Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. Psalm 73:7 ESV
Fatness – Asaph’s description of the physical qualities of the wicked is certainly metaphorical. Asaph is not writing about corneal edema. He is poetically describing the results of a life of opulence; a life that pursues luxury. But his use of the Hebrew word helev has interesting implications. Helev is also the word used in proper religious contexts for offering the best to God. In Leviticus it is used 45 times to describe the “fat” of sacrifices, the part that is burned as a sweet savor to the Lord.
Now we could look into the cultural context of Asaph’s poem. We could point out that by nearly every ancient standard of wealth, almost all of us far exceed the expectations of luxury afforded to the top few of Asaph’s world. We could decry the paucity of charity, the deliberate aversion to the plight of the poor or the proxy Christianity we find so common today. But why make a point about what is so obvious. Hardly anyone reading this commentary even comes close to the plight of the poor in the ancient world. If anything, we are some of the wealthiest people who have ever lived, even if we find it tough going financially today.
I would rather concentrate our examination on the twist in the word helev. I find it fascinating, and consequential, that the very word used to describe the spiritually dull hearts of the wicked wealthy also describes the sacrifice God most appreciates. Scripture teaches a great deal about the excess of life. Perhaps that lesson is no more clearly seen than in this word. God enjoys excess. He commands fruitfulness and multiplication. But all this fecundity must be harnessed for His purposes. The problem with wealth is not the treasure. It is the use of the treasure. Asaph correctly evaluates those who use God’s storehouse as their personal bank account. They have turned godly sacrifice into indulgence. In so doing, they violate two cardinal principles of God’s blessings. First, they forget that the nexus of the divine interaction between Man and God is community, not individuality. To have in excess means to be obligated to distribute. To retain what is intended to nourish others is to question God’s design of the universe.
Secondly, luxury violates the principle of gratitude. Paul makes this clear in his opening indictment of the pagan world. Pagans are condemned not because they don’t come to Yeshua for forgiveness but because they don’t acknowledge the sovereignty of God and they are not grateful. Luxury denies the essence of giving because it obscures the nature of a gift. When we realize that all that we have is a gift from God, we will not despoil His generosity by turning His gift into personal accumulation. God’s gifts are to be given. The way to desacralize the seductive power of treasure is to give it away. The first ruler of money – profit – is defeated by charity. Just as we love because He first loved us, we give because He first gave to us.
Asaph calls into question our entire paradigm of economic gain. He challenges us to consider our goals and our motives. He demands that we recognize helev belongs to God, not to us.
Topical Index: fatness, helev, Psalm 73:7, sacrifice, money