Read all of Psalm 66 and you will find it to be as tumultuous in praise as it gets. Although not credited to David, it has all the makings of a Davidic Psalm according to C.H. Spurgeon in his Treasury of David. Verses 8-12, within the context of praise and deliverance, emphasize the work of God in testing His children and refining them like silver. It identifies some of the fire-like, unpleasant processes that God used to achieve this purpose. Verses 11-12 says, “You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water…” But when we read this section in isolation from the rest of the chapter, do we get an accurate picture? Isn’t this really somewhat like a desert in the midst of an oasis?
God’s predominant “MO” in dealing with His people is outlined in Deuteronomy 28. Fourteen verses from 1-14 declare that the Lord will bless you If you obey Him. But fifty-four verses from 15-68 declare that the Lord will curse you if you disobey Him. And whereas I am not attaching Theological significance to the amount of verses spent in outlining the consequences of disobeying God, we have to conclude that the curses for disobedience are at least as great as the blessings for obedience. Job stands out as an exception to the rule because in his case, it was his righteousness and loyalty and obedience to God that brought about trials and severe hardships on his life. These were not as much for testing him, as they were for displaying him, and definitely not for punishing him.
The experience of the Old Testament Israelites was that they enjoyed the blessings of God and peace and prosperity and military victory when they were faithful to God and obeyed Him. But they were persecuted, defeated and driven out of their land when they were disobedient and disloyal to God. Having referred to God’s miraculous protection as they crossed the Red Sea on dry land in verse 6, it is almost certain that the experiences of verses 11-12 were punishments and consequences of their disobedience.
Looking back on those punitive experiences, the Psalmist reflects on how God used them to purify His people. For responding positively to their punishment, the Israelites must be commended. However, If and when God in His wisdom decides it is necessary to bring hardships into our lives so that he can refine us like silver, He will create the circumstances necessary to achieve His purposes. But we have a duty not to force His hand of punishment and oppression as a result of our disobedience to Him. The Apostle Peter says it perfectly in 1 Peter 4:12-16
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Then James 1:3-4 says, “…the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
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