DUNCAN/The ends

DUNCAN/The ends


If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Psalm 73. This great Psalm is the story of a bitter and even a despairing search by a believer in Israel, which has now been rewarded far beyond all of his expectations. The opening verse of this song declares the biblical truth that is going to be sorely tested by the psalmist’s experience in this world. The psalmist in Psalm 73 is asking some of the most searching questions that a distressed Christian could possibly ask. Questions like, “Well, why did God allow that?” or “Why did God do that?” or “How could that have happened in the world that was created by the good and sovereign God?” You see, God’s government of this world is filled with insoluble mysteries because He has not revealed to us the secrets of His mind; but He has revealed to us that He is good.

This Psalm breaks into two parts with an introductory verse. Verse 1 serves as the initial theological statement by which the whole Psalm is understood. Then, verses 2 – 14 give us this conundrum, this predicament, this problem which is faced by the psalmist. He looks around at the wicked and he sees them prospering. He looks around at the righteous — in fact, he looks at himself, and he sees himself weighed down by troubles, and he questions the goodness of God.

The second half of the Psalm, verses 15 – 28, gives us the solution to the conundrum that he is facing. 

I. The Conundrum 

We can summarize the first part of the Psalm by looking at verse 3 and verse 12. Look at what the psalmist says: “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” And then in verse 12: “Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth.” The psalmist looks around and he is envious of those who are not committed to God. Why? Because they are prospering, because they are the recipients of great wealth and blessing, and gifts and talents in abundance, and it provokes in him envy and consternation. Here’s the problem: the problem is that the wicked often enjoy blessings in this life — indeed, the wicked often enjoy more of the blessings of this life than those committed to God — and so it raises this problem in the psalmist’s heart. How can God be said to be uniquely good to those who are committed to Him when the wicked are enjoying these blessings?

But it also causes an experiential problem in his heart, and the experiential problem is this: He is looking at worldlings and he is looking at circumstances, and he is measuring the goodness of God by worldlings and by circumstances. He is taking stock of the goodness of God by his interpretation of providence.

But it doesn’t stop there, does it? It gets worse! Look at verses 13 – 14. Here’s the other problem that we run into in the first half of the Psalm: “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long, and chastened every morning.” So he’s not only envious of the prosperous wicked and consternated by the fact that those who aren’t committed to God experience blessings in this world. He looks at his own life and he is bitter, and he’s confused, and he’s consternated because of his own circumstances. He says, “All of this commitment to God has got me nothing! Hasn’t done me a bit of good! I have washed my hands, I have kept clean, I’ve followed the way of truth and righteousness in vain. Hasn’t done me a bit of good.”

You see, he looks out and he not only sees the prosperity of the wicked, but he sees those committed to God openly experience great distress and chastening in life. His problem here is self-focus. He is totally focused on himself, and that’s how he is going to measure the goodness of God. He’s looking at his hard personal circumstances and he’s going to measure God’s goodness by them and it’s a complete failure.

II. The Solution 

But then the second part of the Psalm comes to our rescue. Isn’t it interesting how God lets this psalmist utter these thoughts before Him, and then He corrects them? And the key to this second half of the Psalm will be found in verses 15 – 17. In those verses you will find the key that explains the principle that you learned in verse 1, in the context of believers facing grievous trials. The psalmist cries, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus’; behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God. Then I perceived their end.”

What’s the key there? “Until I came into the sanctuary of God.” What happens when you’re in the sanctuary? You worship God. What is worship called in the Bible? It’s called a lot of things. One of them is drawing near to God. Now, what was the principle that we learned in verse 1? “That God is good to Israel.” So what did he learn in drawing near to God? He tells you in verse 28, “That God Himself is the good to Israel.” When he drew near to God, he suddenly realized that God is the goodness that cannot be taken away from those who are committed to God. You can take their houses away, you can take their families away, you can take their friendships away, you can take their livelihoods away, you can take their lives away, but you cannot take God away from them, because He is the good of His people. And it’s right there in the worship service that it suddenly dawns on this man, and what dawns on him is that the wicked never experience that good. They may have bigger houses, bigger bank accounts, bigger cars, more land, more fun — as the world estimates it — but they don’t have the one goodness that matters: fellowship with the living God, communion with the living God, nearness to the living God. They never, ever, experience that, and that leads him to notice their end.

Suddenly he realized the ends. If you were wondering why in the world this was entitled “The Ends” instead of “The End,” it’s because there are two. There is one end of the wicked and there is one end of the righteous. And that end of the wicked will not involve nearness to God in blessings. But the end of the righteous, no matter what his experience in this world, will involve eternal communion and fellowship with the living God. Now this psalmist’s questions about providence were never answered, but his questions about the goodness of God were emphatically answered, and so are ours. 

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