Psalm 73: The Reason to be Near God

Psalm 73 introduces Book III of the Psalter, a book that is largely about Israel’s foreign enemies.  However before the international foes come raging in, this psalm of Asaph considers the prosperity of the wicked.  The psalmist declares from the beginning that God is good (v. 1), but quickly admits that his own feet nearly slipped due to the envy in his heart regarding the prosperity of the wicked (v. 2-3).  After rehearsing the behavior of the wicked (vv. 4-12), the psalmist treads on thin ice to compare his situation with the wicked (vv. 13-15).  It seems to him as though his life of godliness is in vain and he verges on a self-righteous pity party because God is not handing him the same luxuries as the wicked.  The turning point of the psalm in verses 16-17 suggests that the psalmist’s life situation becomes understandable and clear when in the presence of God.  In other words, when we are near to the Lord, experiencing the blessings of his presence, we see that God has everything under control, including the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous.  Indeed, “it is good to be near God” (v. 28). 

After this realization, the psalmist sees that God will have vengeance, but it will be in his timing (vv. 18-20).  The psalmist then confesses his brutish attitude toward God (v.v. 21-22).  After describing the benefits of being near the Lord (vv. 23-25), the psalmist declares that even if his heart and flesh fail due to the perceived injustice of the world, he knows that God is his strength and his portion forever (v. 26).  In other words, the psalmist reminds himself that being near to God and resting in his sanctuary provides the quintessential lot in life that will bring joy and clarity to some of life’s messiness.  In the final stanza (vv. 27-28), he concludes that those who are far from the Lord will perish, but as for the psalmist, “it is good to be near God” and to “have made the Lord God [his] refuge.” 

The final conclusion of verse 28ab could end the psalm.  It would be fitting to confess frustration about the prosperity of the wicked and then conclude that the presence of God is a more desirable portion than prosperity.  However, the psalmist adds one final clause that provide the reason for his desire to be near God, “that I may tell of all your works.”  Indeed, the mere presence of God is good and satisfying, but the psalmist doesn’t let us remain there only for the sake of our own joy.  That joy must be shared. 

Have you ever watched a good movie or had an experience and everything in you wants others to experience the same joy you did?  You want to see how they react to certain scenes in the movie that you thought were amazing.  You want them to experience the same joy that you have already experienced.  My kids demonstrate this all the time.  They will see a trailer for a movie and there is a funny scene or comment that ends the trailer.  As soon as the trailer comes on, they will yell at my wife and I, “Come here, come here, watch this!!!”  For the next two minutes we have to watch the trailer in order to get to the part they wanted us to see.  When the moment finally arrives, you can see the suspense on their faces when they wait to see how we will react to the scene or comment that brought them so much joy and laughter.  They called us early in the trailer so that they made sure we wouldn’t miss it, and then they waited expectantly to see the joy that they just shared with us. 

Now, I can admit this is silly example, but I think you get the point.  We have all had experiences in which we desire to see others experience the same joy we did in that experience.  There is something delightful to us about watching their joy find expression through common experiences.  I have a feeling this is what the psalmist had in mind.  The joy of being in the presence of God, whether suffering or not, is a joy that must be shared.  The consolation in the psalmist’s heart when he finds clarity for life in the presence of God must be shared.  The joy of finding refuge in God alone and not in our personal circumstances is a joy that must find expression in others as we share the glories of God being the “strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:26). 

I can’t help but be reminded of 1 Peter 2:9: 

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

God has made us his people, his chosen nation.  He has brought us close to him through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  He has reconciled the hostility that previously separated us from his presence, and through Jesus, we have access to God (Rom 5:2; Eph 2:18), to draw near to him (Heb 4:16; 7:19, 25).  As God’s people, we have free access to the presence of God and the fullness of joy found therein.  1 Peter 2:9 tells us that the reason for this work of God was “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  We have been brought near to God so that we would proclaim the joys of his presence.  Indeed, the reason to be near to God is not for our own self-indulgence (though we are free to indulge in the glories of the presence of God).  According to Psalm 73:28, the reason to be near to God is so that we would share with others the joy of finding our greatest refuge in the person and work of Jesus Christ.