This psalm tackles the age old problem of why the innocent often suffer whilst the wicked prosper, but addresses it not as an intellectual problem but as a problem of the heart. “Heart” is a key word that crops up six times. It opens with a confident assertion of the truth (the conclusion in a sense), but it’s a truth which for a time the psalmist doubted and questioned, for it didn’t seem to ring true with his actual experience. But the psalm leads us to a vantage point that helps us look at things from a different and truer perspective that we might know with renewed confidence the wonderful goodness of God to his people. It’s a psalm that resonates with how all of us feel at times, and it leads us to deeper delight in God.
Envy of the wicked was what nearly caused him to lose his footing. The wicked seemed to have it all (“prosperity”) and be without all the problems and difficulties that others face (vv.4,5). Arrogance characterizes how they think about themselves, malice characterizes how they behave towards others, and towards God they show careless disregard. And yet they seem to prosper. Whilst in contrast the psalmist, who has endeavoured to live a godly life, is afflicted and seems to know God’s disciplining hand. “What’s the point?” he seems to be asking. Envy can distort what we see (the rich might appear to be more free of care or burdens than is actually the case, and we can think ourselves harder done by than we really are), but in part this is true picture of our world.
The psalmist hadn’t voiced his complaint in front of others, but in his heart he was deeply troubled and unsettled in his faith. As with our previous psalm, it was the sanctuary that provided the new perspective, the bigger truth that made sense of it all. Unlike Psalm 63 we aren’t told exactly what he “saw” – he too may have been reminded of God’s power and glory and wonderful love, as well as the reality of God and of our relationship with God. Eternal realities come into view which cast a very different light on the present.
Now he sees the underlying reality of the wicked and their ultimate destiny. No longer does it make any sense to envy the wicked, rather they are to be pitied. And his own lot now looks very different too. Now he sees how fortunate he is: what does he have in the here and now? God himself, ever with him, upholding him, guiding him, strengthening him, protecting him. And what awaits him in the future as he looks ahead to eternity? God himself, his “portion [ie allotted inheritance] forever”. Now he can say “earth has nothing I desire besides you” (something he certainly couldn’t have said before) because he understands the surpassing greatness of knowing God and being “near God”.