Perversity and Prosperity
(8) They mock and speak with malice. Proudly they speak of (threaten) oppression. (9) They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. (10) Therefore, people turn to them, drinking up all their words, (11) and they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” (12) Behold, these (are) the wicked. Always at ease, they increase in wealth. (13) Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence, (14) for I have been stricken all the day long and reproved every morning.
This segment opens with an emphasis on the corrupt communication of the wicked. Twice Asaph uses the word for “speak,” first with “malice” and then accompanied by “oppression” (vs. 8). The synonym, “mock,” is also included in this verse to describe their attitude in speaking. In the next statement we find synonymous terms: “their mouths...their tongues” (vs. 9). The psalmist then provides an example of how they question God’s omniscience using two words from the same root, the verb “to know” and the noun for “knowledge” (vs. 11).
Verse 10 is difficult to translate. A literal rendering of the Hebrew would read, “Therefore his people return to this place, and waters of abundance are drunk by them” (as in the NASV). The translation offered above is an effort to capture the significance of the verse, namely, that many give credence to what the wicked say because they appear prosperous even though their message contradicts the truth of God’s Word. One final word to note is “stricken” (vs. 14). In the previous segment, Asaph complains that the wicked are not “stricken” with trouble as are the rest of humanity (vs. 5). Here he describes himself as “stricken” all day long.
I. The complacency of the wicked (8-12)
II. The complaint of the righteous (13 & 14)
The wicked who mock God and his people seem to prosper while the righteous who seek to honor God suffer.
“Comparisons” is a game all of us are tempted to play from time to time. The way we play is to measure our lives against the lives of those around us. When we do this, we always seem to end up on the losing side. We all know that this is a game we should never play, but we cannot seem to help ourselves, especially when we see the ungodly prosper and the righteous (like ourselves) suffer. Asaph was particularly vexed by the prosperity of those who openly mock God when measured against the comparative poverty of God’s people.
Just before World War I, a missionary couple returned to the USA after having served for many years in the jungles of Africa. In those days, everyone had to make the trip across the Atlantic in an ocean going vessel. A well-known political figure happened to be on the same liner, only he was traveling in first class with an entourage while the missionaries could only afford a small cabin in the steerage section. When the ship docked in New York City, a band was playing and a large crowd was on hand to greet the famous politician after his safari. As they stood together watching the festivities from the deck, the husband could not help but complain to his wife, “Just look at the reception that man is getting! We sacrifice forty years of our lives to bring light to the darkest part of Africa, and no one is here to welcome us when we get home.” The wife smiled and responded gently, “Dear, we are not yet home!”
Jesus warned his disciples the night before he went to the cross, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). On earth, we live among those who seem to flourish in spite of their indifference or outright hostility to the Gospel. We who love the Lord must be reminded regularly that God is in control despite all outward appearances to the contrary. He will one day reward those who live faithfully for him. In the next segment of this psalm, we will see that Asaph learned this important truth as well.