So far in our treatment of the Psalms versus common grace, we have looked at Psalms 5 and 11, both penned by David. Now we turn to Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph.
Asaph observed "the prosperity of the wicked" (3). They enjoy good health (4), experience little hardship in life (5), "increase in riches" (12) and "have more than heart could wish" (7). Yet they are draped with pride and clothed with violence (6) and they "speak loftily" (8) and "set their mouth against the heavens" (9), asking "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" (11).
Asaph was jealous of them: "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (3). Listen to his lament: "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning" (13-14). "I seek to follow the Lord," reasoned Asaph, "but all I receive is daily chastening. Why don’t I prosper and grow wealthy? Why should I bother living a godly life?" He nearly apostatized: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped" (2)!
What was Asaph’s problem? He believed in common grace. Asaph thought that the material prosperity of the wicked meant that God loved them and blessed them, and, since he was not wealthy like them, he was not loved or blessed by God—at least not as much as he should be.
Notice where Asaph’s problem was resolved: "I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (17). He began to think straight again when he met with the Holy One in His dwelling place. This happens today when foolish Christians envious at the prosperous wicked and/or confused by the false doctrine of common grace come to believe the teaching of faithful churches concerning God’s uncommon grace—His sovereign, particular and irresistible grace in the cross of Jesus Christ alone.
What was it that Asaph came to understand? "their end" (17), where they were headed: eternal punishment in hell. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (18-19). The ungodly are like men walking on ice or "slippery places" (18). All the good things that they receive from God in His providence (health, money, well-paying jobs, big cars, fine houses) are so many weights that they carry on the ice, making it all the easier to slip and fall into destruction. Notice too that it is God Himself who pushes them over and throws them into hell: "thou castedst them down into destruction" (18). It all happens "in a moment!" (19). How fearful!
Asaph now understood that their earthly prosperity did not prove that God loves them and blesses them. Instead, Jehovah "despises" them (20)! The Most High sets them in slippery places until He shoves them and they fall into the bottomless pit. "How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (19).
When Asaph came to his senses, he felt ashamed of his former unbelief and stupidity: "Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee" (21-22).
Asaph’s faith is renewed and he testifies of God’s goodness to him. No matter if he is rich or poor, God is graciously present with him (23). This is Asaph’s living hope: "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (24). Listen to his wonderful confession of trust and hope in the Lord: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (25-26).
The opening verse of the Psalm sums it all up: "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart" (1). Jehovah’s goodness to Israel is His love, favour and grace towards them in Jesus Christ, irrespective of worldly wealth or poverty. Israel is further defined as those who "are of a clean heart" (1) and not the prosperous wicked in Israel who "perish" (27) and whom Asaph used to envy (3). Christian ministers and all Jehovah’s people should emulate Asaph by drawing near to God in order to "declare all [His] works" (28), including His work of providence in His justice (not grace) towards the prosperous wicked and His righteous destruction of them (27).
For more on Psalm 73, I would strongly recommend Prof. David Engelsma’s fine book, Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints (available from the CPRC Bookstore for £6.60, inc. P & P), as the best and most thorough exposition of Psalm 73 that I have read.
The same point made in Psalm 73 is stated more briefly in Psalm 92:5-9. The wicked are flourishing, springing up like grass (7): growing tall and green; growing fast; filled with life and vitality; healthy, beautiful and secure. Surely, common grace reckons, this is a proof and demonstration of God’s love for the ungodly: "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is because God loves them and is gracious to them and is blessing them."
But what saith the Scripture? "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" (7). This is God’s intention and purpose and goal when He gives his enemies material prosperity. He is preparing them for hell: "it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" (7). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). Tremble before Him! "For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered" (Ps. 92:9). You who are unbelieving, turn to Jesus Christ or you will perish everlastingly!
Those who do not see God’s purpose and intention in giving good things to the wicked—namely, their eternal destruction—are spiritually senseless and ignorant: "A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this" (6; cf. Ps. 73:22).
