What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
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
The situation in verse 15 is a paradox, an irregularity from the way one would expect a thing to be. A paradox is an inconsistency in circumstance, statement, activity, or conduct contrary to what a person would consider normal. Here, the paradox is found within a relationship with God. The sinner prospers, but the righteous suffers all kinds of difficulty in life. Is it not more natural to think that the sinner would have difficulty and the righteous, a prosperous, smooth-running life?
A paradox, in turn, creates a conundrum, that is, a riddle or puzzle. A righteous individual may ask, “Why should such a situation exist?” “Where are the blessings God has promised?” “Where is God in this picture?” “Has God not promised prosperity and long life if we obey Him?” Yes, He has.
Solomon's paradox could spur a carnal person to assume that doing evil, because it can be profitable, is the better way. This especially seems so when the evil person lives to old age in relative peace, is honored in the world, and has more-than-enough wealth. In contrast, it is not rare for a righteous person to die early, perhaps following a time of difficult persecution.
One way of understanding these verses involves misjudging both God and the circumstance, which generally results in expounding on what we might consider “normal” self-righteousness. As Ecclesiastes teaches, God is sovereign and rules His creation all the time. So thorough is His care of His creation that His eye is even on sparrows (Matthew 10:29). Therefore, God is fully aware of any circumstance like that described in verse 15. In fact, He may have directly created it and is using it for His purposes.
The challenge for us, then, is whether we find fault with Him in allowing or arranging this sort of circumstance. Do we even think that God overlooks what any of His children might be going through? It is likely that He is directly involved, having caused the circumstance.
Could we be calling God into account, deciding—without knowing all the facts—that what He is overseeing is unfair? Understand, however, that even though He may or may not be directly involved in causing such a circumstance, He is not indifferent to human conduct and attitudes whenever or wherever they are. Our judgment must begin with knowing that His governance contains no complacency at any time. Though the righteous may die young, who knows God's entire judgment that lies beyond the grave for either the righteous or the wicked?
In addition, in this world prosperity is frequently associated with some level of evil. God Himself says that He sometimes sets the basest of men on thrones of great power, but He does not mean He favors them in terms of economic prosperity. We should understand those persons are in that position for some good reason, and God is fully aware. The wise person grasps and accepts that God is never out of the picture. He rules!
There is, therefore, a primary lesson about judgment here: Things are not always as they may appear to our narrow perspective. This verse teaches us to be cautious when making judgments about a person's spiritual standing before God and his morality as we might perceive them in his day-to-day surroundings.
This supplies insight into why Jesus cautions us about judging. The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man contains a clear example of the pitfalls in making these kinds of judgments. The rich man could easily have been judged as favored by God. But which man was truly favored by Him? It was Lazarus, the beggar, who was the better spiritually.
We should not allow ourselves to jump to self-righteous conclusions about people and to misjudgments about God's involvement. In either case, we are fully capable of raising ourselves spiritually above them. Thus, an overall lesson in these verses is that we must learn to be cautious about accusative thoughts that may arise within us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox
Ecclesiastes 7:15 presents a Christian with a paradox about Christian living. A paradox is a circumstance, statement, activity, or conduct that is contrary to expectation. It is an inconsistency, a sharp irregularity, that often produces a conundrum, which is a riddle or puzzle. In Solomon's paradox, the righteous person may ask, “Why should such a situation exist? Where are the blessings God has promised? Where is God in this picture? Has He not promised prosperity and long life if we obey Him?” Yes, indeed He has.
There are two problems that may arise from this experience, both of which involve misjudgments made by the righteous. The first is to misjudge God and accuse Him of being unjust, assuming we know a better way than He does. Not much humility is shown in coming to this conclusion! We need to spend no more time on this one.
The second problem arises when one misjudges, not only God, but also the self, the circumstance, and the possible “solution.” This combination can lead to making the paradox truly destructive to one's spiritual health.
