The Lessons Asaph Learned

February 15, 1998 / No. 2876

One of the most beautiful and comforting passages of God’s Word is found in Psalm 73:23-26. There we read these words of God: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

Psalm 73 was written by a man named Asaph. And in the psalm he records his experience, when, for a while, he questioned the ways of God. Asaph in the psalm, if you read it in its entirety, talks of the fact that he envied the wicked. He looked at the wicked and saw that, from an outward point of view, they prospered in the world and had everything that they could wish. Then he looked upon himself as one who served and trusted the Lord, and he saw that the Lord had been pleased to give to him afflictions and trials and plagues. For awhile he could not bring those two together. How could it be that he, as one who trusted in God, had been given nothing but affliction, sorrow, and trouble of heart, while apparently the wicked all around him were prospering and living in ease?

Then he tells us further that he went up to the temple of God, to the sanctuary. There God had corrected him. There God had given him to see things in the light of eternity. There he had been given to see that all those good things that God was giving to the wicked were not sent in God’s favor, but were things which were actually bringing the wicked down in judgment to destruction.

Then Asaph begins to speak of the positive lessons that he had learned through this experience. Those lessons are given to us in verses 23-26, the lessons that Asaph learned.

The first lesson that he learned was the amazing grace of God. We read in verse 23: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.” There is a note of amazement there. Amazement over the unfailing grace and faithfulness of God. It is as if Asaph is looking back over his life and saying, “I wouldn’t expect this; I would expect that if God were as I am He would have quit with me long ago. I was foolish; I was as a beast; I was blind, deaf, I murmured and complained; I questioned His judgments; I concluded that the way of God with respect to my life was all wrong. Yet, nevertheless, beyond expectation, and to my utter amazement, God did not forsake me. Despite my rebellion, despite my questioning, despite my discontent with the Lord’s way, I am continually with God.” Or, as he says, “Thou art continually with me.”

He is saying to us, “I understand now the amazing and unbelievable truth that God never forsakes His own, even when they are the least deserving of His favor. He was constantly and continually with me. I was far from Him; I was distrusting; I was murmuring, sulking, as a spoiled child. Yet, never once did God remove His faithfulness from me.” In fact, Asaph says, it was very intimate. “He held me by my right hand.” The picture is of a little child who is afraid and stubborn and intent on his own way, and of a patient father who holds that child by the hand and keeps that child. The idea of tenderness and strength and wisdom. “The almighty God never once left me. Look wherever I can at my life’s pathway; always He held me by my hand.”

Shall we not learn that same lesson today. Do we not, by faith and by grace, make this same confession ours? Perhaps you grew up under the doctrine of the grace of God. You were taught the covenant faithfulness of God. Perhaps you have sung the very beautiful song: “I sing of mercies that endure; forever builded firm and sure. Of faithfulness that never dies; established changeless in the skies.” What a wonderful truth, the truth that out of unconditional love God has entrusted us to Jesus Christ and will therefore never forsake us. Our souls are bound up with Him. What a wonderful truth: a truth that we were given to be in Christ so that we might never, ever, be forsaken of God. And now God, over all of our life, swears through His Son that He will never break that covenant oath with us; He will carry us all the day long in His own arms. Is that not a wonderful thing?

And that is amazing. It is amazing because we slip, we stumble, we fall. We spend so many of our days living as beasts. We think that the only things of value are the things of the earth. We doubt God and question His ways with us. Yet God always is faithful. He keeps us. He keeps us in all of our sorrows and fears. He keeps us before death and the grave. There is never a moment that He refuses to own us as His children. He takes us up in the arms of His covenant. Let that lesson flood our souls, the lesson of the amazing grace of God. God never forsakes His own.

But Asaph learned another lesson. He learned the lesson of the certain guidance of God for the future. He says in verse 24, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” Asaph learned that this was His assurance for all that was before him in the future. Notice that he says here: “Thou shalt guide me,” but he first said, “Thou hast holden me by my right hand.” That was in the past; thou hast holden me. Now he says, Thou shalt guide me. He is engaging in some holy reasoning. This is the reasoning behind it: Since God has shown His faithfulness in the past; since He has shown His amazing goodness to me in the past which never failed; therefore I may conclude and judge that He shall guide me in the future by His counsel and afterward receive me to glory.

You see, faith argues from what it knows of the past into the future. We know from the past that God has never forsaken any of His own. And He has never forsaken me. He has held me up. Therefore we may judge and make this confident assertion for the future: God will not change, and that means that for all the future He shall also guide me by His counsel, even till the point that He receives me up into the glory that He has planned for me in Jesus Christ. God has upheld me throughout the years of my life, through all of those trials which were many. Then God shall also guide me in whatever days are ahead of me, even till that moment that He receives me to glory.

