This psalm has been counted among the wisdom psalms because it wrestles with questions like those of the book of Job: Why do the wicked prosper? Why does God not act justly? Why bother to be good?
The psalm begins with a confession of faith, "Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart." The psalmist struggles to believe this, because experience sometimes makes it difficult (vv. 1-14). The wicked prosper, treat others arrogantly, are treated like celebrities because of their wealth, and think none of this matters to God. The pray-er comes near to losing faith because of this (vv. 2-3).
In the sanctuary, in worship and prayer, the psalmist recognizes that he or she has been wrong. What matters more than wealth and fame is keeping faith with God's people (v. 15) and holding fast to God and God's promises (vv. 23-26). Wealth is fleeting, lost in a moment (v. 19), but life in God is forever (v. 26). Finally, those who exploit others will be judged by God (v. 18), so people of faith can give up their envy and their anger over what seems like an unjust world (vv. 27-28).
The psalmist's questions about the justice and fairness of the world are real, but trying to figure it all out alone proves fruitless (v. 16)--probably now as well. The psalmist needs the community of God's people, gathered for worship and the mutual strengthening of their faith, to find his or her way back to what ultimately matters.
1 Truly God is good to the upright,*
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out with fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues range over the earth.
10 Therefore the people turn and praise them,*
and find no fault in them.*
11 And they say, How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?
12 Such are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued,
and am punished every morning.
15 If I had said, I will talk on in this way,
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 They are* like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast towards you.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will receive me with honour.*
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength* of my heart and my portion for ever.
27 Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
to tell of all your works.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org