But the righteous who believe God’s Word, praise Him for His wisdom in destroying the wicked through their earthly prosperity: "O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep" (Ps. 92:5). In rejecting the false explanation of the prosperity of the wicked that is offered by the theory of common grace (7), we justify the omnipotent, righteous, wise and eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: "But thou, Lord, art most high for evermore" (8). Rev. Stewart
Job: History or Allegory? (1)
One of our readers asked the following question about the nature of the book of Job: "Is the book of Job a true story or an allegory?"
There is no question about it that the book of Job records true history. This is proved by James 5:11: "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." The historicity of Job himself and therefore of the book that goes by his name is also proved from Ezekiel 14:14: "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it [i.e., the land of Judah], they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God." Like Ezekiel 14:14, verses 16 and 18 also refer to "these three men," not these two men (Noah and Daniel) plus a figure merely mentioned in an allegory (Job). Ezekiel 14:20 repeats the three names given in verse 14: "Noah, Daniel, and Job."
The book is also infallibly and verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this respect, the book has something unique about its inspiration. Two things about its inspiration ought to be noticed.
First, the speeches of the three friends, Elihu’s speech, Job’s speeches and God’s final speech were not spoken precisely as they are recorded in the book of Job. All these speeches as recorded in our Bibles are in poetry; as they were spoken (with the possible exception of God’s speech) they were probably not spoken in poetry.
Second, there is a difference in the character of the inspiration. All that the three friends and some of what Job said were not inspired as to content. That is, what they said is not the Word of God in the sense that their words contain divine truth. Surely Job’s cursing of the day of his birth was wrong of Job and does not give us a rule for our faith and life. What the friends said was, for the most part, wicked, for they accused Job unjustly. So these parts of the book are not inspired as to content. They are, however, inspired as to the accuracy of what these friends said.
Even though the speeches were most likely not spoken in poetry, the poetic form of these speeches is wholly and completely accurate. It is the Spirit’s repetition of what each man said. It accurately conveys the contents of each man’s speech.
Parts of the book are inspired also as to content. The historical parts were so inspired; some of Job’s words were so inspired, for example, Job 19:25-27, a passage that ministers of the gospel have correctly held up to the people of God as proof for the bodily resurrection of Christ and as an expression of our hope of the resurrection of our bodies. It appears as if Elihu’s speech was also inspired as to content, and certainly this was true of God’s final and conclusive word.
But all this does not alter in any respect the divine inspiration of this book. There are other parts of Scripture in which wicked men spoke that are inspired as to the accuracy of what they said, but are not inspired as to content. Surely at the time of the trial of our Lord, the words of Caiaphas, of the Sanhedrin and of Pilate were not inspired as to content. But they are totally accurate as to form: they truly were said as they are presented in sacred Scripture.
We know that what the Holy Spirit inspires is completely without error, for He cannot err, being God Himself. We do not know whom the Spirit used to write the book of Job, but it may very well have been Job himself. He did not write the book during the exchange of speeches, but only after it was all over. God told him what to write so that it accurately reproduced what was said in the lengthy speeches; but God the Holy Spirit did this in the form of poetry.
That it was written in poetry does not subtract from its verbal inspiration either, for the Psalms and other parts of Scripture were also written in poetry. This is one of Scripture’s unparalleled beauties: there are many different genera of writings, but all are infallibly and verbally inspired.
The purpose of the book is defined by James: It is a demonstration of Job’s patience in suffering, which we are called to emulate; and it is a promise that, because of the mercy and pity of our God towards us in our sufferings, He makes our sufferings serve our salvation (James 5:11).
It might be worth our while to mention that it is higher critics of Scripture
who claim that the book of Job is an allegory. But they have an axe to grind.
For some evil reason, they do not believe that Job (who lived during the time of
Abraham) could possibly know anything, at such an early date in the history of
revelation, about the resurrection of the body. Hence, when they come to Job
19:25-27, they give an entirely different translation of the text that
eliminates the idea of Job’s confession of the resurrection. There are various
such translations around, and the interested reader may consult them. The
translation of the KJV is correct. Prof. Hanko
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