Unanswered prayer. Unfulfilled promises. Unpunished evil.


I’m writing a book based on the psalms of Asaph, King David’s director of music. He watched the glorious rise Israel and the building of the magnificent Temple as well as the moral collapse and complete destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. In his psalms, he struggles with unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil. Here’s a sneak preview. [Keep in mind, it’s a rough draft.]


Contents

I. Unanswered Prayer
1. Is Unanswered Prayer God’s Fault?
2. Is Unanswered Prayer Someone Else’s Fault?
3. Is Unanswered Prayer My Fault?

II. Unfulfilled Promises
4. Are God’s “Promises” Really Promises?
5. Are the Promises Conditional?
6. Are the Promises To Be Fulfilled in the Future?

III. Unpunished Evil
7. Is God Responsible for Evil?
8. Why Doesn’t God Seem to Prevent Evil?
9. Why Is God Slow in Bringing Judgment?


Preface

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud

when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

Asaph, Psalm 73

“And God, we’re trusting you to heal Dave this morning.” Fifty people from the church my wife and I attend gathered around the sixty-something man who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. The pastor had quoted James 5:14-15a: “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.”

The three hundred parishioners present had agreed with hearty amens. As Dave was about to be anointed, Pastor Matthew quietly asked him, “Dave, you know things don’t look good. Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?” After some hushed conversation back and forth, Dave accepted Christ, he was anointed, and the congregation promised to continue praying.

A few days later, the church’s Facebook page posted the good news: Dave had accepted Christ as his Savior and a scan revealed that Dave was cancer free! Great rejoicing filled the church. Dave was a personable soul who enjoyed sharing his newfound faith and his wonder and amazement that the cancer was completely gone.

But just days after the great news, another Facebook post shared devastating news: The test was misread. Dave did indeed have a large mass on his pancreas and would need immediate surgery. Again, we gathered around Dave and prayed for a healing—either supernatural or medical.
And once again, Facebook kept the congregation informed as the twelve-hour surgery dragged on throughout the day and prayers were sent heavenward for Dave.

      URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: 6 pm While removing the cancerous mass from Dave’s abdomen, an artery was torn and a vascular surgeon has been called in for emergency repair. Thanks for your immediate prayers.

      URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: 8 pm Dave is VERY critical. Pastor Matthew returned to Indy and just had prayer over him asking that “God’s Spirit would breathe life into Dave either on this side or the other side of the Jordan.” Thanks for your prayers.

      TRAGIC NEWS. TRIUMPHANT NEWS REGARDING DAVE: 8:25 pm Dave died this evening around 8:25 after complications following today’s surgery for pancreatic cancer. He had recently accepted Christ as his Savior during prayer for his battle with pancreatic cancer, and is now cancer-free and safely Home.

The up and down roller coaster ride—Dave’s healing and salvation, the news of healing then misread test, surgery which had been going well and then his sudden death—went off the rails. And questions of why crashed upon the congregation. Why had Dave died after he and the church had followed the biblical principles and believed with faith that he would be spared the prognosis of death?!

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In the year 2000, I was hired by a Christian Internet company to serve as a writer and editor. I was paid an ungodly amount for my work, but praised Him for the wonderful opportunity to support missions work. Since my wife, as a pastor, had a parsonage, car, insurance and salary provided, we lived on her income and benefits while I gave away most of my salary to missions work. I had been taught from Malachi 3:

      Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (3:10).

It was such a joy to be able to give generously as I was given generously.

But then the dot.com bubble burst, my wife lost her job, and we found ourselves needing a loan—for the exact amount of what we overpaid on our tithe. I was stunned. I had been taught, “You can’t out give God” and yet it seemed we had—down to the last penny.

What about the promise, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38)?!

+ + +

On July 5, 2011, my wife and I watched the live coverage of the verdict in the televised trial of Casey Marie Anthony. Although we were anxious to get home to Indiana after vacationing in Wisconsin, we sat transfixed in front of the television in a Chicago Wendy’s restaurant. The legal “experts” were predicting a guilty verdict as America held its breath waiting as the judge silently read the paper handed to him by the jury foreman.

