You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Psalm 73:24 ESV
Glory – This verse certainly appears to support an afterlife in heaven, doesn’t it? If this is so, it is one of the few verses in the Tanakh that indicates a heavenly reward for the righteous. Of course, there’s just one small problem. The translation is more about what we think than it is about what Asaph says. If we want to know what Asaph means, we will have to back up to the 10th Century BC before we add a heavenly afterward.
Some parts of this verse are clear enough. God guides (naha – to lead, guide) with His counsel (‘atsat). The Tanakh is consistent in its claim that the counsel of the Lord is eternal, unchangeable and reliable. Asaph can do no better than this. “Listen and obey” is the only secret to life’s fulfillment.
“Afterward” is our familiar Hebrew word ‘ahar (remember ‘aharit?). Asaph reminds us that rowing a boat requires alignment with where God has been, not vision-casting about the future. After following God’s counsel (instructions), Asaph says he will be rewarded. There is no question that this takes time and perseverance. The only question is what kind of reward he expects. And to answer that question we must investigate kavod tikaheni.
Let’s start with the verb, laqah (in our sentence, tikaheni – “you take me”). The verb has a wide range of meanings. “To take, get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, acquire, buy, bring, marry and snatch.” Do you notice something about all these meanings? Not one focuses on heavenly subjects. Everything about laqah is right here in this environment. It would be inappropriate to say that I fetch, lay hold of, seize, acquire, buy, marry or snatch kavod (glory). The only possible application of laqah would be the meaning “take.” But no man can “take” glory for himself. Glory belongs to God alone. Asaph’s use of laqah requires us to be very careful about its application to kavod. While the ESV translation pushes us to think of “glory” as a substitute place name for heaven, the Hebrew context isn’t quite that clear. The problem is the introduction of a preposition that isn’t in the text. ESV adds “to” (“receive me to glory). Alter adds “toward” (“toward glory you took me”). Notice that the ESV puts the statement in the future tense (you will receive me), but there is no justification for this. The Hebrew tense is preterite, a past tense form. Alter is correct. It should read, “You took me.” But this makes things even more confusing. Asaph uses the opening word ‘ahar (afterward), so how can the tense be in the past? Clearly Asaph is not looking over the horizon. He is saying that after he was grasped by God and listened to His counsel, kavod came. Somehow God was responsible for this kavod, but it seems clear that it has already occurred. There is no suggestion here that Asaph awaits some heavenly future reward. Listening and obeying changed his life and he experienced kavod.
If it’s not about heaven, then what is this all about? The Hebrew kavod means a lot more than glory. In fact, its primary meaning is “heavy.” It expresses something of weight, of value. Almost always it is used figuratively to describe importance, honor or glory of someone or something. This is the sense of kavod applied to God. While the glory of all creation fades, God alone retains final honor and importance. Perhaps Asaph is saying nothing more than what he will later summarize in the last verse. He has been drawn into the presence of the King and in His presence, Asaph has experienced a taste of glory. That happens right here on earth.
But I think Asaph is a bit more clever. Certainly he is not an evangelical. He isn’t looking for a heavenly reward. That would be out of character with the rest of the Tanakh and with all we know about the cultures of the ancient near-East. We have seen Asaph employ double meanings time and again, and here he may be doing the same because kavod is also associated with what is great, with reputation and with abundance. Asaph’s entire concern is with the wealth and power of the wicked. They seem to have kavod, that is, prestige, honor, riches, importance. But Asaph recognizes that the counsel of God leads to another kind of kavod, the kind that has true honor and glory. Perhaps Asaph is drawing us into a comparison. Which kind of glory are we after? Which kind matters? Which kind lasts? Asaph isn’t telling us that after a life of obedience we will be ushered into heaven. He is telling us that rescue followed by attention to divine counsel produces kavod now! It’s not “to glory bye-and-bye” nor is it “toward glory.” It is “glory You took me.” Reputation, honor, abundance, importance – all those things that he envied in the wicked – have become his because God took him there.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe Asaph. Sometimes it looks like all the glory goes to those who pursue it. Sometimes it feels like lent all year long – what else do we have to give up. Asaph tells us it is a matter of choice. Not to be driven by the seduction of the yetzer ha’ra is to be taken into the presence of the King. But sometimes we are seduced by the edge.
Topical Index: take, laqah, glory, kavod, Psalm 73:24