. They appear free of the bonds of physical limitations that inhibit many others, while the difficulties of the righteous seem to compound.
  • The wicked are proud and violent without consequences. The vivid description in verse 7 that "Their eye bulges from fatness" simply means that they do whatever they please with complete freedom.
  • The wicked speak against God and openly mock Him without fear (Psalm 73:8-11). They even recruit from among those formerly supposed to be righteous (verse 10).
  • Lastly, the wealth of the wicked increases, as if God approves of their lifestyle (Psalm 73:12).

The wicked enjoy what the righteous should be enjoying (Psalm 73:13). We expect blessings when we obey. This is one expression of "retribution theology," where God punishes those who do wrong and reward those who do right. The writer of this psalm, Asaph, did not see this working in his life. He admits that his steps "almost slipped." What prevented Asaph from stumbling?

Drawing Near to God

The turning point comes in Psalm 73:17 when Asaph enters the sanctuary of God. This is where God's people enjoy the preaching of God's Word and singing God's praise. Those of us who do not live in the Old Testament context may forget another crucial aspect of worship that Asaph experienced: the sacrificial system. The scenes of bloody and fiery sacrifices provided a covering for sin and reminded Israelites daily of the consequences of wickedness. This changed Asaph's perspective in two ways:

Worship assured Asaph of the future judgment of the wicked (Psalm 73:19-20, 27). Though they appear free of care or consequence, this will not be true forever.

Worship assured Asaph that he was never alone (Psalm 73:23-26). This is even better than a change of circumstances. The fact is that God is always with His own, whether they feel it or not. God's definition of good is being near to Him (verse 28). This realization changed Asaph's desires, speech, and feelings. His despair and bitterness turned to hope.

Application Points

  • We do not regularly see bloody and fiery sacrifices as visual reminders of judgment for sin. In the church, our reminder of sin's consequences is the ordinance of communion. Do you make a habit of observing the Lord's Table with fellow believers?

  • Qualification: Being envious of someone does not mean they are wicked. We can be envious of the righteous, and this is sin too. Rejoice with those who rejoice! (See 1 Corinthians 12:14-19, Romans 12:15.)

  • Much of the temptation to envy the wicked can be minimized by controlling our media intake. Are you constantly frustrated by seeing celebrities basking in sin? Turn off the TV, take a break from internet surfing, or log off of social media! Give increased attention to God's Word and His people to correct your perspective.

  • Parents, how do you portray a successful life to your children? Do you promote models of success that make it easier for them to envy the wicked and despise the assembly of believers? The solution is more than just attending church more. Think about what your children perceive from you. What makes you most happy? What do you brag about?

  • There is value in duty, but there is joy in the nearness of God. Are you regularly drawing near to Him? Review the truths of passages like this often. We don't know what circumstances may be coming next in our lives. Knowing and being able to use God's Word is essential. Pray for wisdom to apply God's Word skillfully.