Hermeneutics

Example of the Four Questions Method of Bible Interpretation: Psalm 73.

1. How does this passage fit into the larger context of the biblical book of which it is a part, and what is the book and passage’s role in the big story of the Bible?

  • Which book of the Bible is this passage in, and what is the major purpose for which that book was written and included in God’s Word?

Psalms. The purpose of the book of Psalms is to provide God’s people examples of appropriate prayers and praises (both individual and corporate) as they journey through life as his kingdom people.

  • How does this passage contribute to the purpose of the book of which it is a part?

This psalm gives one example of appropriate prayer and praise to God by a believer named Asaph. Specifically, it shows that in our prayers and praises we should adopt an eternal perspective on what will finally come of the wicked and the righteous. Though the wicked might flourish now, they won’t in the end. Though the righteous might suffer now, they won’t in the end. Our prayers and praises should reflect these realities.

  • How does the message of this passage fit into the big story of the Bible?

The message of this psalm—that though the wicked might flourish now, they won’t in the end; and though the righteous might suffer now, they won’t in the end—is a common message throughout the Bible. Throughout the Bible we see many people who misunderstand this and some godly people who do understand it and are helped by these truths. For example, by giving into temptation and rebelling against God, Adam and Eve were showing that they believed unrighteousness would bring them ultimate satisfaction, though in the end it did not. Throughout their history, the people of Israel often made the same mistake, believing that rebelling against God and following the wicked ways of the world would bring them ultimate satisfaction and “the good life,” though in the end it did not. The church is called to live with the proper perspective of this psalm, understanding that following Christ might not be easy now, but it will pay off in the end when we dwell with him in the new creation.

2. What are the principles this passage teaches about God, man, sin, and salvation?

  • Does the passage teach us something about who God is and what God does?

It teaches us that God sometimes allows the wicked to flourish in this life, and that he sometimes allows the righteous to suffer in this life. It teaches us that in the end, God will punish the wicked and save his people. It teaches us that God will guide us in this life until he takes us home to glory. It teaches us that God allows his people to “be near” him (v. 28).

  • Does the passage teach us something about who man is and what God expects man’s behavior to be?

It teaches us that even believers can lose their godly perspective on life and lose sight of the “end.” It teaches us that man has a tendency to reject God and his ways in this life and to live for themselves. It teaches us that God expects his people to endure any sacrifice or suffering they might experience in this life, treasuring him above all, and putting their hope in him and the end to which he is bringing them.

  • Does the passage teach us something about man’s fallenness and sin?

It teaches us that believers will often be tempted to be “embittered” (v. 21) when they think about the worldly success of unbelievers versus the life of sacrifice they might be experiencing as a believer. It teaches us that when unbelievers succeed without God it often leads them to think that he doesn’t exist or that they don’t need him.

  • Does the passage teach us something about God’s plan to save the world from sin?

It teaches us that God’s plan of salvation involves guiding his people through the difficulties of this life and ultimately receiving them home to glory.

3. How do the principles taught in this passage point out my sins and shortcomings of which I need to repent?

  • Does this passage give a command I need to obey? Do I need to repent of not obeying that command faithfully?

No direct commands are given.

  • Does this passage give an example I need to follow or avoid (from a faithful or unfaithful Bible character, for instance)? Do I need to repent of not following or avoiding that example?

We need to avoid the negative example of the unbelievers in this psalm who are so consumed with worldly success that they despise God. We need to avoid the negative example of the psalmist when he allowed his soul to be “embittered” (v. 21) as he thought about the success of the wicked. We need to follow the positive example of the psalmist who had his perspective on life changed when he “went into the sanctuary of God” and then started to view things from an eternal perspective.

  • Does this passage give a truth I need to believe? Do I need to repent of not fully believing in this truth?

We need to believe that in the end being faithful to God in this life really is worth whatever sacrifice we have to make. We need to understand and believe that worshiping God (which includes focusing on his Word) like the psalmist did when he went “into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17) can help us regain a proper eternal perspective on life and remind us of God’s ultimate plans for us.

4. How do the principles in this passage lead me to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and model my life on His perfect example?

  • Confess to God the specific ways you have not lived up to the principles in the passage you are studying, and trust that because of the cross of Christ God will forgive you of those specific sins.
  • In what ways does Jesus perfectly exemplify the principles in the passage you are studying?

Jesus always had a proper eternal perspective on his life. Even though wicked people around him were flourishing (many of the Jewish and Roman leaders, for example) and he was suffering and oppressed, he managed not to allow his soul to be “embittered” (v. 21). Rather, through prayer and worship of the Father, he continually lived in the knowledge that the Father was with him, guiding him until finally he was received into glory (v. 24) at his ascension.

  • Ask God to conform you to the image of Christ in these areas.