Psalm 73, 2 Samuel 12: 1 – 23 and Colossians 3: 1 – 17
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my feet had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Psalm 73: 2 – 3
Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? 2 Samuel 12: 9a
Set your minds on things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3: 2
Last Sunday I posed the question following the demise of Saul, as to whether David would be a better king. David, like all human beings, had flaws in his character, exacerbated when he became king because of the prestige and power that went with the position. The arrogance that crept into his character is seen, sadly, in the preceding chapter (2 Samuel 11), with the well-known account of David’s lust for Bathsheba, and the ends to which he went to eliminate her husband, Uriah, so he could possess her for himself.
The lyrical, inspired worship of many of David’s psalms, shows him at his best. But Psalm 51 is one of contrition, preserved for posterity with the heading showing it was written after Nathan the prophet had challenged him over his behaviour (as described in the first part of our reading from 2 Samuel 12). David recognises his sin against God and prays for a clean heart and a new and right spirit. Our psalm for this evening, Psalm 73, is different again. Written by Asaph, it shows a darker subject of why the wicked seem to prosper, and explains why it was so easy for David to fall into the trap of thinking he could possess Bathsheba, behaving with arrogance and contempt for Uriah’s life. It is one of those psalms to which we can all relate, where the first half describes the ascendancy of the wicked, with all their success and prosperity, ease of life and lack of worry. Is all our effort to lead lives worthy of God, with all the pleasures of the world we forgo, worth all the effort? The answer comes part way through the psalm in verse 17, and is one of my favourite turning points in scripture. The psalmist’s entire jaded view of the injustices of life are put into a new perspective when he enters the sanctuary of God. The experience of encountering God in a fresh way turns his entire view of life in a different direction. He realises he was embittered, stupid and arrogant (verses 21 and 22). By verse 25 he has put aside worldly assurances and looks to God alone. Finally, there is recognition in verse 27 that the successful, the materialistic and the hedonists will perish because they are far from God.
Paul opens the third chapter of Colossians reminding his readers that they have been lifted up from all that is evil and sordid in this world, raised with Christ. They are now to seek the things that are above, reminiscent of Matthew 6: 33, where Jesus says, ‘But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’. We are to absorb our minds with heavenly priorities and ‘put to death’ earthly vices (verse 5): fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). In contrast, because our lives have been renewed, we are to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (verse 12). Above all, Paul tells us in verse 14, we are to clothe ourselves in love, which binds us all together. Paul continues that we should let Christ’s peace rule in our hearts, and the word of Christ dwell in us richly. It is the guiding principles of God’s word, the Bible, which should direct our paths and show us how to relate to the world with all its attractions and temptations.
Sometimes we may think the Old Testament can be rather violent, but I hope we have seen how human weakness in a Biblical hero can be changed and restored, and that the psalms can also speak into so many everyday experiences that are relevant to the temptations and hazards weface in life. As we have seen in recent weeks in Paul’s epistles, they too point us to Jesus Christ as the bedrock of our faith and the example to follow. Paul has given us much valuable advice in Christian living, which I trust has helped us ponder how we cope with the quandaries of existing in an imperfect world, stumbling and groaning as it is for the day when Christ returns. May we be ready, clothed with his love and faithful to his word, when that day comes.