Is there anything more wonderful than that? Asaph tells us of the fact that our days in the future will be under the control of the wisdom of God. They will be directed by God without error to the appointed end of our glory. That life, then, is not left to chance. A believer does not simply meander through this present time, trying to make his own way in life. Asaph is telling us that our life is not simply in the cards and that we should hope for the best. But we may have this assurance: God will guide us by His wonderful wisdom and counsel, and He will receive us to glory.

This is very personal. “Thou shalt guide me,” my days, my life, all that shall happen to me from this moment on, shall come to me from the hand of God, whether that is joy or sorrow, whether that is health or sickness, whether that is children or no children, whether that is marriage or single life, whether that is the days of a child or the loneliness of a widow. God will guide me by His counsel. “Thou shalt guide me.”

In those words God declares that He is God; that He is almighty; and that He shall ever be God unto us. He is not a God who is afar off, but He holds all things in His hands, and His hands guide according to His own heart. The hand of God directs us even as His heart has chosen and purposed for us. He will be our guide; He knows the way; He is able to keep us on that way. He loves us for His own name’s sake. What will happen to us in the future? What will be the stresses and demands that come to us in our lives? What sorrows and difficulties await us in the days that are before us? We do not know. But we do know this: God will guide us by His perfect counsel and wisdom and afterward He will receive us to glory. That is the goal.

God tells us that His counsel, or His plan for our life, always has a definite goal or purpose which He is attaining. That is eternal glory, and He never loses sight of His goal. His goal is glory, the glory of Jesus Christ reflected in us. Glory. He shall guide me even unto glory.

Glory is the place where all the love and mercy and grace and goodness and holiness of God will simply fill us. And we will be as polished mirrors to reflect it all back to Him.

Glory is the place where sin and sighing are forever gone, when we shall awake and cry: My God, how wonderful Thou art; Thy majesty how bright; how beautiful Thy mercy seat in depths of burning light!

Glory. By God’s grace, God will direct our steps in the future towards our eternal home.

That is what Asaph learned. He learned of the certain guidance of God for the future. Shall we learn that with him?

Perhaps you are afraid. Perhaps you are afraid of tomorrow. Perhaps you dread the future. Child of God, you are looking to yourself. You are looking only to the earthly. You are looking only at man. Look to God, the mighty God, the God who has held and upheld you throughout the days of your life. As He has been faithful in the past, so this mighty God will guide you by a perfect counsel even unto glory.

There was a third lesson that Asaph had learned through all of his sufferings and trials. That lesson was this: he learned to confess God as his only desire and strength. We read in verses 25 and 26: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” He is saying that he has learned through his sufferings to desire nothing but God. God is now everything to him. Having God, he finds that all of his wants cease. All I need is to be found in God and, having Him, I am satisfied. Is that true for you?

Asaph has learned, then, not to expect earthly things or things of this present life to be the things which will satisfy him, but to look upon God personally as his satisfaction. He found in God complete sufficiency for every need, complete sufficiency for every hour and every duty that was placed before him. God was his all. And, having God, he knew that there was nothing that he could yet desire on earth. He was content in having God. Knowing God in all of His glory and greatness, that satisfied him perfectly in this life.

Is that true for you?

Still more. Asaph says that not only is God his desire, but God is also his strength. He says in verse 26, “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

Our God remembers that we are on the earth and that we are frail and we are weak and that death passes upon us, so that the end of our earthly life is the grave and man is nothing but dust. Our flesh is weak. It is always plagued with the curse of sin and constantly it is decaying and heading towards the grave. Our earthly life is only like a shadow which is quickly passing. And our hearts faint within us. We can become overwhelmed with worries and with cares. Our hearts can become paralyzed with fears and doubts. We stagger, we faint, and our courage fails within us.

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever, says Asaph. The believer’s heart, then, is not weak, because God is the strength of his heart. God causes faith to keep our hearts beating. God preserves us by His wonderful Spirit so that we may say, Our hope is on Jehovah stayed; in Him our hearts are joyful made; our help and shield is He. Our trust is in His holy name; Thy mercy, Lord, in faith we claim as we have hoped in Thee.

That is the beautiful word of God to us today.

The lessons that Asaph learned, in the way of deep trial and suffering, he learned in such a way that they were riveted to his own heart. Those lessons were these: God’s amazing grace in which God never forsook him; God’s perfect guidance for all the future; and God as his only satisfaction and all-sufficient strength.

Do you believe these things?

Do you confess these things by a wonder of God’s grace? Do you say, “Yea, Lord, I believe these things. Help Thou my unbelief”? Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Guide and our Savior? All who believe this shall never faint or fail. Having this God as your God, there is nothing that you can yet desire.

God take His precious Word and bind it now to our heart.

Let us pray.

Our Father we pray that the lessons that Asaph learned through his suffering and trial may also be lessons that we daily learn. We are in need of these lessons day after day, for we are forgetful and we doubt Thee and are discouraged and despair. Teach us, O God, Thy amazing grace and faithfulness. Teach us that Thou art our perfect Guide for all the future. And teach us that Thou alone art sufficient for us and that Thou hast sworn to be our strength. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.