The Goodness of God’s Nearness
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is an excerpt from chapter 14 of Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints: An Exposition of Psalm 73, by David J. Engelsma.
Only to those who are Israel is God good, for the nearness of God is good for man. Literally, verse 28 reads, in the opening words: “But as for me, the nearness of God to me is good.” The issue raised in verse 1 was, “Is God good to Israel in earthly life in view of the troubles God’s people suffer?” The resounding answer of the psalm in verse 1 is yes. The reason, according to verse 28, is that the nearness of God is good. Having the nearness of God, as Israel certainly does, Israel has God’s goodness. The nearness of God is his communion with Israel in the covenant, according to the covenant promise, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” It is the nearness of love. It is the nearness of a father to his dear children and of a husband to his beloved wife. It is such a nearness that by his Word and Spirit God unites all who are Israel to himself in Christ as living members of his body. In this nearness, they have God and his goodness of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. Although they draw near to God—and they should—he drew near to them first, and always does draw near to them. The “nearness of God” is both friendship with God and the friendship that he initiates in his sovereignty.
The psalmist expresses his personal enjoyment of this goodness of God: “the nearness of God is good for me.” By great struggle, he has come at the end to the personal experience of the truth expressed in verse 1: “Truly God is good to Israel.”
This does not mean the end of earthly troubles. The rule for the life on earth both of God’s church and of the individual child of God is, “through present suffering to final glory.” The psalmist will be plagued and chastened right up to the moment God takes him to glory. Now there is shame; the glory comes afterward. The circumstances of the psalmist’s earthly life have not changed, nor does he expect them to change. The change is in the psalmist’s attitude toward and response to the troubles. Formerly, when he separated his earthly troubles from their end, he resented the troubles as mere evils, even tokens of God’s disfavor, and responded to them with the doubt of unbelief. Now, looking to their end in his glory, he receives them patiently and responds to them with the confidence of faith: “I have put my trust in the Lord GOD.”
Refuge in the Storms
For the first time, the covenant name of God occurs in the psalm. “God” in the translation of the Authorized Version is in the Hebrew original the name Jehovah. This name of covenant faithfulness, fulfilled in the New Testament in the name Jesus, is added to the name of sovereign power, Adonai, that is, Lord. With regard to all the troubles of earthly life, the psalmist puts his trust in the God of the covenant. In his covenant with the psalmist as a member of Israel, God has promised to be good to the psalmist, not only regarding spiritual life and a future heaven, but also regarding earthly life with all its circumstances here and now. This God can be relied on. He is faithful. In addition, he is mighty to accomplish his promise. He governs health and sickness, prosperity and adversity, success and failure, physical life and physical death. He is Lord of earth, as of heaven.
The word translated “trust” refers to making the Lord Jehovah one’s refuge. In all the storms of earthly life—the sorrows and disappointments, the loss and shame, the poverty and bereavement, the scorn and persecution—the psalmist makes God his refuge. There will be storms. If there are no storms in the life of the child of God, there is no need of a refuge. If these storms are not violent, there is no need of God as a refuge. To the very last verse, Psalm 73 utterly demolishes the notion that divine love and blessing mean earthly prosperity, ease, and success, whether for the true church (Israel) or for the individual child of God (the psalmist). The psalmist makes God his refuge by believing the covenant promise, “I will be your God, and I will do you good.” With God as his refuge, the psalmist weathers the storms. He bears the troubles patiently. With God as his refuge, the psalmist lets the storms do their profitable work upon him. The troubles work his glory. With God as his refuge, the psalmist will not again stumble and nearly fall, regardless of the severity of the storm in his own life and regardless of the seeming tranquility of the ungodly. God is the “rock of my heart” (v. 26).
Declaring God’s Works Truthfully
The purpose of the child of God in putting his trust in the Lord Jehovah is “that I may declare all thy works” (v. 28). Assurance of the goodness of God to us in the circumstances of our earthly lives may not end in our own comfort, precious though this is. It must end in God’s praise. This is our purpose when we come to the assurance of his goodness. This is the purpose of God in assuring us of his goodness to us. His works we now declare. These are his works of destroying, by setting them in slippery places, those who forsake him. These are his works of bringing his children, who are clean of heart, to glory by way of troubles. Let the church declare these works on the basis of the instruction of Psalm 73. Let every child of God declare these works, having learned them in the sanctuary and in this way having arrived through fierce struggle at the conviction of heart, “Truly God is good to Israel.”