God - Our Glory and Portion (Psalm 73:23-26)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (13:35)

Please read Psalm 73 in your Bible before you consider my comments.

Praise in the Temple
Praise in the Temple. Detail of James Tissot, 'Solomon Dedicates the Temple,' Jewish Museum, New York.

We can be so petty, we Christian workers. We often struggle with not enough money. Too often we feel sorry for ourselves. But Psalm 73 puts it all in perspective for us.

This psalm is written by a Christian worker of Bible days, the days when the gold leaf of Solomon's temple shone in all its glory.1 The author is Asaph, a Levite, a psalmist, and progenitor of a family of temple singers.2 In spite of all the grandeur of the temple in which he serves, Asaph's life is a struggle. Temple service doesn't pay much. Kind of like church work. Or the job you may labor at -- or maybe used to labor at.

I'll skip the parts of the psalm where Asaph is tempted by what he perceives as the luxurious life of the wealthy and ungodly (verses 2-16). However, one day when he enters God's sanctuary (verse 17), it dawns upon him that the rich in this life have no future. Rather, he is the truly rich one. He had it backwards all this time. Let's pick up the psalm at verse 23 where Asaph begins to reflect on his true blessings.

"23  Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24  You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26  My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:23-26, NIV)

The Comfort of God's Intimate Presence (Psalm 73:23-24a)

When we've made it through a year of Covid isolation, we begin to realize that what we long for most is not what money will buy, but the precious ties of family. And Asaph's relationship with God is, oh, so precious to him.

" 23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24a You guide me with your counsel...." (Psalm 73:23-24a)

Asaph begins by looking at his present blessings.

Presence (verse 23a). Asaph marvels, "I am always with you." God never forsakes him. Yahweh is with us -- "always" (NIV), "continually" (ESV, NRSV, KJV). The Hebrew word is tāmîd, "continuity, continuance, unceasingness."3 We say with the psalmist:

"Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." (Psalm 46:2)

The structures of life around us -- the people, loved ones, our jobs, our security -- all these can change suddenly, even unalterably. But God never forsakes us. Along with Asaph, we say to the Lord, "I am always with you." Even death can't change that!

Strength (verse 23b). God's presence steadies us. Asaph assures us:

"You hold4 me by my right hand." (verse 23b)

As we get older, balance becomes unsteady. When walking over rough ground and up steps, the hand of a friend is especially welcome. In the struggles of life, when we start to stumble, God's strong hand takes hold of ours and steadies us, giving us confidence that we won't fall.

Guidance (verse 24a). And God is there to give us wisdom when we are upset and floundering and lost.

"You guide me with your counsel." (verse 24a)

What do we do when the ground moves beneath us? When everything suddenly changes? We turn to God to guide us. The verb suggests conducting one along the right path,5 herding sheep who are lost in the wilderness, and taking them to green pastures and still brooks where there is safety and food and cold, clear water. The Shepherd guide us with good advice, good counsel.6 Wisdom -- that's what we need in confusing times.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all
without finding fault,
and it will be given to him." (James 1:5)

You may not know what to do next, but your Shepherd knows. Ask him to guide you and he will.

The Promise of a Glorious Future in Heaven (Psalm 73:24b-26)

God is with us to help us now. But in days to come, his unfailing hands will guide us into his eternal Kingdom. Now Asaph begins to look beyond this life to the next. I love verse 24b:

"And afterward you will take (lāqaḥ7) me into glory."

Glory (verse 24b). This is a remarkable verse. Compared to the clarity of eternal life in the New Testament, many of the Old Testament writers don't seem to have much understanding of an eternal afterlife with God. It hasn't been revealed as yet. But here and there this truth shines through with brilliance. Our psalm is one of those places; God will welcome us into his presence and his glory when we die.8

Surely, the Hebrew verb lāqaḥ, "take" (NIV) or "receive" (ESV, KJV), can bear this meaning. It is said of Enoch:

"Enoch walked with God,
and he was not,
for God took (lāqaḥ) him." (Genesis 5:24)

Another psalmist proclaims,

"But God will redeem my life from the grave;
he will surely take (lāqaḥ) me to himself." (Psalm 49:15)

Job saw this, as well.

"I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes --
I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27)

Jesus, too, longed for this.

"Father, I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory,
the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the creation of the world." (John 17:24)

Heart's Desire (verse 25). Asaph is no longer hungry for what earth can offer. His small temple income no longer concerns him.

" 24b Afterward you will take me into glory.
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you." (Psalm 73:24-25)

We learn as we go through life that in the end possessions and fame are empty trophies. What really counts is relationships -- the love of family, the love of God. And if we live long enough, we begin to outlive even those family ties. Ultimately, a growing love for the Lord becomes our focus.

Asaph is looking from the platform of this world into the next life. He loves the Lord, and longs for him. The pull of earth's possessions and relationships has weakened for Asaph, and his desire, his emotional delight,9 is now focused on the Lord. "Earth has nothing I desire besides you," he cries (verse 25b).