In the vivid description in Psalm 73, we see the spiritual and emotional agony of a converted man experiencing a situation similar to what Solomon describes. The author survived it because he responded in the correct way. God intervened to ensure his rescue, or he might have slid “right out of the church,” as we might say today. The author never slid into the “righteous over much” mode, as the King James Version phrases it in Ecclesiastes 7:16, or into “super-righteousness,” as some modern commentators call it. Solomon warns us that this reaction is destructive.
In Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, Solomon gives a warning right on the heels of his mention of the paradox, making a clear connection between the paradox and the possible reaction of a righteous person. He does it with a strong admonition: “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?” A stern caution indeed. Super-righteousness is a misguided response that seems to arise from our judgment that we are having all this trouble because we are being punished.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued
Jeremiah is not satisfied with God's assurances. In verses 15-18, the prophet retorts with words bespeaking the depth of his dejection, the seriousness of his crises of belief. Jeremiah reminds God that he has taken of God's Word and rejoiced in it; he has called on God's name and avoided the gainsayers. Yet, his pain is ongoing. Like Baruch, he finds no rest (see Jeremiah 45:3). Will God be with him to the end? Will God abandon him? The Jubilee Bible 2000 renders verse 18 this way: “Why was my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar and as waters that fail?”
Strong words! Like Asaph, whose “feet had almost stumbled” and whose “steps had nearly slipped” when he became envious of “the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3), Jeremiah is clearly experiencing intense spiritual doubts. Can God use such an individual as His spokesman, His prophet, especially in this time of national emergency, the approaching “worst of times?”
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
Christ's ominous warning was prompted by the Pharisees' attribution of God's work, by His Spirit, to an unclean (demonic) source. In principle, we may be guilty of something similar if we are so set in our opinions that we are unwilling to acknowledge the activity of God in His other children.
The scattering of the church seems to have encouraged a change in perception from the one extreme of believing that everyone associated with the church is converted to the other extreme of suspecting that everyone who is not just like us must be unconverted. Truly, there is a fine line here, since we are required to evaluate fruit and discern what is of God and what is not. With all of the scriptural warnings about false teaching, teachers, and even brethren, we understand the necessity to compare words and deeds with the Word of God and to reject what is not of Him. We dare not underestimate the risk of deception.
On the other hand, though, another grave danger lurks in concluding that someone is unconverted because of some failing we observe in him or her. It may be that we are correct in our judgment, and our words will justify rather than condemn us. Yet, consider for a moment what is at stake if we speak idle words and misjudge this matter: It means we are attributing the work of God in that person's life—the faith, the overcoming, any good fruit—to something other than God. We may not be able to see all that He has done, but we are deciding it is nothing!
Can we grasp what transpires when we do such a thing? We are casting aspersions on the priceless Sacrifice substituted for that person. We are declaring the holy covenant that God made with that person to be null and void. We are insulting the Spirit of grace in that person's life (see Hebrews 6:4-8). Is it really worth risking that sort of evil speaking against something that is sacred?—against a beloved child of the Most High God?
Consider Paul's early experience with the church (see Acts 9). He did horrible things to holy people, and he did it with a clear conscience because he was sure he was right. He thought he was serving God by opposing the heretics—until that same God knocked him flat and told him that he was persecuting his own Maker. Decades after the fact, he was still lamenting his violence and contrariness toward people in whom the Holy Spirit dwelled. So terrible were his actions in his own sight that he did not even consider himself worthy to be called an apostle (I Corinthians 15:9). What he did was similar to what the Pharisees did in Matthew 12—he misjudged the activity of the Holy Spirit. But he also acted in ignorance, so he repented when God allowed him to see.
As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, God's thoughts are so much higher than ours. It is when we start thinking too highly of our own thoughts that we begin grieving, resisting, or even quenching the Spirit of God. God gives us these strong warnings because it is possible for us to ascend above the heights of the clouds in our own thoughts, and to arrive at the point where the mind, power, and nature of God become unrecognizable and objects of scorn. Jesus' warning should prompt us to evaluate our actions and words to ensure that we are not in any way opposing the Spirit of God.
David C. Grabbe
What Is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
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