Casey Anthony’s three-year-old daughter, Caylee, had gone missing for thirty-one days before the single parent had notified authorities. When questioned, Anthony initially claimed her daughter had been kidnapped by a nanny and she had been too frightened to call police. Her story began to unravel when police could find no records of the alleged kidnapper, Anthony’s car trunk was reported to have smelled of a dead body and chloroform, and Internet searches on the family’s computer found searches for “neck breaking” and “how to make chloroform.” The decomposed body was eventually found in a garbage bag with duct tape over the mouth.

Defense attorney’s argued that Caylee had drowned in the family’sswimming pool.

However, the jury found Casey not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, but guilty of four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. With credit for time served, Anthony was released from jail just twelve days later.

The ruling not only shocked and outraged the public but legal experts as well.

+ + +

Have you ever struggled with the questions of unanswered prayer, unpunished evil, and unfulfilled promises? If so, you’re in good company! Three thousand years ago, the psalmist
Asaph struggled with those very questions. He poetically—and honestly—revealed his own dark doubts, crippling confusion, and constant questions.

But the psalms of Asaph, provide some clues for dealing with these questions. Notice, I wrote “clues.” The Bible—and this book in particular—are not “answer books.” In fact, the working of the all-knowing—and all-loving—God is described as a mystery:

“Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5).

The apostle Paul refers to the workings of God as a “mystery” five times in his letters (Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 5:32; 1 Timothy 3:9, 16).

I’ve described trying to comprehend God’s mysterious ways as trying to teach algebra to algae. So, this book will not answer all your questions, but it will give you the tools to explore them. And I have unashamedly provided a lot of Scripture as we search for clues, as it is the primary evidence in this mystery.

I pray that this book provides enough evidence, an adequate amount of answers, and most of all encourage as you personally struggle with Asaph’s—and your and my—three questions.


Introduction

But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

Asaph, the son of Berekiah, was born to house of Levi, the tribe given the honor and responsibility of serving as priests between Jehovah God and His people. Scripture notes that Berekiah was appointed Doorkeeper of the Ark of the Covenant.

Asaph came into leadership as the Ark is being returned to Israel (1 Samuel 6:7-2) after being captured by Philistines around 1000 B.C. (1 Samuel 4:3-11). The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, a jar of manna, the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and the writings of Moses. Constructed at the command of God, according to His detailed instructions (Exodus 19:20; 24:18), it served as the focal point of worship for the Jewish people.

In preparation for its return to Jerusalem, 1 Chronicles 15:16-17 records:

      David also ordered the Levite leaders to appoint a choir of Levites who were singers and musicians to sing joyful songs to the accompaniment of harps, lyres, and cymbals. So the Levites appointed Heman son of Joel along with his fellow Levites: Asaph son of Berekiah, and Ethan son of Kushaiah from the clan of Merari.

Aspah’s specific assignment is spelled out in 1 Chronicles 16:4-5:

David appointed the following Levites to lead the people in worship before the Ark of the LORD—to invoke his blessings, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. Asaph, the leader of this group, sounded the cymbals. Second to him was Zechariah, followed by Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel. They played the harps and lyres. The priests, Benaiah and Jahaziel, played the trumpets regularly before the Ark of God’s Covenant.

This celebration would be the first of several highpoints in Jewish history witnessed first-hand by Asaph. After years in Egyptian captivity and attacks on their Promise Land, it appeared that Israel was on the verge of Camelot, “The Great Society,” Utopia, and the zenith of worship of the God who had raised up a righteous king.

On the day that the ark was returned, David gave to Asaph and his fellow Levites this song of thanksgiving to the LORD:

      Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness.
      Let the whole world know what he has done.
      Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
      Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
      Exult in his holy name;
      rejoice, you who worship the LORD.
      Search for the LORD and for his strength;
      continually seek him.
      Remember the wonders he has performed,
      his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
      you children of his servant Israel,
      you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.
      He is the LORD our God.
      His justice is seen throughout the land.
      Remember his covenant forever—
      the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
      This is the covenant he made with Abraham
      and the oath he swore to Isaac.
      He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
      and to the people of Israel as a never-ending covenant:
      “I will give you the land of Canaan
      as your special possession” (1 Chronicles 16:7-18).