Inheritance (verse 26). Finally, Asaph looks forward to his body faltering, slowing down, his physical life ending.

"My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26)

Usually, as life winds to a close, people are concerned about wills and trusts, what their heirs might inherit. But Asaph is looking forward to the inheritance that he will receive. "Portion" in the Old Testament often refers to "share, part, territory."10 The word is used of sections of the land of Canaan that God portioned out to each of the tribes of Israel as their inheritance. But Asaph's tribe did not receive, did not inherit any tribal lands. Rather, the Lord tells the tribe of Levi, the priests and Levites,

"I am your portion and your inheritance." (Numbers 18:20b)

That's true of us, too, we Gentile believers. Our portion, our inheritance, my friend, is much greater than houses and lands. It is,

"The riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18)

"The inheritance of the saints in light." (Colossians 1:12)

Our portion consists of eternal life spent in the presence of God and of the Lamb. The Book of Revelation describes it as the holy city -- streets paved with gold, giant pearls for gates, the light of God's glory instead of lampposts, and the River of Life flowing out from under the throne to bring healing to the nations. But surely these are all extravagant symbols that represent something more, something greater. Someone who is beyond description. And we will be there with our Lord, basking in his indescribable glory. "We shall see his face" (Revelation 22:4). That, my friends, is the inheritance we have to look forward to. We say, with Asaph, you, Lord, are "my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26c). You are my inheritance!

So if you're a Christian worker paid a pittance by your church, don't fret. Perhaps you're a farmer or business owner or employee trying to make ends meet in the midst of a global pandemic. Perhaps you've lost your job, closed your business. Jesus is still your Provider. He is with you in this. He walks alongside you.

And in the big picture, these struggles are of no lasting consequence. For we know the unceasing presence of Jesus, the strength of his hand, and the comfort of his voice. We look forward to his glory, to being with Him who is our heart's desire, and to our glorious inheritance in the saints.

And we affirm what our brother Paul shared with the Corinthian believers so long ago.

"16  We do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
17  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
18  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Prayer

Father, refocus our eyes to see eternal things. Help us to see you through the mist of our daily struggles. Help our hands to reach out to you afresh. Help our hearts to long for you anew, with ever increasing desire. And we thank you that our lives are "hid with Christ in God."11 We thank you in Jesus' name. Amen.

Endnotes

Unless otherwise noted, the text is from the New International Version (NIV)
References and Abbreviations

[1] 1 Kings 6:22.

[2] Asaph is called "Asaph the Seer" (2 Chronicles 29:30). He founded the temple choir as chief musician (1 Chronicles 15:17-19; 1 Chronicles 16:4-7, 37-38). he is credited with writing a number of psalms (Psalms 50, 73-83).

[3] Tāmîd, TWOT #1157a; Holladay, p. 391, 1.

[4] "Hold" is the Qal perfect of the verb ʾāḥaz, "lay hold of, seize, hold fast" (Holladay, pp. 9-10; TWOT #63).

[5] "Guide" is the Hiphil imperfect of nāḥâ, "lead, guide," representing the conducting of one along the right path (TWOT #1341; Holladay, p. 233).

[6] "Counsel" is ʿēṣâ, "counsel, purpose," from the verb yāʿaṣ, "advise, to give counsel, deliberate purpose, determine" (TWOT #887a).

[7] "Take into" (NIV), "receive to" (ESV, KJV, NASB), "receive with" (NRSV) is the Qal imperfect of the extremely common verb lāqaḥ, "take, get, fetch, receive" (TWOT #1124).

[8] Of course, it is possible that Asaph meant, "afterward you will receive me with honor" (NRSV), some kind of temporal honor. (So Beth Tanner in Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner, The Book of Psalms (New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT); Eerdmans, 2014) p. 588, fn. 25; p. 592). Hebrew kâbôd can refer to honor offered a human being as well as the inexpressible glory of God's presence. But the context here suggests looking beyond this earth and this life to heaven and one's eternal inheritance. So I take the adverb "afterward" as "after this life is over," rather than after some test or struggle that is just a chapter in one's life. ʾAḥar here means "after, afterwards" (of time) (TWOT #68b). Tremper Longman III observes, "It seems likely that the psalmist himself harbored an eternal hope, and it is certain that, by the time of the New Testament, readers would (and did) read this language as indicating eternal life" (Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 2014), p. 277)

[9] "Desire" is the Qal perfect of ḥāpēṣ, "take delight in, be pleased with, desire." The basic meaning is to feel great favor towards something, "to experience emotional delight" (Leon J. Wood, TWOT #712).

[10] "Portion" is ḥēleq, "share, part, territory," from ḥālaq, "share, divide, allot, apportion, assign" (Donald J. Wiseman, TWOT #669a).

[11] Colossians 3:3, KJV.

Copyright © 2021, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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