Psalm 73:1-17 shows that the righteous man severely misjudged the reality of his situation for a time until God revealed the truth. This trap can catch any of us. The wicked appear to prosper only if we consider merely what appears on the surface.
What God reveals to the psalmist is that the people he envies may appear to gain the whole world, but in reality, they are lacking something of immeasurably greater value. Through prayer and meditation, the psalmist is able to grasp this, and through God's revelation, he returns to a better emotional and spiritual state.
However, while in that anguished state, he sincerely assumed God was plaguing and punishing him every morning (verse 14). There are times when that may indeed be the case, and we might need a firm spanking because we may have repeatedly committed a sin and need to be brought up short. But we must not allow this to be our only conclusion, as the Bible frequently shows that, in the case of God's children, most trials are not given as punishment.
As a trial continues, a Christian tends to reason that, if he were not sinning, he would not be going through this experience. He therefore has a strong tendency to recall scriptures that say something similar to, “Therefore you shall be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Verses of this sort become our guide to correct the stressful condition. It is at this point that, all too often, we make a significant mistake, assuming that we are being punished.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued
Putting the picture together correctly, we can grasp the thread of the psalmist's thoughts as his trial proceeded. The psalmist was in grave spiritual danger of misjudging his suffering as punishment for sin. In reality, he was harshly judging God, accusing Him of unfairly overdoing a painful correction. Is it even possible to find God being unjust? Earlier in the psalm, the psalmist was indeed guilty of a sin: He clearly perceived his envy of the wicked. However, his grasp of the real problem was late in coming: that he was filled with fear and lacked faith that God was truly always with him, overseeing his life, his best interests, and therefore his spiritual development.
His lack of faith and its resulting fear drove his envy, twisting his mind into perceiving the wicked as better off. The issue clarified when he went into the sanctuary and began to see through prayer that God was fully justified and not picking on him unfairly. By the term “sanctuary,” he may have literally meant the Tabernacle or Temple, but we can understand that it does not have to be a literal building but a place of private prayer in communion with God where He enabled him to think correctly. Verses 21-24 clarify this.
Thus, the psalmist immediately began a four-step program:
1. He continued on by faith, enduring the suffering.
2. He prayed fervently for God's solution to take effect.
3. He firmly rejected any attempt to solve the problem on the basis of his own spiritual righteousness.
4. He was thoughtfully careful that he did not misjudge his circumstances any further.
The truth expressed in II Timothy 1:6-7 is helpful. “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” God's gift of His Spirit enables us to confront our fears and make sound spiritual judgments in alignment with His will. It leads us to understand that, once we are called and converted, these trials, though sometimes very difficult, are rarely punishments. They are exercises in learning good judgment regarding faith, love, and fear.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Psalms 73:16: