March 2010 • Volume XII, Issue 23
The Psalms Versus Common Grace (3)
So far in our treatment of the Psalms versus common
grace, we have looked at Psalms 5 and 11, both penned by David. Now we
turn to Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph.
Asaph observed "the prosperity of the wicked" (3).
They enjoy good health (4), experience little hardship in life (5),
"increase in riches" (12) and "have more than heart could wish" (7). Yet
they are draped with pride and clothed with violence (6) and they "speak
loftily" (8) and "set their mouth against the heavens" (9), asking "How
doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" (11).
Asaph was jealous of them: "I was envious at the
foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (3). Listen to his
lament: "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in
innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every
morning" (13-14). "I seek to follow the Lord," reasoned Asaph, "but all
I receive is daily chastening. Why don’t I prosper and grow wealthy? Why
should I bother living a godly life?" He nearly apostatized: "But as for
me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped" (2)!
What was Asaph’s problem? He believed in common
grace. Asaph thought that the material prosperity of the wicked meant
that God loved them and blessed them, and, since he was not wealthy like
them, he was not loved or blessed by God—at least not as much as he
Notice where Asaph’s problem was resolved: "I
went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (17). He
began to think straight again when he met with the Holy One in His
dwelling place. This happens today when foolish Christians envious at
the prosperous wicked and/or confused by the false doctrine of common
grace come to believe the teaching of faithful churches concerning God’s
uncommon grace—His sovereign, particular and irresistible grace in
the cross of Jesus Christ alone.
What was it that Asaph came to understand? "their
end" (17), where they were headed: eternal punishment in hell. "Surely
thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into
destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they
are utterly consumed with terrors" (18-19). The ungodly are like men
walking on ice or "slippery places" (18). All the good things that they
receive from God in His providence (health, money, well-paying jobs, big
cars, fine houses) are so many weights that they carry on the ice,
making it all the easier to slip and fall into destruction. Notice too
that it is God Himself who pushes them over and throws them into hell: "thou
castedst them down into destruction" (18). It all happens "in a moment!"
(19). How fearful!
Asaph now understood that their earthly prosperity
did not prove that God loves them and blesses them. Instead, Jehovah
"despises" them (20)! The Most High sets them in slippery places until
He shoves them and they fall into the bottomless pit. "How are they
brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with
When Asaph came to his senses, he felt ashamed of his
former unbelief and stupidity: "Thus my heart was grieved, and I was
pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast
before thee" (21-22).
Asaph’s faith is renewed and he testifies of God’s
goodness to him. No matter if he is rich or poor, God is graciously
present with him (23). This is Asaph’s living hope: "Thou shalt guide me
with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (24). Listen to his
wonderful confession of trust and hope in the Lord: "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" (25-26).
The opening verse of the Psalm sums it all up: "Truly
God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart" (1).
Jehovah’s goodness to Israel is His love, favour and grace towards them
in Jesus Christ, irrespective of worldly wealth or poverty. Israel is
further defined as those who "are of a clean heart" (1) and not the
prosperous wicked in Israel who "perish" (27) and whom Asaph used to
envy (3). Christian ministers and all Jehovah’s people should emulate
Asaph by drawing near to God in order to "declare all [His] works" (28),
including His work of providence in His justice (not grace) towards the
prosperous wicked and His righteous destruction of them (27).
For more on Psalm 73, I would strongly recommend
Prof. David Engelsma’s fine book,
Prosperous Wicked and Plagued
Saints (available from the CPRC Bookstore for £6.60, inc. P & P), as
the best and most thorough exposition of Psalm 73 that I have read.
The same point made in Psalm 73 is stated more
briefly in Psalm 92:5-9. The wicked are flourishing, springing up like
grass (7): growing tall and green; growing fast; filled with life and
vitality; healthy, beautiful and secure. Surely, common grace reckons,
this is a proof and demonstration of God’s love for the ungodly: "When
the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do
flourish; it is because God loves them and is gracious to them and is
But what saith the Scripture? "When the wicked spring
as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is
that they shall be destroyed for ever" (7). This is God’s intention
and purpose and goal when He gives his enemies material prosperity. He
is preparing them for hell: "it is that they shall be destroyed for
ever" (7). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living
God" (Heb. 10:31). Tremble before Him! "For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord,
for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall
be scattered" (Ps. 92:9). You who are unbelieving, turn to Jesus Christ
or you will perish everlastingly!
