Psalm 73

God is truly good to Israel, to those whose heart is pure. (73:1)

I am completely uncomfortable with the notion that God acts better towards Israel than other peoples or religions. Therefore, I read the second half of this verse as an important qualification of the first half of the verse.

In good Biblical poetic form, the second strophe restates the first, but adds something. We can see this more clearly if we write out the verse fully:

“God is truly good to Israel. God is truly good to those whose heart is pure.”

There are two ways of reading this verse. Either the poet is defining Israel as those whose hearts are pure, or God is good only to those among Israel who have pure hearts.

It is impossible, in my opinion, to define any ethnic, religious, social, or national group as a whole as all sharing a single characteristic. Human free will being what it is, it is not possible for a group of people to be united in an attribute (such as being pure of heart) unless a violation of that standards means automatic disqualification from the group. Since “Israel” is a designation that transcends disobedience to God, it cannot be that all members of the group “Israel” are pure of heart.

Therefore, it must be the case that the quality of pureness of heart is a limiting factor. God is not automatically good to all of Israel. Rather, God is only good to those whose heart – actions, thoughts, intentions – are pure.

I suggest that those whose actions, thoughts, and intentions are directed solely to good and noble deeds and purposes will be likely to accept and overcome with equanimity the obstacles that life places in their path. The ability to find good and blessing within evil was an admirable quality of Job. It need not be a naive Pollyannaish outlook, but rather both a sincere acknowledgment of difficulty and a desire to find some good coming from or associated with the bad.

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