We’ve all had those moments, when things are going well. God seems to be abundantly blessing.
But Asaph, who wrote the music for this soaring psalm of triumph, would later find himself writing psalms of heart-wrenching questions. Psalm 50 and Psalms 73 through 83 chronicle the rise of hope and the spiritual and political freefall of Israel from power to occupation.

God Is In His Temple

After a long period of attacks, counter attacks, and more attacks recorded in Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 King and 1 Chronicles, under King David and now Solomon, Israel was finally at peace. Asaph rejoices that:

      God is honored in Judah;
      his name is great in Israel.
      Jerusalem is where he lives;
      Mount Zion is his home.
      There he has broken the fiery arrows of the enemy,
      the shields and swords and weapons of war (Psalm 76).

The “Messiah” Has Come

Asaph may have been one who thought that Solomon was the promised Messiah who would rule forever in peace of Israel. In the Hebrew Bible, a mashiach or “messiah” is a king or High Priest who has been ordained with holy anointing oil. While there we many anointed ones—even Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, is referred to as messiah (Isaiah 45:1)—the Jewish people were yearning for a future king of Israel—from the line of David, who would rule with peace forever.

While Psalm 2 is not attributed to a particular author, the early church believed it was David and referred to the “Messiah” (Acts 4:24-26).

      The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
      the rulers plot together
      against the LORD
      and against his anointed one [Messiah].
      “Let us break their chains,” they cry,
      “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

      The king proclaims the LORD’s decree:
      “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son.
      Today I have become your Father.
      Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
      the whole earth as your possession (Psalm 2:2-3, 7-8)

It all seemed to fit. Solomon was the son of David (although Solomon had his brother Adonijah killed to secure the throne). He was bestowed with divine wisdom (1 Kings 3:4-9) so that “People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him” (1 Kings 10:24). And, during this time, the scattered remnants of Israel returned to the holy city of Jerusalem.

No wonder Asaph felt that the Messianic age had arrived with the wise anointed one on the throne, and Israel becoming a world power.

The Temple is Built

Asaph not only witnessed the return of the revered Ark of the Covenant to the Tent of Meeting, but was an eyewitness to the building of the magnificent Temple.

1 Kings 6 describes the construction of the Temple that began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and was completed in seven years. While the actual size of the three-story Temple was just ninety feet long, thirty feet wide and forty-five feet high—and would pale compared to most churches today—the Temple was richly appointed, to say the least:

      Cedar paneling completely covered the stone walls throughout the Temple, and the paneling was decorated with carvings of gourds and open flowers.

      He prepared the inner sanctuary at the far end of the Temple, where the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant would be placed. This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high.

      He overlaid the inside with solid gold. He also overlaid the altar made of cedar. Then Solomon overlaid the rest of the Temple’s interior with solid gold, and he made gold chains to protect the entrance to the Most Holy Place. So he finished overlaying the entire Temple with gold, including the altar that belonged to the Most Holy Place.

      He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long.
      The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold.

      He decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid the floor in both rooms with gold.

      For the entrance to the inner sanctuary, he made double doors of wild olive wood with five-sided doorposts. These double doors were decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. The doors, including the decorations of cherubim and palm trees, were overlaid with gold.

      Then he made four-sided doorposts of wild olive wood for the entrance to the Temple. There were two folding doors of cypress wood, and each door was hinged to fold back upon itself.

      These doors were decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers—all overlaid evenly with gold (1 King 6:18-34).

Then Everything Falls Apart

Charles Dicken’s The Tale of Two Cities describes the ancient period well—which proves that history repeats itself—repeatedly. And often, this is an accurate description of our own lives:

      It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Solomon’s lifestyle

1 Kings 10 documents the lavish and luxurious lifestyle Solomon demanded of the people he was anointed serve:

      Each year Solomon received about 25 tons of gold. This did not include the additional revenue he received from merchants and traders, all the kings of Arabia, and the governors of the land.
      King Solomon made 200 large shields of hammered gold, each weighing more than fifteen pounds. He also made 300 smaller shields of hammered gold, each weighing nearly four pounds. The king placed these shields in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon.