Those who do not see God’s purpose and intention in
giving good things to the wicked—namely, their eternal destruction—are
spiritually senseless and ignorant: "A brutish man knoweth not; neither
doth a fool understand this" (6; cf. Ps. 73:22).
But the righteous who believe God’s Word, praise Him for His wisdom
in destroying the wicked through their earthly prosperity: "O Lord, how
great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep" (Ps. 92:5). In
rejecting the false explanation of the prosperity of the wicked that is
offered by the theory of common grace (7), we justify the omnipotent,
righteous, wise and eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:
"But thou, Lord, art most high for evermore" (8). Rev. Stewart
Job: History or Allegory? (1)
One of our readers asked the following question about
the nature of the book of Job: "Is the book of Job a true story or an
There is no question about it that the book of Job
records true history. This is proved by James 5:11: "Behold, we count
them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have
seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender
mercy." The historicity of Job himself and therefore of the book that
goes by his name is also proved from Ezekiel 14:14: "Though these three
men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it [i.e., the land of Judah], they
should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the
Lord God." Like Ezekiel 14:14, verses 16 and 18 also refer to "these
three men," not these two men (Noah and Daniel) plus a figure merely
mentioned in an allegory (Job). Ezekiel 14:20 repeats the three names
given in verse 14: "Noah, Daniel, and Job."
The book is also infallibly and verbally inspired by
the Holy Spirit. In this respect, the book has something unique about
its inspiration. Two things about its inspiration ought to be noticed.
First, the speeches of the three friends, Elihu’s
speech, Job’s speeches and God’s final speech were not spoken precisely
as they are recorded in the book of Job. All these speeches as recorded
in our Bibles are in poetry; as they were spoken (with the possible
exception of God’s speech) they were probably not spoken in poetry.
Second, there is a difference in the character of the
inspiration. All that the three friends and some of what Job said were
not inspired as to content. That is, what they said is not the Word of
God in the sense that their words contain divine truth. Surely Job’s
cursing of the day of his birth was wrong of Job and does not give us a
rule for our faith and life. What the friends said was, for the most
part, wicked, for they accused Job unjustly. So these parts of the book
are not inspired as to content. They are, however, inspired as to the
accuracy of what these friends said.
Even though the speeches were most likely not spoken
in poetry, the poetic form of these speeches is wholly and completely
accurate. It is the Spirit’s repetition of what each man said. It
accurately conveys the contents of each man’s speech.
Parts of the book are inspired also as to content.
The historical parts were so inspired; some of Job’s words were so
inspired, for example, Job 19:25-27, a passage that ministers of the
gospel have correctly held up to the people of God as proof for the
bodily resurrection of Christ and as an expression of our hope of the
resurrection of our bodies. It appears as if Elihu’s speech was also
inspired as to content, and certainly this was true of God’s final and
But all this does not alter in any respect the divine
inspiration of this book. There are other parts of Scripture in which
wicked men spoke that are inspired as to the accuracy of what they said,
but are not inspired as to content. Surely at the time of the trial of
our Lord, the words of Caiaphas, of the Sanhedrin and of Pilate were not
inspired as to content. But they are totally accurate as to form: they
truly were said as they are presented in sacred Scripture.
We know that what the Holy Spirit inspires is
completely without error, for He cannot err, being God Himself. We do
not know whom the Spirit used to write the book of Job, but it may very
well have been Job himself. He did not write the book during the
exchange of speeches, but only after it was all over. God told him what
to write so that it accurately reproduced what was said in the lengthy
speeches; but God the Holy Spirit did this in the form of poetry.
That it was written in poetry does not subtract from
its verbal inspiration either, for the Psalms and other parts of
Scripture were also written in poetry. This is one of Scripture’s
unparalleled beauties: there are many different genera of writings, but
all are infallibly and verbally inspired.
The purpose of the book is defined by James: It is a
demonstration of Job’s patience in suffering, which we are called to
emulate; and it is a promise that, because of the mercy and pity of our
God towards us in our sufferings, He makes our sufferings serve our
salvation (James 5:11).
It might be worth our while to mention that it is higher critics of
Scripture who claim that the book of Job is an allegory. But they have
an axe to grind. For some evil reason, they do not believe that Job (who
lived during the time of Abraham) could possibly know anything, at such
an early date in the history of revelation, about the resurrection of
the body. Hence, when they come to Job 19:25-27, they give an entirely
different translation of the text that eliminates the idea of Job’s
confession of the resurrection. There are various such translations
around, and the interested reader may consult them. The translation of
the KJV is correct. Prof. Hanko
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