As you recall, we left Asaph with a very painful problem in his soul. He witnessed to us that his “feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped” when he considered the ways of the wicked. The strength of the wicked is firm, there are no bands in their death and they are not in trouble as other men are. Asaph became envious of the prosperity of the wicked and did not understand why the people of God have the waters of a full cup wrung out to them. While the wicked prospered, he was chastened day by day. God’s hand was heavy upon him. Asaph fell into a carnal thought process and in so doing lost the spiritual perspective of the problem with which he grappled. The situation had become a conundrum to him. “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” We also saw last time that this problem is by no means strange and foreign to us. Sometimes we, too, ask ourselves, “Why do I strive after a sanctified life when all I experience is the weighty hand of God upon me?” Is a Christian life in vain? When Asaph thought to know this it was too painful, because this would implicate vanity on the part of all the faithful people of God who have striven and do strive after godliness.
Let us in this installment benefit from Asaph as he resolves his problem. The problem continued to be painful for him until he went into the sanctuary. This, we must understand, is Old Testament language. Asaph lived in the dispensation of shadows and types. The sanctuary was, in all probability during the days of Asaph, the tabernacle which king David erected upon Mt. Zion. But regardless, whether it was a tabernacle or a temple, the significance is the same. Both were types which foreshadowed the realization of God’s covenant fellowship with His people. God was behind the veil in the sanctuary. And therefore when Asaph enters into the sanctuary with his painful problem, he brings his problem before the Most High God. Asaph is now moving toward the spiritual perspective of which we spoke earlier. For there was but one element missing from Asaph’s former carnal consideration of the dilemma which presented itself to him, and that was God!
Oh, what a tremendous experience for the child of God, when his feet are almost ready to slip, to appear before God in prayer. We must understand the doctrinal implications which are so very practical here. To approach unto God requires the recognition that God is the infinite and independent One. All things that come upon His creatures must be understood from His viewpoint. When we, as did Asaph, approach God with awe in our soul, then we understand the words of God in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The ways of God are, deep, and His dealings with us incomprehensible. But these dealings are always right, because the God to Whom we pray is Jehovah our Father for Jesus sake. And certainly a father always seeks the well-being of his sons. To put it more plainly, at the very center of all the dealings of God, i.e. the execution of His determinate counsel, stands Jesus Christ Who is the Son, of Whom we are brothers and sisters. God freely gives us all things in Christ unto eternal life.
This is the wonderful and ever comforting truth of divine providence. To point out the extreme comfort that we have in this doctrine, we cannot help but refer to Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism: What advantage is the doctrine of providence to us? “That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and in all things which may hereafter befall us . . . place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father . . . .” (Answer 28)
The problem with Asaph (and often with us, for we must not exclude ourselves) is that he did not look at his life from a comprehensive and total viewpoint, but rather from the viewpoint of a particular situation or circumstance. Not to excuse, but to explain, this is not so difficult an error to fall into. For we are creatures of time, we live from moment to moment and are always becoming. This means that we must always deal with particular present situations without fully understanding their future outcome. This takes a tremendous amount of faith. And, to our shame, our faith is often weak at this juncture. Sometimes our own particular carnal considerations of the moment are determinative of the situation. You see, we do not think in the channels of faith and complete trust! We must learn to say, “Lord, this doesn’t look to be to my welfare, but I know Thy ways far surpass my finite understanding, and in spite of the way things appear they must be to my eternal well-being.” That’s the voice of faith. That’s what Asaph learned when he entered the sanctuary!
“. . . then understood I their end.” Asaph is now able to look also at the wicked from a comprehensive viewpoint. He is now able to place them in the perspective of the whole of God’s dealing with them. Though the wicked revel in their sin and boast in their affluent success, nevertheless God has made them vessels fit for destruction. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places.” The wicked seemingly stand secure in the midst of their prosperity. But their security is just for the moment. For their trust is placed in the things which are earthly. They amass unto themselves the riches of this world and boast in the powers that their riches give to them. But all the pleasures of sin are but for a season. All their treasures and wealth are subject to decay and corruption. They are treasures of the earth where moth and rust doth corrupt. The carnal prosperity of the wicked is due to God’s forbearance with them. In prospering them from a carnal viewpoint, God has in mind their utter desolation and destruction. God puts them in slippery places and will cast them down into destruction. That which Asaph perceived about the wicked and became envious of was but temporary. The things which the wicked possess and which often look good to us are but for the moment, and their latter end is utter destruction in hell. Asaph here learns what Moses had seen long before, when he chose “rather to suffer afflictions with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season.”
O, how ignorant was I not to see this, exclaimed Asaph (verse 22). We must not be foolish and spiritually ignorant, as was Asaph. It is easy to be deceived and to listen to the desires of the flesh and so to become disenchanted with our life and the place which God has given to us. Sometimes we think we ought to have certain things, or again think we can very well do without afflictions that plague us. Let us be careful! The heart is deceitful above all things. We must not become entangled in our own carnal psychology. This is foolishness, says the Psalmist. Instead we must approach the Most High God, and in such a spiritual frame of mind we will not grumble, but be content to know that the Lord has placed the wicked upon a swift slide into hell, but that all things will work for our good.
Asaph confesses his sin of carnal mindedness. “I was as a beast before thee.” Before thee! Asaph realized that when God’s children so reason (that is, carnally) they do it before the face of their God. Yes, while God is a faithful Father, constantly watching over us and leading us perfectly in the way everlasting, we are as prodigal sons, disenchanted with our Father’s dealings and headed for the pig sties of a foreign country. We must see that the emphasis is upon, “before Thee!” When we stand before God, these spiritual considerations take over our thinking. As does Asaph, we do some introspection. What a difference! When we let God slip far from our considerations, then we look only at things and circumstances outside of ourselves. The wicked prosper and increase. How foolish! The problem is with ourselves. This Asaph realizes, “My heart was grieved and I was pricked in my reins.” The idea is better put across in this: when my heart was embittered and my feelings were aroused. Then, I was a fool and ignorant. We are to blame. As James warns us, “. . .every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts, and enticed.” (James 1:14) Our own hearts deceive us and the flesh urges it on. From a carnal viewpoint we begin to second guess God in His dealings with us and the world. The positive side of this is set forth in Philippians 4:11-13; “not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” After facing God in the sanctuary, we can say with Asaph (verses 24 and 29, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”
God is faithful! In our more or less frequent moods of disenchantment, when we are dissatisfied with our lot in life, when we are as beasts, ignorant and foolish before God, we must confess our shortcomings and lack of trust before God and rejoice in His faithfulness. This also Asaph realizes. Listen. “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.” He will never leave us or forsake us. Though we as His children often grumble and complain regarding our afflictions, trials, and lot in this life, our Father’s arms are always open. More! He holds us by our right hand even through the times when our feet well nigh slip. “God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (verse 26) Shall we make that our assurance? Then we return from the sanctuary with the words of Asaph in our hearts and upon our lips: “. . .Lo, they that are far from thee shall perish . . . But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God . . . .” Thus we live in His care, in His fear.