      Then the king made a huge throne, decorated with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps and a rounded back. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it!

      All of King Solomon’s drinking cups were solid gold, as were all the utensils in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. They were not made of silver, for silver was considered worthless in Solomon’s day!

      The king had a fleet of trading ships that sailed with Hiram’s fleet. Once every three years the ships returned, loaded with gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

      So King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth. People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year everyone who visited brought him gifts of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, horses, and mules.
      Solomon built up a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He stationed some of them in the chariot cities and some near him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stone. And valuable cedar timber was as common as the sycamore-fig trees that grow in the foothills of Judah. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Cilicia; the king’s traders acquired them from Cilicia at the standard price. At that time chariots from Egypt could be purchased for 600 pieces of silver, and horses for 150 pieces of silver. They were then exported to the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram (14-29).

So, many believe that Psalm 73 is written out of Aspah’s realization that Camelot was crumbling under a corrupt king who lived a lavish lifestyle.

      Truly God is good to Israel,
      to those whose hearts are pure.
      But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
      My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
      For I envied the proud
      when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
      They seem to live such painless lives;
      their bodies are so healthy and strong.
      They don’t have troubles like other people;
      they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.
      They wear pride like a jeweled necklace
      and clothe themselves with cruelty.
      These fat cats have everything
      their hearts could ever wish for!
      They scoff and speak only evil;
      in their pride they seek to crush others.
      They boast against the very heavens,
      and their words strut throughout the earth.
      And so the people are dismayed and confused,
      drinking in all their words.
      “What does God know?” they ask.
      “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
      Look at these wicked people—
      enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
      Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
      Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
      I get nothing but trouble all day long;
      every morning brings me pain (1-14).

Can you empathize with Asaph? I can, as I watch the news and live my own life. At this point, the psalmist was probably disillusioned as he realized that Solomon was not the promised Messiah after all the hype. Some believe that Psalm 82 expresses the deep disappointment.

      God presides over heaven’s court;
      he pronounces judgment on the heavenly beings:
      “How long will you hand down unjust decisions
      by favoring the wicked? Interlude
      “Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
      uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
      Rescue the poor and helpless;
      deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
      But these oppressors know nothing;
      they are so ignorant!
      They wander about in darkness,
      while the whole world is shaken to the core.
      I say, ‘You are gods;
      you are all children of the Most High.
      But you will die like mere mortals
      and fall like every other ruler.’”
      Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
      for all the nations belong to you (1-8).

Solomon’s idolatry

As offensive as the king’s “evil” and arrogant opulence—paid for by “oppressive” taxes by “the poor and destitute,” Solomon spiritual life was far more offensive to Asaph. 1 Kings 11 is perhaps one of the most heart-breaking chapters in Scripture.

      Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, ‘You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.’ Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

      In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; he refused to follow the LORD completely, as his father, David, had done.

      On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, he even built a pagan shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and another for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods.

      The LORD was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the LORD’s command. So now the LORD said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city” (11:1-13).

Solomon’s execution of Asaph’s brother

If, indeed, Asaph’s psalms were speaking of Solomon’s great sin, the king was totally oblivious to the subtle messages.

However, evidence suggests, Asaph’s brother, Zechariah, wasn’t as fortunate in his opposition to the king’s wickedness. In the gospels, Jesus alludes to Zechariah’s murder as He chastises the Pharisees and religious leaders:

      “. . . you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?
      “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar (Matthew 23:31-35; also Luke 11:50-51.)

King David, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, for taking Bathsheba away for Uriah and having him murdered, cried out, “I have sinned.” Solomon, however, apparently had Zechariah murdered—right in the Temple!

Asaph must have agonized over this unpunished evil. No wonder, he cried out in Psalm 73:

      “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
      Look at these wicked people—
      enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
      Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
      Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
      I get nothing but trouble all day long;
      every morning brings me pain.

Yet, God promised in 1 Kings 11 that, for the sake of his father, David, Solomon’s kingdom would not be torn from him.

The Kingdom and Temple Is Destroyed

After Solomon’s death, Asaph saw the king’s son, Rehoboam, not only continue heavy taxation to support his lavish lifestyle, but threaten even worse conditions. Jeroboam, who had served as Solomon’s chief superintendent of forced labor and had fled to Egypt for political assylum, pleaded for relief. Rehoboam defiantly declared, “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!” (1 King 12:14).

Incensed, the ten northern tribes, rebelled in 932/931 BC and declared Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim, king. But his rule would also prove ungodly by disbanding the priesthood and setting up golden calves as well as Asharah poles, which were used for worship of Asharah, the Canaanite fertility god.

      Then the LORD will shake Israel like a reed whipped about in a stream. He will uproot the people of Israel from this good land that he gave their ancestors and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, for they have angered the LORD with the Asherah poles they have set up for worship. He will abandon Israel because Jeroboam sinned and made Israel sin along with him” (1 Kings 14:15-16).

Second Chronicles records that Rehoboam, as well, was not spared God’s wrath:

      After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the LORD. Because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem (12:1-2).

      When Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem, he carried off the treasures of the temple of the LORD and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including the gold shields Solomon had made (12:9).

It is possible that Psalms 80 and 81 were written by Asaph after the attack of Jerusalem and the looting of Temple.

Over a period of perhaps forty years, Asaph watched as the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem. He was honored to be appointed David’s chief musician over the celebration and created music for joyous celebrations. He would have watched as the magnificent Temple was completed and Solomon, the apparent “Messiah” take the throne drawing dignitaries from around the world to partake of his wisdom.

But Asaph would have also been an eyewitness to Solomon’s marriages to foreign wives. (One could wonder if Asaph was compelled to provide the music for these ceremonies.) Asaph watched as Solomon oppressed his people to support his outlandish lifestyle, built pagan temples on Mount Zion to please his one thousand wives and seven hundred concubines. And most disturbing, see him turn from god and, apparently, die a pagan.

Finally, the civil war and then the attack of Jerusalem and the looting of Temple by the Egyptians and neighboring countries.

Is it any wonder that Asaph’s psalms are filled with question about unanswered prayer, unpunished evil, and unfulfilled promises?

      I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
      Oh, that God would listen to me!
      When I was in deep trouble,
      I searched for the Lord.
      All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
      but my soul was not comforted.
      I think of God, and I moan,
      overwhelmed with longing for his help. Interlude
      You don’t let me sleep.
      I am too distressed even to pray!
      I think of the good old days,
      long since ended,
      when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
      I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
      Has the Lord rejected me forever?
      Will he never again be kind to me?
      Is his unfailing love gone forever?
      Have his promises permanently failed?
      Has God forgotten to be gracious?
      Has he slammed the door on his compassion? Interlude
      And I said, “This is my fate;
      the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
      But then I recall all you have done, O LORD;
      I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
      They are constantly in my thoughts.
      I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
      O God, your ways are holy.
      Is there any god as mighty as you?
      You are the God of great wonders!
      You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
      By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
      the descendants of Jacob and Joseph (Psalm 77:1-15).

As Asaph watched the downward spiral of Solomon’s life and rule as well as the destruction of Israel, he saw first hand what appeared to be unanswered prayer, unpunished evil and unfulfilled promises. But Asaph was not the first to struggle with these questions.

Job cries out to God for answers.

      God has turned me over to the ungodly
      and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.
      All was well with me, but he shattered me;
      he seized me by the neck and crushed me (16:11-12).

David’s psalms are also filled with questions:

      My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
      Why are you so far from saving me,
      so far from my cries of anguish?
      My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
      by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22:1-2).

And they were not the last. And we will not be the last. But as Asaph struggled to make sense of the unanswered prayers, unpunished evil, and unfulfilled promises, we will also discover that through it all, his faith never waivered amid those questions. “O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you?”

I pray this book will allow you and me to say with the psalmist:

Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

Aspah, Psalm 72

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